November 3, 1997
Kansas City’s 2nd Quarter too Much for Pittsburgh
Chiefs 13 – Steelers 10
1997 was a season filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows for me as a Steelers fan. The 1997 M.N.F. matchup between the Steelers and the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium represented one of the lowest points of that season in what would be a game between the A.F.C.’s top 2 seeds in the 1997 Postseason.
I’ll always remember watching this game, because I was vacationing in Tucson at the time on my break from school with my Mom and Sister. Staying at my Grandma’s house I was happy to be with Steelers fans in the form of my Mom, her two Sisters, and my Grandma and we were excited to see which team would emerge victorious in the struggle between the 6-2 opponents.
I felt a bit uneasy at the time because the Steelers had just emerged victorious from a hard-fought but fruitful 23-17 O.T. win against their hated Division rivals Jacksonville at Three Rivers Stadium the week before. Having to go on the road to play the Chiefs in what many consider to be the N.F.L.’s toughest stadium to play in really helped to stack the cards against the Steelers.
Yet the thing I’ll remember most about this game was the fact that the Steelers Offense got out to a really fast start. And when I say fast, I mean really fast. For those of you that don’t know or remember, the 1997 Steelers were a notoriously slow-starting team on both sides of the ball, and they had numerous games where Kordell Stewart or somebody else played the hero and spurred on a ridiculous comeback.
Out of the gate, Kordell was on-point with his throws and Jerome Bettis (who had 103 yards on only 17 carries that day) dominated the 1st Quarter for the Steeler Offense. The play of the Quarter (and really play of the game by the Steelers Offense) happened with just over 8 minutes to play in the opening frame. Kordell fired a pass to 3rd WR Courtney Hawkins and the 44 yard play gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead!
After stopping the Chiefs, the Steelers mounted another scoring drive. Although it stalled deep in the Kansas City Red Zone, Steeler Kicker Norm Johnson booted a 27 yard Field Goal just before the 1st Quarter ended to give the Steelers a 10-0 lead! At that point in my adolescent mind, I was totally enthralled by what had just taken place. I had a pretty good idea of who in the A.F.C. would be contenders that season, and the Steelers had pretty much taken their main competition to the wood-shed on their own home turf. Jacksonville looked to be a better match against the Steelers in my opinion.
However, games sure as Hell aren’t over after only 15 minutes of play, and I was treated to an agonizing lesson of that exact fact. The 2nd Quarter was dominated by Kansas City, and I for one was as pissed as any 10 year old could be.
Kansas City, started their scoring off when Elvis Grbac led a drive to the outskirts of the Pittsburgh Red Zone on the strength of the K.C. running game in typical “Marty Ball” fashion. A 35 yard Pete Stoyanovich Field Goal brough K.C. back into the game with just over 9 minutes to play in the Quarter. I figured that it was ok and that Kordell would just respond. I was wrong.
Kansas City got the ball back again, and while they didn’t get 6, they did cut into the lead even more. Stoyanovich kicked a 44 yard Field Goal with just under 3 minutes to play in the 1st Half and the Chiefs edged even closer and made the score 10-6 in favor of the Steelers.
It would have been nice for the Steelers to take the 10-6 Half Time lead into the locker room in a game where momentum was clearly swinging in Kansas City’s direction. However, Kordell Stewart threw a pass that was picked off by Chiefs Safety Jerome Woods in Pittsburgh territory!
Kansas City wasted no time at that point. Grbac and the running game took advantage of the cake-easy field position and struck with the play of the night. On an outside running play at the Steelers 14 yard line, Marcus Allen took the ball from Grbac and went to the right. Sadly for the Steelers, it wasn’t a running play. Allen threw a 14 yard TD pass to WR Danan Hughes and the Chiefs had suddenly scored 13 unanswered points to take a 13-10 lead in the 2nd Quarter with only 1 minute and 40 seconds remaining! It was the worst thing for the Steelers to do that night because the once dormant crowd at Arrowhead started to get loud again! And this turn of events incensed me to no end as I couldn’t comprehend what had just happened.
Down 13-10 at Half Time, the Steelers had nothing to show for their hot start and Kordell Stewart looked befuddled against the Gunther Cunningham coached Defense. Bettis’ 1st Quarter where he gained 68 yards had been wasted and the Steelers looked to be in trouble. Yet despite their 2nd Quarter collapse, Pittsburgh was only one big play from tying the game or taking the lead.
The 3rd Quarter itself was a hard-hitting affair as the Steelers kept playing a “bend-but not break” style of football and somehow managed to keep Kansas City’s powerful running game and methodical Offense in check enough to keep them off of the scoreboard. Sadly this effort was for naught because Stewart and Chan Gailey’s Offense was having tough sledding even trying to move the ball let alone score.
The play of the 3rd Quarter however was when CB Donnell Woolford (who also had an INT that night) absolutely leveled the Chiefs’ backup TE Ted Popson. When I say leveled, I mean leveled! I wish I had a video to illustrate how nice of a hit it was, but Popson had to go to the locker room after being blasted right in the jaw. As painful as it was to watch, it was so awesome! The worst/best part was that the M.N.F. crew kept showing replays of it. You know those sports injuries/hits that are totally violent yet you can’t look away? It was definitely one of those. Whenever I think of this game, that is the play that is the most memorable because it was such a violent hit. Even as a 10 year old I kept thinking “Poor Guy” over and over to myself as Popson was taken off the field and subsequently to the hospital.
I figured at the time that the Steelers would inevitable capitalize on the momentum of the hit as the game moved into the 4th Quarter. Sadly, I was wrong and the Steelers had a golden opportunity to take advantage of another Chiefs injury in the final Quarter.
Things really seemed dark for the Chiefs in the 4th Quarter in terms of injuries when Elvis Grbac was slammed to the ground and broke his collar-bone. The violent hit forced Grbac out of the game and now Pittsburgh at that point had an opportunity to get their crap together and escape with a win. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, they couldn’t take advantage of Grbac’s injury plus two Chiefs fumbles (one by Marcus Allen near the Steelers’ Goal Line) in the 4th Quarter to even tie the score! Rich Gannon replaced Grbac and went an efficient 5 for 5 for 29 yards, the running game helped to ice the game at the end, and a Greg Lloyd Personal Foul penalty helped Kansas City win the game!
I’ll never forget being so livid at Lloyd for that final penalty. In what would be his last season as a Steeler Lloyd definitely seemed to have lost not only his “edge,” but a step-or-two in addition his sanity in 1997. He was fined for a hit the week prior after a cheap shot to Jaguars WR Keenan McCardell after this happened and was starting to get criticized widely for his terrible play.
Before I go off on a tangent about the quick demise of Greg Lloyd, I would like to give kudos to the Kansas City Offense and Coaching Staff after looking over the stat sheet for this game. The Chiefs didn’t have a guy that ran for over 50 yards on that night, but they ran for 183 total yards on 42 carries. I was in a salty mood all game long, because the Steelers couldn’t stop anybody whether it was future Hall of Famer and ageless wonder Marcus Allen, to FB Donnell Bennett, to FB Kimble Anders, to RB Greg Hill!
The Chiefs used “Steeler Football” to stick it to the Steelers! At a 4.4 yard per clip rushing average, the Steelers couldn’t stop the run that night and K.C. dominated possession all night long. In fact the final T.O.P. stat line read: PIT: 23:28 to K.C.: 36:32.