Over the weekend, Jenn & I took our annual trip to Pittsburgh to see the Steelers play. We meet up with our friends Bob & Tina (from Indiana) once a year to see a game at Heinz Field. This is a trip we look forward to all year.
We drove over to Pittsburgh on Saturday, in the middle of the first winter storm of the season. While the weather wasn't that bad, we drove by dozens of car accidents on I-70. Lots of cars that spun off the road and a few multi-car accidents. We even detoured off I-70 briefly due to traffic being completely halted. We ended up jumping on SR-40 (old National Rd) for a few miles to get around the traffic jam. Fortunately we got to Pittsburgh and back without incident.
As usual, we stayed at the Sheraton at Station Square. While the room rates can be pricing this time of year, we love the location. There's shopping and plenty of places to eat in the vicinity and it's a quick ride on the Gateway Clippers to the stadium. We normally end up with a great view of the City and Stadium from our room as well. There's just something great about looking at your hotel room and seeing people heading into Heinz Field.
Since we didn't arrive in Pittsburgh later in the day, we spent the late afternoon and evening doing some shopping and then heading to Bar Louie for dinner and drinks. We ended up hanging out there for awhile and then just headed back to our room to hang out and just catch up.
On Sunday morning, I went down and got us a little breakfast from the hotel and brought it back up to the room. We kept breakfast small, because we had plans to head to Fat Heads for an early lunch.
If can appreciate a great sandwich and like beer, you'll love Fat Heads. They keep about 40-50 micro-brews on draft year round and during the Holiday Season, they tend to have a dozen or so Holiday/Christmas brews. If you've ever been to Fat Heads, you know why you want to go with an empty stomach. Bob & I both had the Bay of Pigs (which is pictured to the left.) No one actually finished their sandwich during lunch. All four of us ended up taking back to the hotel a half sandwich to eat later. I originally planned on eating my sandwich before heading over to the stadium, but I was still too full to eat hours later.
After leaving Fat Heads, we headed back to Station Square to do a little more shopping. Jenn & I had forgot to pack our Steelers blanket, so I was desperately trying to find a large Steelers fleece blanket we could take to the game. Unfortunately, all the stores in Station Square were sold out, so we had to gamble we could find one at one of the shops at Heinz Field (and thankfully they had plenty in stock.) After shopping, we just went back to the hotel to have a few drinks and watch a little of the Browns/Titans game. If the Browns could have pulled off a win, that would have allowed the Steelers to control their own destiny for the #1 seed in the AFC.
We decided to head over to the stadium around 3pm—just to make sure we got there in plenty of time. When I say it was cold Sunday, I mean cold. It was certainly the coldest game I've ever attended. While it was only in the lower teens, the wind chill brought it near 0 degrees. I think the fact that it was the first major cold spell of the year made it feel even colder. I thought the cold weather played in the Steelers favor. It's always been reported that Tony Romo has small hands and the cold weather makes it very difficult to grip the ball when you have small hands—which is compounded when you factor in that Romo recently broke his pinky.
We were very fortunate to end up with great seats to the game. Seats were hard to come by and weren't cheap, but Bob was able to hook us up. Bob & Tina sat in section 108 (about the 20 yard line on the visitors' side) while Jenn & I were in section 109 (about the 31 yard line on the visitors' side.) While not the best seats I've ever had for a game, they were damn close.
Jenn & I have also have lucked out just about every year by having almost all the scoring and big plays happening on the end of the field where we were seating. This year was no different. Every score, but the Steelers first Field Goal, occurred at our end of the field. We definitely had some of the best seats in the house.
The atmosphere in the stadium, was much like a playoff game—which it really was like all weekend. While the Steelers and Cowboys rarely play, it invokes memories of the three Super Bowls they've played against each other, so it's always a big game.
The game itself was a rollercoaster of emotion. The crowd was electric for most of the first quarter—which was feed immediately by Troy Polamalu's interception of Romo on the Cowboys first possession. However, neither team could really mustard any offensive in the first half. This weather definitely played a big part in this, as there was a pretty constant 20mph wind the entire game, and if I haven't mentioned it yet, it was cold. The first half ended in a 3-3 tie, with the Cowboys kicking a tying Field Goal as time expired in the first half.
The Cowboys really started well in the second half, scoring 10 points on their first two possessions. This 13 point unanswered run really started to suck the energy out of the crowd. Between the cold and the lack of Steelers ability to move the ball, the energy in the crowd really started to settle down. The Cowboys definitely had all the momentum.
However, there was a guy sitting behind me (who had gotten up at 2am to drive up from North Carolina for the game) who kept telling everyone else around us "Don't worry, the Steelers are going to come back and win this game." It was so confident, it was hard not to believe him.
The turning point in the game really came with about 8 minutes left in the game. The Cowboys were forced to punt into the wind. The punt only ended traveling about 30-35 yards in the air and then took a huge Cowboys bounce forward. However, Santonio Holmes scooped up the bouncing ball and ended up returning it deep into the Cowboys territory. This really brought the crowd alive. With only about 8 minutes left in the game, the crowd knew a score here would turn the tide in the Steelers favor.
However, the Cowboys defense was staunch and forced the Steelers to kick a Field Goal. While the Steelers were down by 7 points with under 8 minutes left, everyone in the stadium knew the #1 defense in the league would give the Steelers Offense at least one more chance with the ball—and they did exactly that.
One of the best things about Ben Roethisberger is that his confidence rarely wavers. When they got the ball back with 5 minutes left, you could feel the energy in the stadium rise again. Ben drove the Steelers down the field in 8 plays to score the tying FG. At this point, the crowd noise was off the hook. I've heard from several announcers that it's probably the loudest it's every been at Heinz Field. The crowd was going absolutely nuts all around us. Everyone was high-fiving the guy from NC that was sitting behind us, because his faith in the Steelers hadn't wavered at all.
The key to the Cowboys next series was to prevent them from getting into FG range and take this game into overtime. The Cowboys had a little under 2 minutes in the game, but that lifetime considering they had all 3 of their timeouts.
The Cowboys ended up getting the ball on their 15 yard line—which meant they had to drive 85 yards on the #1 Defense in the game. The Cowboys gained 2 yards on their first play and the Steelers used their first timeout to stop the clock. According to the Steelers Defensive players, Tony Romo taunted the players for calling a timeout, claiming the Cowboys were just going to score on them anyway. I'm not sure anyone could forsee what would happen next, and I'm sure Romo's regretting opening his mouth.
On the Cowboys next play, Romo threw the ball right to the Steelers defensive back, Deshea Townsend who returned the ball for what ended up being a game winning TD. Deshea caught the ball basically 20 yards in front of us, so we had a great view of the catch and his run into the endzone. At this point the entire stadium is jumping up and down and all the fans around us are hugging and high fiving. Even Jenn was the most excited I think I've ever seen her.
It's hard to even describe the atmosphere in the stadium at this point. This is the first time I've been to a Steelers game where there was this kind of come back in the last few minutes of the game, so maybe this energy is fairly normal—but it certainly felt special.
Anyway, the game ended up being fantastic and the high of the last few minutes of the game is still just wearing off. Overall we had a fantastic weekend. We ended up leaving Pittsburgh Monday morning after doing some more shopping with Bob & Tina at Station Square (yes, we did lots of shopping—just trying to do our part to stimulate the economy.) As always, we had a great trip to Pittsburgh and I'm glad I finally got to see a Steelers/Cowboys game in person.