"Harold's Cave Creek Corral" and the Steelers vs. Ravens A.F.C. Divisional Playoff Game

This is how "Harold's" looks every Sunday during the season, Image Courtesy of nytimesagency.com

Those of us that make up “Steeler Nation” take immense pride in rooting on our Steelers no matter where we are.  That being said, almost every city in the country has a Steeler-themed bar where us die-hards flock to watch the games amongst those just like us.  As I illustrated last week, Arizona indeed has numerous proud citizens of “Steeler Nation” that always come out in full force.

So for this week’s article, I would like to talk about my experience at the Phoenix Steeler-themed bar: “Harold’s Cave Creek Corral.”  This was the wonderful establishment where I witnessed the Steelers vs. Ravens A.F.C. Divisional Playoff Game this past January.  While I may have had my fair-share of brewskis that day, I’ll never forget what a wonderful day that was and how much fun I had at that place.  So if you’d like to read an adventure about my life that involves the Steelers vs. Ravens rivalry, hit that “Continue Reading” button and read on:

This is a pic. that My Sister took before we went in that day, Image Courtesy of Dom's Sister

This A.F.C. Divisional Playoff was the epic rubber-match between the A.F.C. North Champion Steelers and the Wild Card Ravens.  The game and the stage couldn’t have made me more excited as a Steeler fan.  Yet I was even more stoked about this game in particular, because my Sister, her boyfriend (now fiancee), and my roommate and I made the trek up to Phoenix to watch the game at “Harold’s Cave Creek Corral.”  My Brother-in-law kept raving about the establishment, so we decided that it would be a good idea if the four of us went to watch the Steeler game there.

The trip up to Phoenix was a usual 90 minute trip up to Phoenix.  My Brother-in-law was driving, my roommate, my Sister and I were fiddling with my Sister’s iPod trying to find some good tunes for the 90 minute trek, and there was some talk of the game included elsewhere.

To that point in my life, I had only heard stories about how much fun and awesome Steeler bars were, but I was still thinking as we headed up there “it’ll be cool, it’s a Steeler bar, but I mean I’m there for the game, not the bar.  How gnarly can it be?”

Well, when we got to “Harold’s” I fell in love with what I saw.  This place looked like a typical road-side Western themed Bar in the middle of the desert.  However, “Harold’s” was surrounded everywhere with people wearing Black and Yellow and a sign on the bar that said “Heinz Field West.”  I mean, this was Phoenix, AZ, a city in a state that is two time zones (and sometimes three) away from Pittsburgh, and there were Steeler fans freakin’ everywhere!

As for the bar itself, let me just say that it was a beautiful sight for any Steeler fan.  It had all sorts of Steeler autographed memorabilia and you could really tell they went all out with the Steeler-themed decor in that bar.  Not too over-the-top, but just right for my liking.  However, the bar wasn’t even the best part of “Harold’s.”  Moreover, it wasn’t even the area where the four of us watched the game and most of the excitement actually took place.

We had reserved in advance (that’s right to get a spot at Harold’s you must make paid reservations) bench seats in an enormous tent outside that looked as if the Circus came to town.  The place naturally was packed with Steeler fans and it was nothing short of fantastic.  There were enormous projector screens to watch the game on all over the tent, and Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow,” “Here We Go Steelers,” and “Renegade” were blaring from the speakers.  In what would be a common statement from me to my Sister throughout the day: “Just tell Mom and Dad you left me here.  They’ll understand.”  Being in a setting like that with Steeler fans and getting excited and pumped for the biggest game of the season was something I will never forget.

My Sis. was the DD on the way back to Tucson for that day, and once she got her food from a tent outside and the three of us guys got some brews, we finally settled in for the game about a half an hour before kickoff.  Well, settling isn’t the right word.  Pins and needles was more like it for my Brother-in-law and I.  My Sister and my roommate weren’t as emotionally invested in the game as the two of us.  My roommate at the time is an Eagles fan and a calm and chill chap as well.  However he was still rooting for as he said “PA football.”  So he pulled for the Steelers and cheered along with the rest of us all day long.  My Sister was her usual happy and relaxed self, and it amazes me to this day at how she can watch a Steeler game and be so calm.

When the opening kickoff happened the place went absolutely nuts.  The noise alone and the energy exhausted by some of the other fans were things that kinda made my adrenaline go up at the time.  Things started off wonderfully, and the tent just seemed to get louder throughout the Steelers’ opening drive which was capped off by a Mendenhall TD run that made the score 7-0 early in the 1st Quarter.  Just the roar of the crowd at the sight of the first score was incredible and made for a great atmosphere.

After Mendy’s TD, I figured that Joe Flacco and the Ravens would turtle and slowly but surely shrink at the big stage.  I just kept trying to laugh off Baltimore’s ensuing drive with a pint of my Coors Light (BTW Harold’s sells beer buckets with 4 pint bottles in them for I think $10, a great deal if you go there with friends and employ a strategy of the guy that buys the bucket gets the extra pint, and you keep doing this several times over, but I digress).  However, Baltimore didn’t go away and Ray Rice tied the game at 7 with a TD run.  At that point it appeared that the rest of the game would be a dog-fight from then on out.

Things went from bad to worse and the tent had almost all the air go out of it on the next drive when Big Ben was stripped deep in his own territory and Cory Redding played to the whistle and took the controversial fumble back for a TD and the Ravens seized the momentum!  It was 14-7 before the Steelers even knew what had hit them!  We all tried to stay positive after that fluke of a play, but the Steelers’ Offense kept committing mistakes left and right!  After Mendenhall was stripped of the ball late in the Half and deep in Steeler territory, my Bro-in-law and I were disgusted beyond belief.  What made us even more (especially me) salty was that the Defense (despite the short field) actually allowed Borat Flacco to turn that take-away into a TD on a pass to his TE Todd Heap who was left wide open!  It was 21-7 Ravens and Half Time was almost upon all of us Steeler Maniacs who had no idea what was going on.  The final kick in the nuts was Shaun Suisham’s missing of a 43 yard Field Goal right before the Half.

I’ll never forget thinking to myself at Half Time “It can’t end like this, it just can’t.  We went to Phoenix to watch them win and that’s what they’re gonna do!”  My Brother-in-Law and I hadn’t given up hope at that point, but having just watched the Steelers play 25 minutes of terrible football we were discussing whether or not “The Fat Lady was Warming Up the Pipes” and if the Steelers could somehow mount an epic comeback.

It certainly appeared to be raining crap in Pittsburgh and at “Heinz Field West” when on the Steelers’ opening possession of the 2nd Half the Offense was forced to punt.  As mad as we all were, there was still a ton of game left to play, the tent was still cheering hard, and there were two important variables that we all forgot that could tip the scales in Pittsburgh’s favor: Cam Cameron and Joe Flacco.  It was those two jagoffs and their magnificently asinine decision making that allowed the Steelers back into the game and probably allowed citizens out in Casa Grande (a city between Phoenix and Tucson) able to hear the eruption of noise and elation coming from the tent in the 3rd Quarter.

On Baltimore’s next possession, Ray Rice fumbled and the Steelers had the ball just outside the Baltimore Red Zone.  Ben made quick work and found Heath Miller on a 9 yard TD pass and suddenly the Steelers were back in the game and only down 21-14.  Cameron’s play-calling and Flacco being drilled by Deebo for a sack made the Ravens go 3 and Out and gave the Steelers the ball back.  The Steelers however couldn’t turn the Ravens’ miscues into points and had to punt.  Yet on the Ravens’ first play from scrimmage the entire tent went into bedlam mode and it seriously felt as if we were at the game in that one instant!

Flacco shot himself and the Ravens in the foot again when he fired an ill-advised and moronic deep ball that wasn’t close to his intended target Todd Heap that was picked by Ryan Clark!  At that point, almost nobody was sitting down and I was high-fiving complete and total strangers whooping up the shift in momentum!  It was truly a sight to be seen and anybody that was there would tell you the same thing.  The place went from cheering to exuberance in a split-second and we all rejoiced Flacco’s idiocy.

Big Ben then made quick work of the turnover again and he found Hines Ward on an 8 yard TD pass to tie the score at 21 near the end of the 3rd Quarter!  Every day I kick myself that I didn’t bring a video camera that day and film every second of my experience there.  When Ward scored it felt like the ground was shaking and people (including myself) were jumping around with glee!  The Steelers had just come back from 14 down against one of the League’s best Defenses in literally less than 15 minutes!  The energy was electric and it kept getting even more insane on Baltimore’s following drive.

Flacco again played the idiot and my Sister and my Brother-in-law kept quoting Borat lines like “You will never get this…lalalalala” when he fumbled the snap on Baltimore’s second play after the Ward TD which gave Pittsburgh the ball back at the Raven 24 yard line!  While the Steelers couldn’t turn the turnover into 7, they did get a critical kick from Suisham who drilled a 35 yard Field Goal to give the Steelers the lead in the 4th Quarter.  Pittsburgh hadn’t had a lead since the 1st Quarter, and at that point with just over 12 minutes to play, the Steelers were on the verge of victory.

After both Defenses held the opposition’s offenses on their ensuing possessions I was counting down the seconds until the end of the game to myself.  All the Steelers needed to do was hold on, yet on one play the Special Teams unit of the Ravens almost won the game.  By some miracle a Holding penalty denied a 55 yard punt return TD by Lardarius Webb and the Ravens were denied a TD.  To be honest I didn’t even see the play because I had to go into the bar to use the bathroom.  All the beer in my system needed to be expelled, and all I kept hearing was swearing and shouts of “Oh No” as I was “bleeding the lizard.”

The Ravens did capitalize on their good field position, although Anquan Boldin dropped a sure fire TD pass that would have put the Ravens in front.  They gave that jagoff all that money and touted him as the missing piece and that’s how he did them?!  I’ll never forget laughing at that thought.  Billy Cundiff did tie the game at 24 with just under 4 minutes to play and all of us geared up for what would be an exciting end to the game.

At that point I just kept hoping that the Steelers would do two things:  First, take enough time off the clock to make their possession the final one.  Second, at least put 3 on the board in case Baltimore got the ball back.  Well, the Steelers’ Offense exceeded my wishes and in doing so made “Harold’s Cave Creek Corral” the most happening place in Phoenix for the rest of the game.

Facing a 3rd and 19 at their own 38 Big Ben needed a big play.  All of us were on the edge of our seats or standing up hoping that with 2:07 to play Bruce Arians would dial up something awesome to convert the 3rd Down.  Well, we were right!  When Ben fired that bomb down the sideline to Antonio Brown my heart felt like it stopped.  He was open, the ball was on him, and then HE CAUGHT IT!  HE FREAKIN CAUGHT IT!  HOLY CRAP HE DID IT!  At that point I lost it, I hugged my Brother-in-law, I hugged the lady sitting next to me,  I hugged my Sister, I high-fived my roommate, and I just screamed at the top of my lungs: “YOUNG MONEY A.B.!”  It was so loud at that point when Brown made his helmet catch for 58 yards that I could barely hear anything.

Yet before we could get too excited, the Steelers still needed to capitalize on their good fortune.  Then on a 3rd an 2 play, the tent went wild again when Mendy scored on a 2 yard run and the Steelers went ahead 31-24 with just under 2 minutes to play!  Baltimore needed 7 just to tie, and all of us sensed that victory was near.  All the Defense had to do was hang tough for one more drive.  What made us a bit nervous however was that a penalty was called on Chris Kemoeatu after the TD that resulted in Suisham having to kickoff from his 15 yard line.

When the Ravens got the ball, they had it at around mid-field and all of us had to calm down and wait till the final gun sounded to celebrate.  Luckily Joe Flacco played like, well, Joe Flacco and the Steelers got a gift from T.J. Houshmandzadeh.  Flacco’s first two throws went incomplete, and after a Ziggy Hood sack, the Ravens faced a 4th and 18 with 1:09 to play and the game on the line.

I think this character was pretty happy, Image Courtesy of Dom's Sister

To his credit, on the 4th Down play Flacco fired a great pass to T.J. who was wide open for some reason.  Luckily for all of us in Steeler Nation, T.J. just plain dropped the ball and the victory was preserved!  The craziness of the game and the reflection of the Steelers overcoming overwhelming odds spilled over into a complete and total party atmosphere at that moment!  If I could bottle that raw emotion right there it would truly be something special!

Leaving “Harold’s” was tough for me, but it had to be done because I couldn’t just stow away in the bar and live off of table scraps until the A.F.C. Championship Game.  So the four of us set off for Tucson and left Harold’s in our rear view mirror.  I’ll personally never forget how much fun I had, and I was so stoked to witness that incredible game with friends and family.  So let me close by saying that if you’re ever in the Phoenix area and want to take in a Steelers game, don’t hesitate to head over to “Harold’s Cave Creek Corral” and experience the wonderment.

P.S.: If you liked this article and you have other Steeler Bar Stories or recommendations, please don’t hesitate to post them.  I and the other Staff Members and readers would love to hear them.

Follow me on Twitter (@DominicDiTolla)

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