January 16, 2006
By Ric Albano
It simply does not get any better than this. The Pittsburgh Steelers will be traveling to Denver to face (my) Broncos with the winner going to the Super Bowl. The football gods have certainly smiled on me this year. Forget about the fact that both these teams have been overlooked all season and it’s always great when an underdog pulls an upset, but just consider the following:
- The Coachs – Mike Shanahan of Denver is simply the best in the league today. Pittsburgh’s Bill Cowher isn’t too far behind.
- The Quarterbacks – Jake Plummer currently has a 33-13 record as a starter with the Broncos. Consider this in light of the fact that most in the media establishment castigated head coach (and general manager) Mike Shanahan when he assured them that he would be re-signing Plummer to a long term contract this past off-season. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is (I believe) 27-3 as a starter, in spite of being relegated to backup in high school so that the coach’s son could start as quarterback.
- If the above stats aren’t enough, check out the above pictures of this scruffy pair and contrast them with those clean-cut golden boys who have dominated all the repetive commercials during this season.
- Jerome “The Bus” Bettis – former Notre Dame great and one of the best NFL running backs in history. He is unique in how quick he is for a big man and will likely retire after he completes his 13th season on Sunday.
- The Broncos are loaded with so-called “has beens” who are playing the absolute best football of their lives, including Rod Smith, John Lynch, Courtney Brown, Ian Gold, Mike Anderson, and Ron Dayne.
From a personal standpoint, this is rivary holds a special place in my heart. The Broncos’ first ever playoff game, which they won 34-21, was against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Mile High Stadium, Denver in 1977 when I was 9 years old, my first year as a full-fledged football fan. The next year, my 10-year old heart was broken when the Steelers got revenge at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, routing the Broncos 33-10, on their way to their 3rd of 4 championships in the 70s. The teams met twice again in the divisional playoffs in the 80s at Mile High with each team winning once. Then, on January 11, 1998 (the 11th anniversary of “The Drive”), the Broncos and Steelers met for the AFC Championship at Three Rivers Stadium. In the crowd that day were 58,742 Steeler fans and exactly three Bronco fans (myself, my son Dylan, and “Barrelman” Tim McKerran). In spite of the incredibly hostile crowd, the Broncos won 24-21 in the game I like to refer to as “The Terrible Crying Towel”. The Broncos advanced to win their first Super Bowl 2 weeks later, in a game where they were 14 point underdogs and not givin a chance by the sports media (more on them later).
Combine all this with the fact that I currently reside in “Bumble Bee” central, swarming with black-and-yellow clad Steeler fans (if you guys in think there’s alot in the Hazleton area, come down to Cumberland Valley sometime) and now, even though Three Rivers and Mile High are gone and though a new era begins at Invesco Field on Sunday, the magic of this rivary is alive and well for me.
But all-in-all the absolute best thing about the fact that these two teams are meeting on Sunday is the way this absolutely “sticks it to the establishment-media man” like those Patrician elites at ESPN. Unfortunately for them, they will have no use use for their season-long templates this week which primarily focused on the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. No, they’re going to have to reach back into their roots and actually do some sports reporting.
After the Broncos beat the 2-time defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots 27-13 Saturday night, Chris Berman nearly had tears in his eyes as he spent much of the alotted 22 minutes of NFL Primetime lamenting the end of this “special run” for the Patriots. During the highlights, Berman went out of his way to point out the “questionable” call that lead to a Broncos touchdown late in the first half.
The next day on the Sunday morning talk show The Sports Reporters, columnist Mitch Album went further – proclaiming that the Patriots had “givin the game away” to the Broncos, a team against which they would beat “9 out of 10 times they lined up to play”. Apparently Album had forgotten that the Broncos had beaten the Patriots earlier this year 28-20. Did you really mean 9 out of 11 times, Mitch? Later in the show in a segment about the upcoming Steelers vs. Colts game, Album’s asinity continued as he boldly predicted that the Colts would “win easily – by at least 4 touchdowns.” Then it was Berman’s turn again.
On the late-morning show NFL Countdown, Berman seemed to find some silver lining in his Patriots-defeated cloud by proclaiming that “the table is now set for Indy, with New England out of the way.”
Pittsburgh had the Colts quarterback Peyton Manning absolutely rattled as they held on to a 21-18 victory in spite of Indianapolis catching all the late game breaks. And even though I’m a fan of Manning who generally roots for him and I’m no fan of Pittsburgh, I couldn’t be happier by this result. Not simply for the Bronco home game in the championship (which is nice) but also because the sports media (lead by ESPN) had at some point ceased reporting and analyzing sports and instead had become cheerleaders for certain “cause-celeb” teams that they felt made the most compelling human interest story. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like human interest stories as much as the next guy, but when Chris Berman repeatedly proclaims how there was “something special about this Colts team”(as he did during much of the alotted 22 minutes of Sunday night’s NFL Primetime) but somehow fails to see that there may be “something special” about the team that wins 15 straight with a rookie QB (last year’s Steelers) or the team picked next-to-last or last that knocks of the world champions (this year’s Broncos).
Indeed, these upsets have shook the sports establishment. Even as I’m writing this at 6:00pm on Monday night, the top story on Sportscenter is showing highlights of Sunday’s game under the banner “What Went Wrong?” I hope they get over themselves soon, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m still not sure that they realize Texas beat USC.
Anyway, I’m just going to enjoy this all for a few days before I put my game face on in time for Sunday’s latest in this classic rivalry.