Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Road to Super Bowl XL. The Greatest Nine Weeks ever! (The Conclusion)

This has been two years in the making, but I've finally decided to finish this long journey I started back in 2008. The journey of chronicling the best time I've ever had as a sports fan. A little nine week period between December of 2005 and February of 2006 that I like to call "The Greatest Nine Weeks Ever!"

I hope you enjoy.

The Steelers had just advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time in a decade and the first memory that comes to mind from the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl XL was the final time I attended a taping of the Joey Porter show. I didn't realize it would be the last time I would get to attend the show, but it turned out to be because there was no Joey Porter Show in 2006 and Porter was out of Pittsburgh by '07.

Anyway, the show, as always, was taped on Tuesday night from the Firehouse Lounge in the Strip District.

The Lounge was really crowded this night. As I said before, the first time I attended a taping of this show, it was right after the Steelers defeated the Bears and started their drive to the playoffs and the crowd was pretty sparse. However, on this night, my aunt and I could barely see the taping of the show because we were back by the entrance. The place was packed. Steeler fans came out strong to celebrate their team's AFC crown.

Porter was trying to do a "The Rock"-style wrestling promo about the Steelers journey through the playoffs and how they conquered the Bengals, the Colts, and finally the Broncos on the way to the Big Game. Joey was having problems with his funny little rant and he had to do several takes before he finally got it right. Peezy was known for many re-dos each and every show and this one really took the cake. It must have taken him five or six tries.

This show was particularly interesting because Jerome Bettis was the special guest and many Steeler players showed up to honor The Bus. Bettis would be returning home to Detroit for Super Bowl XL and it would also be the last game of his remarkable career. I don't remember all the players that showed up that night, but Casey Hampton was one of them and I smacked him on the back as he walked by and my hand just about disappeared. It was like touching a big, soft pillow.

Funny story: I was in the bathroom taking care of business when a huge African American man came in and said, "Hey, have you seen my man's phone?" And I said, "who?" The guy, a Lounge bouncer, was referring to Jerome Bettis, who had misplaced his cell phone somewhere in the bar. I told him I didn't know Bettis was missing a phone. To this day, I wonder if they thought I found Bettis' phone in the bathroom and kept it.

I didn't, in case anyone is wondering.

It really was a memorable "final show." I had a great time attending it every Tuesday and trying to get on camera so I could see myself when it aired the following Friday or Saturday night on WBGN.

I was excited about the Super Bowl, but it was kind of weird that Pittsburgh's opponent was Seattle. Don't get me wrong, the Seahwawks were the number 1 seed in the NFC in 2005 but it just wasn't the sexiest of matchups. When you thought of the Steelers in the Super Bowl, you thought of their legendary battles with the Dallas Cowboys and even the Minnesota Vikings, but the Seahawks? But beggars can't be choosers and I was excited about the Super Bowl regardless of the opponent.

The bookmakers must not have been too impressed with the Seahawks or the NFC because they installed the Steelers, the 6th seed from the AFC, as 4 point favorites if my memory serves me right. It may even have been as high as 6 points.

The Seahawks fans didn't take too kindly to their team's lack of respect in this matchup and they were actually pretty vocal on the message boards, especially craigslist, my message board of choice at the time.

According to them, Pittsburgh was just a working class town with very little to be happy about other than our Steelers and they were going to destroy the Black and Gold and we could go back to living our miserable lives in our dreary city. Does the sun ever shine in Seattle? I digress.

As far as the trash talk from the participants, the only player from the Seahawks that made any noise was tight end Jerramy Stevens. He basically said that the heartwarming story of Bettis returning to his hometown to play in the Super Bowl would have a sad ending. Joey Porter didn't take too kindly to this and used it for motivation.

Steeler Nation was concerned about the injury status of Troy Polamalu. He had an ankle sprain and there was much speculation as to whether or not he would play in the game. He did play, in case you were wondering.

As far as the game itself, the Seahawks controlled the tempo for most of the first half using underneath routes to wide receiver Darrell Jackson, who tied a Super Bowl record with 5 receptions in the first quarter. However, there would not be a sixth first quarter catch since Jackson was called for pushing off of safety Chris Hope in the back of the end zone on what would have been the first touchdown of the game. The Seahawks had to settle for 3 instead of 7. And yes, Jackson did push off.

As for the Steelers, they did very little on offense, going 3 and out on their first three possessions. They didn't record their first 1st down of the game until early in the 2nd quarter and even that drive ended poorly as Roethlisberger was intercepted on a deep ball to Antwaan Randle El.

Their next possession, however, proved to be pivotal. Pittsburgh moved into Seattle territory but were facing a 3rd and 28, when Roethlisberger made, in my opinion, the most important play of the game when he scrambled around and hit Hines Ward inside the 5 yard line to set up Pittsburgh's first touchdown.

They eventually scored on Roethlisberger's controversial quarterback keeper. Everyone knows the story behind that play so I won't get into it. I'll just say that only the nose of the football must cross the plane of the goalline. Nothing more. The end.

Halftime score: Steelers 7 Seahawks 3.

The Rolling Stones performed the halftime show, but I didn't watch it. I never do. Instead, my uncle and I had started on the beer that he had out on his back porch. We would not stop drinking for many hours.

And we were feeling pretty good by the time Fast Willie Parker ran almost untouched for a super Bowl record 75 yard touchdown on the second play of the 3rd quarter. It really was a thing of beauty with perfect blocks by Alan Faneca and crew. Pittsburgh was now ahead, 14-3.

The Seahawks tried to answer but came away with no points after a missed field goal.

Pittsburgh looked to put the nail in the coffin as they drove down inside Seattle's 10-yardline. However, on 3rd down, Roethlisberger's very poorly thrown pass was intercepted and returned deep inside Steeler territory. Fittingly, Matt Hasselbeck hit Jerramy Stevens for a touchdown and we still had a ball game at 14-10.

In the 4th quarter, the Seahawks appeared poised to take the lead when it looked like they would have it 1st and goal after Hasselbeck hit Stevens inside the 5 yardline. But in yet another controversial call, Seattle tackle Sean Locklear was called for holding Clark Haggans and the Seahawks were pushed back. And a few plays later, Ike Taylor came up with another one of his big postseason interceptions.

The Steelers capitalized when Antwaan Randle El hit Hines Ward with a wide receiver option pass and Pittsburgh was up two scores, once again, 21-10.

The Seahawks never really mounted another serious threat the rest of the game and Bill Cowher got the Gatorade bath.

For the first time in 26 seasons, the Steelers were World Champions and finally had that "One For The Thumb."

The streets of Pittsburgh were crazy that night. The South Side was jammed with Pittsburghers partying it up. I remember wanting to go out and drive around honking my horn but was also very drunk and before I could do something really stupid, I thankfully fell asleep on my uncle's couch and woke up the next day. I was feeling kind of crappy physically, but my heart was filled with joy. It was a feeling that lasted for many weeks and months.

The Steelers would go on to miss the playoffs the following season and many were calling their Super Bowl XL championship a fluke. However, that 2005 team was very strong. Sure, they were a wildcard entrant, but they weren't your average, everyday wildcard team. Many people forget that Roethlisberger missed several games that season after undergoing knee surgery and they were also without tackle Marvel Smith for several weeks. Pittsburgh was 11-5, a pretty strong wildcard record, but if not for those injuries, they probably would have won 13 games and the AFC North that year.

That Steelers championship team was far from a fluke. They were 15-1 in 2004 and made it to the AFC championship game. And they also had very strong playoff teams in '01 and '02. They could just never get over the hump. 2005 just happened to be the year that they finally achieved glory. The fact that they were a wildcard team shouldn't tarnish what they accomplished. And I think winning another Super Bowl just two seasons ago should put to rest any notion that the '05 team was a fluke.

As for me, those nine weeks defined what being a fan was all about. I was 33 years old at the time but I felt like a little kid.

Everything about it was special.

For years, I wondered if the Steelers would ever bring the city another trophy. They frustrated us so many times with great seeds and home playoffs games, and for them to finally bring home the Lombardi the hardest way possible just made it that much sweeter . The Steelers had to scratch and claw their way into the postseason and if the official had kept his flag in his back pocket and not called holding on the Chiefs in Kansas City's late-season loss to the Cowboys, Pittsburgh wouldn't even have made the playoffs and history would have been much different. Everytime I think about that, it gives me goosebumps.

It's a time in my life that I'll always cherish and I don't know if I'll ever have that much fun following a team. It really was a wonderful time and something I'll never forget.

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