Steelers No Match for Chiefs in ’93 A.F.C. Wild Card

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Game Summary and Personal Anecdotes

On their opening drive of the game, the Steelers started the game off looking like they weren’t just happy to be in the Playoffs.  Neil O’Donnell cooly led his bunch 66 yards in 9 plays against a Chiefs Defense led by Pro Bowler Neil Smith and Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas.  At the 10 yard line, O’Donnell rolled right and hit his backup TE Adrian Cooper (who has gotten himself into quite a bit of post-football shenanigans) to draw first blood for the Steelers!  The quick strike was exactly what the doctor ordered for Pittsburgh as they needed to at least calm the always rowdy Arrowhead crowd.

The Chiefs however were unfazed by the Steelers TD.  On the Chiefs’ ensuing possession, the Steelers shot themselves in the foot on a sequence of events that could have swung momentum in their favor.  After Montana had completed his first pass of the game with just under 4 minutes left in the opening Quarter, he was drilled by Steeler DT Donald Evans in the ribs after a pass and had to leave the game.

Even at 6 years old, I can remember being happy because even in 1993, Montana was arguably the greatest QB to ever play the game.  If Joe was out, the Steelers could actually have a chance at pulling off the upset.

Unfortunately, none of this aforementioned scenario panned out.  When backup QB and 1992 starter Dave Krieg entered the game, things went from an ultimate high, to an ultimate low.  Steeler starting CB D.J. Johnson was ejected from the game on the same drive when he started kicking the crap out of Kansas City WR Tim Barnett.  And when I say kicking the crap, he literally was.  Johnson, in a move of complete and total idiocy, kicked Barnett in the facemask on a play that wasn’t even close to him!  Granted, Barnett appeared to have tried to cut-block Johnson, but that is no excuse to kick a guy in the face.

As Johnson was being escorted off of the field some of those Chiefs fans wanted his blood as he was being led to the locker room.  With Johnson ejected, the Steelers were not only left with a hole at their #2 CB spot for the rest of the game, but the Kansas City drive continued.

To his credit, Krieg capitalized on this good fortune with the ball at the Steelers’ 42 yard line and went back to work.  Until Carson Palmer’s 1/1 66 yard playoff game stat line in January of 2006, I never thought there would be a QB that had a more quirky yet successful one than Dave Krieg’s from that day.  On his only pass of the game, Krieg threw a 23 yard TD pass to WR J.J. Birden to tie the score near the end of the 1st Quarter!  1-1 for 23 yards and 1 TD, that was Krieg’s stat line from the game.  Kudos to him though for at least salvaging what could have been an ugly situation.

What could have been the perfect time to turn up the intensity with Montana battered, the Steelers let the Chiefs get right back into the game and allowed Montana to get himself back together on the sideline while his backup tied the game!  It was just so 1993 Steelers.

The Steelers though didn’t quit after the wacky and unfortunate turn of events.  In fact, it seemed as if the Birden TD inspired them in the 2nd Quarter.  Their Defense stifled Montana when he re-entered the game and kept the Chiefs’ Offense in check by shutting them out for the entire 2nd Quarter.

The Offense retook the lead on two key possessions that netted 10 points for the Steelers.  On the first drive the Steelers managed to get a 30 yard Field Goal from the ever-reliable Gary Anderson to make the score 10-7.  Then on the outskirts of the Kansas City Red Zone, the Steelers struck yet again on a huge play by WR Ernie Mills.

O’Donnell zipped a pass across the middle to Mills, and Ernie ran into the End Zone amidst Kansas City defenders for the 26 yard score!  Mills was money in a lot of big games for the Steelers and that catch and run was huge.

At 17-7 and with under 20 seconds to go in the Half, the Steelers had taken the game back from the Chiefs and had really dug Kansas City into a hole.  All the Steelers would need to do was play another Half of football like they had already done to put the Chiefs away.  Sadly, the Steelers’ Offense went cold for almost the entire 2nd Half and couldn’t put any points on the board for over 25 minutes.  And if there was one thing you couldn’t do against a Joe Montana (albiet an aging and hurt Montana) led team, it was give them too many chances to hang around in the game.

The Chiefs responded to Pittsburgh’s inability to score and move the ball (Pittsburgh had only 129 yards after the 2nd Quarter) in the 3rd Quarter, and eventually got a boost from a 23 yard Field Goal from their Kicker Nick Lowery.  It was the only scoring from a pretty grid-locked 3rd Quarter that I remember.  Yet with each and every drive that Pittsburgh couldn’t score, I couldn’t escape the sinking and helpless feeling inside of me.  Every time the Steelers couldn’t pad to their lead, Montana had a chance to warm up and strike at the right moment.

Then early in the 4th Quarter the Chiefs scored the equalizer at one of many “right moments” for the Chiefs in the 2nd Half.  Kansas City drove down to the Pittsburgh 2 yard line, and Marcus Allen ran for a TD to tie the score at 17!  I can still remember Kansas City tying the score, because tying the game like that I figured would just take all of the air out of the Steelers after what a successful 1st Half that they had played.  At 6, I feared the worst and just kept hoping against all hope that the Steelers would be able to recover from the 10 unanswered points put on the scoreboard by the Chiefs.

As the game wound down, it appeared as if the Steelers would have to play for O.T. and rely on Gary Anderson to bail them out like he did in 1989.  Yet one huge throw from Neil O’Donnell got the Steelers back into the lead and had me jumping up and down for joy at what I had just witnessed.

After moving the ball into a makeable Field Goal range for Anderson, I had figured that the Steelers would play it conservative and just settle for the 3 points and try to preserve the win with their Defense.  Yet much to my surprise, the Steelers went for the jugular, and O’Donnell lofted a pass down the sideline to Eric Green!  Green caught the ball in stride and ran into the End Zone on the 22 yard TD pass to put the Steelers ahead with just over 4 minutes left to play in the game!

The TD strike from O’Donnell to Green was pretty damn awesome if do say so myself.  Green got behind the Chiefs secondary and caught the ball on a dead run and lumbered into the End Zone!  For as big a guy as he was, when the multiple Pro Bowler Green got going and actually gave 100%, the guy was an absolute force as a TE.  For those of you that don’t remember/know, Green actually led the Steelers in Receiving in every major category in 1993 with 63 catches for 942 yards and 5 TD’s.

With that big play and the Anderson Extra Point, it seemed as if the Steelers were primed to hand Montana and the Chiefs an upset loss in their own backyard with what appeared to be only one possession remaining!  Up 24-17, and needing a big stop, the Steelers Defense stepped right up and put the clamps down on Montana and the Chiefs.

Kansas City went 3 and out after Steeler NT/DE Gerald Williams sacked Montana (Williams had 3 Sacks on the day after getting only 1 in the regular season), and the Chiefs had to punt from inside their own 10 yard line with close to 3 minutes to play!  After the Williams sack I was so amped up, because the Steelers had looked to have driven the final nail into the coffin of the Chiefs and their invincible QB Joe Montana.

The Steelers just needed a few 1st Downs to ice the game because Kansas City had Time Outs left to burn and the 2 minute warning.  Thus, the game was not over by any stretch, and much to my dismay Kansas City forced a 3 and Out, used their Time Outs effectively, and forced a Mark Royals punt from around his 35 yard line or so.

All the Steelers needed to do was get the punt off, pin the Chiefs deep, and try to hold onto the 7 point lead.  The damn punt never got off, and the Steelers hopes of winning the game went from absolute assurance to ones of complete and total doubt.

Former Steeler TE Keith Cash broke through the line and blocked the Royals punt!  Backup WR Fred Jones scooped up the ball and started taking off down the sideline!  Jones got the ball all the way down to the Steelers’ 9 yard line and Kansas City had a First and Goal situation with over 2 minutes left on the clock!

The only equivalent I can have to watching the block punt happen is when Bettis fumbled at the Goal Line against Indianapolis in the 2005 Divisional Playoff game.  I didn’t see the Bettis play because I was in my dorm common area talking to my Mom on the phone prematurely celebrating what looked to be a Steelers’ win.  My Mom was screaming on the phone over what had happened, but I couldn’t see it because I wasn’t in my room.

Unfortunately, I’ll never forget the blocked punt for as long as I live because I saw that play on live television.  The image of Cash rushing through the line to get enough of the ball will be emblazoned into my brain for as long as I live.  At 6 years old, my heart was crushed and I knew that the Steelers were in trouble because in situations like those, Montana would stop “playing possum” and strike.

The Steelers Defense held strong on three consecutive plays though, and the stage was set for Montana on a 4th and Goal from the Steelers’ 7 yard line.  On a play that truly exemplified why “Joe Cool” was so “Cool,” Montana bought time and found a wide open Tim Barnett in the End Zone to pull the Chiefs within 1 point with 1:48 to go!  Lowery’s Extra Point was good, and the Steelers went from being almost guaranteed a victory to facing the very real possibility of O.T..

The Steelers though, did nothing with the ball, and gave Kansas City and Montana possession with ample time remaining!  At that point I couldn’t have felt any worse, because it certainly appeared that now that Montana was hot, the Steelers Defense just wouldn’t be able to hold on.  Montana moved his Offense 47 yards down to the Steelers’ 25 yard line and it appeared that the Steelers were just one Lowery kick away from winning the game.  I could barely watch as Lowery and the Chiefs Special Teams rushed onto the field, and I distinctly remember biting my nails in that situation.  I closed my eyes with the snap, but thankfully I heard my Mom cheering, and that only meant one thing: Lowery missed the 43 yard Field Goal as time expired and the Steelers were somehow still alive!

O.T. itself in the beginning was much like the 3rd Quarter.  Both teams struggled to move the ball and score points after the Chiefs won the toss but could do nothing.  Pittsburgh’s Offense couldn’t be found in the period, as I kept crossing my fingers that Green, Mills, or WR’s Jeff Graham or Dwight Stone could make “The Play” to win in sudden death.  Heck I was hoping that Hall of Famer Rod Woodson would do it all by himself like he did in Houston in 1989.  Sadly, none of those things ever happened.

Montana finally led the Chiefs 66 yards into Field Goal range after over 11 minutes had evaporated in the O.T..  Appearing gassed and with little left in the tank, it was remarkable the Steelers Defense had lasted this long against one of the game’s “All-Time Greats.”  Lowery set up from 32 yards out to win the game and his kick was true with 3:57 left in the period.  Kansas City had won 27-24 in O.T. and I felt numb all over.

It was a game that the Steelers rightfully should have won, yet rightfully shouldn’t have been in.  A paradox yes, but that was the story of the 1993 Steelers.  Looking back on the game, I can say with full effect that the nature of the Steelers’ loss really told the story of their entire season.

The Steelers were a talented team in 1993.  They were enough to stand toe-to-toe with anybody in the N.F.L. on their best day and beat them.  However, the 1993 Steelers were a dreadfully Jekyll and Hyde team.  They played up and down to their competition, and the players were mistake-prone at the most inopportune times.  The aforementioned mistakes cost them on that January day at Arrowhead, and all of us in Steeler Nation are left to wonder “What if?”

“What if the Steelers got to play Buffalo (a team they had shut out in ’93) the following week?”

“Could they have advanced past the A.F.C. Title Game?”

“Would they have been able to take on Dallas or any other N.F.C. representative in the Super Bowl?”

I know the point is moot, but I can never let this loss or the wackiness of the 1993 season go.

So tell me your thoughts and memories of this game Steelers and Chiefs fans/readers.  I’m very interested to hear what you have to say on the matter.  Anyway, I earnestly hope you enjoyed my article, and I hope you the readers enjoy the rest of your Turkey Day break.

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