The NFL is “honoring” the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 8th time by putting them in the national spotlight on Thanksgiving Day. Given the Steelers Thanksgiving record, one can imagine Art Rooney II saying a heartfelt “Thanks but no thanks” the next time the NFL offers them a turkey day slot.
Here is a look at the Steelers Thanksgiving record that has made for many a memorable turkey day that most of Steelers Nation Wish they could forget.
Pre-Noll Era Steelers Thanksgiving Record 1-2
The Steelers played the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving Day in 1939 and 1940. The Pittsburgh Pirates, as they were still known then, lost to the Eagles on Thanksgiving in 1939 17-14. In 1940 the newly renamed Steelers had no better luck, losing to the Eagles 7-0.
The Steelers would have to wait another ten years, including their World War II stint as the Steagles, before playing on Thanksgiving Day. However, the NFL matched the Steelers up with the Chicago Cardinals on Thanksgiving day in 1950 and Pittsburgh prevailed led by Joe Geri’s 101 rushing yards, two touchdowns and 3 extra points.
1983 – The Thanksgiving Day Massacre
November 24th, 1983 @ The Pontiac Silverdome
Detroit 45, Pittsburgh 3
The 1983 Steelers had played the entire season without Terry Bradshaw, but despite that Cliff Stoudt combined with a defense that looked to be Super Bowl caliber had given the Steelers a 9-3 record and command of the AFC Central Division heading into their Thanksgiving Day game against Detroit. Detroit for its part was only 6-6.
As defensive coordinator Woody Widenhoffer admitted later, the Steelers weren’t prepared. And then some:
- At the time, it was the Steelers worst loss in 36 years.
Cliff Stoudt threw 4 interceptions Mark Malone threw 1, Franco Harris gained 16 yards on 5 carries as both Harris and Walter Abercrombie’s combined totals were less than Frank Pollard’s. Meanwhile, Bill Sims looked like genetic fusion between Jim Brown and Barry Sanders, and Eric Hipple looked like Johnny Unitas.
The Steelers would lose the following week in Cincinnati. The week after it would take the last throws left in Terry Bradshaw’s arm to left them over the Jets as the Steelers stumbled into the playoffs where the LA Raiders quickly eliminated them.
1991 – Joe Walton Fails the Steelers. Again.
November 28th, 1991 @ Texas Stadium
Dallas 20, Pittsburgh 10
Considering that Dallas went to the playoffs and won a game and followed the next season with a Super Bowl Championship, one might wonder why this game was close at all. But it was.
- And in many ways it symbolized all that was wrong with the Joe Walton era of the Steelers offense.
The Steelers still had a talented defense that had finished number 1 overall in 1990, led by players such as Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd and Carnell Lake. It still had the offensive core that had led the rallies that fueled the 1989 Steelers improbable run. But unfortunately, Chuck Noll’s last hire was his worst one, as he’d name Joe Walton his offensive coordinator and gave him total control.
The Steelers defense kept the Dallas Cowboys to 13 points until late into the third quarter, when Warren Williams narrowed the score to three.
- Alas, Steve Beuerlein to Michael Irvin pass put the gave the Cowboys a 10 point lead.
And under Joe Walton’s offense, Neil O’Donnell couldn’t muster more than 167 yards, and no other skill player could break the 60 yard mark. In other words, in those days 10 points was far too much to overcome in a quarter.
1998 – The Phil Luckett Coin Flip Thanksgiving Day Fiasco
November 26th @ the Pontiac Silverdome
Detroit 19, Pittsburgh 16
For as bad as 1983’s Thanksgiving Day Massacre was, the Thanksgiving Day Coin Toss Disaster is standard by which every disappointment on the Steelers Thanksgiving record will be judged because it signified the end of an era.
The 1998 Steelers had had their ups and downs. Without a doubt, this Steelers team was missing something and Kordell Stewart clearly lacked the mojo he’d shown in the season before. But these 1998 Steelers had authored enough Tease Games – convincing wins over serious contenders – to give fans legitimate hope Bill Cowher’s boys could pull it together for a deep playoff run.
The scenario for the 1998 Steelers Thanksgiving Day game had all the trimmings for one of The Chin’s late season surges. The Steelers were fresh off a win at home over the division leading Jacksonville Jaguars and took a 7-4 record to Detroit. Jerome Bettis’ parents even had the entire team over for Thanksgiving dinner the night before.
- It was not to be.
The Steelers played a sloppy game filled with blown coverages and easily catchable balls that receivers dropped. Nonetheless they opened a 13-3 lead in the third quarter, only to see the Lions kick a field goal, followed by a Charlie Batch to Herman Moore hook up that tied the score. Jacksonville added another 3 and the Steelers had to fight to get into position for a Norm Johnson field goal to tie the game.
- Carnell Lake and Jerome Bettis approached midfield, called tails, the coin landed on tails but referee Phil Luckett awarded the ball to the Lions as Detroit’s captains struggled to suppress their laughter.
The Lions got into scoring position thanks to another Herman Moore reception that came at Carnell Lake’s expense. A ticky tacky face mask penalty gave Detroit even more yards as they kicked the overtime field goal for the win.
The loss knocked the wind out of the 1998 Steelers sails, who would go on to lose their next 4 games. The Pittsburgh Steelers had been contenders since Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe began in 1992, but that era ended on Thanksgiving Day 1998 in Detroit.
2013 – The Tomlin Two-Step and the Failed 2 Pointer
November 28th @ M&T Bank Stadium
Baltimore 22, Pittsburgh 20
Outside of Pittsburgh, everyone remembers this game because of Mike Tomlin’s sideline two-step, but inside Steelers Nation this one was a heart breaker – not because the Steelers played poorly, but because they played so well. The 2013 Steelers had of course started at 0-4 and the 2-6 yet had clawed their way back to 5-6. A win vs. the Ravens would have restored the Steelers record to .500 and put Pittsburgh within striking distance of the AFC North title.
- Alas, it was not to be.
The Ravens scored a quick touchdown, but the Steelers defense held Baltimore to field goals for the rest of the night. The Steelers offense stalled during the first half, but in the second half Le’Veon Bell and Emmanuel Sanders scored touchdowns, as Ben Roethlisberger connected with Heath Miller 9 times.
With time expiring the Steelers moved into scoring position:
- Ben Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller for 19 yards and an apparent touchdown. Overturned on replay.
Le’Veon Bell rammed it in from the one. Overturned on replay because his helmet slipped off as he was being concussed.
- Two plays later Roethlisberger hit Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone…
- ….but the two point conversion failed.
The Steelers tried an on-sides kick, but failed and the Ravens ran out the clock. While this loss was disappointing, it was Steelers-Ravens slugfest in the truest sense of the word.
Can the Steelers break their Thanksgiving Day curse vs. the Colts in 2016? Time will tell.