By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — During his 13-year career, including 10 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jerome Bettis ran his way to the No. 5 career rushing spot in the NFL.
However, his most dubious moment probably came in a playoff game at Indianapolis in January 2006. Bettis, who was a surprise visitor to his former club’s practice Thursday afternoon, was running in for a touchdown to secure victory and had the ball stripped from him.
The Colts’ Nick Harper scooped up the fumble and raced the other way. If not for an amazing shoe-string tackle by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers might have lost that game. Instead, the club’s defense forced a long field goal that eventually was missed, and he Steelers advanced.
They eventually won in Denver and beat the Seattle Seahawks in Detroit to win Super Bowl XL. But that second playoff game after the 2005 season was the last time the Steelers played in Indianapolis. They face the Colts there once again Sunday night at 8:20 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“We had played there in a Monday Night Football earlier that season and lost, but we knew what to expect in that playoff game,” Bettis said. “We knew it was going to be loud, and we knew they thought we’d run the ball. So, we hit them right away with some passes and took an early lead.
“I would have sealed that with a touchdown after Joey Porter’s two sacks on Peyton Manning, but I got the ball knocked out. Then, you’re just like ‘(crap),’ I didn’t know what happened. And I didn’t see the ball right away because I was knocked down. When I got up, I saw Ben backpedaling to make the tackle.”
Steelers wideout Hines Ward remembered that game like it was yesterday.
“That fumble by Jerome, he was the guy who epitomized this whole organization, a guy who rarely ever fumbles, and if we score a touchdown there that game is over,” Ward said. “It should’ve been over, but that gave them a little hope. When I saw that ball come out, I just felt bad for him as a player.
“But lucky for us, their field-goal kicker missed that field goal. And we won the game. … That run by Harper, until Ben tackled him, I was just thinking that it was like that old move Chariots of Fire, and that song was playing. Everything kind of went in slow motion, and it took forever. That slow song was just going on in my head. You know, we had our whole goal-line (offense) in there.
“There were a lot of offensive linemen, a lot of short-yardage guys in there, but no speed guys,” Ward added. “Watching Ben retreat a little bit was scary, but lucky for us he made a great tackle. We negated them from scoring a touchdown, and they missed the field goal. So, that was the end right there.”
Ward also gave credit to the Steelers’ coaching staff for learning from that loss on Monday Night Football and changing their game plan. The Steelers offense jumped on the Colts, and the defense handled Manning in the 21-18 victory.
James Farrior recalled that defensive effort.
“I remember everything,” Farrior said. “Those sacks by Joey, they were big. We pretty much thought we sealed the deal. By the time we got to the sideline and were about to sit down, we had to go right back out there. (But) we knew we could shut down Manning, we just changed some things from that first game.
“I wasn’t even watching Jerome when he fumbled. We were on the sideline, talking trash to their fans and signing autographs for all the Steelers fans out there. So, I didn’t even see it. All of a sudden, you hear the crowd screaming, and that got our attention. I saw Ben running after that guy.
“We basically said ‘Oh, (crap), somebody please get him on the ground.’ Then, we got back out there and held them,” Farrior added, “and they missed a field goal. But it was crazy for a couple minutes there. A lot happened in that game. Troy had a pick, but they took it away. Lots of crazy stuff, but we won.”
That’s what Larry Foote prefers to remember the most.
“We were just very happy leaving that field,” Foote said. “It was a crazy game, though, and there was a lot of time left. Even though we were up, you never know what can happen in this league. We dominated, but in the end we were just one shoe-string tackle by Ben from possibly losing that game.”
But in the end, all that remains are happy memories for the Steelers.