January 15, 1995 Chargers 17 Steelers 14
We had only had our season tickets since 92, Bill Cowher’s first year. This was to be the first super bowl of my generation’s Steelers. It was unseasonably warm that day and Dad and I tailgated as usual. In anticipation of an easy victory, I packed a bottle of champagne in the cooler. Only three seasons in to our lives as season ticket holders and we going to be Super Bowl bound. As per the routine in those days I binged on beer before and during the game. It was a good time. You might say a very good time, until the rug was pulled out from under us and the Steelers lost. So angry and upset when we got back to the car I popped open the champagne and proceeded to go from my usual ‘game day drunk’ to ‘game day sick drunk.’ Somewhere along I-79 on the way home Dad had to stop so I could do him proud and puke on the side of the road. A sure sign of where things were headed.
January 14, 1996 Steelers 20 Colts 16
A year later the movie played again. No champagne this time. You would think I learned a lesson from the previous year. I’d just stick to the beer and remain my usual level of drunk for this one. And you know what we won! THIS was actually going to be the year my generation’s Steelers won it all…nope, they lost in the Super Bowl to the Dallas Cowboys. But thats beside the point of the Championship game, which was a win and a special memory I’ll always have with my Dad. Little did I know that that joy was never going to happen again.
January 11, 1998 Broncos 24 Steelers 21
A couple years down the road John Elway and his Broncos came to town and I was more than ready for a repeat of 1996. Well that didn’t happen. In what would be my last AFC Champioship game with my Dad, the Steelers lost 24–21.
January 27, 2002 Patriots 24 Steelers 17
Here’s where it starts getting a little ugly, at least from my perspective. This time we had already been notified that we were getting Super Bowl tickets if the Steelers were to win. And not only that, but we were favored heavily to win. Steph and I were already planning what would be a legendary road trip to the Super Bowl in New Orleans. This was our first season at Heinz Field and the first without my Dad, who had passed away the previous September. While my addiction story was really only beginning at this point, I did manage to go to this game sober. In the end it didn’t matter, there would be no Super Bowl, the Patriots upset the Steelers 24–17, in what I believe was the first of many AFC Championship games for Tom Brady. It was crushing.
January 23, 2005 Patriots 41 Steelers 27
Were both of these Patriots losses part of the “spy gate” story? Who knows. All I know is that 3 years later I was still a sick puppy trying to make a go of sobriety and once again thought maybe it was all going to come together with a Steelers AFC Championship title. Nope, once again they were soundly beaten by the Patriots 41–17 in what would be the second reason in 4yrs for me to forever hate the Patriots.
January 18, 2009 Steelers 23 Ravens 14
Four more years down the road Steph and I were heading to yet another Championship game. Only this time I could tell she didn’t really have a desire to go out in the weather and endure another potential heartbreak. So we decided I would find a scalper and trade my two upper level seats for a single downstairs. This plan worked out well enough I guess. Except that I was a mile away from my familiar neighborhood in section 511 and was by myself among strangers. I wished Steph were with me in our usual seats where I belonged. The Steelers won 23–14 but I watched the ending on the scoreboard screen standing in the south plaza. A win is a win and that is great, but I just wish I had done it differently.
January 23, 2011 Steelers 24 Jets 19
What seemed like an eternity had passed since the fun drinking of the 90’s and it had even been several years since the worst of the addiction had had its claws in me. Things were good and this was my chance to slam the door on the nightmares of the previous decade and perhaps even start a new AFC Championship tradition.
But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make this night the beginning of something great.
Steph didn’t want to go to the game due to the ridiculous temperatures. In fact if I’m not mistaken that game might have been the coldest ever at Heinz Field. Anyway, she and Colton still accompanied me to Pittsburgh to spend the night of the game in a hotel in the middle of tailgate heaven. Having already convinced myself that I would disappear into the crowd, drink for a couple of hours, sober up during the game and return to the hotel, I watched the clock wondering when I could reasonably depart the room without looking too suspicious. So around 3hrs before the game I left a toasty hotel room that contained the two biggest reasons I got sober in the first place in Steph and Colton. It gives me chills just writing about it.
I wasn’t in the sea of black and gold tailgaters five minutes before I spotted a 1.75 litre of vodka in the back of a truck. I strolled up to the tailgaters and asked if I could bum a little vodka. Of course they were more than willing to help me out and filled a 16oz cup with vodka and I went about my business of roaming the parking lot “enjoying” drinking again. Well, that lasted all of a half hour probably. I was to meet a friend from high school near Gate A, but I didn’t want to drink around him so there was no need to be in any hurry to meet. I put him off a time or two and we never did actually get together. I hate that too. At some point while strolling the parking lots where I have drunk well more than my share over the years, I happened across a party hosted by a local Vodka company. Wonderful. Pay one price and drink and eat all you want. I lasted probably practically no time at this free for all before my memory ceases.
The next thing I remember is waking up in the ER at Allegheny General around midnight. What kind of fool was I to think drinking was even an option for me anymore? Just like that I’m blacked out again and was in yet another ER wondering how I got there. As soon as I awoke, a nurse came in and lectured me on being an idiot. She also warned me about the bruising that would soon appear on my chest as apparently they had had a heck of a time getting me to regain consciousness. I called Steph who knew I was up to my old tricks since I hadn’t answered the phone all night. She said she wasn’t coming until morning to pick me up and I don’t blame her. I proceeded to spend a sleepless night laying in a hospital bed watching over and over the highlights of the Steelers victory on SportsCenter. The win aside, I was devastated. Steph was devastated. This stuff was supposed to have been over and done a long time ago. Well, that’s the deal with an addict. It can never be over.
But you know what is over? Me and AFC Championships.