That's when Treadwell ricocheted one in off the left upright to make it 17-10. "Ugly but effective," he said.
Until then, the Steelers had stopped Elway the only way anybody knows how: They kept him standing on the sideline with his helmet off. He only had the ball on four possessions. Sooner or later, however, Elway will throw a spiral through your heart, and he did it not two minutes into the second half with a 37-yard vector to Vance Johnson that tied the game 17-17.
Brister answered that tit with two tats, driving for two consecutive field goals to put Pittsburgh in front 23-17. Along the way, he threw to guys nobody had ever heard of—Mark Stock, for instance—and let Hoge make like Red Grange (final numbers: 120 yards running, 60 catching). The Steelers seemed bulletproof. At one point, Bronco linebacker Karl Mecklenburg nearly put a forearm through Brister's forehead, but Bayou Bubby wouldn't leave the game. He was so woozy that in one huddle his outlandish play call prompted his teammates to stand up, look questioningly at the sideline and call timeout. Whaddaya mean, run to the Buick and I'll fake it to you?
Hoge was so drop-dead tired in the fourth quarter that on one occasion Brister literally picked him up and dragged him back to the huddle. Pittsburgh was playing on nothing but guts and memory. And it was working. Still, there was an itchy feeling on the Steeler sideline. "When we were getting our threes, we should've been getting sixes," said Hoge.
And now Pittsburgh had left a window for Elway: 7:06 and 71 yards to go. "With the game on the line," said Mecklenburg, "there's nobody in the league I'd rather have than John Elway."
Done. Elway found regular-season MIA Mark Jackson on an 18-yard sideline pattern. Then, with a second-and-inches, he handed off to running back Bobby Humphrey, who pitched the ball back to Elway, who immediately said to himself, This is a bad play.
Everybody was covered. But Johnson broke toward the sideline, Elway launched the ball "into rightfield" (he's a former Yankee, remember) and Johnson's diving catch gave Denver a first down on the Steeler 26. From there, Reeves called Humphrey's number four straight times and Bratton's twice. Bratton's one-yard dive and Treadwell's one-thump extra point put the home team ahead by one.
Uh-oh, still 2:20 to play. Brister, for one, liked the look of things. "All we needed was a field goal," he said, "and we got the best field goal kicker in the league."
But Gary Anderson—already 6 for 6 in three-pointers in these playoffs—never jogged onto the field again. Stock dropped a cinch 20-yard gain on first down, and Brister had to throw the ball away on second. That left third-and-desperate. By now, the 75,868 fans were making a din you could hear in the back bowls at Vail. Worse, Brister was working with a new center—exhausted starter Dermontti Dawson had left the game on account of not getting enough air into his lungs—the 45-second clock was down to :01 and as hard as Brister stamped his foot for the snap, it wouldn't come. When he turned his head away for just a moment to look at the clock, the ball arrived, bounced off his ankle, through Hoge's fingers and into the welcoming embrace of Denver safety Randy Robbins. Cleveland Suicide Prevention Line. Can you hold?
Pittsburgh's locker room felt like anything but a loser's. "I think America woke up today," said Hoge. "Nobody gave us much respect. Ten-point underdog? That's ridiculous. We showed we're a good team."