20 years ago this week, the 1989 Steelers traveled to Denver just as their successors are preparing to do this week. Steel Curtain Rising takes a look back with the caveat that we hope that Tomlin and Roethlisberger fare better in the thin Denver air than did Noll and Brister…
The Denver Broncos were the closest thing the AFC had to a dominant team in the 1980’s.
And if the Steelers had experienced success against the Broncos, with the upset in the 1984 playoffs and again in 1988 as Rod Woodson and Rodney Carter rallied behind a beleaguered Chuck Noll, there was no mistaking who was the favorite when the Steelers traveled to Mile High in the fall of 1989.
Underdogs or not, the Steelers arrived with some measure of hope.
They’d shook off humiliating 51-0 and 41-10 losses to division rivals to upset a Super Bowl contender, only to lose their starting quarterback and then suffer another shut out to yet another third division rival, but again bounced back with a dramatic victory over up and coming Kansas City Chiefs.
Could the Steelers sustain some momentum?
Steelers Flash, then Fade Quickly
For a while that seemed to be an open question. The Broncos jumped to a 10-0 lead and were on the verge of scoring again until Rod Woodson intercepted John Elway in the end zone.
It appeared that the Steelers had the makings of a long afternoon for Elway as Brian Hinkle stepped up and intercepted his next pass, and Bubby Brister and Rodney Carter hooked up for 15 yard strike to bring the score to 10-7.
But appearances can deceive, and this time they did.
The Steelers offense was done after Brister’s touchdown pass. In fact, 8 of their 12 possession ended in three and outs.
Broncos Score 24 Unanswered Points
The Broncos scored 24 unanswered points, as Bobby Humphrey ran for two touchdowns and 102 yards, and John Elway hit a 44 yard touchdown pass, before Gary Kubiack entered for mop up duty (where he went 2-2 for 30 yards, for those who must know.)
The only bright note in the Steelers 34-7 loss to Denver? Despite the team’s offensive impotency, rookie running back Tim Worley ran 75 yards on 12 carries, his best showing of the season.
The best news was that week ten would bring the Chicago Bears to Pittsburgh, where they had not won since 1944. Would the 1989 Steelers keep the Bears winless in Pittsburgh for yet another full decade…?