A Journey for the Ages
Here we are on the doorstep of Spring, and I haven't yet written about the Steelers magical 2008-2009 season. Of course, one glance at Streams of Consciousness will reveal that I haven't written much of anything lately. What better way to break out of a slump than to summarize the surreal season of the Steelers march to their 6th championship.
Yes, that's me there at the right, playoff beard and all, standing in section 527 of Heinz Field, after the presentation of the Lamar Hunt trophy to the AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Through some divine stroke of fortune, Sharon and I were able to attend the AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh on January 18, 2009, against the rival Baltimore Ravens. I am on the Steelers season ticket waiting list (approx. 20 years out), which gives me the opportunity to try to buy playoff tickets each year through a special pre-sale. So, this year in early December, when the letter came in the mail with my special Ticketmaster code, I decided to go ahead and buy tickets to a potential AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh. My reasoning was, I might not get them anyway, and even if I do get them, and can't go, I can sell them on eBay. Well, I got them. 4 tickets. Section 527. This was early December. The only problem was, the Steelers had not even clinched a playoff spot at this time. They ended up winning the division in Baltimore the next week, and looked like they might have the opportunity for the #1 AFC seed by beating the Titans. Unfortunately, they travelled to Tennessee and got beat a few days before Christmas, locking them into the #2 seed. However, the ghost of Myron Cope intervened, Baltimore beat Tennessee in the divisional playoff round, and the Steelers took care of business against the Chargers, setting up a clash of division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore for the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl. And, I was going! We ended up trading one of our game tickets to Sharon's brother Todd for two round-trip air tickets, and Sharon gave our remaining ticket to her friend Melissa. I would have loved to have taken my dad, but I don't think he would have enjoyed the 10 degree weather, in which I barely survived! We stayed with my grandmother in Burgettstown. All in all, the trip cost us under $800 for everything. Not bad for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see your team make it to the Super Bowl. And, it was worth every penny, and every frost-bitten digit. I was walking around in a daze most of the trip, trying to soak it all in. Even the plane ride was surreal, with the plan packed full of Steelers fans on Saturday night. We were chanting and cheering and I'm sure annoying the few people on the plane who could have cared less about the Steelers. I was quite nervous the night before the game, but on game day, I was just ready to watch some football. We got to the stadium early, and I watched the end of the NFC Championship game on the Heinz Field big screen scoreboard. It was about 20 degrees before the game, and quite windy. Also, there were not many people in the stands that early, so I was freezing early on. Then, night began to fall, the crowd started rolling in, and the Steelers and Ravens took the field. For the most part, it was a good, hard-fought game. Pretty much the defensive struggle that people expected, and that Steelers fans love. The Steelers had a couple of big, nice offensive plays in the first half, and a couple of costly pass interference penalties that let the Ravens back in the game. The stage was set for a classic finish, and that is exactly what we got when Joe Flacco had the Ravens within 2 points, with the ball, under 5 minutes to play. The ghosts of recent home AFC Championship heartbreaks were lurking in everyone's frozen thoughts. After leading the whole game, would the Ravens drive down and kick a game-winning field goal, stealing a trip to the Super Bowl away from the Steelers right in front of my very eyes? The stadium was palpably nervous. You could almost hear a pin drop. Alas, it was Troy Polamalu stepping in front of a Flacco pass, picking it off in acrobatic fashion, and then willing his way 30+ yards into the end zone, effectively ending the Ravens hopes and dreams for this season---and it happened on my side of the field! The stadium erupted. Everyone was hugging complete strangers as if they were brothers and sisters. The few obnoxious Baltimore fans that were seated near us slithered away. I've never seen such a quick movement from grave concern to outright joy! This is definitely a moment I will remember for the rest of my life. The Polamalu interception will be one of the top plays in Pittsburgh lore for all time, up there with the Immaculate Reception and the Mazaroski home run. Incredibly, the play was probably eclipsed in importance not once, but twice, a few weeks later in the Super Bowl by James Harrison's half-ending 100 yard interception return and Ben to Santonio's game winning touchdown throw-and-catch. I'll save my reflections on the Super Bowl and the rest of the amazing season for another post. Let me just close by saying that I would not trade my experience at the AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh for anything, even the opportunity to have been at the Super Bowl. There is something about being in Pittsburgh, around other Steelers fans, in the middle of January, with all hopes and dreams riding together on the black and gold. It's more than being about the Steelers. This was a trip home for Sharon and I. It's a Pittsburgh thing; and, I suspect nobody can really understand what that means unless they experience it themselves.