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Patriotism, 'The Bus,' and a new home

Steelers 16, Cincinnati Bengals 7October 7, 2001
Heinz Field* *In the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, the NFL cancelled all games the following Sunday, which meant the opening of Heinz Field wouldn't take place until the Steelers hosted the Bengals on an October afternoon.

With a backdrop of American flags waving during pregame and national pride at a peak, the Steelers knew that they had a job to do, and that was play without fear.

After a scoreless first quarter the Steelers offense got on track when Kris Brown hit a 26-yard field goal just five seconds into the second quarter for the first regular season points in Heinz Field history.

With a 3-0 lead, the Steelers defense continued to play shutdown football. Chad Scott intercepted Bengals' quarterback Jon Kitna at the two-yard line and returned it 26 yards to give the offense the ball at the 28-yard line.

The Steelers pounded it on the ground in their ensuing drive, with Jerome Bettis, Kordell Stewart, and Amos Zereoue all carrying the rock. Stewart capped a nine play, 72 yard drive, all on the ground, with an eight-yard touchdown run and a 10-0 lead that they would carry into the half.

While the team was in the locker room at halftime, the Heinz Field scoreboard turned from highlights to news as President George W. Bush was shown announcing the United States launched air strikes against military targets and training camps in Afghanistan.

In 2001 the Steelers defeated the Bengals in a regular season game 16-7.

"We talked about it in the huddle," said Coach Bill Cowher, who learned about it after the team left the locker room. "We needed to stick together like a family and I thought that we were at our house and we needed to protect our place.  It puts a lot of things into perspective and that's why I wanted to make sure that it was addressed so that we could do what we needed to do and go play football."

Play football is what they did. The Steelers added two more Brown field goals and came out on top in the defensive battle. The Steelers shut down the Bengals passing and ground games, limiting them to just 214 yards of total offense.

For the Steelers, it would be the ground game that would carry the day, amassing 275 combined yards. Bettis had the biggest impact, carrying the ball 23 times for 153 yards, including a 48-yard run, and had amassed 103 yards by halftime

"When you play the Steelers, you've got to stop him, and we didn't," said Bengals cornerback Tom Carter. "That was the best I've seen him play, and that goes back to when we were freshmen at Notre Dame."

It was a rather nondescript three-yard carry in the first quarter that provided the first great memory in Heinz Field history when Bettis eclipsed the 10,000 yard mark for his career, becoming the 14th player in NFL history to do so.

"What a milestone and what a guy," said Cowher. "He's a true team leader.  If there's anybody that deserves the accomplishment and has done it in a non-fanfare way – he's done it. He's been so dependable and so reliable."   * *


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