This week’s Thursday Night Football was not the most anticipated game of the year. In fact, you could almost hear NFL Network pleading: “Join us as Big Ben and the incredible Pittsburgh Steelers face some other team.” But, the Carolina Panthers and the Pittsburgh Steelers have several connections. They almost always face each other in preseason, their owners are good friends, and Jerry Richardson has made it no secret that he wants his team to emulate the Steelers. That connection is one of the many reasons a lot of people think Bill Cowher may be the Panther’s next head coach. But, it also seems that every time we think of the Panthers and the Steelers, certain race issues are brought to mind. (No. Not that kind of “race.”)
Back in the ’05 season, these two teams were linked in discussions about the playoffs. Sports Illustrated had announced their pick for the next Super Bowl before the season with a cover that simply read: “It’s Carolina!” Both teams went into the playoffs as wildcards, yet many felt that the Panthers and Steelers were the strongest two teams and would meet in the Super Bowl. It was a race to be the first #5 or #6 seed to win the Super Bowl. Carolina (the NFC #5 seed) stormed forward in powerful victories over the Giants and Bears, but ran out of running backs and fell one game short of that meeting, losing the NFC Championship Game to Seattle. Pittsburgh (the AFC #6 seed) defeated the Seahawks 21-10 in Super Bowl XL. Race results: Steelers win; Panthers lose.
The next race between the two teams began during that offseason. The Steelers were the defending champs and Carolina was again a popular Super Bowl pick. Once again, the race was on! They faced each other in week 15; a game that originally appeared to be a possible Super Bowl preview. Sadly, by the time that week arrived, the race had taken a horrible turn for both teams, as they were desperately trying to hold on to faint playoff hopes. Neither team ended up making the playoffs and that game became one of the worst beatings in Panther fans’ memories. The Steelers humiliated Chris Weinke and the Panthers, 37 to 3. Race results: Steelers lose; Panthers lose.
(To keep this from being too depressing, I might add that the Panthers and Steelers are also linked in another way: Probably the funniest moment in Panther history happened in a game against the Steelers. The reader who can comment below and reveal that event will win a hearty “Attaboy!”)