"One for the Thumb" had been realized in Pittsburgh, and the new goal of the Black and Gold was to turn the city into "Six-burgh."
Celebrating a fifth Lombardi Trophy, the newly appointed champions, the first sixth-seeded team to accomplish the feat, kicked off the NFL season in grand style during prime time on NBC. They would begin their championship defense against the Miami Dolphins, who featured popular coach Nick Saban and X-factor quarterback Daunte Culpepper.
Though it seems silly today, many people had picked the Dolphins in the '06 offseason as their favorite to win the AFC, if not the Super Bowl.
Ben Roethlisberger had arguably his most dramatic offseason, which is saying something in light of 2010. First, he wrecked his motorcycle and almost died. Then, after becoming violently ill before a Sunday practice, he had an emergency appendectomy days before the game.
As such, Charlie Batch would be the team's starter for NFL Kickoff 2006.
As memorable for the events surrounding the game as the contest itself, fans enjoyed the grandiose nature of the celebration, from the fireworks to the odd entrance of Jerome Bettis via a bus pulling onto the field from the players' entrance tunnel. OK, so some of the night's events lacked creative inspiration...
Rascal Flatts performed in Pittsburgh, Diddy had the honors in Miami (site of the upcoming Super Bowl XLI), and Martina McBride performed the national anthem.
Then, after all of the pomp and pageantry, a game was finally played! And it was an entertaining opener to boot, the type of close win that would normally propel a team, particularly a champion who can fully expect the opposition's best effort weekly.
The contest started well for Pittsburgh. Charlie Batch rolled right before throwing a beautiful lob pass down the sideline for Nate Washington, whose superb reception opened scoring.
Hines Ward continued a dominant second quarter of offense for the Steelers, scoring on a 7-yard pass. Yet, at halftime the Steelers only led 14-10, despite Miami's anemic offense and a mostly dominant effort by their own.
A little-known little receiver named Wes Welker, whose ridiculous night on special teams (153 combined return yards) and receiving (he led the Dolphins with 67 yards) caused fans in the Steel City to ask, "Who is this miniature dude messing everything up?!"
By the fourth quarter, the Dolphins actually led, 17-14, and the Steelers offense had become stagnant. It appeared that an opening night win was in jeopardy. Then, after almost three quarters of waiting, the team finally got the explosive play it needed.
Batch found an absurdly wide open Heath Miller, and the tight end narrowly beat pursuit to the end zone, giving the team a 17-14 lead—or did he?
Replays showed Miller's foot went out of bounds at the 2-yard line, which would have nullified the score and forced the Steelers' short yardage offense onto the field. Nick Saban gingerly threw his red flag onto the field, fully expecting that the referee would see the challenge with those alleged eyes in the back of his head.
Instead, Walt Coleman, watching closely as the extra point was kicked, didn't see the flag or challenge, prompting Saban to ask:
They said they didn't see it. Whose fault is that? We can't challenge something until we see it. When we saw it, I threw the flag. It was well before the kicker kicked it. The official said he didn't see it, and when he said he didn't see it, there was nothing he could do. That shouldn't happen.
In fact, it was Saban's own fault, as it was his responsibility to ensure that the official was alerted to the challenge, opposed to just dropping the flag and presuming that it would be noticed.
With the lead, the Steelers defense went off on Daunte Culpepper. Troy Polamalu intercepted a pass with five minutes to play, but Jeff Reed failed to take advantage on a missed field goal.
If the issue was unresolved, Joey Porter ended it. An attempt to Welker over the middle was intercepted by the linebacker, who rumbled 42 yards for the game-clinching score.
Porter exuberantly raced toward the Pittsburgh sideline, kissing Cowher on the cheek. Pittsburgh won 28-17 to kick off a season that wouldn't be so positive as its opening act.