“Either we just played the two best teams in football, or it is going to be a long season.”
– Chuck Noll, reflecting on his team’s 92-10 start to the 1989 season.
The third week of the Steelers 1989 season brought the Minnesota Vikings to Three Rivers Stadium.
I can still [almost] quote from memory an article I read the Monday article on the game:
This game went exactly as it was scripted. A disgruntled teammate getting revenge against his former team. Dominating defense matched with effective, if not explosive offense….
The Steelers had lost their first two contests by a score of 92-10. If possible, the numbers behind that lopsided score were worse.
- Collectively their rushers were averaging less than three yards a carry
- Opponents had sacked Bubby Brister 12 times
- Greg Lloyd owned the entire Steelers sack total, which stood at one
- Injuries forced John Rienstra, a life long guard, to switch to tackle, while rookie Tom Ricketts, a life long tackle, sifted to guard
- Starting linebacker Bryan Hinkle was out. Unable to reclaim no-name linebacker Darren Jordan from the waiver wire, the Steelers would start a rookie in his place.
And the Vikings, although 1-1, still stood as Super Bowl contenders. They’d also brought Mike Merriweather with them, the Steelers 1987 team MVP, whose bitter contract dispute with Dan Rooney resulted in a hold out that spanned the entire 1988 season.
The game unfolded as scripted. Except, as the Washington Post pointed the next day out, this script had a surprise ending.
Minnesota, Myron and Mularkey in Route to Maryland on the PA Turnpike
Yours truly was actually in Pittsburgh the weekend of the game, and listened to the game’s first half on WTAE driving home on the turnpike. During the early going Mike Mularkey and a Viking, I believe it was Mike Merriweather, got into a scuffle… you KNOW Myron Cope couldn’t, wouldn’t and of course didn’t resist.
“And there’s Mularkey saying, ‘now don’t you give me any of that Mularkey’” boomed through the speakers in the backseat. One more classic Myron memory to cherish.
Scuffles are one thing, but scoring wins games, and quickly thereafter Mulakery drew first blood on a 15 yard pass from Bubby Brister. Minnesota scored on its next drive, but the Steelers answered with an eight yard touchdown run by Tim Worley.
On the next series, it looked like things took a turn for the worse, when a Vikings defender sacked-stripped Brister and returned the fumble 27 yards for a touchdown. For the third time in just six quarters at Three Rivers Stadium, an opposing defending was advancing a fumble into the end zone.
Faced with a perfect opportunity to fold… the Steelers marched straight down the field and just as WTAE’s signal began to fade, Jack Flemming’s voice boomed, “Merrill Hoge scores the go ahead touchdown.”
My folks tried to pick up the second half but the signals of the Altoona and Johnstown stations simply weren’t strong enough. An unfortunate occurrence.
The Steel Curtain is Robust with Rust
Entering the second half protecting a 21-14 lead to start the second half, Steelers unleashed the defense.
Revitalized by new defensive coordinator Rod Rust, the Steel Curtain decimated the Vikings. Hardy Nickerson, Tim Johnson, and yes, Jeroll Williams, that rookie standing in for Bryan Hinkle, collected four of their five sacks. Steelers also picked off Wade Wilson twice, and held Anthony Carter to 5 catches.
When the dust cleared, the Steelers had completely shut out the Vikings in the second half.
Some Players You Remember, Some Players You Forget
It might seem strange now, but in 1989 many regarded Minnesota’s offense as second only to the 49ers in terms fire power.
Although not an elite quarterback, Wade Wilson was nonetheless a Pro Bowler, as was tight end Steve Jordan. Hassan Jones was likewise considered a top number 2 receiver, and Anthony Carter was seen as on the verge of greatness.
Save for Wade Wilson, few remember their names now, and that’s in part because they couldn’t get the better of players like of Lloyd, Nickerson, Lake, and Woodson. Names the NFL remembers 20 years later.
The NFL noted the Steelers upset, but generally waited to see if it meant something or if it was just another case of On Any Given Sunday. Time would prove those league pundits wise, as the roller coster ride that was the Steelers 1989 season was just getting revved up…
You can read Steel Curtain Rising’s entire season-long tribute to the 1989 Steelers by clicking here.