Last night the NFL Network rebroadcast Super Bowl XXX and I did something I haven't done since January 28, 1996.
I watched the game. In it's entirety.
For some Pittsburgh sports fans of a certain age, Sid Bream's slide in the 1992 NLCS is the moment that triggers their bile reflux, for others it's David Volek dashing the Penguins hope of a three-peat in 1993, and some couldn't get past Dennis Gibson slapping the ball -- and a Steelers' Super Bowl trip -- to the soggy Three Rivers Stadium turf in the 1994 AFC Championship game.
For me, it was Super Bowl XXX.
Neil O' Donnell probably would've thrown to Linda Blair if she had a Cowboys uniform on.
I was a homesick freshman at a small school in pre-Ravens Baltimore. Catching the occassional Steelers game was my only salve. Two guys on my (Division III) football team were Steelers fans and had turned me on to a place called The Purple Goose Saloon. This was the hub of the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Baltimore and had close to 1,000 members at that time. The club now encompasses the entire state of Maryland and boasts 4,800 members that convene at 6 bars across the Free State. I watched a few games there during the 1995 season, most notably the Steelers last games against the "old" Browns, and loved the joint.
My school had a particularly long winter break, so I experienced the ecstacy of the AFC Championship game against the Colts first-hand at Three Rivers. I returned to campus for the Spring semester on Super Bowl eve. Our fraternity had a 'welcome back' party that night, and aided by the lucidity of several beers, the three of us decided around midnight it would be a fantastic idea to head to the Goose at 5 a.m. and camp out for the bar's 8 a.m. opening.
Even with kickoff more than 12 hours away, we weren't the first people to show. Some chap from Greensburg who was a dead-ringer for the Body By Jake guy had already been there for an hour, by himself.
More folks gathered and we started tailgating.
At 6 a.m. in late-January.
In a bar parking lot.
You gotta love Steelers fans.
The doors finally opened and we grabbed a spot in front of the massive projection screen. We thought it prudent to wait until at least noon to really start hitting the sauce, because, you know, we wanted to actually see the game. That gambit lasted an entire hour until a middle-aged woman named 'Sharky' gulping a Bloody Mary walked by, noticed our coffees and tersely remarked: "What are you kids in college? Get a beer you wimps!"
Bartender, a round please.
They stocked the place with Iron City and we did our best to un-stock them. Mind you, I was only 18-years old, although according to my fake ID -- procured from a kid in my dorm who made a mint selling them -- I was 22-year-old Tucker Orr, of 1615 Oakhurst St., Portland, Maine.
The day was truly a blast. The place easily exceeded their fire code capacity -- about 300 strong. We sang the Steelers Polka and Here We Go! song until our throats bled, stuffed our faces with food and drank an ocean of Arn. I won a prize for having Steelers boxer shorts on under my jeans. This was the pre-cell phone era and the pay phone at the bar had an hour wait, so long was the line of people wanting to call friends and family back in Pittsburgh. I'm lucky to have traveled to Steelers clubs and bars around the country (and world -- here's lookin' at you, La Botticella) but the Baltimore group has always been among my favorites.
I needn't go on about the outcome of the game. Getting blown out would've been so much easier to take.
The club's founder, a fella named Jim Day who in the six-degrees-of-Pittsburgh-category was my high school biology teacher's brother-in-law, fought tears and channeled his best Coach Cowher in spittle-laden postgame address to the club: "Hold your heads up! This was a great season and we have every reason to be proud!" ... before pausing and letting fly a blue streak of frustration and throwing a beer cup against the wall.
We came back to campus that night and I remember crossing N. Charles St. looking almost catatonic in my Mean Joe jersey. Some folks in a car at a redlight saw my jersey and long face rolled down the window and said "It's OK. It was a great game and they'll be back again." That memory makes me laugh because starting that fall, they would've spit on a Steelers fan in the same situation.
I had a VHS of the game and the season highlight video but could never bring myself to watch it. Until last night. No bile reflux. Just catharsis.
Fourteen years and two Super Bowl victories is good therapy.
Some quick thoughts about the game after 14 years:
- Neil O' Donnell truly blew it. I know this is obvious, but watching it again with a clear mind and 14 years of perspective, he choked in spectacular fashion. He hurried everything, his touch was awful, and you would've thought he was trying to kill his receivers the way he led them into coverage.
- Levon Kirkland was a beast. Shame that guy never got a ring.
- LeBeau's halftime adjustments were masterful. The Cowboys scorched the Steelers like Sherman in Atlanta and were almost entirely shut down in the second half. They scored only because of the short field given to them via O' Donnell's picks.
- That crowd was roaring for the Steelers. Roaring. America's Team my foot.
- Cowher's onside kick call is still one of the best coaching gambles I've ever seen. And Norm Johnson executed the best onside kick, probably ever.
- I truly never knew that Larry Brown's son had died earlier that season. At least the right guy got to be the hero that day.
- I'd forgotten that Jason Gildon was even on that team, as a young special teams player. Amazing how the Steelers have molded four consecutive dominant right-side rushers -- Lloyd, Gildon, Porter, Harrison -- and they all cut their teeth on special teams.
- Postseason records since that game: Dallas 2-7, have not advanced past NFC divisional round; Pittsburgh 12-6, two Super Bowl titles.
- Any memories of that game? Share them in the comments.