Scott Fowler

Do you remember the one time the Panthers beat the Steelers? Hint: Chad Cota

Panthers safety Chad Cota shows the ball to a jubilant Charlotte crowd after preserving Carolina’s 18-14 win over Pittsburgh with an interception on the final day of the 1996 regular season. Cota’s interception gave Carolina its only win ever over the Steelers.
Panthers safety Chad Cota shows the ball to a jubilant Charlotte crowd after preserving Carolina’s 18-14 win over Pittsburgh with an interception on the final day of the 1996 regular season. Cota’s interception gave Carolina its only win ever over the Steelers. Charlotte Observer

It is weird to think that Carolina has only beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers once in six tries. So as the two teams prepare to meet on “Thursday Night Football,” I’m going to offer up a Throwback Thursday of my own. Longtime Panthers fans will remember the team’s one win against Pittsburgh very well.

It was Dec. 22, 1996, during the final regular-season week of the Panthers’ second year of existence. The Panthers were hosting the Steelers and clinging to an 18-14 lead when Pittsburgh got the ball one last time.

The Steelers’ quarterback was Kordell Stewart, who had already burned Carolina for a dazzling 80-yard touchdown run that day. He got the Steelers all the way down to a first-and-goal at the Carolina 1, and a touchdown seemed almost inevitable.

But the Steelers backed up 5 yards for a false start, and then another two on a Stewart run that went awry. On third-and-goal from the Panthers’ 8, Stewart lofted the ball toward Andre Hastings – who was Pittsburgh’s best receiver at the time and who had already scored once.

But Carolina safety Chad Cota was in the area, too, and anticipated the throw. Cota and Hastings both got their hands on the ball in the middle of a sea of players. As they fell to the ground, it was hard to see what happened.

Bill Rosinski, Carolina’s radio play-by-play man at the time, called it like this: “Stewart back to throw, fires in the end zone. What is it? What is it? INTERCEPTED! The Panthers have it! The Panthers have it!”

Cota came up holding the ball jubilantly aloft. The crowd went so wild that it was one of those moments in which the stadium – which had only opened that year and was called Ericsson Stadium at the time – actually shook. If you were there, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

▪ But that was it as far as Carolina’s high points against Pittsburgh. The Panthers have since played Pittsburgh five more times and lost every one of them. Carolina is 0-3 against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

▪ Cam Newton hasn’t thrown an interception in his past 105 passes and has 15 TD passes compared to only four picks. In a different year, Newton would be under much more consideration as NFL Most Valuable Player, but right now Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes (29 TDs, seven INTs) is running away with that honor.

▪ Prediction time. I’m 6-2 picking Panthers games after getting their victory over Tampa Bay right. Pittsburgh is a very tough out at home and I think the Panthers’ defense is going to have a hard time handling the Steelers’ high-octane offense. My pick: Pittsburgh 30, Carolina 27.

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