The Broncos were playing to reach their seventh Super Bowl. Pittsburgh was playing to qualify for its sixth Super Bowl.
The direction of both franchises changed dramatically that day.
Everything set up nicely for the Broncos, who were 13-3 in 2005. Denver was the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and gave Bill Belichick and Tom Brady their first postseason loss in the divisional round. Pittsburgh, the No. 6 seed, shocked No. 1-seed Indianapolis in the divisional playoffs, giving the Broncos a home game in the title game.
On a glorious Colorado winter day, the Steelers jumped all over Denver. The outcome was never in doubt as the Steelers cruised to a 34-17 win. The Steelers went on to beat Seattle in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh then won the Super Bowl after the 2008 season and will be playing in their eighth Super Bowl on Sunday against Green Bay.
They haven’t been to the playoffs since the loss to Pittsburgh.
Coach Mike Shanahan was fired after the 2008 season after three playoff-less seasons, ending his 14-season tenure. John Fox is beginning his Denver tenure after Denver fired Shanahan’s replacement, Josh McDaniels, this past December.
The Steelers have also had change at top, but it has been much more successful. Bill Cowher left the team four years ago. His replacement, Mike Tomlin, is heading to his second Super Bowl in four seasons.
The Broncos have been floundering to find an identity on defense and is now on its fourth quarterback, Tim Tebow, since 2005.
“It’s pretty amazing what has happened since that game,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. “Pittsburgh is a great organization and it has had stability even with the coaching change. Denver was a great organization, but it has really lost its way in the past five years.”