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Steelers Stewart's inspirational play, Steelers' rally rekindle nasty rivalry with Raiders

Monday, December 04, 2000

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

They've already chosen the top 10 football games played in Three Rivers Stadium history, so the Steelers' 21-20 victory against the Oakland Raiders yesterday won't count.

Kordell Stewart, who went out of the game in the first half with a knee injury, runs 17 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

It will, however, for those who watched and played in it.

"This was a real football game," said Steelers tackle Wayne Gandy. "One of the best games I've ever been part of. It was two teams that were not going home losers today."

The only thing lacking was a Franco Harris-like immaculate touch at the end, but it's not like the Raiders didn't try. After an incomplete pass on fourth down at the Steelers' 41 with two seconds left, the Raiders argued that they had another down coming.

It wasn't until referee Tom White called up to NFL observer Charles "Ace" Heberling in the press box to check the statisticians' play-by-play that he confirmed the Raiders had used up all four downs, despite what the stadium scoreboard showed.

"I wasn't even sure," Steelers linebacker Levon Kirkland said, "until they said 'Black ball, first down.' I said, 'Cool, we won the game.' "

The victory in the second-to-last game in Three Rivers Stadium history kept the Steelers' slim playoff hopes alive at 7-6 and dropped the Raiders to 10-3, keeping them from clinching a postseason berth.

In doing so, the Steelers overcame a 10-point halftime deficit, an incident in which Raiders defensive end Regan Upshaw spit in the face of punter Josh Miller, and a deflating interception return for a touchdown. They rode an emotional halftime speech by Kirkland, a stirring comeback by Kordell Stewart and another 100-yard game from Jerome Bettis.

Ultimately, the game might not mean as much as the ones between these two teams in the 1970s, but it was an epic on its own and embodied the bitter spirit of those played from a generation ago.

"It seemed like both teams didn't like each other," Gandy said. "I have no idea why. It's not like we play each other every year. But from the beginning of the game, you have guys spitting on a guy, talking a lot of trash. When you run out of bounds, they were making sure they hit you going out of bounds, things like that.

"I just think it was us being on the verge of elimination and them seeking a playoff berth and home-field advantage. And two forces collided."

Stewart, continuing his Lazarus-like performance, threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Bobby Shaw on his first series. He left after one quarter with a knee injury and returned in the second half to throw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Mark Bruener and to run for the winning touchdown on a 17-yard quarterback draw in the fourth quarter.

His passing statistics of 14 of 23 for 136 yards and two touchdowns won't stand up to history, but it was one of the best games he has ever played.

 
 
More Steelers Coverage:

Ron Cook
Inspired half quiets demons

Bob Smizik
Stewart's play silences critics

Raiders tip their black hats to Stewart

Raiders' Upshaw adds fire to old rivalry

Play of the game: Stewart shrugs off critics, knee injury to dart and dash into end zone

Steelers Report: 12/04/00

Steelers Report Card

Steelers Photo Journal

   
 

"What a great effort," Coach Bill Cowher said. "The kid came out and, hopefully, he won some people back over."

Those included his teammates.

"I don't think there's a person in this locker room who doesn't believe he can go out there and get it done," said Bettis, who ran 24 times for 128 yards. "It was an amazing game he played. He showed a lot of intestinal fortitude to come out after an injury like that."

Stewart, listed as probable the past week with an injury to the back of his right knee, picked up where he left off in Cincinnati the previous week when he had a 125.4 passer rating.

He followed a surprise 22-yard run on the Steelers' first offensive play by fullback Dan Kreider by completing two consecutive passes, then threw perhaps his best of the season to end the series. With third-and-11 at the Raiders' 19, Stewart dropped a perfect pass over two defensive backs into the hands of Bobby Shaw in the deep left corner of the end zone for a touchdown.

"They say he doesn't make that pass anymore, but he made it today," Shaw said of Stewart's critics. "I've never said he can't make that pass. He showed today he could make it because he put that ball in a perfect spot. ... It was a great pass."

Stewart's first read was a curl by Troy Edwards, but when the cornerback covered Edwards, he knew he had Shaw deeper and threw it to a spot where his slot receiver was supposed to be.

"Bobby gave a great move," said wide receiver Courtney Hawkins, who saw the play from the other side, "and you couldn't drop it out of the sky any better than he threw that ball."

Sebastian Janikowski's 40-yard field goal made it 7-3 early in the second quarter, and then Kent Graham came onto the field with 13:54 left in the half to replace Stewart. An injury, which Stewart said was to the back of his knee above his calf, was aggravated on the previous series, and the Steelers announced he was out for the game.

On Graham's first play, he looked right, turned and threw left. Cornerback Eric Allen stepped in front of Hines Ward, intercepted it and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown and a 10-7 Oakland lead. It was Graham's first interception of the season.

Graham continued to have problems in the pocket. He was sacked the next two times he tried to throw, and tackle Darrell Russell batted down his next pass.

When Randy Jordan took a screen pass 37 yards untouched for a touchdown a minute before halftime for a 17-7 Oakland lead, the Steelers seemed ready to pack it in.

But Kirkland grabbed them by their emotional collars at halftime.

"We were down 17-7 and had to be proud," Kirkland said. "It was time for us to stand up and play some football instead of moaning and complaining. I just let my feelings be known."

While Kirkland was doing that, the trainers were busy wrapping Stewart's knee. He started the second half and led the Steelers on a grinding and inspiring 16-play, 91-yard touchdown drive that consumed 9 minutes and 10 seconds.

He scrambled for 17 yards on one play, showing no signs of an injury. He completed two third-down passes to keep it going. From the 6, he threw a pass to Bruener on the right. Safety Calvin Branch grabbed him at the 1 and pushed him back to the 4. But with Branch hanging on, Bruener carried him into the end zone for a touchdown that pulled the Steelers within three.

"I saw the yellow out of the corner of my eye," Bruener said, referring to the end zone, "and I said somehow I have to get in there."

The Steelers' special teams and defense then helped set up the winning touchdown.

Deshea Townsend jumped into the end zone to flip the ball back into play on Josh Miller's punt, and Hank Poteat downed it at the 2. On third-and-2, Kevin Henry and Kimo von Oelhoffen stopped Tyrone Wheatley a yard short of the first down at the 11.

The Raiders punted, and the Steelers took over at Oakland's 47. From there, Bettis blew through a hole off left guard, ran over safety Anthony Dorsett and dragged Eric Allen 5 yards for a 30-yard run to the 17.

After a tipped pass, Stewart dropped back into the pocket on second down and took off. Dorsett missed him, and Upshaw missed him inside the 5 as he slipped into the end zone for a touchdown and a 21-17 Steelers' lead with 14:48 left in the game.

Janikowski's 44-yard field goal on Oakland's next series set up the final, furious finish.

The Raiders were in position to take the lead with 3:59 to go when Janikowski's 44-yard field goal try fall short.

The Steelers drove to the Raiders' 32. but on third-and-1, Bettis lost 3 yards and they had to punt. The Raiders got one last chance from their 10 with 1:39 to go.

They ran out of downs and time at the Steelers' 41 -- even if they didn't know it -- without letting Janikowski, their first-round pick from Florida State, try a winning kick from 58 or 59 yards. He missed one from 59 this season and made one from 54.

"It was a great win," Kirkland said. "We had to win this one. We've been struggling to win the big games. I think this time we had a resolve to take the close game."

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