The greatest dynasty known to the NFL was winding down, and I was too young to really appreciate it.
Having a team as talented and amazing as the 1970s Steelers were is what has bred Steeler Nation.
And I don't remember most of it.
Growing up as a youth, and into a young man, and into a man, I saw many great teams. All with the same goal: One For The Thumb.
I watched the Dallas Cowboys pass us, by defeating us in a heartbreaking—and our only—Super Bowl loss. I watched Joe Montana and Steve Young start with zero and pass us as well.
And the whole time, I was still wishing for One For The Thumb.
Then it happened.
The 2005 season started out with high expectations, as many years previous. But this time was different.
Our young gunslinger, Ben Roethlisberger was no longer the rookie kid. Jerome Bettis decided to come back for one more try, after Big Ben promised him they would go to the Super Bowl. And Dick LeBeau was still calling the shots on the defense.
This year really could be One For The Thumb.
In the opening game of the season, Willie Parker replaced an injured Jerome Bettis and Deuce Staley against the Tennessee Titans.
Parker showed much promise in the final game of the 2004 season aginst the Buffalo Bills. I was excited that he was getting his chance. And he made the most of it, rushing for 161 yards in a 34-7 rout, and an opening-day victory.
Following a bye week in week four, Pittsburgh was 2-1, heading into San Diego to play the Chargers on Monday Night Football. On the deciding drive in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger took a shot to his knee that would sideline him for five of the next six games.
Pittsburgh would win four of the next five games behind Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch.
Pittsburgh went into Ben's first week back against the Super Bowl favorites—the Indianapolis Colts.
From the first offensive play of the game, Peyton Manning, on a play-action fake hit Marvin Harrison for an 80 yard TD reception, it was down hill from there. The Colts went on to win 26-7.
Things were no better the following week, as the Steelers hosted the Cincinnati Bengals for control of the division. The Bengals came out swinging. And even though the Steelers put 31 points on the board, in a very non-like Steelers fashion, the Bengals scored 38.
Cincinnati put a stranglehold on the AFC North championship, and forced Pittsburgh to go for the Wild Card if they wanted to make the playoffs.
The moment most remembered of this game was not the loss, but TJ Houshmandzadeh wiping his cleats in the tunnel with a Terrible Towel. Steeler fans vowed for revenge.
Pittsburgh was now faced with the real possibility of not making the playoffs, and Ben faced with the possibility of not keeping his promise to Jerome Bettis.
Pittsburgh would have to win their final four games if they wanted to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs.
In the first week of the four-game season, the Steelers hosted the Chicago Bears. Chicago came in with the NFL's top rated defense.
As the snow started to fall at halftime, Bill Cowher turned to the Bus to put the team on his shoulders and carry them to victory. Bettis did exactly that.
Bettis rushed for 100 yards in the second half, leading Pittsburgh to a 21-9 victory.
The following week, the Steelers headed to Minnesota to play the Vikings. In a defensive slugfest, Pittsburgh pulled out the victory 18-3.
Then came the Cleveland Browns. Any time you have a rivalry game, anything can happen. This was a win that the Steelers were desperate for, and Cleveland could eliminate them with a victory.
The Steelers came out firing on all cylinders, pounding the Browns 41-0. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 226 yards while Willie Parker ran for another 130. Pittsburgh was headed into their final game of the season needing a win to qualify for the sixth seed.
In the final game, the roar of "One More Year" was so loud, it inspired Bettis to finish his final regular season with three rushing touchdowns, leading the way for Pittsburgh to pound the Lions 35-21.
The Playoffs have started, and it was time for Steeler redemption. First up, Cincinnati.
Cincinnati qualified as the number-three seed, and Pittsburgh could not have been happier. The thoughts of TJ Houshmandzadeh cleaning his cleats with the Terrible Towel were fresh in our minds, and revenge would be had.
On the Bengals first possession, Carson Palmer hit Chris Henry for a 50-yard strike—but it was the worst play that the Bengals could have asked for.
Kimo VonOlhoffen rolled up on Carson Palmer's left knee, tearing his ACL and MCL and knocking him out of the game.
Jon Kitna replaced Palmer, but to no avail. There is rumor that at halftime of this game, Chad Johnson was involved in a fistfight with members of the coaching staff.
Pittsburgh beat the Bengals physically and mentally, 31-17.
Next stop, Indianapolis.
The Steelers traveled to Indianapolis to face the top-seeded Colts. After the embarrassment of losing earlier in the season, Pittsburgh came out with a chip on their collective shoulder.
For the first three-and-a-half quarters, Pittsburgh dominated every aspect of the game. In the fourth quarter, Troy Polamalu intercepted a Peyton Manning pass, but fumbled it as he was getting off the ground.
The interception was reviewed, and in one of the biggest screw-ups in the history of the NFL, the call was overturned.
Three plays later, the Colts scored a touchdown, and successfully tried the two-point conversion to cut the Steelers' lead to three.
After holding the Steelers, the punt forced the Colts to start inside their own 10-yard line.
This time, the Steelers' D was not going to be denied. After an incomplete pass on first down, the Steelers sacked Peyton Manning, followed by another incomplete. On fourth down, Joey Porter sacked Peyton Manning again, giving the Steelers the ball inside the two yard line.
I remember arguing with a friend of mine. Do we take a knee, make Indy use all their timeouts, and then have to drive 95 yards for the win, or do we punch it in and end the game?
Cowher decided to go with my friend, and punch it in. On first down, Jerome Bettis was given the ball on a dive play. Fumble!
My first thought was "NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOO!"
As the Colts picked up the loose ball and started running the other way, all I could think of was failures of the past. Could this really be happening again? NOT THIS WAY!
Ben Roethlisberger made an amazing tackle—and again, it was up to the defense to stop the Colts.
After a couple of completions by Peyton Manning, the Colts were in field-goal range. In came surefooted kicker Mike Vanderjagt—who to this point had never missed a playoff kick inside a dome.
Cowher called time out to freeze the kicker. And I remember the announcers voice.
"For the tie, snap is down, kick is long enough, NO GOOD!" I almost passed out. This kind of thing can not be good for the heart.
Pittsburgh was heading to Denver to take on the Broncos.
Prior to the Denver game, my Mom called me and asked how good the Broncos were. I told her, if we were to play them 10 times, we would win nine. The only question was, was this one of the nine, or the other one.
The Steelers were not going to be denied. Pittsburgh started out on fire and never let up. They pounded Jake Plummer and the Broncos 34-17.
On to Super Bowl XL.
Heading into the game, the Seahawks were the NFC's top seed. For Pittsburgh to win this game, we would have to beat a number-three seed, a number-two seed, and two number-one seeds.
Was this possible? It had never been done before.
As the game started, our phenom QB looked pedestrian at best. You could tell he was a bundle of nerves. It was going to be up to the defense and running game if we were going to finally win One For The Thumb.
And that is exactly what happened.
The Steelers defense held the highest-scoring team in the NFL to only 10 points. Willie Parker broke a then-record 75-yard touchdown run to open the second half, and the defense did the rest.
As Pittsburgh took over for their final position, all that was left was to take a knee, and finally win that One For The Thumb.
This game was special for so many reasons: Finally claiming the trophy to pull even with the Cowboys and 49ers, as the most in football. Ben keeping his promise to Jerome Bettis. Bill Cowher being able to erase the stigma of never being able to win the big one.
And then there was mine.
The mantra of my life, One For The Thumb, was finally over. The slogan that I started every year with was officially gone.
For the first time since becoming an adult, I got to uncork the Dom, and toast my Steelers, along with Steeler Nation, for being the best team in football.
And that is why the 2005 Steelers will always be my favorite team.