How’s this for a prop bet?
The over/under on how many seconds the first “Heeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaath” chant lasts Sunday night at Heinz Field.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller was a full participant in practice Friday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and is listed as probable for the Steelers’ game against the Chicago Bears.
The return of their 2012 MVP comes not a moment too soon for the Steelers, who are trying to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2000.
Miller led the Steelers last season with 71 receptions and tied for the team lead with eight touchdowns before tearing multiple knee ligaments in a Week 16 game against Cincinnati. He hasn’t played since.
It’s unclear how much Miller will play Sunday. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, according to Steel City Insider (subscription required), “We are not expecting Heath to come out of the phone booth with a cape on.”
OK, so maybe Miller won’t be Superman. Instead, he could provide the same emotional lift as someone who actually existed.
Even if Miller plays just a few snaps and does nothing more than throw a key block on a 15-yard run, which would be the longest run by a Steeler this season, he could have a Willis Reed effect.
Reed, an NBA Hall of Famer for the New York Knicks, had a thigh injury during the 1970 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. No one, not even his teammates, knew if he would play in Game 7.
Hobbled as he was, Reed did play and scored the game’s first two baskets to give the Knicks a 4-0 lead. He didn’t score again, but he did enough to inspire the Knicks and ignite the Madison Square Garden crowd. The Lakers never had a chance and the Knicks won 113-99.
There’s a vast difference between Week 3 of an NFL season and a Game 7. But Miller’s return, combined with the Steelers’ history against the Bears, could converge like two weather patterns and become the turning point of the 2013 season.
The Steelers have defeated the Bears just seven times in their 80-year history, eight if you count the coin flip that landed them the No. 1 overall pick in the 1970 draft, which they used on Terry Bradshaw.
Two of the Steelers’ victories over the Bears have come when they were desperate for a win, like they are now, and fueled runs to the Super Bowl.
In 2005, the Steelers had lost three straight and were in danger of missing the playoffs when Jerome Bettis ran for 101 yards – the last 100-yard game of his career – and two touchdowns in a 21-9 win over the 9-3 Bears at snowy Heinz Field.
The Steelers didn’t lose again in 2005. They clinched a playoff berth with four straight wins to finish the regular season, then won three road playoff games and Super Bowl XL.
The setting was just as dramatic 10 years earlier. The Steelers began the 1995 season 3-4, then evened their record with a win at home over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Next was a trip to Chicago – where the Steelers hadn’t won in 10 tries – to face the 6-2 Bears.
Neil O’Donnell threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Ernie Mills on fourth down with 1:06 left to force overtime. Then, with Steelers players holding hands on the sidelines, Norm Johnson kicked a 24-yard field goal to give Pittsburgh a 37-34 win in overtime.
It was the second of eight straight wins for the Steelers, who eventually reached Super Bowl XXX.
This historical vibe against the Bears can be traced back to 1958. The Steelers were 0-10 against Chicago when they finally defeated the Bears 24-10 at Pittsburgh. That win was part of a 7-4-1 season, the Steelers’ first winning campaign since 1949.
A winning record is no sure thing for the Steelers the way the 2013 season has gone. Right now they need just one win, and Miller can help with that.
The scenery will be a lot different than it was for the Bears’ last visit to Pittsburgh. It’s too early for snow. Autumn will be just a few hours old at kickoff.
Perhaps the Steelers’ fortunes will change with the seasons.