One win away.
I’ve been here before. I have had the pleasure of covering or attending seven conference championship games … both here and in other cities. While the Super Bowl is the ultimate prize in pro sports, there is something about the conference championship game that makes it perhaps a little more dramatic.
NFL Films recaps every season with the hilight film “Road To The Super Bowl” … and its always done prior to the big game. The climax of the hour-long film is the conference championship games. As they say “four teams, two games, one shot at glory”.
Its the final game before the biggest game. The teams usually play in the elements and that adds another dimension to the contest. Then, its the fact its a championship game: an homage to the days before the Super Bowl when the AFL and NFL would each hold title games … and then the winner would advance to the Super Bowl.
I’ve seen some interesting atmospheres in this town prior to the AFC Championship. There was the overwhelming confidence of the 1994 Steelers before they were shocked and stunned by San Diego. There was the trepidation when the Steelers played the Colts in 1996 … and won because the receiver for Indy dropped the ball in the end zone. There was the string of title games from 1998 to 2004 where this town started to question if the Steelers could win “the big one”.
Then, there was the exorcising of the demons on the road in Denver in 2005 en route to Detroit. Now, those days of doubt have been forgotten. The Steelers and their fans are nervous, but confident their team can win against the Jets Sunday.
I think what make this game so special and so different is that its our last chance to cheer for the Steelers this season – in person. Not everyone can go to the Super Bowl, but Pittsburgh can host a championship game and can use its voice to help the Steelers to victory.
It will be the 11th title game held along the Three Rivers. An NFL record. As Steeler author Jim O’Brien told me, and I echoed it, we are lucky in this city.