The Pittsburgh Steelers playoff hopes were hanging by a thread on Christmas Eve against the Las Vegas Raiders. Acrisure Stadium was half empty because of inclement weather and frankly a bizarre choice by the NFL to put the 50th anniversary of the greatest play in league history in a television spot that was almost sure to draw minimum eyes. Thanksgiving night is a great showcase for the NFL. Christmas Eve night is a giant middle finger to two of the biggest fan bases in the NFL.
Karl Roser/Pittsburgh Steelers
The biggest question is why this happened. The NFL couldn’t have known that Franco Harris was going to pass away three days before his number was going to be retired. Harris never disappointed the fans of Pittsburgh or the NFL. If they asked him to attend an event, he was there, no questions asked. He was a great ambassador for the league and the NFL chose to guarantee that most of the country outside of hardcore football fans would not watch the ceremony meant to honor his contributions to arguably the NFL’s premiere franchise.
The game was sloppy, featuring multiple missed field goals and turnovers. Before Harris arrived in Pittsburgh, the Steelers were the laughingstock of professional football and the offense did its best to wake up those echoes during the first three quarters of the game. Kenny Pickett was not sharp; the offense was inconsistent, but luckily after an opening drive touchdown, the defense managed to keep the Steelers in the game. The Steelers needed some fourth quarter Christmas magic in a one score game.
Arron Anastasia / Pittsburgh Steelers
It started inconsequentially when Chris Boswell made his second field goal to draw the Steelers to 10-6. The defense conjured up visions of the Steel Curtain and with under 3 minutes to play, Santa Claus must have been over Pittsburgh because he dropped off Steeler Nation‘s Christmas present in the form of a fully grown NFL quarterback with Pickett leading a 75-yard drive when the black and gold needed it most. The drive ended with a perfect strike to George Pickens and even Matt Canada stayed out of his own way on the final drive.
The Steelers victory wasn’t flashy, but just like Franco Harris himself, it was effective. Steve Smith on NFL Network after the game called out Canada’s play-calling:
“Canada is very Saturdayish,” Smith observed. “This was a special night; you should be calling special plays. Why wait until your back is against the wall to get creative.”
It ended as a special night that saw Pickett grow into a fully functioning NFL quarterback capable of leading a game winning drive in a high-pressure situation. The hallmark of the Mike Tomlin Steelers is that superior talent carries the team rather than the coaching. Saturday night was no different, the defensive stars made huge plays in the fourth quarter and the offense figured it out on the last drive of the game to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with a 13-10 victory.
The Steelers don’t have high playoff hopes, but they do have them and losing this game would have been an embarrassment for the franchise. It was the most pressure Pickett had ever faced professionally, and he came through for the black and gold. A close hard-fought game against the Raiders that came down to a clutch last second performance seemed like a fitting way to honor Pittsburgh’s fallen hero. It’s too bad it happened after 11pm on Christmas Eve when most of the nation had visions of sugar plums dancing in their head, instead of a football game that ended after the stockings were hung by the chimney with care.
Former Pittsburgh Steeler Franco Harris twirls a Terrible Towel before the start of the Steelers NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, December 23, 2012. Harris was at the game to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the “Immaculate Reception”. REUTERS/Jason Cohn (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
Franco Harris wouldn’t have complained, he would have just smiled and thanked everyone else for coming and enjoyed the victory. It won’t be as merry without him, but this victory will brighten Christmas mornings all over Pittsburgh.
What do you think, Steeler Nation? Are you relieved that the 50th anniversary celebration resulted in a victory? Please comment below or on my Twitter @thebubbasq.
This content was originally published here.