The 2004 team was certainly one of the best squads the Pittsburgh Steelers have fielded throughout their history that didn’t quite seal the deal. You surely know the story as well as I do. It was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year, and they didn’t seem to know how to lose once he took over.
They finished the regular season 15-1, with Roethlisberger the starter of record for the final 13 victories. They were the number one seed in the AFC, even if they had a tough time putting away the New York Jets in the Divisional Round, taking it to overtime with a Jeff Reed field goal with 3:56 to play in extra time.
And then the New England Patriots happened in the AFC Conference Championship. It wasn’t pretty. They got smoked. It was never less than a two-possession game by about midway in the second quarter. It was 31-10 midway through the third. And the final score, even with a touchdown in the final minute was a 14-point loss, 41-27.
It was good fuel for the fire, says former Steelers linebacker James Farrior, who helped bring the Steelers their first Super Bowl title in decades a year later, in 2005, with a crew largely intact from the previous season who experienced that 15-1 run that ended prematurely.
“Looking back on it…I think from that moment on, we kind of bonded even closer”, he told Stan Savran in a February interview that was recently reposted on the team’s website, reflecting on the Patriots loss. “I think that brought us together even more, and I think we were all determined and had that same focus next year going into it”.
Of course, it wasn’t entirely smooth sailing. Again, you surely know the story as well as I do. They were floundering at 7-5 going into the home stretch of the regular season before rallying to finish the year 11-5, securing the number six seed. They ended up winning the Super Bowl, naturally, becoming the first and only seed to eliminate each of the top three seeds in their own conference as well as the top-seeded team in the opposite conference.
“It especially made it more gratifying”, Farrior told Savran, to win that Super Bowl after experiencing the disappointment of the year before. “To have that after the year we had before, 2004 was definitely a disappointing year, and like I said, it brought us closer together, and I think we appreciated that championship a lot more”.
They would get back and win another three years later, but they have been in a dry spell since then, even if they did make it to the Super Bowl in 2010. The closest they have come since as another appearance—and another massacre at the hands of the Patriots—in the conference finals in 2016.
One thing I always like to note when talking about how great the 2004 team was is the fact that Casey Hampton missed most of that season after tearing his ACL in game six. All credit to Chris Hoke for helping keep that line together. Hoke, then an undrafted essentially first-year player out of BYU.