Steelers vs. Colts: Top 10 Games of the Series (Super Bowl Era)
On Sunday, September 25, 2011, the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Lucas Oil Field for the first time to play a game that was circled on fans' calendars in bold red during the preseason.
In anticipation of a Manning-Roethlisberger feud, predictions were waged regarding the teams' records, many assuming a narrow Indianapolis win in the last minutes with their surgical field general engineering a dynamic fourth quarter drive.
Like anything, time has changed the perspective of this battle—replacing the Colts' king with anything but a rook(ie). Kerry Collins, who has had a superb career against the Black and Gold, should get the nod against a Pittsburgh squad looking for a winning record.
While Manning's injury has taken some gloss off the NBC Sunday Night marketing blitz, this weekend's feud will add another chapter to a series between franchises that have been recent league heavyweights.
No matter the outcome this Sunday, albeit a blowout as per prognostication or a nail-biter, the Men of Steel have battled the Blue in many classic bouts. Though the Steelers have dominated the modern series, the games have been largely competitive or noteworthy, filled with accomplishments, last-minute heroics and great NFL entertainment.
Honorable Mention: Foster Romps (1992)
In 1992, Cowher Power was becoming a Pittsburgh craze. Running back Barry Foster and a dominant defense were the new coach's recipe, and the Steelers regained their status as contenders.
Against the Indianapolis Colts, Foster romped for 168 yards and two touchdowns, his eighth 100-yard game, breaking Franco Harris's team record in a single season.
With the loss, the Colts fell to 0-7 all time at Three Rivers Stadium, and Bill Cowher remained unbeaten at home in his rookie coaching campaign.
The running effort was magnified considering its importance; with Neil O'Donnell out of the game, Bubby Brister and Jack Trudeau were serving as backup quarterbacks.
Translation: Run, Barry, Run!
In a dominant effort and record-setting contest, the Steelers won outright in a 30-14 decision.
No 10: Captain Comeback Comes Back (1996)
After playing the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game in 1996, the Colts started the following season off with sizzle before fizzling to wild card eligibility.
Despite losing momentum, Jim Harbaugh, dubbed Captain Comeback for his penchant for late game heroics, led Indianapolis back to Pittsburgh with the notion of vengeance on their minds.
Pittsburgh also stumbled into the postseason, losing their final two games to San Francisco and second-year Carolina, a surprising 12-4 playoff contender. Mike Tomczak led the Men of Steel as they attempted to defend their AFC crown. The journey began with this emotional rematch.
The Steelers dominated from the first whistle, engaging the Colts and taking the play directly to Indianapolis in every phase of the game. As Jerome Bettis rumbled for over 100 yards on the day, Jim Harbaugh felt constant pressure and was unable to revert to the running game. Colts ball carriers barely gained 40 yards on the afternoon, including a pedestrian 25-yard effort from eventual legend Marshall Faulk.
After a complete first-half whipping, the Steelers...
Much to the chagrin of a stunned crowd, Pittsburgh blew a 13-0 lead, as Eugene Daniel returned an interception for a touchdown, and Harbaugh's offense showed its only life in the final minutes of the first half. A late touchdown pass to Aaron Bailey gave the Colts a stunning lead.
In the third quarter, Bettis scored his first playoff touchdown on his patented one-yard run. Despite the setbacks, Pittsburgh led 21-14 heading into the fourth quarter. Nonetheless, the score was disconcerting for fans who understood the nature of allowing an opponent to stay in striking range.
Two years earlier, they had witnessed the consequences as Stan Humphries of the Chargers hit Alfred Pupunu (not a misprint) with a 43-yard touchdown that negated a dominating statistical effort by Pittsburgh. The Chargers mocked the Steelers with their Terrible Towels and went to the Super Bowl.
Again, the Steelers were dominating, but the Colts were simply one great play from the upset.
Any nervousness in the stands was quickly eradicated as Pittsburgh annihilated Indianapolis in the final quarter, ending any chance for revenge.
Captain Comeback came back to Pittsburgh, but he couldn't rally the Colts from this beating. Three Steelers touchdowns in the fourth quarter ended a 42-14 blowout that was once-wildly-a football game!
In the end, the Steelers owned the Colts, with a 24-8 first-down margin and nearly triple Indianapolis's 146-yard offensive output.
No. 9: Malone's High Five (1985)
A year removed from upsetting Pittsburgh with a furious fourth-quarter rally (later on the list), the Colts entered Three Rivers Stadium on September 8, 1985 looking to duplicate the final result.
Quarterback Mark Malone had different ideas regarding the rematch. Months earlier, the AFC Championship Game saw Dan Marino torch the Steelers for 421 yards and four touchdowns. Malone put up voluminous numbers, but his three interceptions negated any shot for Pittsburgh to keep pace with the record-setting Dolphins passing attack.
To open the 1985 season, Mark Malone played the role of Dan Marino, and the Colts were shellacked. Louis Lipps was Malone's main target, catching nine passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns.
Malone threw five touchdowns that day to start the '84 campaign blissfully. Yet, after 10 games played that season, Malone would achieve 13 total touchdowns, making this easily the most dynamic performance of his season...and career.
Noteworthy for the Steelers record still shared today by Malone, Bradshaw and Roethlisberger, the five touchdown passes catapulted Pittsburgh to a decisive 45-3 victory.
No. 8: Winless Colts Turn Down Gifts (1997)
From playing for conference championships to becoming the punchline of jokes, quarterback Jim Harbaugh and the Indianapolis Colts self-destructed in 1997.
Their 0-5 start essentially doomed their season, and a trip to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers, and improving first-year starting quarterback Kordell "Slash" Stewart was pending.
It was the site where the Colts had been thrashed months earlier, 42-14, in the Wild Card playoffs.
Kordell Stewart was mediocre before leaving the game due to injury. It was Mike Tomczak who ultimately played the slash role, attempting to slice and dice the Steelers odds of winning.
After getting off to a fast start and 10-0 lead, the Colts saw Pittsburgh rally ahead. The fourth quarter began with a Mike Tomczak touchdown to Courtney Hawkins. The Steelers led 24-13.
Then, disarray began.
A Colts field goal made the score 24-16. Then, a new game show commenced: "How Many Ways Can You Lose a Win?"
The star of the show was the Pittsburgh offense, who turned the ball over on four consecutive fourth quarter drives. This happened while leading in a game against an 0-5 Colts squad- and despite a running clinic by Jerome Bettis for 164 yards.
The Steelers simply couldn't run out the clock and could only hope to beat cruel time.
After endless chances for Pittsburgh to run out the clock or extend the lead, only to commit another turnover every time, the Colts finally scored a touchdown. A failed two-point conversion left Pittsburgh ahead, 24-22.
So, did the Men of Steel learn their lesson? Hardly.
"How Many Ways Can You Lose a Win?" Take two!
In the final minute, Bettis attempted to run out the clock again, and it happened: the fourth turnover in a row. It was a fumble at the Steelers' 25-yard line.
This set up Cary Blanchard for a chip-shot field goal, and the Colts...
Lost on the missed 41-yard field goal! The ball drifted wide, and the Steelers won a game that felt dirty.
The Colts fell to 0-6, proving that some teams simply can't accept a gift!
No. 7: Sid-ney! Sid-ney! (1979)
As it turns out, Pittsburgh's hockey fans were not the first group to exalt the name "Sidney!"
A little known Pittsburgh running back once filled in for a legend quite admirably. On one important night, the back of little fame sent Three Rivers Stadium into a frenzy with the performance of his life.
On September 23, 1979, the Colts fell to 0-4 while the eventual champion Steelers improved their undefeated record to 4-0.
On a night where Terry Bradshaw played up his Blonde Bomber role, he threw touchdown passes to John Stallworth and Bennie Cunningham.
His second score, to the tight end Cunningham, gave Pittsburgh a 20-17 lead. In a sloppy game, Pittsburgh had overcome four turnovers to win.
So, where does Sidney come into play?
Sidney Thornton replaced Franco Harris admirably. He had 13 carries for 129 yards and three receptions for 33 yards. On 16 touches, he accumulated 162 yards—over 10 yards every time he had the football in his possession.
In a close game where the Colts hung tough, Thornton's effort was vital, catapulting Pittsburgh to another victory en route to further championship glory down the road!
No. 6: Tommy Gun Is the Real Man-ning! (2002)
After a putrid start to 2002, Kordell Stewart was benched against Cleveland, and backup quarterback Tommy Maddox rallied the 0-2 Steelers to an overtime win that may have saved their season.
In one of the greatest comeback stories in NFL history, Maddox—an insurance salesman shortly before his return to football—was the XFL MVP in its only season. Pittsburgh took a chance on the remaining talents of the former first-round draft selection.
Chosen by the Denver Broncos in 1992, Tommy fizzled out of football. After life's twists and turns, he sizzled back into the spotlight. Like Kurt Warner a few years earlier, AFL experience had allegedly improved his quickness, ability to react and throw and accuracy. And, who was going to argue?
In 2002, Maddox had the Steelers offense high-flying for the first time since the bald, blonde Bradshaw and his right rifle (arm). Speaking of rifles, Steelers fans gave Maddox a nickname: Tommy Gun.
Peyton Manning and the Colts, transforming into a perennial winner under new coach Tony Dungy, made their first trip to Heinz Field for a Monday Night Football showdown against Maddox and crew in 2002.
While most of Maddox's throws were surgically precise, such as his touchdown to Hines Ward to open scoring, it was the running of Amos Zereoue and Jerome Bettis that gave the Steelers balance. Pittsburgh rushed for nearly 200 yards.
Manning completed 32-of-48 passes in a busy evening, 11 of his completions to running back Edgerrin James. Despite racking up over 300 yards, Manning's three interceptions prevented a closer score.
In the end, in his first ever start in front of the home crowd, Tommy Maddox got the win with some help from his friends—Hines Ward, the running game and an opportunistic defense.
No. 5: The Gunslinger's Itchy Trigger Finger (2008)
In an eventual championship season, the Steelers struggled in consecutive home games against the Brothers Manning, losing to the Giants and Colts.
Against Peyton, Pittsburgh lost 24-20. However, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was given an important lesson about protecting the ball. Indeed, the gunslinger would learn the need to resist an itchy trigger finger after a stunning defeat.
In that game, the Steelers quick 7-0 lead evaporated, as a tipped Manning pass deep downfield landed directly into the arms of Reggie Wayne, who took the pass for a 65-yard tying touchdown.
The Steelers regained the lead on a second Mewelde Moore rushing touchdown, eventually extending to a 17-7 edge. The Colts, refusing to relent, came up with another Manning touchdown strike—this time to Dallas Clarkbefore halftime.
In the second half, the Steelers maintained their edge, leading 20-17 with time dwindling.
In a game where Peyton Manning threw three touchdowns with no interceptions, Roethlisberger did the opposite. With a chance to run out the clock or extend the lead, Big Ben threw a critical interception in Pittsburgh territory late in the fourth quarter.
Manning took the field with a chance to pull out the momentous win in the Steel City on a snowy, blustery evening.
Noting that the setting was not Gillette Stadium, any NFL fan can finish that script.
No. 4: The Russell Return (1975)
Any Steelers fan worth their salt knows the name Andy Russell. In a defensive playoff battle, the legendary linebacker made one of the most memorable plays of his career, a legendary team highlight.
The vastly improved Colts traveled to Three Rivers Stadium to play the defending Super Bowl Champions. As much as matching points, the two teams matched turnovers throughout a defensive afternoon. Ultimately, a tremendous defensive play would seal the deal.
After taking a 7-0 lead, Terry Bradshaw threw a careless interception to Baltimore (not the Ravens, youngsters), and a long return set up a tying touchdown pass from Marty Domres to Glenn Doughty. It was the first of only two completions for Domres on the day.
After falling behind in the second half, the Steelers defense stepped up. Mel Blount, the legendary cornerback, intercepted a Domre pass. For his two completions, Domres matched the total with picks. The Steelers offense responded with a Rocky Bleier touchdown.
Eventually, Bert Jones returned to the game.
Bradshaw executed a quarterback sneak for another score to extend the lead to 21-10. The desperate Colts would need a miracle.
After Jones led Baltimore into scoring territory, the Steelers defense stripped the quarterback of the ball, setting up one of the legendary plays in Pittsburgh sports history, considered by fans one of the best moments ever at Three Rivers Stadium..
In a historic play, Andy Russell scooped up the ball and rumbled down the field for an uncontested and historic 93-yard touchdown. A slow return, his teammates heckled and celebrated him simultanously.
The Steelers own 28-10 in spite of their five turnovers, and the Colts—with three giveaways of their ownsaw a turnaround season end.
No. 3: Butler Miracle Finishes Furious Fourth Quarter Rally (1984)
By 1984, members of the Steelers dynasty were either getting too old to contribute or defunct. As key members of arguably the greatest team ever assembled left, the replacement parts were not quite the equivalent of their predecessors.
Nevertheless, Pittsburgh continued to win during their underrated decade of the 80's, while the Colts struggled mightily.
Pittsburgh traveled to Indianapolis for the first time, where the meager 2-5 Colts awaited. The Steelers carried a swagger. After all, their momentum was buoyed by a 20-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
In 1984, Pittsburgh's west coast win over Bill Walsh's squad would be the only loss all year for the Montana-led future dynasty.
It seemed that momentum was decidedly in Pittsburgh's favor. Having owned the Colts in recent seasons, the Steelers 13-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter was not surprising to many. Included in the total was a 53-yard field goal by Gary Anderson.
While David Woodley was erratic at quarterback, John Stallworth had a fine effort with over 100 receiving yards. Yet, despite 405 yards of offense, the Steelers could not translate their yardage into points.
The Colts chipped into the lead with a field goal before an Alvin Moore eight-yard touchdown run made the score 13-10.
Without panicking, Pittsburgh struck back with a field goal to extend their lead to six points. Indianapolis would need a touchdown to win the game against a nemesis that had their number.
A change of venue would prove to provide a fresh outcome.
Mike Pagel, who had lost the starting job, had come off the bench to rally the helpless Colts offense. The unit scored their first 10 points under Pagel's guidance and would need a miracle touchdown to win the game with just over one minute remaining.
For Steelers fans, heartbreak ensued. For Colts fans, it was arguably their finest win to that point in Indianapolis.
On 3rd-and-24, Pagel dropped back from near midfield, nearly getting sacked. A desperate throw downfield was batted in the air by the Steelers defense.
The ball landed into the arms of Ray Butler, who ran in for the touchdown.
Despite a late Steelers rally, time ran out, and a game of domination became a demoralizing defeat for Pittsburgh.
No. 2: The Tackle (2006)
Steelers fans remember where they were for some of the most key moments in franchise history.
The Immaculate Reception.
The Catch. Or, since Dwight Clark called dibs, Santonio's catch.
And, of course...
The Colts started 2005 with a 13-0 record before a loss to the Chargers. The Steelers, a favorite in the AFC heading into the year, followed up Ben Roethlisberger's rookie season with a fast start. After rocketing to a 7-2 record, Ben fell to injury for the second time in the campaign.
A three-game losing stretch nearly cost the team its championship hopes, but the Steelers won their final four games to qualify for the playoffs.
After beating the Bengals, the team traveled to Indianapolis, for a rematch with Peyton Manning and the Colts. Pittsburgh had lost at the RCA Dome 26-7 earlier in the season.
The Steelers defense got constant pressure. Manning began the afternoon 2-for-9, and the invincible Colts looked fragile. Receivers couldn't hit their marks due to the disruption of a secondary playing at its optimum level and the ruthless pursuit of the defensive front and linebackers of Manning.
Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger and the offense chose a finesse approach, quickly jumping to a 14-0 lead. With plenty of time left in the game, the public surely anticipated an furious Indianapolis rally before halftime. Yet, at intermission, the Colts trailed 14-3.
In the second half, Jerome Bettis began to churn out yardage, and Pittsburgh's offense performed the essence of a root canal on Indy, manhandling the defense and taking a 21-3 lead.
With everything in hand, the Colts came to a breaking point with a fourth down, and Peyton furiously waved the special teams off the field. The quarterback converted the key down before cutting the Steelers lead to 21-10.
Afterwards, with another opportunity to continue the rally, Peyton threw an interception to Troy Polamalu. However, upon getting up, the safety dislodged the football with his own knee, and the officials blew the call. Indianapolis scored, and a 21-18 game was suddenly interesting, especially...
When the Colts got the ball back again. Pittsburgh's defense, infuriated by the missed interception call, went into "the zone." Joey Porter, angry over the turn of events preceding the drive, took it upon himself to single-handedly destroy the Colts offense, sacking Manning on consecutive plays to end the apparent final drive. Porter came in untouched on the final down, sacking Peyton near his own endzone as the result of a tremendous (and confusing) effort along the defensive front.
With timeout in the Colts' possession and little time left, the Steelers gave the ball to "The Bus" to end the game.
A helmet hit the ball, which popped out of Bettis's arm. Nick Harper, having been a stabbing victim by his significant other days earlier, grabbed the gift and ran downfield. Ben Roethlisberger wisely began to track the defender by running backwards.
Harper was unable to elude the quarterback, whose game-saving tackle will be forever remembered as one of the top 10 plays of Pittsburgh sports lore.
Manning and the offense took control of the ball, but the defense—specifically the secondary—held stout, refusing to give up a touchdown. Reggie Wayne was covered by Ike Taylor on a deep route, and the corner broke up a fantastic throw from Manning to his favorite target.
In field goal range, Indianapolis attempted to tie the game with Mike Vanderjagt, a kicker who had become infamous for misses in key moments.
Building on his unenviable legacy of inopportune choking (what else can you call it?), the kick sailed WIDE (capital letters), and Pittsburgh secured a place in the AFC Championship Game against Denver.
No. 1: "Three More Yards" (1996)
Perhaps the best game of the Cowher era, the 1995-96 AFC Championship Game had it all: great plays, close calls, a gut-wrenching finish, the perfect storyline and oodles of emotion. The pinnacle of stress, Steelers and Colts fans endured an emotional day.
One year earlier, the Steelers held a 13-3 second-half lead against an outmatched Chargers team. The offense outgained their opponent all game, and the defense clamped down on the Chargers for all but two plays. Nevertheless, those two plays were critical, both long touchdown passes from Stan Humphries to give San Diego a 17-13 lead.
The Steelers drove to the 3-yard line but were stopped short on the game's final play as a pass intended for Barry Foster was batted to the turf. The "One for the Thumb" campaign of 1994 had come to a sudden end, and the Steelers new rallying cry for 1995 was "three more yards."
1995 started slowly. The team rallied from a 3-4 record to finish 11-5. After Jim Harbaugh ("Captain Comeback") led the Colts to a 10-7 win in Kansas City, the Cinderella Colts came to Three Rivers Stadium. The Steelers had returned to the AFC Championship Game, looking to exorcise demons from their loss to the Chargers.
Pittsburgh was a heavy favorite again. Indianapolis proved up to the task.
Trailing 6-3, Neil O'Donnell hit Kordell Stewart for a touchdown to end the first half. The play came with controversy, as Kordell had been out of bounds before catching the football. Nevertheless, the Steelers led 10-6.
A Steelers 13-9 lead evaporated, as Jim Harbaugh threw a 47-yard touchdown bomb to Floyd Turner. The event and the score were eerily similar to the prior season. Naturally doubt began to linger among the Three Rivers faithful.
With the fans on pins and needles, the Colts looked to run out the clock. It may have happened, but Willie Williams made an amazing tackle on a Colts run on 3rd-and-1. The Colts line opened a hole, and the score may have been 23-13 if not for a great defensive effort.
With the ball back in the offense's possession, Neil O'Donnell hurled a pass down the right sideline that was caught by Ernie Mills. This set up a Bam Morris touchdown. The score did not come easily as Morris had to fight with all of his might to break the goal line.
Up 20-16, "Captain Comeback" led the Colts to the Steelers 29-yard line. In the final seconds, he lobbed a "Hail Mary" pass to the right corner of the end zone. A mass of bodies fell to the ground, and the ball appeared to land on the stomach of Colts WR Aaron Bailey.
In a gut-wrenching moment in the Steel City, a referee prematurely signalled touchdown. However, he was corrected, as the ball trickled off Bailey and hit the ground.