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A Decade at Heinz Field

Written by Dan Gigler on .

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62,335 Pittsburgh Steelers faithful, then the largest crowd to ever attend a Steelers' home game, filled Heinz Field for the first regular-season NFL game played in the new stadium on Oct. 7, 2001. The Steelers beat the Bengals 16-7. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Those yellow seats.

That was anyone's first impression of Heinz Field -- those almost impossibly bright yellow seats.

heinz_ticket2It seems laughable that those seats caused such a stir when they were first installed -- they're an afterthought now. But then again, nearly every single thing regarding the construction of PNC Park and Heinz Field caused a stir. It was hyper-analyzed following the years-long political battles to get them, the new David L. Lawrence Convention Center and the gorgeous riverfront park built.

But it was those seats that seemed to be a lightning rod. The seats were gaudy. They junked up the skyline and the view from the Fort Pitt Bridge. The place was ugly. It wouldn't be loud with an open endzone.

All baloney.

I've been to 11 modern (current) NFL stadiums, and while Heinz Field isn't the best (Indy, Seattle) it's far, far from the worst (Tampa, Miami). It's a perfectly acceptable as a sports venue and architecturally it's a sleek and (generally) attractive blend of steel and glass. Football stadiums don't need to dazzle the way baseball stadiums do, because football is actually, y'know, exciting to watch.

But mostly, the initial problem with Heinz Field was this: it wasn't Three Rivers Stadium. Three Rivers was the link to the Steelers of the 1970's, to the City of Champions, and to old Pittsburgh. Nevermind that Three Rivers Stadium was an absolute eyesore: a concrete ashtray, a pock mark on the riverfront. But Three Rivers had all the memories and all the magic.

Heinz Field would need to earn all of that.

And in a decade, it's quite safe to say that it has.

So today, on the 10 year anniversary of the first regular season Steelers game played there, here's a list of the 10 greatest Steelers games at Heinz Field (and the five worst):

10.  Nov. 5, 2007 -- 38-7 win over Baltimore: After getting positively throttled twice in the 2006 season by their chief antogonists in the AFC North, the Steelers get mideval on Baltimore on Monday Night Football. The game was a coming out party for James Harrison, who, in his first year as a starter replacing Joey Porter, went thermonuclear on the Ravens: 9 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 interception and a maiming of Ed Reed (which I cannot find a video of, so you'll have to settle for Hines Ward maiming Ed Reed instead).

9. Dec. 20, 2009 -- 37-36 win over Green Bay. In 77 previous seasons of football, the Steelers had never had a 500-yard passer until Ben Roethlisberger put up 503 in this outing against the Packers, probably the most thrilling regular season game ever played at Heinz Field. Roethlisberger's record-setting pass was the game-winner, a breathtakingly perfect laser to a toe-tapping Mike Wallace in the left corner of the north endzone, eerily similar to Santonio Holmes' Super Bowl-winning catch 10-months prior.


8. Oct, 31, 2004 -- 34-20 win over New England: Although the Roethlisberger era of Steelers football officially began several weeks earlier, this was it's public announcement to the nation to sit up take notice. The Patriots brought their 21-game NFL record winning streak into Heinz Field and were promptly rolled by the rookie and the running game. The rematch in the AFC Championship game would be a slightly different matter.

7. Dec. 7, 2008 -- 20-13 win over Dallas: Defense dominated a freezing, blustery day between America's Team and the Cowboys (see what I did there?) and the Steelers come back from a late 13-3 deficit, scoring 17 points in the final 7 minutes. Deshea Townsend breaks a late 13-13 tie with a pick six to remember, captured excellently in the video below, which in my opinion, perfect captures the essence of a home Steelers game.

6. Dec. 11, 2005 -- 21-9 win over Chicago: When the game of football was dreamed up, this is what the gods had in mind: A grey, snowy day and a slushy, muddy field for two gritty teams to line up and knock snot bubbles from each other for 60 minutes. Jerome Bettis plowed through the muck and snow for 101 yards and two touchdowns -- one of which including using Brian Urlacher as a cleat cleaner -- as the desperate Steelers ended a three-game losing streak. They would not lose again, beginning an eight-game win streak that culminted in a Super Bowl XL victory. 

Hulu game-of-the-week highlights

5. Jan. 15, 2005 -- 20-17 win over New York Jets (AFC Divisional Playoff): As Bill Cowher might've said, it wasn't a Mozart. The Steelers needed overtime and an incredible choke job from Jets kicker Doug Brien to eek out a 20-17 win and keep the improbable rookie season of Ben Roethlisberger alive. This was the first home overtime playoff win in team history.

4. Jan. 23, 2010 -- 24-19 win over New York Jets (AFC Championship): What is it about these games against the Jets? After rolling to a 24-0 lead, the Steelers nearly blow a chance to advance to their eighth Super Bowl appearance but manage to hold on to a 24-19 win and earn a trip to Dallas, and zip the lips of the loudmouth Jets in the process.

3. January 5, 2003 -- 36-33 win over Cleveland (AFC Wild Card Playoff): Arguably the only meaningful game between these teams since 1994 (and that includes up to the present day), the Steelers climb back from a 17-point deficit late in the third-quarter -- and a 12-point deficit with 5 minutes left -- on a gloriously muddy Heinz Field in a game that no less an authority than Dan Rooney said may have been the most exciting he's seen since the Immaculate Reception.

Hulu game-of-the-week highlights

2. Jan. 15, 2010 -- 31-24 win over Baltimore (AFC Divisional Playoff): Four words: Antonio Brown helmet catch.  

Another excellent video that captures the essence of a Steelers playoff game:

1. Jan. 18, 2009: 23-14 win over Baltimore (AFC Championship). This game will be the standard bearer for years to come. It is hard to imagine any game on home turf ever topping this one. Bitter rivals. Bitter cold. Brutal hits. Heinz Field as loud as an F-18 afterburner. A trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The game hanging in the balance until with 4:32 remaining in the 4th quarter, Troy Polamalu -- who else? -- intercepts and returns a Joe Flacco pass for a touchdown, clinching a trip to Tampa. Finally, an AFC Championship win at Heinz Field.

Highlights:

Polamalu pick six happened right in front of this guy:

Great crowd reaction:

This guy's freak out is awesome:

The only time the Here We Go! song wasn't annoying:

And five lowlights ...

5. Dec. 8, 2002 -- 24-6 loss to Houston: Despite gaining only 47 yards from scrimmage -- a record low for a winning team -- and eeking out only three first downs, the expansion Texans beat the playoff-bound Steelers by virtue of not one, not two, but three defensive touchdowns off of Tommy Maddox turnovers (two pick sixes and a fumble return).

4. Nov. 14, 2010 -- 39-26 loss to New England: As ugly as they come. The Steelers get their pants pulled down on Sunday Night Football. Get ready for a repeat at the end of the month.

3. Jacksonville: Pick your poison: The 23-17 overtime Tommy Maddox turnover debacle in 2005? Perhaps you'd prefer Fred Taylor's 2007 dissection of the Steelers run defense to the tune of 147 yards in December 2007? Or was your heart sufficently ripped out a few weeks later by Josh Scobee in the waning seconds of a 31-29 Wild Card loss?

2. Dec. 24, 2006 -- 31-7 loss to Baltimore: What would turn out to be the last home game for Bill Cowher as head coach (and Joey Porter as a player) turns into bruising Christmas Eve beat down at the hands of their fiercest rivals. Ben Roethlisberger is picked off twice and sacked five times as the Steelers are officially elimnated from postseason contention, and denied the chance to defend their Super Bowl XL title.

1. January 23, 2005 -- 41-27 loss to New England (AFC Championship): I still get cold just thinking about this game. 

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