A Look Back at the Steelers' Previous Trip to Candlestick Park

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November 17, 2003

The “Dumpster Fire” Stays Lit in 2003

49ers 30 – Steelers 14

In need of a victory to stay afloat in the A.F.C. North race, the 3-6 Steelers had to emerge victorious from their prime-time matchup with another underachieving team, the 4-5 49ers.  The game started off harmless enough as each team failed to score on their opening possessions of the game.  But the San Francisco began the scoring with a big play courtesy of everybody’s favorite diva: T.O..

T.O. killed the Steelers that fateful night, Image Courtesy of sportsillustrated.cnn.com

From his own 39 yard line, Niners QB Tim Rattay (Jeff Garcia was out) fired a pass down the sideline to Owens who completely burned CB Chad Scott and took it all the way to the house for the score!  Basically right out of the gate, the Steelers had allowed the 49ers to take a 7-0 lead on a big play.

I’ll never forget shouting from my room some acerbic remarks about Scott’s coverage.  I remember saying something to the effect of: “The only reason you look decent is because DeWayne Washington is so terrible!”  I mean, despite the fact that T.O. had one of his best nights ever (8 grabs 155 yards 1 TD), it was no excuse for Scott to let something like that happen.

By the 2nd Quarter, the Steelers’ Defense had gotten themselves under control and Pittsburgh’s Offense began to mount a drive that could have got them back in the ball game.  Sadly, QB Tommy Maddox decided to keep with the 2003 theme of “Mistakes,” and 49er Safety Tony Parrish was the one that made Maddox pay for the biggest one of the 1st Half.  Maddox was not only picked off by Parrish, but Tony raced 48 yards down the field and put San Francisco in perfect position to score!

Thankfully the Steelers’ Defense held enough to limit the 49ers to a 32 yard Field Goal.  Normally I would be happy, but this Field Goal pissed me off due to the guy that made it.  Former Steeler washout Todd Peterson!  Yep, the same Todd Peterson that didn’t even last the entire 2002 season in Pittsburgh because he couldn’t kick worth a darn!  The 49ers were able to hold onto their 10-0 for the rest of the 2nd Quarter and held their lead as they headed into the locker room for Half Time.

I just sat in my room during Half Time pondering how the Hell the Steelers had arrived at that dismal point in time in the 2003 season.  For those of you that don’t remember, 2003 had started with so much promise with Pittsburgh’s blowout win over Baltimore on Opening Day and it looked like the Steelers would build on their solid 2001 and 2002 campaigns.  But there they were, down by 10 to a .500 team, a .500 team led by Tim Rattay (he finished 21 for 27 for 254 yards and 2 TD’s) no less, and staring at the possibility of a 3-7 record.  Sure the Steelers had holes, but they were not a 3-7 team on paper.  Yet that’s what they were, and all of us in Steeler Nation had to live with it.

To their credit, the Steelers appeared to play some inspired football after they received the 2nd Half kickoff.  Maddox led the Offense on a nice drive that helped to get the Steelers back into the game.  Using 5 minutes of clock, Maddox led his troops 73 yards in 9 plays and got the ball all the way down to the San Francisco 1 yard line.  From there, the Steelers did what they always did in those days.  They gave the ball to Jerome Bettis.  “The Bus” (13 carries for 39 yards and TD) went into the End Zone for the score and suddenly the Steelers had new life!

Former Pitt Panther Kevan Barlow's 78 yard TD run was a backbreaker, Image Courtesy of life.com

Bettis’ TD run allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief, because at that point in the game I had wondered whether or not the Steelers could find the End Zone!  Thankfully, the Steelers had scored and they had crawled back into the game.  Down 10-7 all Pittsburgh would need was a defensive stop and the momentum would be theirs.  Unfortunately, on a play that is still emblazoned into my memory no less, their Defense threw more kerosene on the “Dumpster Fire!”

With the ball on San Francisco’s 22 yard line, the Steelers’ Defense could have “nutted-up,” stopped the 49ers for a 3 and Out and gotten the ball back with great field position.  But this was 2003, and the Steelers just wouldn’t let it happen.  49er RB and Pittsburgh native Kevan Barlow took a Rattay hand-off and didn’t stop.  Utilizing some great blocking by Terrell Owens and the rest of the 49er Offense, Barlow put the 49ers ahead 17-7 with just under 10 minutes to play in the 3rd Quarter.  As steamed as I was, I figured that the Steelers still had a fighting chance and I thought, “Well with 25 minutes left, it can’t get any worse?”  Big Mistake.

Randle El's fumble cost the Steelers big time, Image Courtesy of life.com

Because you know those moments when you assume that nothing can make a situation any worse, but something eventually does?  Well that’s exactly what happened in the aftermath of Barlow’s 78 yard TD jaunt.  Antwaan Randle El took off upfield on Peterson’s ensuing kickoff and was stripped of the ball!  San Francisco recovered the fumble and was set up with cake field position at the Pittsburgh 28.

Wasting no time, and wanting to capitalize on Randle El’s mistake, Rattay found his FB Fred Beasley open and Beasley raced into the End Zone for a score!  In a matter of seconds, the Steelers had gone from being down by 3 points to being down by 17 in a matter of seconds and the score was 24-7!  At that point I felt ill.  I mean the whole 2003 season was indeed a “dumpster fire,” but those turn of events in the 3rd Quarter of that San Francisco game were simply disgusting to watch.  I just sat silently dazed in front of my t.v. screen and put a pillow over my face hoping that the game would just end before anymore carnage could happen.

The 4th Quarter saw more scoring by the 49ers and more of Pittsburgh’s ineptness.  Peterson made the Steelers pay again and drilled two more Field Goals (22 and 44 yards) and the 49ers extended their lead to 30-7 with close to 9 minutes to play.  By that point I was simply hoping that the game would end swiftly so the rest of Steeler Nation and I wouldn’t have to be subjected to the shellacking that was taking place at Candlestick Point that night.

The Steelers managed to get another TD, as Maddox (25 for 44 327 yards and 2 TD’s) hooked up with Randle El on a 32 yard pass with 8 minutes to go, but the damage was most certainly done.  On a night where almost nothing went right for the Steelers, they probably couldn’t have executed 2 TD drives and converted 2 two-pointers to tie the game in 8 minutes if they started each drive in the 49ers Red zone!  When the final gun eventually sounded, Pittsburgh had lost to San Francisco in front of a national audience by a score of 30-14 and gotten the proverbial “wood” layed to them.

I was pissed, but at the same time I figured “What the Hell, it can’t get any crappier than this, I mean a blowout is bad but not all’s lost?”  If you don’t remember, the Steelers weren’t completely out of the Division race at that point in the season.  That’s right, the (3-7) Steelers were only 2 games back of Cincinnati and Baltimore in the pathetic A.F.C. North of 2003 after their absolute “dumpster fire” of a performance against the 49ers.  But like so many times during 2003, it got worse.  The Steelers finished the rest of their schedule at .500 and limped to the barn with a 6-10 record.

Let’s just hope the Steelers don’t let this sort of thing happen next Monday.

 

Follow me on Twitter (@DominicDiTolla)

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