It is official now ladies and gentlemen, after nine seasons with the Steelers and Redskins, and a one year away from professional football, Antwaan Randle El will finally be calling it quits and retiring next week. Even though “A.R.E.” played only five seasons in Pittsburgh, he proved to be one of the most exciting and versatile players in the 80 plus years of the franchise, and stepped up in some really big spots in the postseason during his time there. So with Randle El’s upcoming retirement in mind, I thought it would be nice to take a look back at some of the greatest moments from “A.R.E.’s” performances during the 2005-2006 postseason, a playoff run which we all know eventually culminated in a Super Bowl title for the Steelers.
31-17 Win over Cincinnati
After the Steelers had crawled back into the game after being down 10 points in the first half and taken a 21-17 lead in the middle of the 3rd Quarter against the hated Bengals, Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt had a glorious idea to drive a stake through the hearts of Cincinnati and their hopes of postseaon glory. To his credit, Whisenhunt knew exactly how to use Randle El in a decoy fashion, and devised a play which not only won the game, but is one which all of us in “Steeler Nation” remember fondly.
Randle El took the snap from the Shotgun next to Big Ben on a critical 3rd and 3 play, rolled all the way to his right, and the Bengals took the bait. “A.R.E.” then fired the pass across essentially half the field back to Big Ben who calmly laid up a bomb to a wide-open Cedrick Wilson for the 43 Yard Touchdown and a commanding 27-17 lead! It was the shining moment for Randle El during a game where he might not have had the most sexy statistical numbers (2 Catches for 15 Yards and 1 Rush for 5 Yards). Nevertheless, his skill-set created a matchup issue for the Bengals, Whisenhunt took advantage, and the Steelers coasted to a victory after the score.
21-18 Win over Indianapolis
Randle El’s biggest moments of the Steelers’ upset win over the heavily favored Colts came on the opening drive of the game. The drive and the plays which “A.R.E.” made not only set the tone for the Steelers for the rest of the game, but they let Indianapolis know that Pittsburgh meant business and were undaunted by the task of defeating them in the RCA Dome that afternoon.
Pittsburgh drove right down the field on their opening possession, but faced a critical 3rd and 6 at the Indianapolis 24. Randle El however was able to snag a critical 11 yard pass from Big Ben to keep the drive alive and continue the possession. Pittsburgh called on Randle El again though three plays later when the Offense faced another 3rd Down at the Indianapolis 6 Yard Line. Big Ben however looked to “A.R.E.” once more and fired a pass to him on a slant in the end zone which put the Steelers ahead 6-0 and capped off a masterful 84 Yard drive which ate up over 5 minutes of clock.
In addition to his 3 grabs for 30 Yards and a Touchdown that day, Randle El also amassed 50 Yards on 5 punt returns and successfully. Randle El’s longest punt return of the day (20 yards) set the Steelers up with cake field position in the 2nd Half (Colts’ 30 Yard Line), and allowed the Steelers to march right down and take what was thought to be a commanding 21-3 lead in the 3rd Quarter.
34-17 Win over Denver
The whole Steelers Wide Receiving corps tore it up against Denver that afternoon in the A.F.C. Championship Game. Big Ben played the postseason game of his life (21 for 29 for 275 Yards and 2 TD’s Passing and 1 Rushing), and Cedrick Wilson ate Domonique Foxworth alive. But Randle El again showed up for a third consecutive week, and made a couple of key plays to help lead the Steelers to victory.
On the opening drive, Randle El made a 20 yard grab which got the Steelers’ Offense rolling and near the midfield stripe to do some significant damage. While it was only the opening drive, the Steelers were yet again in a hostile environment, and big plays and big gains to take the crowd out of the game were extremely helpful early in the game. Randle El’s biggest play came late in the 1st Half when Pittsburgh mounted a 14 play 80 Yard Drive which lasted almost 7 and a half minutes! Faced with a 3rd and 9 at the Denver 23, Randle El made a critical 10 Yard catch to keep the drive alive, and push the Steelers closer towards the end zone. The Steelers scored four plays later to extend their lead to 17-3 and slowly put another nail in Denver’s postseason coffin. Overall, “A.R.E.” made 4 Catches for 52 Yards during the game, and Pittsburgh was headed to the Super Bowl. It was there where Randle El made postseason history and etched his name in Steelers lore forever.
Super Bowl XL
21-10 Win over Seattle
While his statistics might not have been particularly sexy that glorious Sunday (3 Catches for 22 Yards, 2 Punt Returns for 32 Yards), Antwaan Randle El made some of the game’s biggest plays. And it was Randle El’s biggest one which all but sealed the Steelers’ 5th Super Bowl title and finally brought “The One For The Thumb” home for Steelers fans.
After sputtering throughout the 1st Quarter where they did not produce a 3rd Down, Randle El came up big with Pittsburgh down 3-0 and backed up on their own 22 Yard Line faced with a 3rd and 8. Randle El caught a critical 8 Yard pass to move the chains for the first time in the game for the Steelers. And while Big Ben threw an Interception two plays later, the catch by Randle El plus the 1 Yard run by Hines Ward on the following play helped to get the Steelers out of the shadow of their own goal posts and gain some offensive momentum.
“A.R.E.” also chipped in a Tackle when Big Ben was picked off by Kelly Herndon at the Goal Line and returned the ball 76 Yards and deep into Steelers territory. Randle El showed tremendous hustle on the play, and eventually ran down Herndon at the Pittsburgh 20. While Seattle scored two plays later, Randle El’s snuffing out the potential Pick-6 gave the Offense at least a little time to regroup and prevented a huge momentum shift had Herndon taken the ball back the distance (a la James Harrison three years later).
But it was Randle El’s only pass play of the Super Bowl which we will all remember. Just like he had done against the Bengals in the same spot on the field, Whisenhunt called on his favorite jack-of-all-trades to help win the game. Using a play which worked for a Touchdown against the Browns during the regular season, Randle El came around from left end on a reverse pass, took a handoff while rolling right, and fired a beautiful 43 Yard strike to Hines Ward for the game winning Touchdown!
Coming out of college, the knock on Randle El was really not his arm strength as a Quarterback, it was simply his 5’10” height and the fact that he ran the ball quite a bit at Indiana and an option based attack. And on the Touchdown throw it was extremely evident that Randle El knew how to toss a pig-skin like a Quarterback. The ball had to be almost perfect, and it was! He led Ward fantastically on the throw, Ward caught it in stride, and scampered in for the score to make the game 21-10 and put it out of reach!
I will always reminisce fondly about the Steelers’ 2005 season. I know that we will all remember how Jerome Bettis finally got his ring in his hometown, how a 7-5 team faced adversity head-on and became the first #6 seed to win a Super Bowl title, etc.. But we should not forget what Antwaan Randle El meant to this team during that magical season and during his tenure with the franchise. Granted, “A.R.E.” was never the pass-catcher that Hines Ward or Plaxico Burress was over his career. But you know what? There was not, and likely will never be a player as versatile as Randle El was during his years with the Steelers.
Furthermore, we should not forget how important he was to this team’s Super Bowl run and how he came up during some critical times in the postseason when his team needed his unique skill-set the most. So tip of the cap “A.R.E..” Thank you for the memories and thank you for so many exciting moments over the course of your career and during the course of that wonderful 2005-2006 postseason.
What were your favorite Randle El moments readers? I am anxious to hear what you have to say, and the floor is yours.