5 plays that still haunt Steelers fans to this day

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Jack Ham #59 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

January 9, 1983: AFC Wild Card Game Chargers 31 Pittsburgh 28

The sun had slowly begun to set on the dynasty, the Steelers, had assembled in the ‘70s. After winning Superbowl XIV. The steeler veterans, one by one, came closer to retirement. The Steelers had missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. In 1980 they went 7-9, and in 1981 they finished 8-8. Then, in 1982, it looked as if the Steelers had enough gas in the tank to make another run for a championship. Benefitting from the strike-shortened season, the Steelers finished 6-3; however, the Bengals finished ahead, forcing them into the wild card slot. Their opponent was the 7-3 San Diego Chargers led by quarterback Dan Fouts.

Before kickoff, Steelers fans had no doubts their might Steelers would rise to the occasion again, knock off the Chargers, and advance to Superbowl XVII. It appeared that was going to happen as the game started with the Steelers dominating the Chargers in the first quarter. Early in the game Pittsburgh scored firsts when Guy Ruff recovered a Chargers fumble in the end zone, giving them a quick 7-0 lead. Then at the end of the first quarter, Terry Bradshaw rushed for another touchdown giving the Steelers a 14-3 lead. However, the Chargers would not go away quietly; they managed to score two touchdowns in the second quarter, giving them a 17-14 halftime lead over the Steelers.

The Steelers, though, always found ways to win, and they would not let the Dan Fouts steal a victory in Three Rivers Stadium. Between the third and fourth quarters, Terry Bradshaw hit Bennie Cunningham and John Stallworth for touchdowns to give them a 28-17 lead.  Then midway through the fourth quarter, Chargers cornerback Jeff Allen intercepted a Bradshaw pass returning it to the Steelers 29 yard line. It looked as if Pittsburgh might be in trouble. Then the Steelers rose to the occasion. In a Fouts pass to the end zone, Pittsburgh cornerback Mel Blount intercepted the pass, giving them the ball back and the opportunity to run the clock down and leave the Chargers in the hole to try to overcome a two-score deficit.

Well, almost. Upon the Mel Blount interception, the officials threw the penalty flag. Jack Ham, one of the great Steelers linebackers, had been nailed for a holding call. Instead of the interception, it gave the Chargers five yards and a first down. Four plays later, they scored, cutting the lead to four points.  The Steelers had not lost the game because of that play; they still had the lead; however, they went nowhere on the ensuing possession, and the Chargers forced them to punt, giving them one last chance to win. Of course, they did. Fouts drove the Chargers to the Steelers 12 yard line hitting Kellen Winslow for his second touchdown of the game and knocking the Steelers out of the playoffs.

With the flag on Jack Ham, it not only nullified the interception, which would have likely ended any chance of the Chargers winning; it finally ended Pittsburgh’s dynasty. They would never play in another Superbowl until 1995, and they would not win another Superbowl until 2005. Indeed, the flag on Jack Ham remains one of the most painful moments in Steelers history, which those that remember watching the play as it happened have never gotten over it to this day.