Very few players get to end their careers in storybook fashion, things that only dreams are made of. This season it appears that Ravens LB Ray Lewis may be getting his fairytale ending. The Ravens lost the AFC Championship game last season to the New England Patriots. There were many questions coming into the 2012 season for them. In the offseason, the team learned of the Achilles injury to their star defensive player Terrell Suggs and they lost their defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, when he left to become the head coach of the Colts. Former Browns/Ravens owner Art Modell passed away and the team dedicated the season to him, a season that would see many ups and downs.
Injuries plagued the team throughout the year, including losing Lewis to torn triceps without knowing if he would return to play. He did return and brought with him the announcement that this would be his last season. He would retire at the end of the season, regardless of the outcome. As luck would have it for the Ravens, the outcome is a trip to the Super Bowl in New Orleans, after defeating the Patriots in the AFC Championship game rematch.
Steelers fans were able to take that magical ride in 2005 when, one year previous, Jerome Bettis made it clear he would only come back for one more season. A promise from a rookie quarterback helped ensure he would return. Following a devastating loss in the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots, then rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger promised “The Bus” that if he came back he would get him to the big dance. How fitting that the dance would be held in Detroit, MI, Jerome’s hometown.
We all know the story of that season. After stumbling through the beginning of the season at 7-5, the team went on a run that was never done before in the NFL. It all began on a cold snowy day at Heinz Field when Bettis ran over Bears LB Brian Urlacher on his way to his first 100 yard game of the year. The Steelers barely looked back after that.
They entered the playoffs as the sixth seed with no chance at home field advantage. That meant they would have to win all the games on the road to make the Super Bowl and get Bettis home. First up, the AFC North Champions, the Bengals. The Steelers lost at home to the Bengals during the season but would not go home losers on this day. QB Carson Palmer was injured early in the game and the Steelers took full advantage as they moved on to their next opponent, the Indianapolis Colts.
Like the Bengals, the Steelers lost to the Colts earlier in the season. For this rematch, the Steelers were prepared for the noise but no-one could be prepared for the final 5 minutes of the game. It had to be one of the craziest finishes to any game ever. With the Steelers up 21-10, Polamalu intercepted a Manning pass that was eerily overturned, this lead to a TD by the Colts bringing the score to 21-18. When the Steelers got the ball they were unable to do anything with it so with 2:31 left, the ball went back to Manning. Luckily the Steelers defense stepped up big time and the Colts turned it over on downs. With 1:20 to play, and the game seemingly under wraps, the proper and safe thing to do was hand the ball to The Bus. This began what would become one of the wildest finishes to any playoff game. Bettis went up the middle from the Colts 2 yard line, heading for the endzone, until the ball popped out and was picked up by Colts Nate Harper who began running it back to the Colts endzone. Thankfully, young Roethlisberger changed his course down field and was able to stop him before reaching the end zone but right in field goal territory for the Colts. Then Colts K Vanderjagt, who was clutch in these situations, lined up and missed wide right. Steelers Win!
They would go on to defeat the Denver Broncos for the rights to play in Super Bowl XL in Detroit, MI. As promised, Bettis would finally to get to play in a Super Bowl. He would also get to go out on top of the game as a Champion when they defeated the Seattle Seahawks. A TD pass from Antwaan Randle-El to Hines Ward solidified the glory that the team and Bettis worked so hard for. During the Trophy presentation, he declared that The Bus stops here, in Detroit. MVP Ward declared that he was taking “The Bus” to Disney.
And now, as we approach Super Bowl XLVI, weary of who to root for in the big game. We can take solace in knowing that the day before the game, our beloved Jerome Bettis may begin his final ride of the NFL. The 2013 Hall of Fame Class will be announced Feb 2nd and we all expect to hear his name called. One last stop for The Bus: Canton, OH.