The Steelers were up 21-18 with 1:20 remaining in the game and looked to be in complete control after stopping the Colts on their 2 yard line. The Steelers, however could not just run the clock out because the Colts had all their timeouts remaining. The Steelers figured that they would use their offensive weapon, running back Jerome Bettis, who hadn’t fumbled all year, to get the 2 yards to send the Colts home. Just then, the unthinkable happened, a Colts helmet hit forced the ball out of Bettis’s grasp and it was picked up by the Colts cornerback Nick Harper who started to sprint towards the opposite goal. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger saw what was unfolding and started running down field with Harper turning both ways to try to position himself to make the tackle. Harper was playing cat and mouse darting the other way when Roethlisberger turned one way! Finally, Roethlisberger’s turn gave him enough time and space to catch Harper’s shin as he was trying to run by him. The grab was enough to cause Harper to lose balance and fall to the ground at the Colts’ 42 yard line. Another Steeler who given chase made sure Harper did not get up.
The momentum had changed, but the Colts could not take advantage as the Steeler defense held firm. Had Harper made it to the end zone, it would have been a sad tale in the city of Pittsburgh that day.
The play to save the game became known in the sports archives as the ‘Immaculate Tackle’. See it here.