Soaking in the Joy and Pageantry of the Steelers First Super Bowl Appearance in a Decade
The Steelers had just advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995, 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 it was canceled prior to the 2006 season, and Porter was out of Pittsburgh by '07.
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 Pittsburgh 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 as Steeler fans came out strong to celebrate their team's AFC crown.
- Anyway, the show, as always, was taped Tuesday night from the Firehouse Lounge in the Strip District.
Porter was trying to do a "The Rock"-style wrestling promo about the Steelers road journey through the playoffs and how they conquered the "Candy ass" Bengals, Colts, and finally the Broncos on the way to the Big Game. Joey was having problems with his funny little rant and 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 as 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 him. 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 personal story: During the taping, 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 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.
One of the reasons those nine weeks were so special to me was because of attending Porter's show and interacting with him, Hope, many of the guest Steelers, and of course, my aunt and the dozens and dozens of fans who embarked on the Lounge every Tuesday for some awesome Steelers-fellowship.
- I didn't, in case anyone is wondering.
The Steelers Making the Super Bowl Was Awesome, but Their Opponent Seemed Rather Underwhelming
I was excited about the Super Bowl, but it was kind of weird that the Steelers opponent was Seattle.
Don't get me wrong, the Seahwawks were the number one 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 Cowboys and even the Vikings, but the Seahawks? But beggars can't be choosers, and like Flozell "The Hotel" Adams once said, "A Super Bowl is a Super Bowl, even if it's played in Siberia."
The bookmakers must not have been too impressed with the Seahawks or the NFC because they installed Pittsburgh, the sixth seed from the AFC, as four point favorites.
The Seahawks fans didn't take too kindly to their team's lack of respect in this matchup and were actually pretty vocal on the message boards, especially craigslist, my message board of choice at the time.
According to Seahawks fans (at least the ones from Seattle), Pittsburgh was just a working class town with very little to be happy about other than our Steelers, and their team was going to destroy the Black and Gold so we could go back to living our miserable lives in our dreary city.
As far as the trash talk from the participants, the only player from the Seahawks that made any noise was tight end Jerramy Stevens. During "Media Day," Stevens basically said that the heartwarming story of Bettis returning to his hometown to play in the Super Bowl would have a sad ending. As you might expect, the ever out-spoken Porter didn't take too kindly to this and used it for motivation.
- Does the sun ever shine in Seattle? I digress.
Steeler Nation was concerned about the injury status of Troy Polamalu, who 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.)
Super Bowl XL Finally Arrives: The Steelers vs. the Seahawks at Detroit's Ford Field on February 5th, 2006
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 five receptions in the first quarter. However, there would not be a sixth first quarter catch when, in the first of several controversial calls throughout the game, Jackson was called for pushing off of safety Chris Hope in the back of the end zone on what would have been a touchdown pass from Matt Hasselback and a 7-0 lead for Seattle. The Seahawks had to settle for three instead of seven.
As for the Steelers, they did very little on offense, going three and out on their first three possessions. Pittsburgh's offense didn't record its initial first down of the game until early in the second quarter on a third down pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Antwaan Randle El, and even that drive ended poorly as Roethlisberger was intercepted on a deep ball to Randle El.
- And yes, Jackson did push off.
The Steelers next possession, however, proved to be pivotal. Pittsburgh moved into Seahawks' territory but was facing a third and 28 from the Seattle 40 yard line, when Roethlisberger made, in my opinion, the most important play of the game, as he avoided Seattle defenders, scrambled to his left, stopped just short of the line of scrimmage, and heaved a pass down field to Hines Ward, which he caught inside the five yard line.
Three plays later, on third and goal from the one, Pittsburgh 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 goal line. Nothing more. The end.
My uncle and I begin "Tailgating" in his Living Room as We Don't Watch the Stones Perform the Halftime Show
- 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, and once the flood-gates opened, they didn't close for several hours.
Steelers Open Second Half of Super Bowl XL "Fast" and Furiously
My uncle and I 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 third quarter. It really was a thing of beauty with perfect blocks by Alan Faneca and crew.
Pittsburgh Looks to Bury the Seahawks, but Big Ben Gives Them New Life
- Pittsburgh was now ahead, 14-3.
The Seahawks tried to answer on their next drive but came away with no points after kicker Josh Brown missed wide on a long field goal, which subsequently set Pittsburgh up in great field position.
Pittsburgh looked to put the nail in the coffin as they drove down inside Seattle's 10-yardl ine. However, on third down, Roethlisberger's very poorly thrown pass intended for Cedrick Wilson was intercepted by Kelly Herndon, who returned it 76 yards to the Steeler 24 yard line. Seattle capitalized on the miscue when Hasselbeck fittingly found Stevens for a touchdown pass on third down to pull the Seahawks to within four points, at 14-10.
In the fourth quarter, the Seahawks appeared poised to take the lead when it looked like they would have the ball first and goal after Hasselbeck hit Stevens with a pass inside the five yard line. But in yet another controversial call, Seattle tackle Sean Locklear was called for holding Clark Haggans on the play, and the Seahawks were pushed back. A few plays later, Ike Taylor came up with another one of his big postseason interceptions. During Taylor's return, Hasselback was called for blocking below the waste (another controversy), which added 15 yards to the end of Taylor's return and set Pittsburgh's offense up in prime position.
The "Gadget Play" That Brought "One For The thumb"
The Steelers capitalized when Randle El, a quarterback in college at Indiana, took a hand-off from Parker and threw a 43 yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward to give Pittsburgh a 21-10 lead.
Let the Super Bowl Celebration Begin
The Seahawks never really mounted another serious threat the rest of the game, and for the first time in 26 seasons, the Steelers were World Champions and finally had that "One For The Thumb."
Bill Cowher got the ultimate Gatorade bath, as Steelers fans filled the streets of Pittsburgh to celebrate. The South Side was jammed with fans partying it up all night long. Watching the celebration on TV, 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.
I was feeling kind of crappy physically when I awoke the following Monday morning, but my heart was filled with joy--a feeling that lasted for several weeks and months afterwards.
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, the Steelers 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 Pittsburgh was also without tackle Marvel Smith for several weeks. Pittsburgh was 11-5, a pretty strong wildcard record, and if not for those injuries, the team probably would have won 13 games and the AFC North that year.
They were 15-1 in 2004 and made it to the AFC Championship game. Pittsburgh also had very strong playoff teams in '01 and '02 prior to Roethlisberger's arrival but could never get over the hump.
- No. That Steelers championship team was far from a fluke.
The fact that Pittsburgh came out of the wildcard round (the beginning of a Super Bowl trend that has continued to this day) shouldn't tarnish things in the least. Plus, I think the fact that the Steelers returned to the Super Bowl three seasons later and walked away with a sixth ring in Super Bowl XLIII and then appeared in Super Bowl XLV two years later further adds to the legacy of that '05 squad.
- The 2005 campaign just happened to be the year that Pittsburgh finally put it all together.
What the championship Meant to Me as a Fan
As for me, those nine weeks defined what being a fan is all about. I was 33 years old at the time, but I felt like a little kid as everything about the period seemed so magical and even a little surreal.
Throughout the 90s and into the early 00s, the Steelers set themselves up countless times with premium seeds and home playoff games, only to leave fans depressed and disappointed.
- For years, I wondered if the Steelers would ever bring the City of Pittsburgh another trophy.
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--every time I think about that, it gives me goosebumps (like the Chin said, it really is a fine line).
- For Pittsburgh to finally bring home the Lombardi the hardest way possible just made it that much sweeter.
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.Steel Curtain Rising Thanks Tony Defeo for sharing his memories. Read more of his work at Pittsburgh's Best Sports Blog.
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