Posted: Friday May 26, 2006 1:40PM; Updated: Friday June 2, 2006 11:17AM
Ben Roethlisberger celebrates the Steelers' win over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
The 2004 Steelers went a franchise-record 15-1 and stormed into the playoffs behind unbeaten rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a 14-game winning streak. They had all the momentum in the world -- at which point they fell flat on their face masks. If not for two missed field goal attempts by Doug Brien, Pittsburgh would have lost to the upstart Jets at home in the divisional round. As things turned out, the Steelers lost resoundingly to defending champion New England at Heinz Field in the AFC title game -- the fourth such AFC Championship Game home defeat of head coach BillCowher's frustrating coaching tenure.
But the Steelers followed the Red Sox' blueprint to utter perfection. Sitting at 7-5 and on the brink of missing the playoffs last season, the Steelers put together an eight-game winning streak at the most opportune time, culminating in a memorable wild-card run to the franchise's first Super Bowl championship in 26 years. Before the Steelers, no No. 6 seed had ever won three consecutive road playoff games (against the conference's No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds), let alone triumphed in the Super Bowl. Then Pittsburgh made history of all that history.
We know what you're thinking. Recent history doesn't dictate the immediate future and that's exactly the lesson the Red Sox and Steelers taught us. But sometimes the past does matter, in that it can provide the necessary inspiration needed to start anew in the face of overwhelming disappointment and disillusionment.
In the weeks and months after his No. 1-seeded Colts fell 21-18 at home to Pittsburgh in their playoff opener, thereby negating the significance of Indianapolis' NFL-best 14-2 regular-season record and the 13-0 start that captivated the football world, head coach TonyDungy's constant refrain was that his devastated team needed to let go of the defeat and "get back to work.''
If the Colts can heed that advice, they indeed still have much to work with, and now have the added bonus of the greatest source of motivation of all: unfinished business.
Colts players may not talk nonstop about it this season, but they know that their window of Super Bowl opportunity will not be open indefinitely, and the time to get something done on the ring front is now. Since 1999, Indianapolis has the league's best regular-season mark, at 77-35. But that record rings more than a bit hollow, given that the Colts have yet to advance past the AFC title game in that span.
After the tumult of last December and January, which peaked with the heartrending tragedy of Dungy losing his oldest son, James, to suicide three days before Christmas, the Colts, for the most part, have had a quiet offseason.
They lost some major cogs in free agency in running back Edgerrin James, kicker Mike Vanderjagt, linebacker David Thornton and defensive tackle Larry Tripplett. But they replaced Vanderjagt -- whose comically wide-right 47-yard field goal attempt late in the playoff loss to Pittsburgh summed up Indy's star-crossed fates that day -- with Patriots Super Bowl hero Adam Vinatieri. They drafted LSU running back Joseph Addai in the first round to help offset James' absence. Adding in the re-signing of talented No. 2 receiver Reggie Wayne before free agency opened, the Colts, led as always by quarterback Peyton Manning, remain as formidable a Super Bowl contender as there is.
With their determination forged by disappointment and defeat, the Colts won't be denied in 2006. They've long had the talent. Now they have the drive and the will. Add it all up and it means this time they'll find a way. No matter what it takes. Just like the resilient Red Sox and Steelers before them.
Yes, it's only May. A time of waiting before the watching begins. But in Indianapolis, the comeback already has begun.