(The NWS office in Pitsburgh has also put together an excellent page for this event -- check it out!)
On November 26, 2007 the Steelers and Dolphins faced off in a game that should have been an easy home win for Pittsburgh. Coming into the game, Miami (0-11) was winless so far that season as Pittsburgh (8-3) was looking to continue their season’s success. However, a combination of new sod and torrential rain created terrible field conditions for players on both teams. The nation watched a muddy, offensive struggle of a game as the Steelers beat the Dolphins 3-0 with a field goal in the final 17 seconds of the game on Monday Night Football.
Players on both sides struggled to play in muddy field conditions all evening long. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Several factors contributed to the sloppy field that night. Heinz Field uses natural turf for games to be played on. Just one day before the Monday Night Football matchup, new sod was laid on the field, right on top of the old field offering little in the way of effective draining. On game day, heavy rain began falling and continued through the game creating horrendous field conditions. The game was initially delayed 25 minutes due to lightning, which is rare for Pittsburgh in late November. After all was said and done, 1.39 inches of rain fell on Heinz Field that night. Combine that with a freshly laid field, and the players were soon faced with a muddy mess as some of the lines on the field actually were washed out.
"The footing was bad, all of a sudden you'd hit a water puddle and sink down. Some of defensive backs were scared about falling down and giving up a big play." – Steelers WR Hines Ward
At one point the ball wedged itself in the mud following a Dolphins kick. ESPN
Both teams had lots of trouble playing on the compromised field. Players slipped and slid everywhere, and kicking became very challenging. Late in the third quarter, a Dolphins punt came down and buried itself in the soaked field, creating an iconic image of this game. It was Pittsburgh’s Jeff Reed who kicked the game winning 24 yard field goal in the final seconds of the game. The Steelers only produced 216 yards of offense that night, and their 3-0 victory over the Dolphins was the lowest scoring game ever played on Monday Night Football.
Prior to game day a ridge had positioned itself over the eastern United States allowing for unseasonably mild temperatures in the Pittsburgh area. Aloft, winds were very strong as a jet max was positioned over western Pennsylvania on the morning of November 26. A jet max is an area of maximum wind speeds within the jet stream. Jet maxes can occasionally serve as focal points for surface convergence and enhanced convection. At the surface an area of low pressure was plowing its way northeast spreading precipitation all across Appalachia and Pennsylvania.
The surface analysis at 9pm that evening showed low pressure right over Pittsburgh with showers and storms along a cold front pushing east. SPC
Despite the matchup at Heinz Field and rain that fell all day long, everyone was excited for that night. The unseasonably mild temperatures in Pittsburgh allowed for treacherous weather right at kickoff. At 8:30 the surface low pressure had moved 45 miles northeast of Pittsburgh allowing a sharp cold front to inundate the field with very heavy rain, along with lightning, delaying the game.
When the game finally kicked off, a shortwave trough at the 500 millibar level continued fueling the heavy rain, and it did not let up until the game was over. At the end of the night, the 1.39” of rain that had fallen in Pittsburgh that day destroyed the sod laid at Heinz Field. The Monday Night Football matchup between Pittsburgh and Miami would go on to set a new standard for field quality at Heinz Field. Multiple complaints regarding field conditions arose, and Pittsburgh would have to mandate new procedures for field maintenance in order to ensure conditions such as these would never arise again.
This radar picture, taken at 8:15pm, shows thunderstorms with heavy rain moving through Pittsburgh. Lightning delayed the start of the game. Plymouth State