— NFL (@NFL) December 14, 2017
You don’t need me to tell you what’s at stake Sunday. The Patriots at Steelers will, in all likelihood, decide home field in the playoffs. Not to mention what it means psychologically to the Steelers since the Patriots have been the clown in their storm drain for over a decade and a half now. In this century, Pittsburgh is No. 2 in the NFL in regular season wins, playoff wins, and Super Bowl titles, behind only New England. And they’ve let the Patriots push them around, losing to them 10 times in 12 meetings, including 0-3 in the playoffs.
But there’s more to it than that. On a gut level. Even if this wasn’t for the No. 1 seed or if one of these teams wasn’t even in playoff contention, there’s something else on the line. Something we can all relate to. That thing that help makes life worth living.
The Steelers and Patriots of the 2000s have a proud tradition of hating each other’s miserable, stinking guts. It goes beyond the players to the coaches on the sidelines and extends to the fanbases and it is glorious. So to celebrate and pass the time while we wait for 4:25 Sunday, a brief history of the bad blood between the Pats and Steelers:
10. Mike Tomlin Calls the Patriots “Assholes.”
Last January, the Patriots beat the Texans in the Divisional playoff by 18 points in one of the worst postseason performances of Tom Brady’s career. Even though they covered a huge spread, the Patriots locker room was as quiet and somber as the receiving line at a wake. The next day the Steelers barely got by Kansas City, winning 18-5 without putting the ball in the end zone. And they were elated. Antonio Brown posted about a 20-minute Facebook Live that captured Mike Tomlin pep-talking his players about the need to be careful with the social media posts, while Brown ignored him and continued to mug for the camera. Then Tomlin was heard saying “We spotted those assholes a day and a half. So be it. Let’s be ready to whoop their ass!” Later he doubled down on the asshole talk delivering a commencement address by saying “When you assume, you make a Patriot out of you and me.”
9. A Steelers Assistant Kicked a Patriots Fan
During the 2015 Thursday Night Kickoff game in Foxboro, Steelers tight ends coach James Daniel was leaving the field at halftime and started jawing with a fan. In front of several witnesses, Daniel kicked the guy in the leg. The Steelers denied it. The NFL claimed they were looking into it. But nothing was ever heard about it again.
8. The Patriots Played the Disrespect Card at the AFC Championship Game.
No group of feminists at a liberal arts college ever had a genius for finding ways to feel disrespected like the Patriots of the early 2000s did. And Lawyer Milloy was their Summa Cum Laude. In the 2001 championship game, the Pats entered Heinz and made their way toward the locker room. Milloy looked into an open storeroom and saw a massive pile of luggage. It belonged to the Steelers players, staff, and families all packed to leave directly for the Super Bowl in New Orleans right after the game. For all I know, that was standard operating procedure for every team in football. And it made sense, since the 9/11 rescheduling wiped out the Super Bowl bye week (they couldn’t push it back a week because the Superdome was previously booked with a frigging car show), so the game was the following Sunday. But sense or logistics don’t count for much when you’re looking for some extra motivation to go all medieval on someone’s ass. This was just the thing. “You don’t do that to the Patriots,” Milloy said later. And after the Patriots won, Willie McGinest waved a Terrible Towel at the crowd and yelled “Cancel those reservations!”
7. The Steelers Got Screwed by the Officials.
In that same game, the game was scoreless in the 1st quarter when a Steelers punt was called back on a penalty. Troy Brown took the re-kick and returned it straight between the hashmarks for a touchdown. The problem was, when the official spotted the ball for the second kick, they had moved it all the way over to the other hashmark for some inexplicable reason. Bill Cowher went into a purple-faced rage, spitting fire mixed with quarts of his actual spit. “You were WRONG! How could you screw that up?!?” he screamed in the ref’s face. But the play stood and Brown’s TD was the difference in the game.
6. Ben Roethlisberger Accused the Patriots of Cheating.
After that 2015 season opener, defending a 3rd & goal from their own 1, the Pats D-linemen did what they call “prowling,” shifting laterally prior to the snap, which caused Pittsburgh left tackle Kelvin Beachum to jump and get flagged for a false start. Roethlisberger screamed at the officials saying they can’t do that. Even though defensive linemen have been shifting since Biblical times. “In my years of playing, a defensive guy can’t bark stuff or move in the middle of a cadence,” Roethlisberger said in the postgame. “I was arguing the fact that he shifted in the middle of a cadence and I thought that there was a rule against it. Maybe there’s not – maybe it’s a written rule – I don’t really know. So, that’s what I was upset about.
5. Anthony Smith Guaranteed a Win, and the Patriots Made Him Suffer for His Insolence.
In the 2007 16-0 season, the Steelers came to Foxboro in Week 13 and starting safety Anthony Smith guaranteed a win. So Brady, who finished with 399 yards and 4 TDs, targeted him most of the game. After one touchdown pass beat Smith in the back of the end zone, Brady ran up to him and started screaming into his facemask. After the game, Brady declined to repeat what he’d said because his mom “wouldn’t be very happy.” Belichick didn’t mind keeping the shit talk going. “We’ve played against a lot better safeties than him, I’ll tell you,” he said.
4. The Patriots Had Tapes of the Steelers Signals.
The ESPN the Magazine hit piece on the Patriots that came out two days after Brady (temporarily) won his Deflategate court appeal included this little nugget:
Inside a room accessible only to Belichick and a few others, [the NFL] found a library of scouting material containing videotapes of opponents’ signals, with detailed notes matching signals to plays for many teams going back seven seasons. Among them were handwritten diagrams of the defensive signals of the Pittsburgh Steelers, including the notes used in the January 2002 AFC Championship Game won by the Patriots 24-17.
3. The Steelers Believe the Patriots Had Their Defensive Signals.
During Spygate, Hines Ward said of that 2001 championship game, “They were calling our stuff out. They knew, especially that first championship game here at Heinz Field. They knew a lot of our calls. There’s no question some of their players were calling out some of our stuff.”
2. The Steelers Believe the Patriots Had Their Defensive Signals, Part II.
The Pats went to Pittsburgh for the 2004 AFC title game with the Steelers carrying a 16-1 record and a rookie Ben Roethlisberger having never lost a start. It was a Patriots blowout, 41-27. Roethlisberger threw three interceptions, including one Rodney Harrison took back 87 yards for the score. Brady only completed 14 passes for 207 yards, but two of them were for TDs. Years later, defensive tackle Chris Hoke admitted he was convinced the Patriots knew their calls. “They knew which blitzes were coming,” he said. “They knew how to call plays that would best beat a coverage we were in. I can remember walking off the field that day saying ‘What just happened?'” Center Jeff Hartings added, “Everyone made mistakes in that game except for Tom Brady. He played the perfect game. He knew exactly what we were doing. … He knew exactly when we were blitzing.”
1. One word: HeadsetGate.
“That’s always the case. … We were listening to the Patriots radio broadcast for the majority of the first half. In our headsets.” And there’s not a man, woman or child among us who doesn’t like to think this is what Mike Tomlin and his coaches were hearing:
The hatred is real. Let’s kick this thing off already.