20 years ago the Pittsburgh Steelers opened their 1989 season in front of 57,928 fans at Three Rivers Stadium against the Cleveland Browns. The game was not televised in suburban Maryland, but at half time I turned on NBC to see if I could spy the score while doing my situps.
I remember Bob Costas’ voice greeting me as the TV came into focus as if it were yesterday:
Bob Costas here at half time here with the Juice and let’s update you on the scores, starting with Pittsburgh, where the Steelers are getting juced 31-0 at half time by the Browns….
I watched the highlight reel of fumbles, interceptions and other mishaps in dismay but held out hope for a second half rally.
Worst Loss in Steelers History
The Browns totally dominated the Steelers, dealing them their worst loss ever, to the tune of 51-0. They suffered their first opening day shut out in 40 years.
- The Steelers did nothing right, setting records for fewest yards gained and fewest first downs.
Rookie Tim Worley had three fumbles, one of which Clay Matthews returned for a touchdown, the other set up a touchdown, and the other a Browns field goal.
The Browns scored two more defensive touchdowns, one on a 28 yard sack-fumble return, and another off of one of Bubby Brister’s three interceptions. The Browns also sacked Brister 6 times.
Brister himself gained some notoriety, after catching one of his passes for a ten yard loss after it had been batted back at the line of scrimmage.
Clay Matthews Calls Steelers Plays
The Browns should have surprised no one by recording 8 turnovers. After the season, Mike Mularkey recounted that Matthews, then starting his 12th year for Cleveland, stood at the line of scrimmage and, correctly, called out the plays the Steelers were to run based on their formation.
- In November of 1988 Sports Illustrated had run a cover story featuring Tom Landry and Chuck Noll with the headline “Will they ever win again?”
Jerry Jones already had answered that question, firing Tom Landry and hiring Jimmy Johnson before even completing his transaction to buy the Cowboys.
Dan Rooney had taken a different track, standing by his man Noll, although for the first time in 20 years, Rooney did force Noll to make staff changes.
- Earlier in the year commentators ridiculed Jones for his ignominious treatment of the Cowboy’s legend, while praising Rooney for his ability to navigate a sticky situation.
By the end of opening day 1989, more than a few in Steelers Nation agreed that Rooney should have followed Jones’ example, at least in form if certainly not style….
Steel Curtain Rising will celebrate the Steelers 1989 season all year long. Feel free to leave a comment sharing your thoughts, insights, and memories. Click on the Steelers 1989 season tag to view the entire series.