The city that brought you the Terrible Towel now has the Terrible Field.
On what might have been the worst playing surface in recent memory, the Steelers narrowly avoided being involved in the first scoreless NFL game in 64 years on Monday night. Jeff Reed kicked a 24-yard field goal with 17 seconds left to beat the Dolphins, 3-0. The playing surface has been a problem brewing at Heinz Field for years, and it may force the Steelers to go to artificial or field turf in 2008.
On Saturday, the grounds crew rolled out two-and-a-half acres of fresh green sod. Because of two University of Pittsburgh football games and several recent high school games, the old field surface was shot, leaving the Rooney family no alternative. But a full day of rain ruined the sod. Water seeped under the tarps.
The situation was hopeless. Because the sod was positioned over the old field, there was no drainage. Grounds crew members had to resort to using pitch forks to puncture holes in the surface to drain the standing water. On top of that, a flash of lightning sent both teams to the locker rooms, delaying the game for 15 minutes.
"Those conditions we were playing in were horrendous," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "No offense … you can put [Tom] Brady's offense out there … that was terrible out there. But we stayed the course. We didn't panic. We didn't pressure. We didn't finger point. We found a way to win the game.''
The teams combined for 375 yards of offense and three points. Kickers had no chance. A couple of weeks ago, Browns kicker Phil Dawson complained about Heinz Field, saying it was the worst in football for a kicker. He noted that no visiting kicker had booted a 50-yard field goal in Pittsburgh. On this night, no kicker could kick a 30-yard field goal. Extra points would have been an adventure.
Reed tried one for 44 yards in the third quarter and was woefully short. In the fourth quarter, Dolphins kicker Jay Feely attempted a 38-yarder, but the position of that kick was right in the muck caused by the tarp seams.
Feely's kick barely made it over the heads of the players at the line of scrimmage, but it didn't matter. The Dolphins were flagged for delay of game. Dolphins coach Cam Cameron sent in the punter, but Feely campaigned to try another kick because he actually thought he had good footing. Cameron opted to send in the offense, and rookie quarterback John Beck was sacked for a 5-yard loss on fourth-and-11.
"The Patriots' field was pretty bad a couple of years before they put the new turf in," Dolphins linebacker Jason Taylor said. "This one was probably the worst I've seen in this league."
The Steelers started the game-winning drive from the Dolphins' 42 with 4:13 left in the fourth quarter. Ben Roethlisberger mixed short, conservative passes to Ward and Willie Parker running plays to move the ball inside the Dolphins' 10.
Then the field became the Steelers' biggest obstacle. The seam-related wet spots made the area between the 5- and 10-yard lines tough to navigate and a treacherous place for kickers.
On a third-and-5 from the Dolphins' 5, Roethlisberger was sacked at the 6, but it gave Reed the chance to kick from the 14, a reasonably dry area.
Reed made the 24-yard field goal. It marked the 11th consecutive loss in what could be a winless season of bad luck in Miami. The situation for Miami was worse than the weather.