Somewhere between the scoreboard reading 0-0 and 18-16, I lost my damn mind.
In the interest of honesty, we better make that somewheres, plural. My mind was lost, found, and discarded again—repeatedly—throughout the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 18-16 AFC Wild Card victory over the Cincinnati Bengals Saturday evening.
As a fan of the best NFL franchise on earth, I’ve witnessed two Super Bowl victories (Super Bowls XL and XLIII) in my lifetime. I’ve also suffered through a Super Bowl defeat (Super Bowl XLV). Technically, I was alive for a second Super Bowl loss (Super Bowl XXX), but my memory of that game doesn’t go too far past a blonde wig, a number 91 jersey, and the adults getting really mad at Ronald McDonald. Wait, was that his name?
So this year, the Steelers beat the Bengals in the playoffs—again. Vontaze Burfict and Adam "Pacman" Jones handed the Steelers the game just by being themselves, Bengals fans and players alike broke down in tears, and the Wizard of Boz literally kicked Cincinnati’s asses right out of playoff contention.
It was dirty. It was ugly. It was a rivalry game that got out of hand in a do-or-die situation on national television.
It was the single greatest sporting event I ever watched.
Unlike the Super Bowl victories, this year’s AFC Wild Card matchup possessed a history, a setting, and a time and a place that just couldn’t be topped. Sixteen of my closest friends and family members—the majority of whom are diehard Steelers fans—piled into my house one day before my 25th birthday to watch the boys in Black and Gold go to work.
That’s the key: 16 close friends and family members. The yelling, the bantering, the excitement, and the anguish filled the room, trickling from everyone—to everyone—creating an environment that can only be described as ridiculous. It’s in this Petri dish that one seriously wild night of sports entertainment manifested.
It’s unnecessary to get fired up about sports, sure. It’s silly to care so much about a game. Yes, yes. I hear you. I went back to work Monday, and the world kept on a-spinnin’. Donald Trump is still an idiot (sorry, Uncle Bill), the Powerball is going to change your life, and Lady Gaga bumped into Leo at the Golden Globes. I see what you post. Those are the things that really matter, right?
Our lives are comprised of moments—of places, times, and events that define who we are today, tomorrow, and well into the future. The Steelers vs. Bengals rubber match Saturday wasn’t a game so much as it was an experience. Was it Chris Boswell’s game-winning kick that sent me into a flailing, "F--K CINCINNATI!" frenzy in my living room, or was it the knowledge that I was gifted the incredible opportunity to share the moment with people I truly cared about, who felt that joy, too?
Methinks the reaction wouldn’t have been the same if the lights were off and the experience was a solitary one.
After the game concluded, players trotting off the field, I knew I had to write about what just happened. I just didn’t know what, um, just happened. As the dust settled across a hungover Sunday and a ferocious work day of a Monday, I realized I remembered the key plays in vivid detail, sure.
Watching Jeremy Hill fumble on a late-fourth-quarter Bengals drive—the one thing he couldn’t do in that moment—setting up Ben Roethlisberger’s game-winning drive will not be forgotten. Witnessing Martavis Bryant’s insane, acrobatic, front-flipping touchdown catch won’t fall from memory, either. (Side note: Why the hell aren’t you people talking about that catch? Seriously?! Did you see it? Put him in a Giants No. 13 jersey and SportsCenter is still showing it today.)
But what I remember more than Joey Porter’s grin as he drew the game-sealing personal foul on Pacman, more than Antonio Brown flopping lifelessly to the field after a disgusting and illegal hit from Burfict, and more than A.J. Green sucking the life out of Steelers Nation with an apparent game-winning touchdown late in the game is the reason I loved every second so much to begin with.
I remember the people who shared the moment with me, and I remember our commentary and our interactions—for better or for worse.
There’s "just-got-a-relevant-coupon-at-Giant-Eagle happy," and there’s "watching-William-Gay-pick-up-a-fumble-and-return-it-for-a-touchdown" happy. The two—while indistinguishable to my mother, to be certain—are different.
One makes you crack the slightest of smiles. The other makes you splash IC Light all over the room and wildly embrace everyone and anyone around you. The latter is only achieved in the company of those you love.
So, yeah, I’m sorry about all the expletives during the game, mom.
But it’s your fault I was so worked up in the first place.