Nearly six years ago, Adam Vinatieri kicked field goals through the Massachusetts snow to tie and then beat the Oakland Raiders in one of the signature playoff games of the New England Patriots' remarkable decade of dominance.
The NFL loves those kinds of weather games; that one still is remembered as a classic demonstrating what the elements can add.
Monday night's mud bowl in Pittsburgh, which came within 17 seconds of going into overtime tied 0-0, is the antithesis. It also could have been easily avoided if the NFL had done a more thorough research job before making the 2007 schedule.
The Steelers took the hit.
``Unfortunately, we were faced with the worst possible weather conditions and we acknowledge that it did have an impact on the playing surface,'' said a statement released in the name of team president Art Rooney II, grandson of one of the league's founders and son of Dan Rooney, still one of its most influential owners.
``We will continue to work with the NFL game operations people this week as our grounds crew works to improve the conditions of the field in time for Sunday night's game.''
There's always been a thin line between the unpredictable fun a bad-weather game can bring and problems with unplayable conditions.
How many times, for example, have we heard John Madden lament the advent of artificial turf and long for the days when no one could recognize uniform numbers after a quarter or so of two teams rolling in mud? Or long for more games like that Oakland-New England contest, when snow had to continuously be swept away to make the yard lines visible?
There was even a signature 3-0 contest - the infamous snowplow game in Foxborough in 1982. It went scoreless late into the fourth quarter, when a convict on work release drove a plow onto the field to move away the snow so the Patriots' winning field goal against the Dolphins could be set down cleanly on the artificial turf.
``It's football, man, it's an outdoor game,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said after Monday's Mess on the Monongahela. ``It is played as you move into December. Everybody loved to play dirty football when you were a kid. What else is new? Guys had a great time, it created some adversity and we overcame it and found a way to win the game.''
Tomlin won, so he's not complaining. But Monday night's conditions really were too much.
Even the Dolphins-Giants game in London, played in a steady rain on what the British call a ``waterlogged pitch,'' produced 23 points. Afterward, some critics pronounced the Brits unready yet to produce an American football field as compared to a pitch for the game they call football, played by guys who weigh 170-190 pounds (12-14 stone), not 240-340 (16-24 stone).
But there's rarely been anything like Monday night, when a punt landed like a perfectly hit wedge, sinking into the turf on the fly. Players sank the same way.
Remember that the Rooneys are ``league people,'' owners who often put the good of the NFL ahead of their own franchise. So taking a hit for the team - the league in this case - is in their genes.
The real blame should go to the folks in the league office who draw up the schedule.
In Pittsburgh, it was a high school playoff weekend. In western Pennsylvania, which produced Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Dan Marino and scores of other NFL stars, those games draw big crowds and the best venue is an NFL stadium, in this case Heinz Field.
So there were four games played last weekend on the surface, plus the South Florida-Pitt college contest. Recognizing that, the Steelers put down a new surface, not expecting the drenching rain that postponed the start of the game for 25 minutes.
What the NFL should have done was note that the high school playoffs were set for the weekend after Thanksgiving, then schedule around it. After all, the NFL has always worked around other events, especially when multipurpose stadiums were the rule rather than the exception.
When the New York Jets played at Shea Stadium, for example, they often played two or three road games in September because the Mets had priority there.
The baseball and football Cardinals in St. Louis used to juggle their way through September, and the Pirates and Steelers did it in Pittsburgh - to the point where football games in early October were usually against division rivals so if the local baseball team made the postseason, the home-and-home series could be flipped. Same thing in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Seattle, San Diego and San Francisco, when those cities had shared fields.
The same thing is still done in Oakland and Minneapolis. And weather is often factored in, too. Until the Cardinals got their new stadium in Arizona, the NFL put the Cardinals on the road more often than not early in the season to avoid the searing desert heat.
Beyond that is the question of grass vs. artificial turf.
In the old days (just a decade ago), players were unanimous in their dislike of the fake stuff, notably at places like Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and Giants Stadium. ``Man, those places were awful,'' Bobby Hebert, the former Saints quarterback, noted this week.
After years of resistance, the Giants and Jets actually tried grass for a couple of years, but the stuff never quite worked, coming up in chunks and leading to slipping and sliding players on nice, sunny days.
Lo and behold, someone discovered the new turf - the kind that almost feels like grass - and there's been no problem since, except when they try to play soccer on it. It can be done, but it's not the same game.
So maybe the Steelers should concede that their grass field, situated on the confluence of three rivers, will never be solid enough.
But not everyone wants the fake stuff.
Wide receiver Hines Ward noted that the team practices on FieldTurf and it's not always to their liking.
``Guys fall on it and it can get hard. You can still get a concussion,'' Ward said. ``Players around here, if you ask them, even if it was pretty bad, we will stick with grass.''
DIRTY DOZEN: The Top six and bottom six teams based on current level of play:
1. New England (11-0). Based on last week's result, came back to the pack a little.
2. Dallas (11-1). Good enough to compete with the Patriots? Maybe.
3. Green Bay (10-2). Just enjoy Brett Favre's season with his young teammates.
4. Indianapolis (9-2). Getting through the injuries
5. Jacksonville (8-3). Trying to challenge the Colts.
6 Cleveland (7-4). Romeo Crennel deserves something for winning seven games with the league's worst defense.
27. Detroit (6-5). Three straight losses. A Millen man march is in preparation.
28. Baltimore (4-7). Five straight losses is not a good omen for Brian Billick.
29. St. Louis (2-9). So much for a two-game winning streak.
30. Atlanta (3-8). So much for a two-game winning streak.
31. New York Jets (2-9). The Dolphins' first victim?
32. Miami (0-11). Might get one against the Jets. Six three-points losses means you're due.

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