2001 Loss To New England Still Stings - By Neal Coolong

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Most psychologists will tell you it is good to remember the past and confront it.

I will try my best.

My apartment smelled of electric heat, and the walls shook with the frigid wind outside. A very typical January morning in Fargo, N.D., but this one was different.

After a complete ass-kicking of the hated Baltimore Ravens, the 2001 Steelers were one win away from the Super Bowl.

This game was significant to me because it was the first time I was watching the team while drinking beer. Not only that, but they had defeated local favorite Minnesota that season, plus they had pretty much fallen off the planet since losing to Elway's Broncos in 1998.

The Patriots had survived The Tuck Rule Game over Oakland in the snow. Rookie Tom Brady was coming into his own as a signal-caller. The Pats had come from nowhere, much like Pittsburgh, but without the respect. New England figurehead Drew Bledsoe's injury had sent any hope, outside of their fans, packing for Honolulu.

But they just kept winning.

Much like the team they are now (and at the risk of sounding like every other journalist in North America right now) and much like the 2004 Red Sox. Gutty. Determined. Not interested in winning every category, but rather, just the score.

If I saw all of this as a 22-year-old journalism student at North Dakota State University, I could have prevented it. I could be able to sleep at night during the football season without thinking of Kris Brown's blocked field goal that led to one Patriots score. I wouldn't cringe, swear and throw things when I see the replay of Bledsoe coming off the bench for an injured Brady to find Deion Branch for the clinching touchdown.

I wouldn't be at fault for that game happening.

Yes, that's right. It was me. The cortisone shot given to Bettis would have gone in the right spot and he would have played. Kordell would have taken a few minutes to remove his hands from his throat before he attempted a pass. They would have been able to do exactly what the Patriots did; make the plays when they needed to make them.

But no. I broke tradition. I challenged the mechanism, and, collectively, we lost.

I had a routine down pat. My Troy Edwards jersey (yeah, yeah, shut up) and hat were placed in exactly the same spot and never washed. I had the same socks, the same pants and my slippers next to them, not to be moved. I drank the same thing, I ate pizza from the same place and sat on the same place on the couch.

All of these rules were well-known and respected in my apartment. My other two roommates just disappeared during games. Especially since it was the playoffs, they knew to not even bug me about it, or try to mess around with my routine.

It worked. I followed it religiously, and they won. They pummeled. I was nothing but confident.

The kicker: my girlfriend was not allowed to watch. She wasn't a football fan, anyway. She also hated it when I would yell and scream during games, so I figured both sides were happy.

It was the ONLY game that season my girlfriend tried to watch. She stopped on over at quarter to kickoff, deciding that it was a good time to try to chat. I'm wringing my Terrible Towel in my hand, my legs bouncing up and down in anticipation.

Yes, it's the PERFECT time to lecture me about how my plates and cups don't match.

"Hey, I thought we agreed to do something after the game."
"Well, I thought I'd come by now."
"Why?"
"I dunno…"
"Ok, well, can you just stop back at 3:30?"
"I won't even watch. I'll just be reading over here."
"But you don't understand the tradition…"
"What's the big deal? It's just a game!"


Why did I date her, again? Whatever, it was time for the kickoff. I did my usual. My pizza was ordered at halftime, but the pit in my stomach made it difficult to hold in my mandatory four pieces.

By midway through the third quarter, I forgot she was even there. Because of this malady, she figured it was time to make sure her presence was acknowledged.

Sitting next to me, she puts her hand on my leg, only to receive an icy stare, and a finger to the couch she was on.

But then it happened. Kordell completed more than two passes in a row! They got back on the board, so she was forced to sit there.

Perhaps it was a sign to keep this girl around, if for nothing more than a Super Bowl berth because she showed up that morning. Everything went wrong in the first half, but we're still in the game. All we need is a stop and a historic game-winning touchdown drive. Kordell was third in MVP voting that season, he could pull it off, right?

Right? Please?

He didn't get them across the Steelers' 40. Game over.

"Can we do something now?"
"No."
"But you said-"
"And YOU said you weren't going to watch the game!"
"Are you in a bad mood?"
"YES!"
"Ok, I'm gonna go home, then."
"THANK YOU!"


Needless to say we aren't dating anymore. And I haven't forgotten the bitterness that day created. Some guys say they hate their ex-girlfriend because she made him quit smoking, or their family hated him. I hate mine because she ruined the tradition, and started the Patriots on their quest for legacy.

I have another girlfriend now who has yet to watch a Steelers game with me. She has about as much interest in football as the Chinese have in hockey. The conversation about this weekend was much different.

"Hey Neal, do you mind if I just stay home Sunday? I know you want to watch the game, but would you care if I'm not there? I know it's a big game and everything, but it's my dog's birthday."
"Ya know what? That's perfect. That sounds good. How about we meet up after the game? I wouldn't want to hate you."
"Umm…ok. We'll meet up later."


Now THAT'S a keeper.

As for this week's game... considering I picked the Steelers go to 8-8 with Maddox in at quarterback, I'm not gong to hang myself after a loss. New England is clearly the best team in football (although I haven't seen much of Philadelphia), and they have won 21 straight for a reason. The Steelers lost a starting cornerback (Chad Scott) and their best defensive player in Casey Hampton (D-tackle, one of the best in the game), so clearly, this is going to be a struggle. The big factor in this game is going to be turnovers and time of possession. Those are the factors that have won New England five of its six games this year (remember, Buffalo, Indianapolis AND Miami all had chances to beat the Pats in regulation, but HUGE defensive plays/turnovers/touchdowns made the difference). The sixth game was a wash, so it really didn't matter.

If Pittsburgh is smart, it will know Belchick is going to come after Rotty with every weird defense so he can to try to confuse him. However, Pittsburgh has one of the best rushing attacks in the game and can easily control the game at the line of scrimmage, beating up the Pats biggest weakness; their inside run defense.

The Steelers formula to win this game is going to be getting Staley the ball 20 times or more (unless he gets spelled after 17, like he has in the past), do NOT turn the ball over ONCE (won't happen), and contain Brady's throwing to either the flats or the sidelines. They kill people over the middle and down the seam. Brady is the coolest customer in the game, and perhaps, throws even better with pressure. They will have to find a way to get him out of his comfort zone, whether it is blitzing every down or playing an extremely tight wide zone. He knows he's going to be seeing a rookie, second year or ancient corner in replacing Scott, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them go for the deep ball a bit more than usual.

But I have still done the same things since the win over Miami. I have my new tradition going. My new routine is working.

And no girlfriend is going to take that away from me. Or us. Once again, fellow Steelers fans, I apologize.