BEST OF 2002-2003
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Déjà vu for Our Steelers
The black and gold blood that runs through the veins of Pittsburghers was once again revitalized as the Steelers again played host to the AFC championship game. With a 15-1 regular season and a franchise-record winning streak which brought back memories of the Steelers’ glory days, the city had reason to be excited. Of course Bill Cowher’s Steelers had been in this situation before, only to disappoint; but this year would be different. The Steelers were celebrating 25 years since their last Super Bowl victory and had fate on their side. They had a confident and seemingly unbeatable rookie who had energized his teammates and his city, and they had successfully overcome every injury and obstacle presented before them.
It was a team destined for glory. Even Coach Cowher recognized that the Steelers of 2004 were a special bunch.
“The one thing that I will say is that this is the most unselfish football team that I have ever been a part of, and not just in my 13 years here, but any team with which I have been associated", said Cower.
The end result and tremendous disappointment which followed only made the pain more difficult to endure for the city of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately it is a familiar pain for Pittsburghers, a pain which lingers until the team begins its pre-season workouts the next summer.
This is also the time of year people begin calling for the head of Cowher. The Steelers’ coach has taken his team to five AFC championship games in his tenure, an impressive number. Not so impressively however, this year’s defeat to the New England Patriots was their fourth loss in five AFC Championship Games at home since 1995. The one AFC championship game in which they did win, they still managed to fall to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX. It is for this reason that many people believe Bill Cowher just cannot win the “big game.”
Cowher acknowledged the frustration of this year’s loss recently.
“There is a disappointment that exists throughout the city,” Cowher said. “At the same time I think it is very unfair to allow that to be with which you identify this season. We recognize that we fell short. But we are going to keep coming back, and keep getting back up. That is the only way that I know how to deal with life. Life is full of disappointments. Sometimes we wonder why. But ours is not to wonder why, ours is to continue to try. We will do that.
Though they fell short of their goal, the Steelers continue to rack up awards; quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was the Unanimous choice for the 2004 NFL Rookie of the Year, Coach Bill Cowher was named the sporting news Coach of the Year, Jerome Bettis was the NFL’s Player of the Year and he owns the Levitra Play of the Year for his touchdown pass to Jerame Tuman in the Steeler’s regular season game against the Jets. In addition to these awards, Aaron Smith and Marvel Smith were recently added to the Pro Bowl Roster.
Six Steelers were selected to play in the 2005 Pro Bowl last month in Hawaii and now these two players will join them. The eight players are the most representing the Steelers since 1979, when 10 Steelers played in the game. The 1979 Steelers won the Super Bowl.
With all of the accomplishments of this year’s team, the fans are left to wonder how this season could have ended so prematurely. There are multiple reasons why a team loses a game and this year many explanations proposed. Yet it is in my opinion that most of the blame has to fall on the shoulders of the man who is largely responsible for the team’s success as well, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
I have praised his playmaking abilities all season, but the wide-eyed rookie, which had been absent all season, was exposed in the Steelers’ two playoff games, in particular the championship game loss to the Patriots.
“It wasn't a great game on my part, but I learned an awful lot this season," Roethlisberger said. "We had a great season, but there are a lot of people -- some in that locker room -- that now think it's a disappointment.”
Roethlisberger threw three costly interceptions in his first loss in 15 NFL starts. He had won 27 straight games dating to his final season at Miami of Ohio. Roethlisberger’s poor showing in his two playoff games are indicated in the states below.
In contrast, this is what the rookie accomplished in the regular season. The Rookie of the Year won all 13 of his starts in 2004, leading all rookie quarterbacks with 2,621 passing yards and 17 touchdown passes. He posted a passer rating of 98.1, fifth among all NFL quarterbacks, and led the Steelers to a 15-1 record and the top seed in the AFC playoffs. In leading his team to back-to-back wins over the defending champion New England Patriots and the NFC’s top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles in Weeks 8 and 9, Roethlisberger recorded passer ratings of 126.4 and 109.3 respectively, throwing two touchdown passes in each game. He was nominated for Pepsi Rookie of the Week nine times, winning the award every week he was nominated.
Roethlisberger’s regular season success did not carry over into the playoffs, but there is much evidence to suggest he will be a great NFL quarterback for many years. Unfortunately, all Steelers fans can do now is hope for next season. This is who they will face in 2005:
HOME : Jacksonville, Tennessee, Chicago, Detroit, New England, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland.
AWAY : Houston, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Minnesota, San Diego, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland.
Both the Steelers players and the fans continue to feel the pain of this year’s loss.
“It was a very close football team, which made the hurt be that much more. “ Cowher said. “At the same time, that is what made this group special.
Indeed it was a special group; one can only hope they will be a SUPER group as well next season.