December 16, 2001
Last A.F.C. Central Title Decided In Dramatic Fashion
Steelers 26 – Ravens 21
This was ”It” in 2001. This was the ultimate showdown to that point in the season for both teams. Defending Super Bowl Champs. trying to win their division vs. the upstart team that had won five in a row, and was led by a QB that had been to Hell and back and was looking for redemption. And trust me this ESPN Sunday Night Football game didn’t disappoint. I remember this game distinctly because I watched it at my Grandma’s house in Denver. I just sat in the TV room by myself because in my 14 year old mind I didn’t want to be disturbed by anything while watching the Steelers first real playoff type of game since the 1997 A.F.C. Championship loss to Denver that still haunts my dreams to this day and that I will probably never recover from emotionally living “behind enemy lines.” Anyways, aside from my psychological issues let me discuss one of the best games that this rivalry has produced.
In terms of scoring, the 1st Quarter only saw a Kris Brown Field Goal from 22 yards out. The Steelers were without Jerome Bettis who had been dinged up a couple of weeks prior and could have used him as the drive stalled deep in the red zone. Yet, Amos Zereoue chipped in 73 yards on 16 carries in an admirable effort against one of the best D’s in the league that year so I couldn’t knock him for that. The Ravens proceeded to make it 7-3 in the 2nd Quarter after Elvis Grbac ran the ball in from 2 yards out. Brown added another Field Goal, this time from 33 yards out to make it 7-6 Baltimore.
As an aside, all I remember at that point was thinking “Thank God he’s 2-2,” because the last game the Steelers had lost that season saw Brown (who struggled mightily all season in the team’s first year at Heinz Field) miss 5 FG’s that cost the Steelers the game. Late in the Half, Plaxico Burress showed the Ravens how he was about to own them during his entire career in Pittsburgh. On a 25 yard TD pass from Stewart that made the score 13-7, Plaxico made an unbelievable catch over U of A’s Chris McAlister that if you saw it know how unbelievable it actually was.
It was plays like that which make me wish the poster child for gun control had 1/1000000th of the heart of a guy like Hines Ward. Had Burress had the “fire and the passion” and possibly more intelligence in terms of where to carry a firearm, he might be bound for Canton. Because I have seen few WR’s over the last decade and a half with his just raw and freakish talent. On a day where he had 8 catches for 164, the 2nd year man from Michigan State proved why he was drafted 8th overall in 2000.
When the 2nd Half started and the Steelers got the ball first all I could think of was: “Please at least put 3 on the board, 7 would be awesome, but at least 3!” What made this situation even more nerve wrecking for me is that at the end of halftime we drove back from my Grandma’s for the 25 minute trek home. Luckily for my Mom and I, we had radio in the car and heard that the Steelers were moving the ball at will and had eaten over almost 2/3’s of the 3rd quarter up on a drive. Unfortunately Kris Brown’s struggles continued, and he missed a chip shot 30 some-odd yard field goal. I’ll never forget Kordell Stewart trying to console Brown that night, because he had felt the wrath of Steeler Nation no more than two seasons prior and knew what it was like to be behind the proverbial 8-Ball.
By the time we had gotten home the game was in the 4th Quarter and it was still 13-7 in favor of the Steelers. After Ravens drive stalled, a tremendous punt by Kyle Richardson had the Steelers backed up inside their own 10. What happened next should be considered nothing less than legendary and exemplified the big plays that always seem to happen in these games. Faced with 3rd Down and in need to at least get some breathing room, Kordell fired a 90 yard TD strike to Booby Shaw who took it the last 60 yards on foot and outran Steeler great and N.F.L. Hall of Famer Rod Woodson on the play.
I though it was over after that play and felt I could relax a little because the Steelers were up 19-7, and despite a missed 2 point conversion were still up by two scores and could likely coast the entire way. Heck I even took some time to put my pajamas on during the commercial break. Yet the Ravens were the defending champs, and mounted a TD drive of their own that culminated in a Qadry Ismail TD reception from Grbac to make it 19-14.
In ‘98 and ‘99 the Steelers may have rolled over, but after the 2000 season saw some great comebacks and 2001 was proving to be a special year, the Steelers just nutted-up and Stewart led a long drive that ended in my favorite player Dan “Paperback” Kreider scoring on a 4 yard run that made the score 26-14. The Ravens made a valiant attempt to come back, but a late Brandon Stokley TD catch only brought the Ravens within five and the game ended 26-21 in favor of the Steelers. The one thing I’ll never forget about this game is seeing Ray Lewis and Shannon Sharpe just distraught after the loss and realizing that they would have to eat their words after smack-talking all week. I was on cloud nine at that point and didn’t sleep a wink. All I could think about was that the Steelers were in the playoffs again, and that they would probably earn themselves a 1st Round bye if they won 2 of their next 3 games.