An Unanswered Hail Mary Brings Pure Joy

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An Unanswered Hail Mary Brings Pure Joy
(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

It’s a birthright. Growing up in Pittsburgh, devotion to the Steelers is a must. Myron Cope’s high-pitched tone was as much a part of my childhood as my parents’ voices.

Well, that might be a bit of hyperbole, but only slightly.

Cope was such an institution as the voice of the team that it was forgotten by many that he was also a fantastic sports writer before his days on the radio.

My father grew up in the era when the Steelers went from the doormat of the league to winning four Super Bowls in the 1970s. I was raised on the stories of those teams.

I could watch the NFL Films videos of those Super Bowls over and over, swelling up with pride every time I watched Jack Lambert come to Roy Gerela’s rescue and throw Cliff Harris to the ground. The beauty of Lynn Swann’s acrobatic catches mesmerized me.

All I wanted was the chance to witness the Steelers make the Super Bowl in my lifetime so that my kids could watch the NFL Films of that Super Bowl and I could tell them all about it. It seemed like 1994 would be that year with the San Diego Chargers coming into Pittsburgh in January to play the AFC Championship game.

It was supposed to be the classic case of a warm weather team getting run over in the snow. Instead, there was no snow, Pittsburgh was unseasonably warm and Neil O’Donnell’s last-minute pass to Barry Foster was knocked down. I slunk into my father’s lap, devastated that the Steelers would not be playing in the Super Bowl.

That devastation was turned into pure joy just one year later. Against another upstart team, the Indianapolis Colts led by Jim Harbaugh, the Steelers won by mere inches. Harbaugh’s end of the game Hail Mary seemed at first to be caught by Aaron Bailey. Phil Simms even proclaimed that he had made the catch.

The refs were right on the play, though, and made the correct call that the ball had hit the rock solid turf at Three Rivers Stadium and the Steelers had won the game.

That set off a celebration of unbridled happiness. I ran throughout the house for about five minutes shouting over and over: “The Steelers are going to the Super Bowl!” I did that until my mom finally got sick of it and told me to calm down.

Of course, the Steelers went on to lose the Super Bowl to the Cowboys, the first Super Bowl I was allowed to stay up and watch for the whole time. I was still happy, though, because a team I had rooted for would be in an NFL Films Super Bowl package.

I had no pretensions about the darker aspects of sport at that time and so I’ve never come close to being as happy as a fan as I was after the AFC Championship win over the Colts. Not even the two Super Bowl wins could match that.

While this current team will probably be the one that is associated with my generation the way the '70s team is associated with my parents’ generation, that Colts’ game will be the first one I tell my kids about.

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