I was pretty pumped up for the Steelers wildcard playoff game against the Bengals at Cincinnati. More than anything, I wanted to beat the Bengals in their place and knock them out of the the playoffs. Let's face it, the Steelers were the 6th seed and no team seeded that low had ever made it to the Super Bowl, but if Pittsburgh could knock out the Bungals and shove that division title up their butts, that would be pretty sweet. That week, leading up to the game, I remember reading some article online about how teams that had to scratch and fight their way into the playoffs on the last day of the season never really did that well in the postseason and they provided statistics to back up those claims. It was pretty standard knowledge for most die-hard football fans such as myself, but still kind of sobering. Every now and then, wildcard playoff teams make runs, and a few have even gone all the way to the Super Bowl. And the '80 Raiders, the '97 Broncos, the 2000 Ravens, and the 2007 Giants actually won the championship coming out of the wildcard spot. But, mostly, wildcard teams take the early exit out of the postseason because, number one, they have to play against superior opponents, and two, it's very hard to win on the road in the NFL, especially in the postseason. The '85 New England Patriots were the only team (up until that point) to be the last seed in a conference and win all their games on the road and make it to the Super Bowl (back in '85, there were only 5 seeds from each conference), and they were slaughtered by the Super Bowl shufflin' Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX.
The Tuesday before the game, I went to yet another taping of the Joey Porter show. James Farrior was Joey's guest that week and my aunt's friend went nuts because James Farrior is just so damn hot. There was a local comedian/dj named "Freedom" that always sort of mc'd the show each week and was in charge of getting the crowd excited or telling them to be quiet. In-fact, he often held up a sign that said "quiet please" but on this particular night, the sign read "quite please" which I thought was pretty hilarious. During a break in taping, Freedom tried to get the crowd riled up for the playoffs, but the people weren't too excited. He said, "Doesn't sound like you're ready for the playoffs!" And he was right, my aunt and I were still able to get pretty decent seats in the Firehouse Lounge. It wasn't really crowded at all and Pittsburgh, in general, didn't seem too thrilled about the upcoming playoff matchup. Pittsburgh Steeler fans are generally pretty football savvy and, perhaps, they read the same online article that I did about wildcard teams. Although, from what I've seen over the years, fans usually temper their excitement when a team is seeded low, but then hop on board if the team starts to do well, which would be the case later on.........IN A BIG WAY!
Anyway, back to the show, Joey would often have non-Steeler guests on his show, and Pittsburgh's own Monte "Mason" Clay, the WBC, or WBA, or IBF Featherweight champion of the world made an appearance that night. When Clay and his entourage came through the crowd at the Lounge, there was a huge guy with a couple of belts on his shoulder and I thought he was Clay, but duh, featherweights are small, and Monte was the little guy walking in front shaking hands. He looked like he was 9 years old. After Clay's spot on the show, the night ended with a performance by some local musical duo. Apparently, Joey thought they were a hip-hop group because he tried to introduce them with this make-shift grill (or is it grille?) in his teeth. The mouthpiece kept falling out and Joey needed about five takes in-order to get it right. I just thought it was funny that Porter thought these guys were all about hip-hop because when they performed, it clearly wasn't hip-hop. In-fact, during the interview he had with them, one of them tried to point this out, but Joey didn't seem to catch-on.
Steelers vs. Bengals in the first round of the AFC playoffs.
As I've stated, the Steelers were the 6th seed in the AFC and the Bengals, the AFC North winners, were seeded 3rd and were the home team for this game.
I watched the game over my uncle's house which is usually the rule for me for Steelers games. A couple of his neighbors were there, as well, so it was one giant party.
The game started off in controversial fashion as Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer was knocked out after being hit in the knee by Steelers defensive lineman Kimo Von Oelhoffen during a long pass conversion to Chris Henry early in the first quarter. Palmer suffered a serious knee injury and would need the entire off-season for rehab. The scrappy, gutty Jon Kitna replaced Carson, and after Chris Henry also had to leave the game later in the drive with a serious injury, the Bengals settled for a field goal and a 3-0 lead. I remember saying that it was probably the most costly field goal drive in the history of the postseason. Kitna was not done. He led Cincinnati on a touchdown drive later in the first quarter and the Bengals had a 10-0 lead. I was kind of worried at that point. I mean, the Steelers last playoff game was a beatdown by the Patriots in the AFC Championship game the season before and here they were getting outplayed again. However, the Steelers started to come to life at the end of the first quarter and eventually mounted a drive that ended with a screen pass to Willie Parker who took it in for the score. Pittsburgh was now down 10-7 and I was feeling pretty good about things. The Bengals drove down the field again and just when it looked like they were going to have to settle for a field goal attempt, Troy Polamalu was called for a personal foul and Cincy had new life. They eventually scored a touchdown and Pittsburgh was down by ten points once again. Late in the half, Roethlisberger hit Cedric Wilson on a long pass play and suddenly, Pittsburgh was threatening again. Jerome Bettis tried his patented running back option pass to tight end Jerame Tuman but threw it at his feet, but it was ok because Big Ben hit Hines Ward on a slant for the score and Pittsburgh was back in the game, again, 17-14 at the half.
Pittsburgh dominated the second half. Things started out ok for the Bengals as they took the second half kick-off and drove into Steelers' territory only to botch a field goal attempt and give the Steelers great field position. Pittsburgh immediately capitalized on the mistake when Ben threw deep to Antwaan Randle El for what appeared to be a touchdown. The officials called it incomplete (why Cowher didn't ask for a review is beyond me), but it didn't matter because the Bengals were called for defensive pass interference on the play and the Steelers had the ball at the five yard line. A play or two later, a couple of Bengals took a Bus ride as Bettis plowed into the endzone to give Pittsburgh its first lead of the game, 21-17; they would never trail again. When Jerome scored, I jumped up and screamed and looked over at my uncle's neighbors and said, "in-case you didn't know, that was my playoff scream."
Cincinnati continued to do nothing on offense and near the end of the 3rd quarter, the Steelers tried a gadget play. Near mid-field, Randle El took a hand-off on an end-around play only to stop and lateral it back to Roethlisberger, who then threw deep down field. Initially, I thought he was going to Hines and it appeared to be overthrown, but nope! Cedric Wilson was there, wide-open for the score and Pittsburgh was now up 28-17 and we all went nuts. It was funny seeing and hearing the Steelers fans cheering right there in the middle of all those quiet Bengals fans.
The Steelers continued to dominate in the fourth quarterback, and with the help of a James Farrior interception and a Bettis long run, they tacked on another three points for a 31-17 lead. Troy finished things off with an interception late in the game and scared the crap out of everyone by lateralling the ball back to Chris Hope instead of just taking a knee.
It was so sweet. It was Cincinnati's first playoff game in 15 years and Pittsburgh went in there, scored 24 unanswered points, and shut all those people up. Who dey? We dey!
After the game, the Bengals players and fans cried that the only reason Pittsburgh won was because Kimo knocked Palmer out. Last time I checked, Carson didn't play defense and the reason the Steelers won that game was because they were more physical than the Bengals. Congratulations on winning the 2005 AFC North division, Cincinnati. Ha ha ha!
It was now onto Indianapolis for Pittsburgh where they would have to face the number one seeded Colts. The Colts won their first 13 games in 2005 and, naturally, there was talk of them going undefeated, and even though that didn't happen and even though Tony Dungy rested most of his starters over the last few weeks of the regular season, the Colts were still heavily favored to beat Pittsburgh and go on to win the Super Bowl. And if it wasn't the Colts, it was going to be the two-time defending champion New England Patriots. The Steelers weren't really considered much of a factor by anyone outside of Pittsburgh. In-fact, when all the so-called experts previewed the four playoff games during the week, most were conflicted on the Seahawks/Redskins, Bears/Panthers, and Patriots/Broncos, but just about everyone agreed that Peyton Manning and the Colts would have their way with Pittsburgh much like they did in week 12 of the regular season.
The Tuesday before the game, I went to another taping of the Joey Porter show. When I arrived at the Firehouse Lounge, my aunt asked me if the little black guy that Porter was interviewing was Alan Faneca, who was going to be one of Joey's special guest Steelers on the show. For those of you who do not know, Alan Faneca is not a little black man, he's a huge white guy. The little black dude turned out to be Steelers defensive back Tyrone Carter. It was a fun night in the Strip and the Lounge was a little more crowded than the week before as my aunt and I had to stand further back. You could see the excitement on the faces of everyone and I could tell they were really pumped about the upcoming game with the Colts.
No city supports its team like Pittsburgh supports the Steelers. My store deals with this baker in Baldwin and towards the end of the regular season when the Steelers went on their playoff run, we started ordering Steelers helmet cakes, Terrible Towel cakes, black and gold rye bread and other Steelers pastries. Right around the week of Steelers/Colts, people started calling in orders for special Steelers cakes for playoff parties they were having. The cakes kinda looked like birthday cakes but with player names and numbers and I could just see people standing around these cakes singing, "Happy Steelers playoff game to you. Happy Steelers playoff game to you. Happy Steelers playoff game to Steeler Nation. Happy Steeler playoff game to you!"
I'm sure most of you know of craigslist. My sister is obsessed with that site. I think about 94% of her furniture was purchased on craigs. I like Craigslist myself, but I mainly go on the "rants and raves" message boards where people talk and argue over just about any subject that you can think of. During playoff weeks, however, this board is invaded by smack talkers. The week leading up to the Colts playoff game, Indy fans would come over to the Pittsburgh boards and talk trash and we obnoxious Steelers fans would go to their boards and talk trash. Even the Patriots fans joined in and the most unreal thing was seeing Colts fans and Patriots fans arguing over who was going to win the AFC championship game the following week. Both had decided that their teams were going to win their "tune-up" divisional playoff games that week. I had never seen such brashness in all my days. The Indy fans were a little more gracious than the cocky New Englanders, but both had completely written off the Steelers and the Broncos. It didn't matter to the Pats fans that their team was a wildcard team heading into Denver, they were the defending champions and their boys could do no wrong.
If there is one fan-base I cannot stand, it's the Patriots fans. Before pretty boy Brady came along and before Belichick became this defensive genius (perhaps illegally), the Patriots were behind the marathon and the Strangler in terms of importance in the metro-Boston area and New England, in general, but after they won a few Super Bowls, suddenly they all jumped on the wagon and their team was the greatest ever.
Towards the end of the week, Roethlisberger and Porter both made remarks that had everyone talking. Big Ben said that the Colts were a great team and their B+ game was good enough to beat Pittsburgh's A game. I'm paraphrasing, of course, but that was basically what he said. I guess he was going out of his way to praise the other team much like Joe Paterno does when he acts worried about facing Central Carolina. Joey Porter, on the other hand, took the exact opposite approach by stating that the Colts were a finesse team that didn't like to play physical. This had the fans angry and the media members wondering why Joey would say such a thing and "wake the sleeping giant." It really irritates me when people say stuff like that. Not what Porter said, but how people think that words really matter that much. "Oh no, Joey's talking smack, the Colts might try now." Words mean absolutely nothing and if a player is looking for motivation via trask talk, he's in trouble. Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm guessing the prospect of winning the Super Bowl was more than enough motivation for the Indy lockerroom.
Ok, that's part two. I'll post more at a later date.