The mood on Mondays in Pittsburgh is largely (at times almost solely) determined by what happens on Sunday.
But, after tough losses, the city goes into a collective state of depression. Black Monday follows a tough Steelers' loss. But, the downer that follows a tough, and unexpected, playoff loss can last for a surprisingly long time, weeks or longer.
It doesn't completely fade until the team suits up and takes the field again the following year.
While there were a few games that really hurt, for me there is no real competition over which one hurt the most. The Super Bowl loss to the Cowboys likely tops a lot of fans' list. Not mine.
While the Kordell Stewart interception fest against the Broncos in the AFC Championship game and the loss to the Pats in Ben's rookie season rank high on the list, the absolute worst day for me as a Steelers' fan was Jan. 15, 1995, the day of the Steelers-Chargers AFC Championship Game.
I was a senior in college at the time at Air Force in Colorado Springs, Colo., right smack in the very heart of Broncos Country. Even in that hostile territory, Steelers Nation still had a very strong presence.
The Steelers were heavy (double digit) favorites against the Chargers. I went, with a couple other Steelers' fans, down to McKenna's Pub, the local Steelers' watering hole in that Rocky Mountain city.
The room was absolutely pack-jammed with Steelers' fans, at least a hundred and probably far more. Some of them had never been near Pittsburgh in their lives, but they were diehard fans just the same.
The place was an absolute party as we waited for the game to start. Terrible Towels were a waving and the beer was a flowing.
There was no way we could lose to the lowly Chargers and the crowd knew it. Heck, our backups nearly beat their starters in the last game of the season, a game they needed to win that was meaningless to Pittsburgh who had already secured the AFC's top seed.
Then the game started. Pittsburgh absolutely dominated the first half, moving the ball with ease while stifling the Chargers.
We roared our approval, even though we started to notice a pattern that would play out the whole game...despite waltzing down the field repeatedly, the Steelers just couldn't put the ball in the end zone. The half ended with the Steelers leading 10-3.
I started to get nervous but we still celebrated at half time. We were up by seven and were in full control.
And then the second half happened. It started out OK. The Steelers continued to move the ball with ease, kicking a field goal to go up 13-3. Barry Foster continued to run wild through the San Diego defense.
But, even with extending the lead, you could tell that people were really getting nervous. The near complete domination (the Steelers outgained the Chargers about 2-1 in that game) was not showing on the scoreboard.
And then the unthinkable happened. The Chargers hit for two long plays...both 43-yard touchdown strikes...to take a 17-13 lead late in the game. The pub became eerily quiet at that point. But the game was far from over.
The Steelers took over at their own 17-yard line and, as they had been doing all day, promptly marched straight down the field to the San Diego three. We were all holding our breath. It came down to one final play.
Cowher, with a big smile on his face still exuding confidence, gave his final marching orders to his quarterback. The ball was snapped.
O'Donnell spotted Barry Foster open in the middle of the end zone and threw it in his direction. For a half second it looked like it would be completed before linebacker Dennis Gibson climbed over his back and knocked it away.
From high to low in an instant. You could have heard a pin drop in McKenna's Pub after that. We quietly patted each other on the back and headed to our cars. There was nothing to say.
To add insult to injury, when I got back to school, I noticed my wallet had been pickpocketed at the pub by a guy who pretended to be a Duquesne fan. Ouch. And I had hours of homework to do. The gloom that followed that game lasted for months.
I am convinced to this day that the Steelers would have stood a real shot at beating the 49ers in that Super Bowl.
They matched up far better than the Chargers did in that game with a far better secondary and the ability to control the clock.
For me, that was the worst day to be a Steelers fan.
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