Have you ever been sitting around on a Saturday afternoon, with not much else going on, and decided that it would be cool to pull out an old Steelers game and watch it? I had such an idea a few weeks back, and decided to pull out a VHS tape of the Steelers playing the Bears in Chicago during the 1995 season. The Steelers won a very entertaining game over the Bears, 37-34 in overtime, on a Norm Johnson field goal. There was also a rather humorous moment where it looked like Greg Lloyd banished Neil O’Donnell to the end of the sideline following a costly interception he threw at a critical moment. During the game, Erric Pegram rushed for 61 yards and scored 3 touchdowns, one receiving and two rushing. Greg Lloyd had a solid game that included an interception that he returned for 52 yards to help set up a score, while Ernie Mills caught a late touchdown pass to tie the game at 34. At one point though, it looked like Chicago might pull off the 34-27 win after Bears Linebacker, Barry Minter, returned a Neil O’Donnell interception 2 yards, for a touchdown, to give the Bears a late fourth quarter lead.
It was after that O’Donnell interception that my mind wandered to the two interceptions that he threw during Super Bowl XXX, perhaps the most painful loss I’ve ever witnessed. Obviously that was a sign for me to put in the Super Bowl XXX tape to resubject myself to that painful day from 21 years ago, so I did.
Just like when watching the original game as it was happening, I found myself thinking, as this moment arrived, “we got the momentum now, we take this in the endzone, this game is ours”, like somehow history would magically revise itself on this tape. Instead, it was just like ripping the scab off the original wound, watching O’Donnell throw this pass all over again. It’s still painful to think that the Steelers could have reasonably won their fifth Super Bowl had Neil O’Donnell not have thrown those two picks, and that they could be sitting on seven Lombardi Trophies right now.
This got me thinking about how Super Bowl XXX is often considered the most painful loss in team history, while another Super Bowl loss, XLV, barely seems to get any mention at all. As fate would have it, NFL Network was playing that Super Bowl not long ago, and anytime the Steelers are on TV, I have to watch, regardless of the outcome. As little as I have thought about that game since it originally aired, Rashard Mendenhall’s fumble, as the Steelers were driving to take the lead, still has me almost as angry as Neil O’Donnell’s interceptions did in Super Bowl XXX. As angry and frustrating as it was, watching the replay of Mendenhall’s fumble, I remember throwing the remote across the room and screaming many things, when it actually happened. Yet somehow when the subject of the Steelers most painful losses comes up, I hardly ever see Super Bowl XLV mentioned. It’s always the Steelers loss to the Raiders in the 1976 AFC Championship game, their loss to San Diego in the 1994 AFC Championship game, the 2001 and 2004 losses to the Patriots, AFC Championship games as well, or the loss to Dallas in Super Bowl XXX.
Maybe it’s because the Steelers had recently won Super Bowl’s XL and XLIII that the loss of XLV doesn’t sting so bad, whereas the loss in Super Bowl XXX came 15 years after the Steelers last appearance and win in Super Bowl XIV. Either way, after watching the replay of Mendenhall putting the ball on the turf, I’ve decided that losing Super Bowl XLV deserves the honor of being tied for the top spot of the most painful losses in Steelers history. It was a second Super Bowl loss where the Steelers, the better team in both SB losses, were taken down by a game changing turnover at the worst possible time of the game, by a player who had a habit of flaking out and putting those thoughts that should have remained in his head, all over Twitter. How annoying would it have been for Neil O’Donnell to tweet about himself in the third person? Almost as painful as watching Mendenhall fumble away a seventh Super Bowl win.