Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The road to Super Bowl XL. The Greatest Nine Weeks Ever! (Part Three)

This is the last of this stuff that I wrote two years ago. After this, it will all be new. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep the continuity going because, for whatever reason, I gave up on finishing this in '08.

The Steelers vs. the Indianapolis Colts in round 2 of the 2005 playoffs. As everyone knows, the Steelers were the huge underdog going in and most people thought it would be a repeat of the game late in the regular season when the Colts had their way with Pittsburgh in a Monday night game.

One of head coach Bill Cowher's faults in the previous postseasons was being too conservative and running the ball and letting the other team dictate the action. Well, in this game, that would not be the case. For the first time in over twenty years, the Steelers had a bona fide franchise quarterback and Cowher set him loose on the Colts right out of the gate. The first possession of the game saw the Steelers drive right down the field on the strength of Big Ben's arm. He got things started with a play-action pass to tight end Heath Miller for about 30 yards and ended it with a quick slant pass to Antwaan Randle El for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Two drives later, the Steelers took control of the game when they drove down the field once again using the pass. The key play on this drive was a 3rd down pass to Hines Ward in-which there was also a 15-yard face-mask penalty. On second and goal, Ben hit Heath Miller and, just like that, it was 14-0 and nobody could believe it. The RCA dome was quiet. On defense, the Steelers had Manning and the Colts' offensive line totally confused. In the regular season game, the Steelers didn't touch Peyton Manning, but in this game, he didn't have much time to do anything, especially in the first half. Towards the end of the 2nd quarter, the Colts embarked on their best drive of the game up until that point. They started at their own 2 yard line after a great punt by Chris Gardocki and thanks mostly to running back Edgarin James, they moved the ball deep into Steelers' territory. Eventually, it was 3rd and goal and it looked like the Colts scored their first touchdown on a running play, but nope! One of the Colts linemen moved too early and Indy eventually had to settle for a field goal to make it 14-3 at halftime.

The second half started out pretty much like the first half, at least for the Colts on offense. They couldn't do much against the Steelers and Pittsburgh was winning the battle of field position. In-fact, they sacked Manning at the one-inch line and the Indianapolis punt that followed gave the Steelers great field position at the Colts' 30 yard line. Passing was great early on, but on the previous drive, it looked like Roethlisberger injured his elbow so on this drive, the Steelers rode The Bus all the way to a 21-3 lead. I was hysterical. I remember picking my 2-year old cousin up and throwing her around. I was so happy! And even though the Colts had the best offense in the NFL that year, for some reason, I didn't think there was any way they'd come back on Pittsburgh. The following drive, however, the Colts got back in the game when Manning appeared to wave off the punt team on 4th and short and converted to give his team new life heading into the 4th quarter. Two plays later, he hit tight end Dallas Clark and Clark out-ran most of the Steelers secondary to the endzone to make it 21-10. Just like that the Colts were back in the game after being dominated for three quarters. The next drive, in my opinion, was the most important one of the game for Pittsburgh. They didn't score, but they took about 8 minutes off the clock after converting twice on fourth and short. There was much controversy on the first conversion after the Colts jumped off-sides and touched one of the Steelers offensive linemen because they thought that Alan Faneca flinched. Whether he did or not was immaterial because the officials didn't blow the whistle so off-sides should have been called. But nothing was called and after a lot of arguing from the Steelers' sideline, the refs just did a "do-over" and I almost had a heart-attack when it looked like Ben was stopped short but thanks to a great second-effort and a little push from Jerome, he just barely made it. As I said, Pittsburgh didn't score on that drive but they gave the ball back to the Colts with barely over six-minutes left. At that point, one more defensive stand would all-but wrap up the game for Pittsburgh. And they appeared to make that stand when Troy Polamalu stepped in front of a pass across the middle for a crucial interception. He got up to try to advance the ball and fumbled it, but fell on it and Pittsburgh had the ball at mid-field with less than six-minutes left. I went into celebration mode at that point. I figured the Steelers would just run the clock down and be on their way to Denver for their second straight appearance in the AFC championship game. The Colts challenged the play, but I wasn't worried. It was obvious from every camera angle that Troy intercepted the ball and it never touched the ground. "What in the world could they possibly be challenging? Can you say desperation? No way are they going to overturn this call." I walked around my uncle's living room with my arms raised in victory. Ok, Mr. referee came out to give his verdict, it was just a formality, though, right? Wrong! He said that since Polamalu lost the ball before getting both knees off the ground while trying to advance it, it was an incomplete pass. Wow! Ok, let me get this straight. Had Troy stayed there on the turf after intercepting the pass, it would have stood, but since he got up and tried to advance the ball, it was an incomplete pass? He was punished for DOING MORE? Made no sense then, makes no sense now. I had never seen such a call before that day and not since. I don't know what that referee was smoking, but he was clearly wrong and everyone knew it. I remember saying, "I can't believe they're taking the game away from us!" My uncle said that he never saw me so angry and beside myself watching a sporting event, and he was right. I could not believe that happened. Well, you can guess what unfolded once the Colts resumed their drive. They eventually scored a touchdown and converted a two-point conversion to make it 21-18 with about 4 minutes to go. I was so damn nervous, I couldn't take it. Just minutes prior, it looked like the game was over and now suddenly, the Colts had all the momentum. The Steelers needed to run the clock out at that point. Ben, sore elbow or not, threw for a first down, but underthrew Hines on third down later in the drive and the Steelers had to punt. So, there it was, the Colts had the ball with 2:42 left and I was so nervous, that I wussed out and left for a drive in my car. Can you believe that? Me, mister Steelers fan, chickened out and took a tour of Pittsburgh during the most crucial part of the Steelers season. I drove up to Mt. Washington, for some reason, and decided to turn the radio on about 15 minutes later. At that point, the first thing I heard was Tunch Ilkin, the Steelers color commentator, saying his heart went out to Tony Dungy whose son committed suicide earlier in the year. I didn't hear the Colts crowd going nuts. "What happened?" I wondered to myself. The Steelers were kneeling on the ball and Steelers play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove was singing, "turn out the lights, the party's over." I knew at that point the Steelers won so I stuck my hand out of my car and did the "number 1" sign. I had no idea what happened at first. I soon learned that the Colts drunk, idiot kicker, Mike Vanderjagt, missed a field goal and he missed it badly! I went over my mom's house at that point, and she said that she prayed to one of the Saints that she always prays to for their kicker to miss and boy, did it work big-time! Are you saying it didn't work, it was just a coincidence? Don't you remember how badly he missed that kick? It was like he was aiming in that direction. Don't discount the power of Saints.

Do you all remember what transpired in-between the time I left with 2:42 remaining and before the Colts missed that kick? I believe every Steelers fan knows what happened, but I missed it all. The Colts got the ball back and needed a field goal to tie it or a touchdown to win it. The Steelers didn't allow an inch on defense. They sacked Manning twice, the second time on 4th and long and the Steelers went nuts on the sideline. Tunch screamed, "yeah, that's the game, baby! It's on to Denver!" The Steelers had the ball 1st and goal with 1:28 left. Unfortunately, they couldn't just kneel on the ball because Indy had all three time outs left. They had to punch it in to put the game on ice. On first and goal, Ben handed it off to Bettis, who unbelieveably fumbled! Nick Harper, the Colts defensive back, picked the ball up and was off to the races. Ben Roethlisberger made a play for the ages as he zigged when Harper zigged and zagged when he zagged. Ben lunged for Harper's leg and brought him down near mid-field. Everyone was in disbelief. Jerome was inconsolable. Naturally, the Colts drove the ball down the field on the Steelers' stunned defense. They managed to get the ball to the 29 yard line and on 2nd and 2, Manning went for Reggie Wayne in the endzone who came within inches of catching the ball only to have it knocked out by Steelers rookie db, Bryant Mcfadden. People are always going to remember the Big Ben tackle, but I think Mcfadden's play is one of the most underrated plays in Steelers' history. Two plays later, Vanderjagt missed the field goal and the game was mercifully over and Steeler Nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.

I missed all of that, but maybe it was a good thing. My uncle was eating some dinner on one of those drop tables and when Jerome fumbled, he said he flung it across the room. In crucial moments of a big game, I usually stand right by the tv, so I might have been in the line of fire and had my face rearranged by that drop table and some mashed potatoes.

Ok, that's part three. Everything from here on out will be new material. What a great nine weeks!

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