The first half of the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers regular season was going along much like the previous one, when Pittsburgh finished 15-1 with rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger before losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
Even though Roethlisberger was out a few weeks after having minor knee surgery, Charlie Batch filled in just fine in beating a pretty mediocre Green Bay team on the road and the miserable Browns at Heinz Field on Sunday Night Football. Pittsburgh was 7-2, and the playoffs seemed like a sure bet.
However, things began to take a turn for the worse in Week 11 when Batch was unable to go and Tommy Maddox had to take the helm at quarterback against the very ordinary Ravens. I don't know if any of you remember, but '05 wasn't the greatest year for Tommy Gun. Earlier in the season, he had to fill in for Roethlisberger against the Jaguars and proceeded to throw three interceptions, including the back-breaker in overtime as the Steelers lost and Maddox may or may not have had garbage thrown on his lawn.
Maddox didn't fare much better against the Ravens, and Pittsburgh lost, 16-13, in overtime with some help from a fluky interception off of Hines Ward's cleats near mid-field. The following week, the Steelers traveled to Indianapolis to play the then undefeated Colts on Monday Night Football. Roethlisberger was just coming back from his surgery, but neither he nor the Steelers defense had an answer for Indianapolis as Peyton Manning and the boys had their way with our Black and Gold.
The Steelers were 7-4 and one game behind Cincinnati in the AFC North, heading into their Week 13 match up at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh whipped up on the Bengals earlier in the season at Cincinnati, and I figured the team would do the same thing at Heinz field and tie the Bengals for the lead in the division which essentially would put the Steelers one game ahead because of the head-to-head tiebreaker they would hold. Didn't happen.
It was a pretty good game, but the Bengals eventually won by a touchdown and held a two-game lead with just four to go, all-but clinching the AFC North. At 7-5, not only did Pittsburgh's chances at the division look pretty weak, but because of a very poor record in the AFC, its chances at a wildcard looked bleak at best.
'05 Steelers Rally to the Playoffs Begins!
- Things weren't looking good at all for Steeler Nation.
Then.........the fun began!
There was no doubt the Steelers had to win their last four games to even have a chance to make the playoffs, but they were in a dog-fight for the last two spots with the Jaguars, Titans, Chiefs and Chargers. The only tiebreaker advantage Pittsburgh held was over the Chargers because of a last-second victory earlier in the year.
The rest of the teams had the Steelers dead-to-rights, and the Chargers were still one-game up on Pittsburgh, tiebreaker or not. I'm always pretty optimistic about my Steelers, but even I had very big doubts about them getting into the postseason.
The Tuesday night after the Bengals loss, my aunt asked me if I wanted to join her at the Firehouse Lounge in Pittsburgh's Strip District for the weekly taping of the Joey Porter Show. I turned her down. I wasn't in the mood for any Steelers celebrating. As far as I was concerned, they were pretty much dead in the water in terms of any postseason hopes.
Onto the game against the Bears. The Steelers played their best game in weeks as they manhandled the supposed toughest team in the NFC. The game was most notable for a play in which the Bus, Jerome Bettis, ran over Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher during a short-yardage touchdown run in the snow at Heinz Field.
It was fun to see the Steelers win, but their playoff hopes were still pretty sad.
Later that evening, I was shocked to hear that San Diego lost at home to the Dolphins. "Wow, a piece of the puzzle," I thought as I watched the Chiefs go up against Dallas later that afternoon. I haven't been a Cowboys fan in years, but you better believe I was that day. Trailing, the Cowboys had the ball first and goal late in the game. Dallas' offense didn't get anywhere on the first three downs, and after a fourth down pass fell incomplete in the end zone, I thought, "Oh well, at least the Chargers lost and the Steelers gained a little bit of ground in the playoff picture."
There was a flag for defensive holding against Kansas City, and the Cowboys had new life. Dallas eventually scored and went on to win. Not only did the Steelers win and break their three game losing streak, but the Chargers and Chiefs both lost and suddenly, within a span of six hours, Pittsburgh's playoff hopes went from last rights to new life.
- Wait a second!
A couple of days later, I did join my aunt at the Lounge for another taping of the Porter's show, which was hosted by Peezee himself, with former Steeler Chris Hope and Jon Burton of Channel 4 Action Sports acting as co-hosts. The show was taped on Tuesdays and aired on Friday or Saturday nights on WBGN.
It was like a poor man's Jerome Bettis Show with sub-par production values, but being at a taping was always a ton of fun. The place wasn't too crowded my first night there. I was able to sit right behind the cameras beside my aunt and her friend. Joey always had at least one special guest Steeler each show and Antwaan Randle El was the guest that night. Afterwards, the fans all gathered around the guys for autographs and pictures.
In-fact, my aunt's main purpose for attending these shows was so she could get as many autographs as she could on a Steelers shirt that she would eventually give my uncle. I've never been an autograph seeker, but it's like a knee-jerk reaction when you're around a celebrity of any kind.
For some reason, you feel compelled to ask them to sign something. Randle El disappointed most of the crowd by skirting out of there pretty fast after the show ended, but Porter and Hope stuck around to sign stuff and have their pictures taken. When Hope finally came my way, I said, "Hey man, could you sign my hat?" as I shoved it in his face. And he said, "where?" My hat was this Steelers tossel cap, with very little room for writing, except on the logo, so that's what he signed.
The Steelers were in even better shape the following week after they dominated the Vikings and Kansas City lost again, this time to the Giants. The Chargers won, becoming the first team to defeat the Colts, but as I said, the Steelers owned the tiebreaker over San Diego.
- It was a pretty cool night.
I went to another taping of the Joey Porter Show that following Tuesday, and the crowd was still pretty small despite the Steelers' playoff chances looking a lot better. The thing I remember most about that night was Porter, the crazy but lovable linebacker, recounting an argument he had with someone from the Vikings and describing it with the help of the f-word before catching himself and apologizing to the audience. Joey's guest that night was fellow Steelers linebacker Larry Foote.
Things Begin to Fall into Place for the '05 Steelers
Heading into Week 16, Pittsburgh was now one-game up on the Chiefs, who were playing San Diego at home. The Steelers were in Cleveland on Christmas Eve to play the Browns. While Kansas City knocked off the Chargers, 20-7, Pittsburgh pounded the Browns, 41-0. I didn't get to see the game because I was working, but I did have it taped for me, and I've probably watched that beat-down a dozen times.
Speaking of beat-downs, the Cleveland game is probably most noteworthy for being the contest in-which a Browns' fan ran on the field and was snatched and flung to the ground by future Defensive Player of the Year, James Harrison.
The Jaguars were basically in with the fifth seed, and the Chargers were eliminated, thanks to the loss in Kansas City, and now it was down to the Chiefs and Steelers for the last seed in the AFC. On a side note, I didn't go to the Joey Porter show that week. I don't remember why, but it was the only one I missed after the Steelers started their historic run.
- With one week left in the season, the Steelers were 10-5, and a game-up on both Kansas City and San Diego.
Despite Pittsburgh having a one-game lead over the Chiefs, if the two teams finished the regular season tied at 10-6, Kansas City would get into the playoffs, based on a better conference mark. That Saturday night, the Chargers played Denver in a meaningless game for the Broncos who already had the AFC Western Division clinched as well as the second seed in the playoffs.
If San Diego would have somehow won that game, Pittsburgh would have clinched that last playoff spot before Sunday's games were even played based on some weird three-way tiebreaker, involving the Chiefs. It didn't happen, though. The Chargers lost, and after celebrating New Year's Eve, I sat down with my uncle to sweat out Pittsburgh's season-finale against the Lions at Heinz Field. The Chiefs played the Bengals in a meaningless game for Cincy, and Kansas City won, 37-3.
'05 Steelers Seal the Deal - Road to Super Bowl XL Opens!
The 5-10 Lions didn't go quietly, as Pittsburgh only led, 21-14, at halftime. During the break, my uncle was watching Tommy Boy, and I, being a nervous wreck about the game, was off to the side doing karate moves and wound up catching my foot on the back of his chair and fell on my butt. The thing I remember most is looking up and seeing my uncle and little cousin laughing hysterically. You talk about bringing Chris Farley back from the dead.
Anyway, that game turned out to be the last regular season and home game for the Bus, and he finished it off in style by scoring three touchdowns in a 35-21 Steelers victory.
This concludes part one of my story. Join me next time for part two.
- Pittsburgh was in the playoffs with the sixth seed in the AFC, and I was relieved.
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