Tomorrow Ben Roethlisberger will play in his first NFL regular season game since the Steelers victory over the Miami Dolphins last January.
The opponent, is of course the Steelers long-time nemesis, the Cleveland Browns.
The Steelers Browns-Rivalry is as old as the NFL itself, its lineage so wonderfully chronoicled by Behind the Steel Curtain’s Mary Rose ealier this week.
Ironically enough, Ben will take to the field in his first post-suspension game against the last opponent to issue him a defeat.
The Cleveland Browns may be 1-4, but they have played one of the NFL’s tougest schedules in Mike Tomlin’s estimation. And, like last year’s game, this one has all of the markings of a “trap game,” games in which Mike Tomlin teams have historciaclly sturggled.
In the spirit of superstition that hopes to avoid such an ill fate, Steel Curtain Rising takes the opposite track – by chronicaling some of the Steelers most ignominous lossess to their historic division rival.
Browns Snap the Three Rivers Stadium Jinx 27-24, October 1986
When the Steelers opened Three Rivers Stadium in 1970, they were still a league doormat team. Yet, for nearly 16 years, the Cleveland Browns could not secure a win in Pittsburgh.
Art Modell, ever superstitous, tried busing his players, to Pittsburgh. He tried flying them in. Rumor has it that he even considered assembling car carravan. Nothing worked until 1986 when Mark Malone fumbled away a sure Steelers tieing field goal.
Ozzy Newsome summed it up this way: “The frustration is over, now I can retire”
- What it told us: After winning the AFC Central in 1984, the Steelers followed with a 7-9 effort in 1985. This win signaled that the s downturn was for real, and that the mid-80’s be lean times for the men in Black and Gold
Punting Disasters in the Mud, November 21st, 1988
Bernie Kosar might have thrown the then longest touchdown pass of his careear this day, but the story was the Steelers punting unit, or lack thereof. Frank Minnefield returned one blocked punt 11 yards for a touchdown and the Steelers suffered another blocked punt.
But the worst was yet to come.
Punting from their own 50, the Steelers legendary center Mike Webster hiked the snap so high above Harry Newsome’s head that it landed 47 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Bubby Brister, who had raised a firestrom ealier in the year by claiming that the Steelers offense was “so complex and conservative that we might as well punt on first down” told reporters after the game that “we might as well throw on first.”
- Growing Pains: This was the game that finally convinced Chuck Noll to hire a full-time special teams coach. Jon Klob was relieved of his share of the duties, and George Stewart revitalized the unit, which played a vital role in the resugance of the 1989 Steelers.
- Silver Lining: If any silver lining was to be had, it was that this loss, combined with the Steelers encore 41-10 loss the next week against the Bengals, served motivate the Steelers. If memory serves, David Little said after the season, these loses drove the men to prove that they “weren’t that bad,” in a way that twin 3 point losses never could.
Still such silver linings were of little consulation in early September 1989.
13-3 Reveals Woes in Walton’s Offense, September 1990
It was the first game of the Steelers offense under the stewardship of Joe Walton, and it was a sign of things to come. Merril Hoge fumbled at an inopportune time leading directly to a Cleveland score and a befuddled Bubby Brister threw into double coverage.
- Say it Ain’t So, Joe: The offense struggled all day just as they would for the duration of Walton’s tenure.
Another Reason to Hate Cleveland Stadium, October 1990
The Browns only won this one 17-14, but the way they won confirmed the reality that Cleveland Staidum was truly a wreched place for the Steelers.
At 3rd and goal from the 2 running back Leroy Hoard had been leveled by Carnell Lake and had just rolled onto his back lying flat in the end zone, presumptively out of the play.
Kosar’s pass got tipped by Ketih Willis and landed right on Hoard’s chest for a touchdown.
As Bob Labriola said reflecting on the play a number of years later, “you gotta hate the place.”
Steelers Find their Back up Quarterback, the Hard Way, October 1992
It was Bill Cowher’s second loss, and the first and only loss to an AFC Central foe during his rookie season. And it came at the hands of Mike Tomzack, whose performance in the 17-9 victory led the Steelers to bring him on board as a back up, a position he would occupy for the remainder of the decade (save for his starting stint in 1996.)
Eric Metcalf Defeats the Steelers, All By Himself, October 1993
This was one of those exiting games that just happens to end the wrong way. The Steelers dominated in every staistical category, yet still lost.
Early in the game, Eric Metcalf returned a punt for a touchdown. And at the very end of the game, when the Steelers appeared to have it locked up, Metcalf did it again.
- Special Teams Schizophrenia: Bill Cowher had replaced George Stewart (very good coach) with John Guy as his special teams coach (very bad coach) and at the end of the season Cowher fired Guy and replaced him with Bobby April (excellent coach) continuing the Steelers Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde rotation at special teams coach.
- Reggie Who? Jerry Olsavsky tore a four ligaments in his knee. Things appeared grim for one of the Steelers unsung heros of the early 1990’s as his career appeared to be over.
The Steelers had selected Chad Brown in the second round of the 1993 NFL draft, and many assumed it was only a matter of time before he broke the starting line up. However, when O went out, it was undrafted rookie free agent Reggie Barnes, not Chad Brown who got the nod.
Brown of course did break the starting line up later that year, giving no one else cause to remember the name “Reggie Barnes,” save for the lesson that just because a young draft pick does not play right way, does not mean fans should dispare.
When all is said and done, the odds favor the Steelers. They’re playing with a rookie quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger is back, and they will certainly want to avenge the loss from last November.
Nonetheless, I hope you enjoyed this stroll down memory lane and, if nothing else, we should all be reminded to take nothing for granted.