It’s been almost a decade, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are still an unforgettable nightmare for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
The Black & Gold are a reminder of heartache as he prepares to face the familiar nemesis Sunday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Hasselbeck lost the most important game of his 17-year career to this team.
Super Bowl XL at Ford Field in Detroit, Mich., was the stage on Feb. 5, 2006. Hasselbeck and the Seattle Seahawks had won a team-record 11 consecutive games to finish the regular season 13-3, then claimed the NFC title. The Steelers made the playoffs as an AFC wild-card sixth seed, but knocked off Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver all on the road to get to the finale.
The Steelers led 14-10 in the final quarter. Hasselbeck drove the Seahawks into the red zone. An 18-yard pass play would have given Seattle a first down at the Pittsburgh 1-yard line if not for a holding penalty. Three plays later, cornerback Ike Taylor intercepted Hasselbeck at the 5.
In one of the more memorable plays in Super Bowl history, Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle El got the ball on a reverse and threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward. It’s the first time a receiver had thrown a TD pass in the Super Bowl.
Steelers 21, Seahawks 10.
“The disappointing thing about the Super Bowl is it’s the biggest game of your life, and we didn’t play our best that day,” Hasselbeck said Wednesday. “That’s just how it is, and how it’s always going to be.
“After being here now and seeing like (former Colts offensive coordinator) Bruce Arians and his offense and hearing some of the inside stories about his offense and how explosive they are and how they run trick plays, it sort of makes sense to me now that they had those big plays.”
Hasselbeck, now 40, has saved the Colts' season by going 4-0 in subbing for the injured Andrew Luck. The Colts, like the Steelers, are 6-5 for this primetime matchup.
Until this season, Hasselbeck’s NFL career was defined by being Seattle’s quarterback for a decade. And 2005 was one of the best years of his career. He completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 3,459 yards and 24 touchdowns with just nine interceptions. The completion percentage was a career best for his seasons as a starter, the passing yards second-most, the TD total third-best, the touchdown-interception difference second-best.
It’s not like Hasselbeck dwells on that past much. Reporters were bound to ask him about the Super Bowl.
He couldn’t be blamed for not wanting to recall much from the experience. The man has enough on his mind these days. Instead, Hasselbeck remembers so much in vivid detail.
“It was kind of an all-star group of guys on that team that we were playing against that day and an all-star group of coaches,” he said. “Crowd noise was big in that game. I remember having to go with a silent count just because of their crowd and their fans. A great organization and we had a chance.”
Hasselbeck completed 26-of-49 passes for 273 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The Seahawks outgained the Steelers 396-339 in total yards. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who now has two Super Bowl rings, completed just 9-of-21 passes for 123 yards and two interceptions.
The fact that Hasselbeck outplayed Roethlisberger didn’t mean anything on that day, nor does it give Hasselbeck any solace now.
“As a quarterback, you never play against the other quarterback even though people try to make it that,” he said. “It’s really a quarterback against d-coordinator and like I said, we did not play our best.”
He remains convinced the Seahawks would have won if they played like they had to get to the Super Bowl.
“Yeah, it shouldn’t have been close,” he said. “We played great football that year. We really did. I think we were 13-3 and we lost our first game and our last game we hardly tried to win. We just had everything locked up. The other game we lost was a game winner hit the crossbar or whatever.
“We had a great year and for whatever reason, in that game, we tried too hard or something, we didn’t play our best.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.