When the Pittsburgh Steelers welcome the Miami Dolphins to Heinz Field for the AFC Wild Card game Mike Tomlin’s team will be looking to even the Steelers playoff history vs the Miami Dolphins.
- The Steelers and the Dolphins have clashed in the playoffs on three prior occasions, with the Steelers holding a 1-3 record.
The first time came at Three Rivers Stadium on New Year’s Eve 1972, in the AFC Championship game a week after the Immaculate Reception. The Super Steelers would clash in the post-season with Don Shula’s Dolphins again before they ended their run in the 1979 AFC Divisional Playoff game. And the final time Chuck Noll would face his mentor Don Shula in the playoffs came at the Orange Bowl in January 1985 in another AFC Championship match up.
Neither Steelers-Dolphins AFC Championship game resulted in a trip to the Super Bowl for Pittsburgh, but the Black and Gold’s luck in the AFC Divisional round was markedly better. Now we’ll take a look at all three, plus a peek at Mike Tomlin’s record vs. the Dolphins.
1972 AFC Championship Game
January 31st, 1972 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 17, Miami 21
Given that I was only a few months old when during the first Steelers-Dolphins 1972 AFC Championship game From Black to Gold author Tim Gleason surprised me when he listed this game as the biggest playoff disappointment in Steelers history.
- After all, isn’t the Steelers 1994 AFC Championship loss to the Chargers Steelers Nation’s biggest post-season heartbreak?
While the Alfred Pupunu game certainly ranks, Gleason makes a compelling case for the Steelers 1972 New Year’s eve loss to the Dolphins. But Gleason argues that Don Shula’s famous 1972 undefeated Dolphins squad was in fact rather beatable, benefiting from the third easiest regular season schedule in NFL history that only had them play one winning team.
If the Steelers showed they could hang with the Dolphins, Chuck Noll’s playoff novices made a host of rookie mistakes. The Steelers got on the board first, but ominously Terry Bradshaw fumbled the ball but was saved by Gerry Mullins diving on it in the end zone. As the game wore on, Pittsburgh proved to be less capable of picking up after itself.
- Dwight White jumped off sides to negate a Jack Ham interception
- Dolphins punter Larry Seiple caught the Steelers flat footed on a 37-yard fake punt scramble
- Bob Griese came off the bench to hit Paul Warfield at Andy Russell’s expense to gouge the Steelers for 52 yards
- A blocked 4th quarter field goal prevented the Steelers from narrowing the score early in the 4th quarter
Terry Bradshaw had left the game in the first half with a concussion, but Terry Hanratty was unable to move the offense. Bradshaw returned, pulled the Steelers to within a touchdown with a 12 yard pass to Al Young. However, Bradshaw would throw interceptions on the next two drives ending Pittsburgh’s comeback hopes.
Not only did this game blunt the euphoria the Immaculate Reception had created a week earlier, but it also coincided with the tragic death of Roberto Clemente, who was probably the best baseball player in Pittsburgh’s history.
1979 AFC Divisional Playoffs
December 30th, 1979 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 34, Miami 14
Legendary Pittsburgh Post-Gazette scribe Vito Stellino likened this one to Michaelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. And why not? The Pittsburgh Steelers ran up a 20-0 score before Miami had even run its 8th play from scrimmage. As the first quarter reached its end, Miami had 2 yards of total offense; Pittsburgh had amassed 180.
- Even a bad call couldn’t disrupt the Steelers on that day.
In the third quarter the officials ruled that Dwayne Woodruff had touched a punt, when in fact replays showed he had not. The Dolphins recovered at the Steelers 11-yard line and scored their first touchdown of the day.
Not that it mattered. Terry Bradshaw immediately led them on a 69 yard drive that ended in a Rocky Bleier touchdown. Franco Harris opened the 4th quarter by scoring another touchdown. Miami answered with a touchdown of its own, but it was too little too late.
Jack Lambert, Joe Greene and Gary Dunn combined for 3 sacks on Bob Grisie while Woodruff and Dirt Winston intercepted him twice. After Super Bowl XIII Chuck Noll boldly proclaimed that “this team hasn’t peeked yet.”
The Steelers 1979 Divisional playoff win over the Dolphins proved that the Emperor had been right.
1984 AFC Championship Game
January 6th, 1985 @ The Orange Bowl
Pittsburgh 28, Miami 45
As EVERYONE knows Chuck Noll decided to draft Gabe Rivera instead of Dan Marino in the 1983 NFL Draft and his decision forced Pittsburgh to wait 20 years until it drafted its next Franchise Quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.
- But when the Steelers took to the field against the Dolphins in the 1984 AFC Championship, it seemed like that decision might not matter…. Seriously.
A year earlier, the 1983 Steelers had limped into the playoffs on the final throws remaining in Terry Bradshaw’s arm only to have the Los Angeles Raiders man handle them 38-10. Logic dictated that “Decline” would define the 1984 Steelers. Chuck Noll had other ideas.
- The 1984 Steelers might have only earned a 9-7 record, but they upset Bill Walsh’s 49ers and the defending Super Bowl Champion Raiders along the way.
A week before, Mark Malone spearheaded a dramatic upset of John Elway and Denver Broncos in Mile High. Yes, the Steelers had lost to the 1984 Dolphins 31-7 in early October, but the Steelers string of giant-slaying upsets showed that Pittsburgh had improved since then didn’t it?
The Steelers intended to use the same game plan that had seen them through to wins over the 49ers and Broncos – dominate at the line of scrimmage, control the clock and blitz the living daylights out of the quarterback.
- Walter Abercrombie, Frank Pollard and Rich Erenberg held up their end of the bargain, rushing for a combined 147 yards.
Unfortunately, that was about the only thing that worked for the Steelers. A week earlier against Denver, Keith Gary, David Little and Mike Merriweather had combined for 4 sacks of John Elway. The Steelers defense failed to land a glove on Dan Marino.
- To make matters worse, the Steelers couldn’t protect the ball, and the Dolphins capitalized.
Dan Marino had time to torch the Steelers defense for touchdown passes of 40, 41 and 26 yards. For much of the first half however, the Steelers feigned that they could match the Dolphins score for score. But Malone had opened the first half giving up an interception that allowed Miami to score first, and he closed the first half with another allowing Marino to stitch together a 3-play drive that gave them a 24-14 halftime lead.
The Dolphins scored 3 more touchdowns during the second half as the Steelers defense was powerless to slow, let alone stop the Miami juggernaut. In his final playoff game, John Stallworth had 4 catches for 111 yards including a 65 yard touchdown catch giving him league records for post season touchdown receptions and hundred yard games.
- The game also marked the final playoff appearances of Jack Lambert, Mike Webster, Larry Brown, Donnie Shell and Bennie Cunningham.
And, although Dan Rooney’s outlook following this game was rather rosy, the 1984 AFC Championship loss to the Dolphins also officially confirmed that, by not drafting Dan Marino, the Steelers wouldn’t enjoy back-to-back Super Bowl eras.
Mike Tomlin’s Record Against the Dolphins
Although it has been a long time since the Steelers and Dolphins have faced off in the playoffs, Mike Tomlin is no stranger to Miami, holding a 3-2 record against the Dolphins.
In 2007, the Steelers and Dolphins met on a soggy, rainy Heinz Field during Mike Tomlin’s first year as coach where the Steelers eked out a 0-3 win. The 2009 Steelers closed out their disappointing season with a 30-24 win over Miami that was pleasant, but insufficient to get them into the playoffs. In 2010, the Steelers won a 23-22 contest with controversial swirling over whether a fumble had been a fumble.
- Mike Tomlin has had a tougher time against Miami during the rebuild following Super Bowl XLV.
In 2013 the Steelers followed their Thanksgiving Day loss to the Ravens with an upset loss to the Dolphins — in the snow at Heinz Field. And back in October this same Pittsburgh Steelers team dropped a 30 to 15 decision to the Dolphins.