As the title indicates, I will be ranking and breaking down what I believe are the Top 5 games from the Steelers vs. Colts all-time series. And in similar fashion to my other history articles, I will be peppering in some personal anecdotes about each and every game as well. Since I wanted to shake this countdown up a bit for this week, I’ve decided that I will only be including games that have been played between the Steelers and the “Indianapolis” Colts. So rest easy older Baltimore fans, I will show at least some respect and not include any games between the Steelers and the “Baltimore Colts” on this list.
A big reason why I’m only including games played between the Steelers and the Indianapolis Colts is that I really want to illustrate to you the readers just how exciting this rivalry has become since the Mayflower trucks headed West in the middle of the night some 28 years ago. I also really want to show how the Colts moving to Indianapolis has allowed for a new and more competitive rivalry to blossom between both franchises over the last quarter century. So without further ado, here are what I believe are the Top 5 Games from the storied Steelers vs. Indianapolis Colts series.
#5. The Sloppy Sunday Night Show-Stopper
Sunday October 12, 1997
Steelers 24 – Colts 22
In 1997 the Pittsburgh Steelers did two things very well: 1. Played up to their competition and 2. Played down to their competition. As Week 7 began the Steelers were a game behind Jacksonville in the A.F.C. Central at 3-2, and had just come off of a heart-stopping shootout against Baltimore the week before. Luckily for the Steelers they were playing on ESPN’s Sunday Night Football against the 0-5 Indianapolis Colts. This game figured to be a breeze for the Steelers who could use it as a tune up for their game the following weekend against division rival Cincinnati at Riverfront Stadium. Sadly, the Steelers played true to their 1997 form, and had themselves a dog-fight on their hands that Sunday night against the winless Colts. However, the Steelers were able to escape with a victory despite their sub-par performance.
I’ll never forget settling into my living room at my house in Denver to watch this game with my parents. At 10 years old I was so excited to see the Steelers on t.v. at my own house and playing against what everybody thought was a patsy opponent. I figured that the Baltimore game the week prior had scared the crap out of them and the Steelers would come ready to play and dominate the game from the start. Much to my dismay I was dead wrong.
The Steelers came out flat from the start of the game by making bone-headed plays and allowing the hapless Colts to take advantage of them. In the 1st Quarter, the Colts jumped to a 10-0 lead on the strength of an 18 yard TD pass from Jim Harbaugh to Marvin Harrison, and a 37 yard Cary Blanchard Field Goal. For a 10 year old who couldn’t comprehend how the hell the mighty Steelers were losing to such a pathetic team, this was difficult to watch and I had a few choice words for the Steelers that my parents didn’t know were a part of my vocabulary. In spite of their shoddy play, the Steelers rebounded and 2nd Quarter belonged solely to them.
After a Steeler drive stalled inside the Colts’ 10 yard line. Norm Johnson made a 23 yard Field Goal just after the 2nd Quarter began to make the score 10-3. Then the Steelers mounted another nice drive and Jerome Bettis finished it off with a 7 yard TD run to tie the score at 10 apiece. After the Colts got the ball back, one of the Steelers’ best players from the 1990’s decided to step up and take the game over himself.
Before he became the DB’s Coach here in Pittsburgh, Carnell Lake was arguably one of the best Safeties that the Steelers have ever had. On one play, Lake completely changed the entire complexion of the game and swung momentum in the Steelers’ direction when they absolutely needed it. On 3rd and 1 from about midfield, Lake blitzed Harbaugh, made him fumble, picked up the ball and ran for a TD to put the Steelers ahead 17-10! It was crazy, but that’s exactly what kind of big money player that Carnell Lake was back in the day.
In a stroke of bad luck for the Steelers, Kordell Stewart was injured and left unable to play in the 2nd Half. Slash’s injury left the gritty Mike Tomczak to mop up what was left of the mess known as this game. The 3rd Quarter was pretty uneventful and almost saw the Steelers take the game over. The first scoring play of the 3rd Quarter was another Blanchard Field Goal after the Colts had a drive stall inside the Pittsburgh 10. Only up 17-13, the Steelers answered right back when Tomczak hit Courtney Hawkins on a 28 yard TD pass! At that point, Pittsburgh appeared to have themselves a comfortable 24-13 lead as the 4th Quarter started and control of the entire football game. Yet because of constant Steeler mistakes, the Colts were allowed to hang around and Pittsburgh almost paid dearly.
In the 4th Quarter, the Steelers kept turning the ball over (they had 6 turnovers in the game) and the Colts took advantage. Cary Blanchard hit a Field Goal from 35 yards out, and Harbaugh had a 5 yard TD pass to Brian Stablein to pull the Colts within 24-22 with just over 3 minutes left. Suddenly the Steelers were in trouble and I was back to worrying more than any 10 year old should about a football game. Luckily, no matter how many times they put the ball on the carpet at Three Rivers Stadium, the Colts couldn’t capitalize. And this was on a night that Jerome Bettis shined, but even he made a horrible mistake at the end of the game.
You figured with over 3 minutes to play and up by 2 points that the Steelers would just feed The Bus the ball and get out of his way. I mean, I’ll never forget how the Colts had absolutely no answer for him in terms of bringing him to the ground with only one guy that night. The game should have been sealed then and there with The Bus chugging along on the scenic route. However, Indianapolis simply would not lie down and caused another Bettis fumble deep in Pittsburgh territory.
Yet as one of the common themes in this rivalry, an Indianapolis Kicker “screwed the pooch” and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. After three unsuccessful plays netted almost zero yards, Cary Blanchard trotted out onto the field to kick the game winning Field Goal. However his chip shot attempt sailed wide. Bettis didn’t fumble on the following possession, and the Steelers held on to win the game 24-22! I must say that the Defense really deserved credit for coming up with big plays and stopping Indianapolis in the Red Zone all night long. They truly were the ones that showed up that night and preserved and sealed the win for the Steelers.
Indianapolis on the other hand was so awful that season that they finished with a 3-13 record. But hey I don’t think they’ve been complaining over the last decade and a half (well maybe now that he’s hurt Lol). They parlayed their poor play in 1997 into taking arguably the N.F.L.’s greatest player of all time with the 1st overall pick in the 1998 N.F.L. Draft. You might know him, his name is Peyton Manning.