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November 26, 2007 Dolphins vs Steelers - Muddy Night Football  

 

On Monday, November 26th 2007, a national audience tuned into Monday Night Football to watch a game between two old-time AFC rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins.

The teams came into the game heading in very different directions. The Steelers, with their Super Bowl contending team, was 8-3, while the rebuilding Miami Dolphins, sported one of the worst teams in the NFL with an 0-11 record.

The game had the look of another Monday night laugher, as the Steelers were favored by 14 points. The contest probably would have been a blowout if not for a convergence of events that turned this Monday Night Football game into a battle of attrition know as "Muddy Night Football".

 

Fans during rain

 

On Sunday, November 25, a deep low pressure system moved out of the Gulf of Mexico and headed northeastward into the Ohio Valley. Aided by a strong surface high, off the Mid-Atlantic coast, and a 500 mb low, digging into Arkansas, this system dumped large amounts of rain from the Gulf Coast to New England over a 3 day period.

The storm system not only provided heavy rain over Western Pennsylvania on the 26th, but also developed thunderstorms, which caused a delay to the start of the game.

In total, the entire Upper Ohio Valley received anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 inches of rain.

Surface Map Nov 26 2007

24 hour precipiation

 

Normally this would not have been an extraordinary game, as many NFL contests are played in extreme weather. However, a series of events, which lead to some dubious decisions, turned this Monday Night game into one that will be long remembered. Not so much for the play on the field, rather, how the field controlled the game.

 

Hines Ward in mud

 

Western Pennsylvania has long been known as a "hot bed" for football. From high school to college to the pros, the fans in the Pittsburgh area enjoy all levels of the game.

Heinz Field is not only the home of the Steelers, but also where the Pitt Panthers play. Additionally, every year around Thanksgiving, Heinz Field hosts high school championship games for levels A through AAAA.

All of these sporting events came together in an 11 day period with 7 games being played at Heinz Field (4 high school games, 2 Pitt games and 1 Steeler game.) The culmination of this stretch of football, began on Friday, November 23rd, when 4 high school championships were played. Then on Saturday, November 24th, Pitt hosted a game. The Heinz Field surface took a tremendous beating, with most of the midddle of the field robbed of turf.

Steeler's management, knowing that a nationwide audience would be watching, decided to spruce up the field by placing new sod over the old turf. Everything looked great, until the heavy rain began to fall Sunday night. Further exasperating the situation, the tarp that was placed over the sod leaked and, because of the way the sod was placed, the field had little to no drainage.

The game was delayed for almost 30 minutes due to lightning and the terrible condition of the field. Grounds crews worked feverously trying to remove water and rechalking the field, as all markers had been lost. Their hard work proved futile as it was nearly impossible to drain the playing surface.

Ben tackling in the mud

Joey Porter kicking the sod

 

The "Muddy Night Football" game ended in a 3-0 victory for the Steelers. Steelers kicker Jeff Reed won the game with 17 seconds left on a 24 yard field goal.

The game earned many dubious distinctions thanks to the playing conditions. It was the lowest scoring game since December 11th 1993. The 59 1/2 minutes was the longest scoreless tie since the Lions and Giants played to a 0-0 tie on November 11th, 1943. This was also the lowest scoring game in club history.

The play that most exemplified the conditions, was a 3rd quarter punt by Miami's Brandon Fields. His 38 yard punt hit the sloppy field and stuck, point up.

This game was an example of not only what Mother Nature can do to outdoor games, but also what happens when a series of events, and bad decisions converge.