On This Date in Sports: September 22, 1997: Cowher's Fake Punch

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-21 at Alltel Stadium. The Steelers appeared on the verge of winning the game in the final seconds when Norm Johnson had a 40-yard field goal blocked. Chris Hudson picked up the blocked field goal and returned for a touchdown to give the Jaguars an extra seven points as time expired. As Hudson picked up the ball, Steelers coach Bill Cowher nearly threw a punch at the Jaguars defender in frustration.   

 

The Jacksonville Jaguars were in their third season under coach Tom Coughlin but already was an NFL contender after a surprise run to the AFC Championship Game in 1996. This earned a game on Monday Night Football the following season. The Jaguars Monday night debut would come against the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers, whom they split within each of their first two seasons. The Jaguars won the first two games without Mark Brunell in 1997 and got an early bye week heading into their Monday night showdown. 

 

Two years removed from losing Super Bowl XXX, the Pittsburgh Steelers, coached by Bill Cowher, were hoping to get back in the back game. They had a rough start to the 1997 season as they were embarrassed 37-7 in the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys at Three Rivers Stadium. The Steelers rebounded with a 14-13 win over the Washington Redskins before getting their bye week in Week 3. 

 

The Jaguars, who got a boost from Brunnel's return, got the opening kickoff and drove straight down the field, with Natrone Means scored from the one-yard line. The Steelers quickly answered with a Kordell Stewart slashing his way into the end zone from the six-yard line. Late in the first quarter, the Jaguars defense made a big play, as Tony Brackens had a strip-sack of Stewart, setting up Jacksonville’s second score of the game. A score that would come early in the second quarter as Jimmy Smith caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Mark Brunell. The Jaguars were in full control in the second quarter. Aaron Beasley picked off Stewart as the Jaguars went to halftime up 17-7. Mark Hollis hit a late field goal, after missing from 29 yards out one drive earlier.  

 

In the third quarter, the Steelers got back in the game as they took the opening drive of the second half down the field, with Yancy Thigpen catching a four-yard touchdown pass from Kordell Stewart. After the long Pittsburgh drive, the Jaguars again went down the field and settled for a 45-yard field goal by Mike Hollis. The Steelers were on another long drive as the third quarter ended. On the first play of the fourth quarter, they would take a 21-20 lead as Mark Bruener caught a one-yard pass from Stewart. The Jaguars continued to move the ball, but Hollis missed a 38-yard field goal, keeping the Steelers in the lead. 

After the Steelers punted, the Jaguars went on a six-minute drive, this time Mike Hollis was able to get the field goal from 27 yards out, his third of the game, giving Jacksonville a 23-21 lead. The Steelers got the ball back with four minutes left. Down the field, the Steelers would go, and with seconds left had Norm Johnson set up for a 40-yard field goal. The kick was blocked and returned by Chris Hudson for a touchdown as time expired, giving the Jaguars a 30-21 win, as betters who took the Steelers +3 endured a sleepless night. The same feeling that Bill Cowher had as he nearly threw his career away by stepping on the field and throwing a punch that he stopped himself at the last second. 

 

Both the Jaguars and Steelers made the playoffs at 11-5, with Pittsburgh winning the tiebreaker for the AFC Central. The Steelers would reach the AFC Championship Game, losing to the eventual champion Denver Broncos.