I can still see the ball off Neil O’Donnell’s hand. It was fourth and goal and the Steelers trailed the Green Bay Packers 24-19 the day before Christmas in 1995. Awaiting the ball was Steelers’ wide receiver Yancey Thigpen.
He was all alone in the back of the end zone. There were just 16 seconds left when the play began.
A touchdown here would ice the victory and would give Pittsburgh a 12th win on the season.
Apparently Thigpen was in a giving mood that day before Christmas because the ball just wouldn’t be his.
He dropped it. Plain and simple, he dropped the ball. Game over, Packers’ win.
It was not a typical Steelers’ game in Lambeau Field that day. That final pass was O’Donnell’s 55th of the game. He completed 33 of them for 318 yards and Thigpen was a recipient of several of those including a couple of first down catches on this fateful drive.
Pittsburgh went on to be the second seed in the AFC playoffs but earned a home AFC Championship Game after top seed Kansas City was upset by Indianapolis. That Colts’ team, led by Jim Harbaugh, left Three Rivers Stadium with a loss only after a failed hail mary attempt.
The Steelers would lose Super Bowl XXX to Dallas.
Ten years later, the Steelers returned to the Frozen Tundra although in early November, it wasn’t quite frozen yet. Charlie Batch was in at quarterback for the injured Ben Roethlisberger.
Despite Green Bay entering the game with just one win, no one expected the game to be easy especially with Roethlisberger out. The play of the game happened in the second quarter when Troy Polamalu returned a Brett Favre fumble 77 yards for a touchdown.
Batch would complete just nine passes on 16 attempts for a total of 59 yards and an interception. If you want a real surprise, guess who the leading rusher that day was?
Remember Duce Staley? He ran 15 times for 76 yards and a touchdown which put the game away in the fourth quarter.
Like the 1995 season in which Pittsburgh played in Green Bay, the Steelers would go back to the Super Bowl. This time they finally won “one for the thumb” by defeating Seattle in Super Bowl XL.
Let’s hope this week brings another classic and a Steelers’ win of course!
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 630pm ET talking Steelers and is a blogger for ESPN 970 in Pittsburgh.