1996-1998: The Era of Monday Night Battles in the Steelers vs. Chiefs series

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October 26, 1998

Steelers Get “Must-Win” at Arrowhead

Steelers 20 – Chiefs 13

1998 would be the final year that these two teams would meet on Monday Night in this 3 year stretch.  Moreover, 1998 would also mark an ending of the rivalry between the Steelers and the Chiefs in terms of both teams facing each other at the “tops” of each others’ games.

Just as I had the year before, I watched this game within the confines of my Grandma’s living room with my Mom, Sister, two Aunts, and Grandma.  And just as it had been the season before, the Steelers (4-2) took on the Chiefs (4-2) in a crucial M.N.F. matchup between two teams jockeying for a playoff spot as the season was moving into November.  So without further ado, let’s get to the game:

The Steelers’ Offense looked good on their opening possession, but at around Midfield the drive ended and the Steelers were forced to punt.  While their drive resulted in zero points, the Steelers’ Special Teams made a crucial play when Josh Miller’s punt was downed at the 1 yard line by backup CB Lance Brown.  I distinctly remember telling my Mom, Aunts, and Grandma after the Miller punt that we should watch for a Safety.  My Mom said we should be watching for a TD!  Well, Mom was right on the money with that one!

After the Steelers’ Defense stuffed the Chiefs on a 3 and Out series where they could barely gain an inch, K.C. was forced to punt.  Luckily for the Steelers, the TD that my Mom referred to happened!  Rushing Louie Aguiar, Lance Brown blocked the punt, and Special Teams Ace Fred McAfee recovered the ball in the Chiefs End Zone for the TD!  The picture of the aftermath is posted below, and get a load of the Rookie WR/QB/RB trying to earn his bones on Special Teams in the photo, he’s #86 and a future Hall of Famer.

To their credit, the Chiefs responded with a drive of their own.  Grbac got the Chiefs deep into Pittsburgh territory, but the drive stalled and Pete Stoyanovich was called in to kick a 20 yard Field Goal with just over 5 minutes remaining in the Quarter.  At 7-3 with the Steelers in the lead and the Chiefs coming back after the big Special Teams play it was then a ball game.

Again, Grbac led his team on another impressive drive against Jim Haslett’s Defense.  Yet much like the first one, the drive stalled yet again and Stoyanovich had to be called upon.  His kick from 28 yards was good, and with the 2nd Quarter just under way, the Steelers clung to a 7-6 lead.

At that point I was nervous because as I alluded to in the previous game I had flashbacks to 1997 where the Steelers started hot against Kansas City with a big play in the 1st Quarter only to see the Chiefs cooly and confidently respond when they needed to and crush Pittsburgh’s momentum.

Kordell Stewart however stepped up and led the Steelers down the field in the hurry-up Offense.  The Steelers’ Offense gained enough yards (backup WR David Dunn made a key 24 yard catch) for Norm Johnson to kick a 34 yard Field Goal as the Half ended.  Up 10-6, the Steelers had weathered the “Arrowhead Storm” and managed to not repeat the 2nd Quarter disaster that they had the year before.

Yet when the 2nd Half started, an absolute dumpster-fire of a play almost killed the Steelers.  Receiving the 2nd Half kick, Joe Horn took Johnson’s boot 95 yards back for what appeared to be a go-ahead TD!  Thankfully a holding penalty erased the scoring play and gave me at least some relief from a sequence of seconds that had my poor 11 year old stomach in knots.

Then my blood pressure went up again when Elvis Grbac threw an INT on the following possession to my favorite player Darren Perry, who then subsequently fumbled the ball back to the Chiefs after a nice 40 yard return on the pick!  The six of us in the living room couldn’t believe the wacky turn of events that had occurred in the opening minutes of the 2nd Half!

When they got the ball back, the Steelers went to their bag of tricks and the Rookie in the aforementioned TD picture made a tremendous play.  Clinging to a 4 point lead and fearing the Chiefs could steal the game from them at any minute, Offensive Coordinator Ray Sherman dialed up a pass play from Rookie “Slash” player Hines Ward to Kordell Stewart!  I’ll never forget this play because Ward’s pass got to Kordell and he took the ball 17 yards down the field and the play helped the Steelers at least get some more points on the board.

Since I have always been loved the N.F.L. Draft and been interested in the scouting process of college players, I still remember telling my Mom and Aunts all about Ward’s jack-of-all-trades skill set coming out of college, how he was a QB at Georgia, and how excited I was for more trick plays to come with him in the near future.  Little did I know at the time that he would be an eventual Super Bowl M.V.P. and Hall of Fame player.

Regardless of this little personal aside, the Steelers’ Offense stalled inside the 10 yard line and Norm Johnson was called upon yet again to salvage some points.  Johnson’s kick was true and the 22 yard Field Goal put Pittsburgh up 13-6 with around 5 and a half minutes to go in the 3rd Quarter.

As happy as I was that the Steelers had gone up by 7, I knew that they blew a golden opportunity to seal the game with a TD.  Unfortunately, I was right, and Kansas City didn’t stay on the canvass for long.  Grbac and the Chiefs’ Offense struck quickly and after an efficient drive, Grbac threw a 2 yard TD pass to Andre “Bad Moon” Rison to tie the game up at 13 with just over 2 and a half minutes to play in the 3rd Quarter.

It was do or die time for the Steelers as their lead vanished in close to 3 minutes.  As the 4th Quarter started, it looked like the Steelers may not have had enough left in the proverbial “tank” to have stuck with the Chiefs.  However, Kordell Stewart and the Offense responded with a methodical drive that really broke the will of the Chiefs Defense.  Using Bettis efficiently (33 carries for 119 yards on the day), and completing 1st Down after 1st Down, the Steelers again moved the ball into the Kansas City Red Zone.  Then on the play that put the Steelers ahead for good, Kordell fired a 5 yard TD pass to Charles Johnson!  The drive itself took 7:23 off of the clock and wore out Kansas City’s Defense.

Johnson’s catch on the errant Stewart pass (Kordell had only 82 yards passing that night) breathed new life into the Steelers and they sought to finish the game once and for all with just over 10 minutes to go in the game.  The Steelers’ Defense then started to harass Grbac and forced him to make some costly mistakes in crucial situations.

Kansas City was on their way to tying the score later in the game, but Steeler Safety and current Defensive Backs Coach Carnell Lake registered an INT off of Grbac to kill any semblance of hope the Chiefs had.  The INT there was huge because Kansas City was nearing the outskirts of Field Goal range and the Steelers’ Defense was in desperate need of a turnover.  Thankfully our pleas from my Grandma’s living room for a turnover were answered and the Steelers dodged a huge bullet in that situation.  The Steelers finally were able to seal the win when future Pro Bowl OLB Jason Gildon sacked and stripped Grbac with under a minute to play and preserved the victory!

I’ll never forget after the game when my Mom and one of my Aunts took me out to a bar and grill that their family frequented (and still does to this day now) to watch the post-game wrap-up and highlights on the T.V.’s.  Being 11, a football fanatic, at a bar enjoying a root beer at Bob Dobb’s in the aftermath of a Steelers victory was probably the highlight of my trip and something I’ll never forget to this day.  The first bar I went to on my 21st Birthday was actually Bob Dobb’s.

In terms of a conclusion, the fortunes for both teams in the aftermath of this game were awful at best.  The Chiefs lost 4 more games in a row, and fell to a 7-9 record that season and missed the Playoffs.  “Marty Ball” was done after 1998 and the Chiefs have been Postseason outsiders for much of the last 14 seasons.

The Steelers would keep tight with Jacksonville only to see a botched coin toss on Thanksgiving set in motion a string of 5 straight losses to close out the 1998 campaign.  The Steelers failed to make the Postseason for the first time since 1991 and didn’t make it back until 3 seasons later.

This would be the last matchup of the 1990’s where the stakes were as high as they had been.  It’s a shame that nobody remembers how truly great these teams were during those seasons, yet it’s a testament to what winning “the big one” truly does to the collective memory of sports fans.  I hope that all of you readers have enjoyed my article, and will remember what a short yet great rivalry this indeed was.

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