The 10 Greatest Moments in Pittsburgh Steelers Playoff History
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the NFL's most storied franchise. They have captured a record six Lombardi trophies while making regular appearances in the NFL's postseason.
While there have been some disappointments along the way, Steelers fans were the last ones celebrating six times, more than the fans of any other franchise.
In those six Super Bowl runs, the Steelers have made some breathtaking plays. When they make Super Bowl runs, they really do it in style. No matter how many times I watch these plays, it isn't enough.
Whether it was Stallworth streaking down the field to break the Rams' hearts or Swann flying through the sky over a host of defenders, these plays laid the foundation for what is today Steelers Nation.
But during their two recent Super Bowl runs, the Steelers have made some spectacular plays that rival, and even top, the great plays made during their '70s runs.
So, here it goes. This is my initial list of their top 10 playoff moments. No doubt I'll miss some big ones, especially since I was all of three years old when the Steelers won their first Super Bowl.
With that in mind, this might be a little weighted towards the recent past. So, let me know which ones you think I missed and how you would change the order.
Can anyone spare some oxygen?
James Harrison's interception return has to top the list. It was absolutely stunning...one of the most amazing plays in NFL history. It even topped David Tyree's miracle catch from the year before.
The momentum in the game had shifted, with the Cardinals looking ready to take their first lead of the game into halftime.
Then Harrison, perfectly executing Dick LeBeau's zone blitz defense, drops into the passing lane, picks off a confused Kurt Warner, and rumbles over a hundred yards the other direction, gasping for breath as he falls into the end zone carrying Larry Fitzgerald.
It was breathtaking. It was also the reason I had no voice left for the second half.
Before "The Drive," there was "The Tackle."
One of the most horrifying moments in Steelers playoff history was saved by an outstanding tackle by Big Ben.
The Steelers were about to ice the game over the heavily favored Colts, the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl that year. It was all but over. Then the sure-handed Jerome Bettis coughs up the ball while slamming towards the end zone.
It pops into the air, and the next thing we know, Nick Harper is racing the other way towards the end zone. He only had one man to beat.
Roethlisberger started backpedaling and then changed direction, making a perfect diving tackle on Nick Harper. It was a tackle that very few quarterbacks would have made, and had Harper been a little smarter and raced to the sideline, he probably wouldn't have been made by Ben.
Roethlisberger doesn't make that tackle, and the Steelers probably don't win that game. Instead of appearing here, the play would have appeared in a Colts top 10 list.
With that play, the legend of Ben was off and running in Pittsburgh.
The Immaculate Reception
Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception was once the most amazing play in NFL history. Plenty of people (ahem...calling John Madden) still probably would put it at the top of the list.
The Steelers were down to their last chance, trailing the favored Raiders 7-6 with just seconds on the clock in their own territory.
After escaping a couple rushers, Terry Bradshaw throws a desperation pass towards "French" Fuqua at the Raider 35-yard line.
The Assassin, Jack Tatum, hammers Fuqua as the ball arrives, sending the ball spiraling backwards into the waiting hands of Franco, who just manages to catch the ball before it hits the ground.
He rushes down the sideline to secure the Steelers' first playoff win in my birth year of 1972.
We've all seen the play a million times. Even though I was still in diapers when it happened, every time I saw it, I felt like I was there experiencing it.
The Steelers didn't win the Super Bowl that year, but this play is cited more than any other as a turning point in the franchise's history.
The Drive of the Ages
The Steelers' final drive of Super Bowl XLIII...all 88 yards of it (after the holding call on the first play)...was the best game-winning drive in Super Bowl history.
After falling behind by three with 2:37 left in the game, Big Ben put the team on his back and, eight plays later, drove them to pay dirt.
There is, quite simply, no quarterback better in that situation. The guy absolutely thrives on pressure. On the drive, Roethlisberger repeatedly escaped from a heavy rush and made the plays that Steelers fans have come to expect from him.
Santonio Holmes told him that he wanted to be the go-to guy on the drive, and Big Ben promptly complied, finding him repeatedly, including the big play from the Arizona 46 where Holmes broke free and raced past a fallen defender all the way to the six-yard line.
It was capped off with a top-five Super Bowl play.
The Legend of Ben adds another chapter.
The game-winning drive was capped off with a top-five Super Bowl play, one in which I jumped up and cheered even though I fully expected the call to be overturned on replay because, come on, there was no way he could have possibly gotten his feet down while handling that high rocket.
Roethlisberger admitted afterwards that when he threw the ball, he thought it would be intercepted, with three defenders positioned nearby.
The play required an absolutely perfect throw and a perfect catch. There was no margin for error.
Was it better than David Tyree's catch from the year before? Maybe...maybe not. They were both great for different reasons.
The call is upheld, and Steelers Nation explodes into celebration.
Leaping Swann: Cowboy Killer
The play that I saw probably the second most as a kid (behind Franco's) was Lynn Swann's juggling 53-yard catch against the Cowboys in Super Bowl X with a desperate Mark Washington trying to corral him.
That drive actually ended in a missed field goal, but without that catch, the Steelers are punting from their own goal line, already trailing 10-7.
The more important Swann catch actually happened in the fourth quarter, a 64-yard touchdown bomb from Terry Bradshaw with about three minutes left in the game that put the Steelers up 21-10.
They win the game 21-17, capturing their second Super Bowl title.
Swann makes another circus catch to kill the Cowboys again three years later, an over the shoulder grab while sliding into the end zone to put the Steelers up 35-17. Despite a Dallas rally, they hold on to win 35-31 and capture Lombardi No. 3.
Bradshaw to Stallworth Buries Rams
This is the first of the '70s Super Bowls I remember vividly. People forget how close this Super Bowl was until late in the game.
The Rams put up a heck of a fight, but one play really broke their backs—the play that stood out above all others.
The Steelers were behind the underdog Rams 19-17 in the fourth quarter.
Terry Bradshaw dropped back and, with Jack Youngblood bearing down on him, let it fly. John Stallworth slipped behind Rod Perry, caught the pass, and raced to the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown.
Youngblood's greatest regret was not getting to Bradshaw in time on that play. The Steelers grabbed the lead and the momentum. They went on to win 31-19.
Lombardi No. 4 is added to the trophy case.
Steel Curtain Stands Tall
The Steelers defense shut out the Vikings offense to win Pittsburgh's first Super Bowl title in 1975. It was one of the most dominating defensive performances in playoff history.
The Vikings had 119 yards of total offense and all of 17 yards rushing. They made seven first downs during the whole game.
One of the signature moments of the game was the Steelers recording the first safety in Super Bowl history, which happened when when the Vikings fumbled in their own end zone.
Dwight White downed Fran Tarkenton to notch the two points, the first points ever scored by the Steelers in a Super Bowl.
While not exactly on par with the James Harrison interception return, it was a signature play in a defensive masterpiece. The first half ended with the score Pittsburgh 2, Minnesota 0.
Pittsburgh found some offense in the second half and won 16-6. The only points they gave up came on a blocked punt.
Trickery Finishes Off the Seahawks
With the Steelers clinging to a precarious 14-10 lead in Super Bowl XL and momentum seemingly on the Seahawks' side, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt reached into his bag of tricks.
The Steelers ran a fake reverse with Antwaan Randle El connecting on a 43-yard touchdown to a wide-open Hines Ward. Ward high-stepped into the end zone with his signature grin beaming bright.
The play was a thing of beauty. Big Ben threw the key block that gave Randle El the time he needed for the play to develop. Hines Ward was named game MVP with 123 yards, 43 of which came on that play.
The game had a couple other key moments, including Roethlisberger connecting to Ward on 3rd-and-28 to set up the first touchdown and Willie Parker racing to the longest touchdown run in Super Bowl history, 75 yards.
But the most dramatic play was the fake reverse touchdown pass.
Jerome Bettis gets his Super Bowl ring in front of his hometown fans and ends his storied career on the ultimate high note.
The Tasmanian Devil Strikes Again
My final choice is the Troy Polamalu interception and touchdown runback that finished off the Ravens to send the Steelers to Super Bowl XLIII. This one gets some bonus points because it was the Ravens.
Despite the Steelers dominating the game, the Ravens were in position to drive for the win thanks to a few Steeler miscues.
But all thoughts of that were erased when Troy Polamalu read Joe Flacco's eyes and stepped in front of his pass at the 40-yard line.
He weaved and bobbed like a drunken sailor, zigging and zagging all the way back to the end zone. Game over. Here we go...here we go...here we go...the Steelers are going to the Super Bowl.