On Sunday, fans will be able to watch the Steelers win over the Indianapolis Colts in the 2005 Divisional Round of the playoffs for free and in its entirety on Steelers.com and the Steelers Official Mobile App. Steelers Radio Network sideline reporter Craig Wolfley recalls that memorable game:
The crowd was roaring in wavelike continuity. The hair on the back of my neck stood straight. There was electricity in the air people, and the smell of pain was near. And this was just the pregame!
Just after the coin toss, as the noise in the building built to a ground-swelling roar, the offensive unit of the Steelers grouped on the sidelines towards the end of the bench area, in preparation to take the field after the opening kickoff.
I took my place, standing a few yards and more than a decade and a half removed from being a part of that mass of wild and wooly players, intermittently head butting each other like mountain goats. Watching them, I could feel the epic jolts of collisions past, vibrating in my bones, and I so wished to be among them, just one more time. Baby, once you've had that feeling, you never forget.
Amidst all that high octane, combustible war-whooping of the offensive brotherhood, walking casually in a stride as calm as a guy taking a stroll in South Park, Big Ben cruises down the sideline, and stops just in front of me. Pausing, then looking up into the swelling mass of humanity in the stands, it looked as if he just noticed the near hysterical masses for the first time.
Slowly a smile breaks across his face and his eyes light up like a kid at Christmas. He proceeds to start clapping his hands to the rhythm of the mayhem swirling about him, and then he breaks out an even bigger smile, as if all the roaring going on in the building were just for him.
View photos from the Steelers 21-18 victory in the AFC Divisional Playoff game vs. the Colts on Jan. 15, 2006.
After taking in the near riotous atmosphere of the RCA Dome for a moment, he stops to chat with one of the guys on the chain gang, the first down marker guy. Seriously. I kid you not. I did a double take. He's joking with the guy. Moments from taking the field, with clashing helmets, testosterone and sweat flying about him, Ben's nodding his head and smiling like a butcher's dog. Ben's telling a joke to an elder, "seasoned" citizen, just prior to the biggest game of his young life. It must have been a good joke too, because Ben seemed to enjoy the laugh, as much as the seasoned veteran of the chain gang. I'm so nerved up I want to head butt somebody, and this young buck Ben Roethlisberger is calm and cool, even telling jokes. I remember thinking, doesn't this guy understand what's at stake here?
Ten plays and five and a half minutes later, Roethlisberger returned to the same, now much quieter, Steelers bench area. Ben completed six of seven passes, including throwing a touchdown pass to Antwan Randle El for six. He didn't appear to be any more ruffled than when he left. If I thought beforehand that Ben didn't understand the enormity of the moment, I certainly understood when he came back to the bench, he had it all under control. He was large and in charge. The man exudes coolness somewhere between Terry Bradshaw and Clint Eastwood.
Fast forward towards the end of the game. The Steelers are preparing to put the bow on a trip to Denver for the AFC Championship game.
With 1:20 left in the game, the Steelers sacked Manning on 4th down, and Bill Cowher took off his head set, and gave the proverbial power fist pump, and everyone knew the game was all but over.
The Steelers now have the ball on the Colts 2-yard line, and I, and everybody watching the game, know they are about to give the ball to Jerome Bettis and the game is over.
The Jumbo package was in, the great Hines Ward flashed his mega-watt smile on the sidelines, and this game was in the bag. Tunch Ilkin, up in the booth, much to the chagrin of Bill Hillgrove, and myself, had started to talk about making travel plans to Denver.
And then it happened.
The inconceivable, impossible, totally out-of-the-question, that-could-never-happen, happened.
The Bus fumbled.
One moment, I'm watching James Farrior, and a couple of other players standing behind the Steelers bench area. They are high-fiving fans. In the meantime, I'm siding with Billy, chiding Tunch over being too cocky, too ready to say the game is over. "Don't jinx them" I'm pleading. Let the Bus put the nail in the coffin, and then we can talk about making travel plans.
The next moment I'm watching as the sudden roar from the Indianapolis fans jerked my attention back to the field. The pigskin flew in the air, bouncing on the ground, as the Colts DB Nick Harper scooped it up and began sprinting the other way. I watched in horror, as Harper ran towards the end zone, not believing what my eyes were telling me. Ben Roethlisberger, suddenly finding himself playing safety, made the play of the game, getting back and catching enough of Harper's foot to bring him down.
Farrior, hearing the roar, and quickly assessing what happened, sprinted by me, running to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, along with the rest of the defensive unit. The predominantly pro Indy crowd, moments before, quietly resigned to the Steelers looming victory, suddenly had life, emerging from a self-imposed exile, to roar like never before.
In a tense drive, Peyton Manning began leading the Colts to what could be, an improbable come-from-behind victory, or at the very least with a field goal, overtime.
However, the Colts drive ground to a halt inside the Steelers 30-yard line, which included a brilliant play by Steelers rookie DB Bryant McFadden, mano-y-mano, on WR Reggie Wayne in the end zone.
It's now 4th and 2-yards to go for a Colts first down. Steelers are up 21-18, with 21 seconds showing on the clock. There was nothing but pain flashing across the face of Jerome Bettis, standing on the sidelines. The storybook ending with the Bus finishing his career by leading the Steelers to his hometown Detroit for a hopeful Steelers Super Bowl engagement, was suddenly imperiled.
Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who had not missed a kick at home in his post-season career, was 46-yards from a tie and overtime. With tensions mounting to sky-high proportions, just prior to the field goal attempt, the obligatory timeout to freeze Vanderjagt was called.
And then he did it. During the timeout, Mike Vanderjagt, obviously full of confidence and himself, turned towards the Steelers sidelines, making an over confident, and mocking gesture.
With enough tension to blow the lid off the RCA Dome, both teams lined up for the field goal attempt. And the kick went right. Unutterably, unbelievably, inconceivably, wide right. So wide right it landed in Ohio.
Almost as if he couldn't take it in, Jerome Bettis' face went from stone cold misery to disbelief, to a gradual understanding that the ending to a future Hall of Fame career didn't happen in Indianapolis, but had been rebirthed.
Now Tunch Ilkin, make those travel plans for Denver!
I think it's safe to say, there were few players more relieved, in the history of the NFL, at the final gun, than Jerome Bettis.
And the fairytale, and the Bus rolled on ...