Even The Super Steelers Of The 70’s Needed Help Making The Playoffs From Time To Time

Judging by the title of this article, you probably think I’m going to recount all of the previous times the Steelers entered the final week or weeks of the regular season needing help from teams playing other teams in stadiums not occupied by the Steelers in-order to make the playoffs.

Sort of, but not really.

It is true that the 1989, 1993, 2005 and 2015 Steelers teams all needed help heading into the final regular season weekend, and they all got that help. But, then again, the 2000, 2009 and 2013 editions also needed other teams to be charitable, but the good will sadly wasn’t forthcoming (thank you, Ryan Succop).

steelers vs cowboys, super bowl xiii, super bowl 13, terry bradshaw, mike webster

Terry Bradshaw behind Mike Webster in Super Bowl XIII. Photo Credit: Al Messerschmidt

Yeah, so while many are bullish on the new Cleveland Browns and their chances of going to Baltimore this Sunday and taking out the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium (let’s not forget the Steelers have some business of their own against the Bengals at Heinz Field to take care of), Pittsburgh’s playoff chances are clearly hanging by the proverbial thread–and that is a precarious spot to be in.

  • Although, I will say this about the Browns: if any team is equipped mentally to perform this task, it’s them.

They’re not just some team that is used to barely finishing out of the playoffs–believe it or not, at 7-7-1, this is actually true for them. They’re likely not just another team looking forward to a tropical destination this January. They’re probably not even playing for pride–this is what veteran teams do. They’re a team full of youngsters who may actually be drunk on winning.

The Browns won a grand total of one game over the previous two seasons. These Browns are new to this whole winning thing, and I’m sure they’d like nothing more than to hold onto the feeling–even for just one more week. This is Cleveland’s Super Bowl. This is Cleveland’s chance to prove to the whole world that they’re a force to be reckoned with, both this Sunday and many future Sundays to come.

OK, that’s enough rationalizing for one article. Let’s get back to the task at hand: the 2018 Steelers need help this Sunday in-order to make the playoffs. How pathetic, right? Honest to God, this is the third time in the past six seasons Pittsburgh, despite the presences of studs like Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Cam Heyward, has AGAIN found itself in this position. How can this keep happening?

  • I’ll tell you how: life in the NFL. This is nothing unique to the Steelers.

In fact, most teams and most fan bases need a hand up and a handout from time to time…even the Steelers of the 1970’s, arguably the greatest football dynasty of all time.

That’s right. The Super Steelers team featuring Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mike Webster, Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert and Mel Blount needed help making the playoffs.

In the middle of their run of four Super Bowl titles in a six year span, the Steelers actually needed the help of others in-order to keep their playoff streak that would eventually reach eight years straight between 1972-1979 from being interrupted.

While the nine-game winning streak to close out the 1976 regular season was legendary–the defense yielded a grand total of 28 points over that span as the team rebounded from a 1-4 start to begin the year–Pittsburgh wouldn’t have made the postseason and wouldn’t have had a chance to win a third-straight Super Bowl if the Raiders, the team’s biggest rival of the 1970’s, wouldn’t have defeated the Bengals in the penultimate game.

The Steelers were Oakland’s biggest obstacle to championship success at that time, and with an 11-1 record and nothing much to play for, it would have been easy to roll over and allow Cincinnati to seize the old AFC Central Division title. But to the Raiders credit, they took care of business, paving the way for a postseason rematch with Pittsburgh–a rematch in-which the Silver and Black came out victorious on the way to their first Lombardi trophy.

A year later, Pittsburgh entered its final regular season game needing a victory and, again, a Cincinnati loss in-order to make the playoffs. The Bengals were playing fellow AFC Central rivals, the Oilers. Unlike the Raiders a year earlier, Houston had absolutely nothing at stake and nothing to play for. A victory by the Bengals would improve their record to 9-5 and earn them a division title over Pittsburgh based on a tiebreaker.

  • To their credit, the Oilers took care of Cincinnati, and the Steelers were once again AFC Central Division champions and playoff bound.

You might not think it’s that big a deal that Pittsburgh almost missed the playoffs a couple of times back in the ’70’s. But, remember, the “Same Old Steelers” days of the 1960’s weren’t that far in the rear-view mirror.

Even though Dan Rooney was now running the team and not his father, owner Art Rooney Sr., the legendary lovable loser who took care of things for the better part of 40 miserable seasons, it may have been easy to panic and revert back to the old ways of doing business–for example, firing head coach Chuck Noll, who had just been sued by the Raiders George Atkinson for his “criminal element” comment, a comment that eventually led to Noll, under oath, admitting that Mel Blount and some other Steeler players were also part of that element.

  • You may also think I’m being a bit disingenuous with this article.

After all, only four teams made the playoffs from each conference in those days, and it was easier to miss out from time to time. True, but teams didn’t have to deal with free agency or a salary cap, either.

Point is, parity has been a part of the NFL since the days of Pete Rozelle, the legendary commissioner, and not even the Steelers of the 1970’s were immune to it.

It’s just plain hard to make the playoffs in the NFL, and even a dynasty needs some help from time to time.

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Did the 30-23 1985 Steelers Redskins Loss “Officially” Begin 80’s Mediocrity?

[Editors Note:  Tony Defeo expands on Steelers history vs Washington Redskins ahead of Pittsburgh’s 2016 opener on Monday Night Football @ FedEx Field]

Redskins 30, Steelers 23, November 24, 1985, Three Rivers Stadium 

After reaching the AFC Championship game a year earlier, the Steelers were limping along over the first half of the 1985 season, with a 3-5 record.Quarterback Mark Malone literally was limping, after injuring his foot in a loss to the Bengals in Week 8 and would be out of action an indefinite amount of time.

However, Pittsburgh responded behind veteran David Woodley and rattled off three-straight victories to improve to 6-5. Much like a year earlier, when the Steelers won the old AFC Central with a 9-7 record, it wasn’t going to take a double-digit win total to repeat as division champions. Unfortunately, Woodley came down with a stomach virus prior to the Week 12 match-up with the Redskins at Three Rivers Stadium, and third-stringer Scott Campbell was thrust into the spotlight.

 

Mark Malone, David Woodley, Scott Campbell, 1985 Steelers quarterbacks

NFL.com rated the ’85 Steelers quarterbacks as 5th worst trio ever. Photo Credit: NFL.com

Things didn’t start off well, as Ken Jenkins returned the opening kickoff 95 yards down to the Pittsburgh three-yard line. Running back George Rogers finished things off by plunging in from the one-yard line to make it 7-0, Redskins before most in attendance had even found their seats.

After a 22-yard Gary Anderson field goal cut Washington’s deficit to four, the special teams onslaught continued for the visitors, when Otis Wonsley blocked a Harry Newsome punt, and the Redskins took over at the Pittsburgh 19. Moments later, Jay Schroeder, like Campbell, making his first career start, found tight end Clint Didier for an 18-yard touchdown pass to extend Washington’s lead to 14-3.

Pittsburgh trailed 17-3 in the second quarter, when Campbell threw two quick touchdown passes–one to receiver Louis Lipps for five yards, and one to running back Rich Erenberg for nine-yards–to tie the score at 17.

However, an interception by Campbell in the final moments of the first half along with a personal foul on defensive lineman Keith Willis paved the way for a 39-yard field goal for Mosley, and the Redskins led by three at the break.

Running back John Riggins scored on a one-yard touchdown in the third quarter to give the Redskins a 10-point lead. Pittsburgh’s offense could only muster a couple of Anderson field goals in the second half, as Campbell threw two more picks, and Washington held on for a 30-23 victory.

For the day, Campbell completed 15 of 25 passes for 224 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. “Its a tough situation to be thrown in there like that, but you’ve got to be ready to play,” said Campbell of his first career start on very short notice. 

  • The loss dropped the Steelers to 6-6, and they never recovered, finishing out of the playoffs with a 7-9 record (their first losing season in 14 years).

Whenever I think back on the early-to-mid ’80s Steelers who were still trudging along after their Super Bowl years, the 1985 Steelers Redskins loss seems signal the turning-point of the 1980’s Steelers from still competitive team to a team that flirted with being downright abysmal….

…Over the next three seasons, the Steelers team would finish with records of 6-10, 6-6 and 5-11 in non-strike games over the next three seasons. The slide into mediocrity really did start with the 1985 Steelers Redskins loss.

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RIP Buddy Ryan: Buddy Ryan’s Record vs Steelers Shows Pittsburgh Struggling vs. 46 Defense

NFL defensive mastermind Buddy Ryan passed away this week as the league mourned one of its most creative, colorful and cantankerous personalities in a generation. The Pittsburgh Steelers only stood on opposite side lines to Buddy Ryan five times and perhaps Steelers Nation should give thanks for that..

  • Buddy Ryan’s record vs. the Steelers tells tale of one-sided domination.

This site prefers to celebrate and commemorate Steelers successes, but Buddy Ryan simply had the Pittsburgh Steelers number. Sure, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Bennie Cunningham and Jim Smith might have hung 38 points on Ryan when he was defensive coordinator of the 1980 Chicago Bears. But the Steelers were 4 time Super Bowl Champions and the Bears were 4 years away from a winning record.

  • Make no mistake about it, Buddy Ryan and his 46 defense owned Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher’s Steelers.

When Chuck Noll’s 1988 Steelers took their 2-8 record down the Turnpike to face Buddy Ryan’s Philadelphia Eagles, Ryan showed no mercy as his defenders sacked Bubby Brister 4 times and intercepted him another for good measure. The Steelers did hold a narrow lead going into the 4th quarter but the Eagles won 24 to 23.

Buddy Ryan Breifly Revives Steelers-Oilers Rivalry

Pittsburgh paid little mind when Houston Oiler’s named Buddy Ryan defensive coordinator early in’93 off season. They should have because Buddy Ryan was about to reignite a revival of the Steelers-Oilers rivalry that was as intense as it was brief.

buddy ryan, buddy ryan vs. steelers, 86 defense, 1993 steelers

Buddy Ryan and Michael Barrow during Ryan’s stint as Houston Oilers defensive coordinator; Photo Credit: John Makely, Houston Chronicle

In the late 80’s the Giants, Redskin and Eagles vied for supremacy in NFC East and interesting divisional dynamic emerged. Bill Parcell’s Giants had an edge on the Redskins, the Redskins had an edge on the Eagles, and the Eagles edge on the Giants. In other words, Buddy Ryan knew how to defend against Ron Erhardt, and Ron Erhardt was Bill Cowher’s first offensive coordinator.

  • The first matchup came on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 1993 on Sunday Night Football.

The Steelers and Oilers were going toe-to-toe for AFC Central supremacy, and it wasn’t even close. Oiler’s “only” won 23 to 3, but that doesn’t even begin to detail their domination, as the Oilers sacked Neil O’Donnell 4 times and Mike Tomczak two more times. Houston limited Steelers running backs Leroy Thompson and Merril Hoge gained 38 yards on the ground.

  • The Steelers in fact pulled O’Donnell, put him back in the game, then pulled him again.

Ernie Mills, Jeff Graham, and Dwight Stone dropped multiple passes including one in the end zone that saw Jeff Graham have the ball hit him in the hands, bounce off his face mask, and then slip again through is hands. Late in the game a Houston defender removed Mike Tomczak’s helmet, put him in a headlock and punch him.

  • The Steelers rallied behind, “We play them again.”

Play them they did. Perhaps their best effort of the game was Gary Anderson’s deep kickoff. The 26 to 17 final score makes it look like the Steelers were competitive. Those 17 points were pure garbage time glory. The Oilers schooled the Steelers in every sense of the word.

Again Oilers defenders dropped O’Donnell and Tomczak 6 times, while O’Donnell threw a pick six. The Steelers lost Greg Lloyd in a game that had seen him deliver Gary Brown a full force hit that failed to even slow that one-season wonder.

After the game, Buddy Ryan boasted, “I thought Pittsburgh would play more physical than they did. All the talk they do, they just don’t walk the walk.”

Few Can Match Buddy Ryan’s Record vs Steelers

Steelers fans hoped in vain for a third shot at Buddy Ryan in the 1993 playoffs, but the Steelers would tangle with Buddy Ryan one final time in 1994 season on Ryan’s final NFL stop as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

Dan Rooney has stated that the Steelers trip to Arizona in 1994 was the first time he noticed an unusual number of Steelers fan in an opposing stadium. At the time however, the game was known for several bizarre plays. One was failed fake field goal that saw Gary Anderson gain his only 3 yards rushing in 23 NFL seasons — it fell short of the first down. Another was Eric Green running out of bounds with a clear shot at the end zone simply because he ran out of gas.

  • Those blunders, pared with some uncanny turnovers led to 20 to 17 Steelers over time loss.

Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense didn’t dominate the Steelers in that final match up as it had a season before, nonetheless, they did drop Neil O’Donnell to the turf 4 times. More importantly, they bettered Buddy Ryan’s lifetime record against the Steelers to 4-1.

  • There are not too many coaches who stood opposite Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher who can boast that kind of winning percentage, but Buddy Ryan can.

Buddy Ryan self-assuredness made Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick look humble by comparison. But when it came to confronting the Steelers, Buddy Ryan walked the walk, and talked the talk. May Buddy Ryan rest in peace as Steel Curtain Rising offers his sons Rob and Rex Ryan its sympathy and prayers.

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Steelers Antonio Brown Not Forgiving Vontaze Burfict or Adam “Pacman” Jones

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 season has been over for several weeks, and one of the few real bits of news to come out during the 2016 off season is that was Art Rooney II’s confirmation that Antonio Brown has cleared NFL concussion protocols.

In a word, Antonio Brown is not in a forgiving mood. In an interview with KDKA FM Brown pulled no punches regarding his feelings about the hit that cost him a chance to play in the Steelers loss to Denver:

Guys don’t want to stop me anymore. They want to take me out. They want to kill me. They want to steal my dreams. They want to ruin me. They want to end me, but we’re not gonna let them. What we are gonna do is win more.

Brown cleared up any confusion over the conflicting reports over whether he had a chance to play. National reporters quickly reported that Brown would miss the game, while Pittsburgh reporters insisted their was a possibility Brown would suit up. As it was, Brown confirmed that he had zero chance of playing.

Brown also confirmed that Adam “Pacman” Jones, who had accused Brown of faking his injury, had apologized to him. Brown did not respond, and questioned why the media gave Adam “Pacman” Jones such a platform.

Cincinnati Bengals the New Jerry Glanville Oilers?

Bad blood in division rivalries is nothing new to the Pittsburgh Steelers in either the AFC North or its processor division, the old AFC Central. In 1976, with Terry Bradshaw already out injured, the Cleveland Browns dumped Mike Kruczek on his head in a late hit and Jack Lambert ran the length of the bench to “Deliver the punishment.” A decade later Chuck Noll would openly call out Houston Oilers coach Jerry Glanville.

  • Glanville’s Oilers were the bad boys of the AFC Central in the late 1980’s, everyone hated them.

Yours truly can remember one interview where a Bengals player admitted that he almost wished injuries on the Glanville’s players, who was reputed to encourage his men to injury to opposition. Former Bengals coach Sam Wyche once went so far as to call an on-sides kick with the Bengals leading 45-0 in the third quarter. The Bengals recovered, and Wyche went for it on fourth down at mid field.

  • With Vontaze Burfict leading the way, the Cincinnati Bengals of this decade appear to be mimicking their former rivals.

Burfict reportedly celebrated after a tackle he made on Le’Veon Bell that ended his season. Video tape suggests that he attempted to injure Ben Roethlisberger. For those of you keeping score, those are three hits which, deliberately or not, injured the top three Steelers offensive starters.

Kudos to Antonio Brown for not forgiving Vontaze Burfict or Adam “Pacman” Jones. Football is a physical game and a violent game, but playing with the intent to injury should never be part of that game.

And Kudos to Antoion Brown for focusing on what’s most important, revenge through victory on the score board, not through cheap shots.

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Chuck Noll vs Jerry Glanville Revisited

Bill Cowher won the affection of Steelers Nation because the fist-pumping, Chin Out, spit in your face coach acted out what every fan felt.

Chuck Noll personified stoicism. Noll neither ranted nor raved, didn’t high five, and rarely raised his voice. His glare, however, could melt iron.

The news of the NFL in mid October 2011 was of course the post-game handshake fracas between Jim (don’t call him John) Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz.

Nice little bit of three-penny theater no doubt, but seriously, is this the best you can do guys?

  • Back in the old AFC Central, head coaches knew how to call one another out.

On December 20th 1987 the Steelers traveled to the Houston Astrodome in a must-win game vs. the Oilers. The Steelers of course lost that day 24-16.

But that’s not what angered Chuck Noll. Oilers head coach Jerry Glanville was new the league, and made little pretension about being one of the league’s bad boys.

Glanville, it was accused, not only encouraged his men to hit hard, but to attempt to injure. After the game, Noll let him know what he thought about it (available as of 5/24/15):

It took a lot to get a rise out of Chuck Noll, but Jerry Glanville did it. It’s hard to know what he said, but one can almost discern “go after your as_.”

The Post-Gazette ran an AP article at the time which reported that Noll said such “tactics “will come back to haunt you. I’m serious.’” The Post-Gazette as reorted that Noll had also apparently issued a challenge via Oilers cornerback Steve Brown to go toe-to-toe with Glanville on the slide lines.

The Chuck Noll vs Jerry Glanville feud would rage on for three more seasons, with Glanville’s Oiler’s delivering some bitter beatings at Three Rivers Stadium in ’88 and ’89, and Noll striking back with stunning upsets in 1988 and of course in the 1989 Steelers Divisional Playoff victory over the Oilers at the Astrodome which cost Glanville his job.

It Harbaugh vs. Schwarts made for good television, no doubt.

But those guys were amateurs.

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Reflections on the Steelers-Ravens Rivalry

Tuesday: Mike Tomlin declares the Steelers-Ravens rivalry to be the “Best in the NFL.”

Wednesday: Ravens All-Star linebacker Ray Lewis reveals that he’s been texting Ben Roethlisberger offering his support.

Contradiction? The way most NFL fans like to imagine things, almost certainly.

A product of changing times? Another possibility, but maybe this has more to do with the collective memory preferences of NFL fans above a certain age.

Division rivalries, it seems, are like memories. They’re real, but instead of being something that you can put your hands on, they’re something to be experienced.

All of which makes them so difficult to define. Here’s a shot at it anyway.

Division Rivalries of Yesteryear

Upon reading Ed Bouchette’s story that Ray Lewis was offering support to Ben Roethlisberger my first thought was, “They don’t make division rivalries like they used to.”

Fans above, say 30, remember an age when things were different, or at least portrayed differently. Yours truly falls into both categories, as Steel Curtain Rising’s tribute to the 1989 Steelers testifies.

A year ago, in writing about the Steelers-Browns rivalry I had this to say:

Division rivalries are not what they used to be.

Certainly the bitterness between Baltimore and Pittsburgh runs deep. But the intensity of the Steelers modern day rivalry with the Ravens arises from the reality these two teams have been the biggest boys on the block in the AFC Central/North for a decade.

In 1989, it was different.

The hatred between the Steelers and the Browns wasn’t so much part of the job description; it was hardwired into the men’s DNA.

And that only scratches the surface. Who can forget the Browns blatant late, out of bounds hit on Mike Kruczek, and Jack Lambert’s furious reprisal?

Ah, those were the days, right?

Division Rivalries at Point-Blank Range

During this week’s chat on PG Plus with Gerry Dulac, Steel Curtain Rising probed the veteran Steeler journalist for his reaction to the apparent contradiction between Tomlin’s pronouncement and Ray Lewis’ support for Ben Roethlisberger.

Dulac’s response was surprising to say the least (apologies for the quality of the screen shot):

On the one-hand, it is hard to argue with someone who has been covering the Steelers since the 70’s. Logic demands that we accept that Gerry Dulac is in a far better position to know than you or I.

Still, part of me longs to resist this latent reality.

After all, isn’t this the same division (under a different name) that saw the normally unflappable Chuck Noll call out Jerry Glanville on the floor of the AstroDome?

Didn’t Sam Wyche once admonish fans in Cincinnati for throwing things on the field by comparing them to Cleveland Browns fans? The same Sam Wyche who a few weeks later ordered an on-sides kick against Glanville’s Oilers while leading 45-0?

Shifting sports, the news about Lewis and Roethlisberger calls to mind an interview with Kevin McHale before his final season with the Celtics, where he lamented, “You know, I liked it when we hated the Lakers… Now everyone has the same agent and hugs and kisses before and after the games.”

Sorry Gerry, but I can’t accept you word. They don’t make division rivalries like they used to….

…Or Do they?

It Was Never As Good As It Was in the Good Old Days

Reminiscing about how good things were in the Good Old Days dates back to Greek Mythology and probably beyond that.

And that brings me back to Gerry Dulac’s final statement.

“Just because you now know that Lewis and Big Ben have been texting, do you think those past games between the teams were any less nasty or violent??”

Free agency might have take a slight edge off of division rivalries overall, and technology has probably weakened the façade that they once presented.

But no one in his right mind would dispute Dulac’s statement about the intensity of the Steelers-Ravens rivalry on the field.

I will not predict what will happen on the scoreboard Sunday at Heinz Field, but I say this with certainty.

  • The hits will be hard. The play will be intense. And the final outcome will likely remain in doubt until the final gun.

In other words, on Sunday afternoon the banks of Pittsburgh’s North Shore will feature the very the essence of a division rivalry.

Just like it did in days long gone bye, and just like it will in days to come.

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Steelers Defeat Titans 19-11, in Tennesse

Regardless of our demise being reported, we expect to win…. We’re a little bit annoyed to be quite honest about our premature reporting of our death.Mike Tomlin

Raise your hands, raise them high where everyone can see them. How many people penciled in a big “L” for today when the schedule was released?

How many people thought, with a 1-8 record in Nashville, and without Roethlisberger, that the Steelers didn’t stand a chance?

Come on, raise those hands, I know I’ve raised mine.

They’d never admit it, but there are probably several people in the Steelers organization who also wrote this one off as an “L,” although there’s no way to be certain.

One thing, however, is certain,

  • Mike Tomlin wasn’t one of them.

Play of the Game

The Steelers set the tone early and decisively by calling a reverse on the opening kick off which rookie Antonio Brown took 83 yards for the game’s only touchdown.

Those seven points proved to be vital down the stretch but, beyond the points, the message implicit was equally important, “We are not conceding this game.”

Once the special teams established the tone, the defense simply dominated.

The Spirit of Shayne Edge Lives On

The Steelers and the Titans used to be Division rivals dating back to the Titan’s days as the Houston Oilers in the old AFC Central.

The animosity between the two teams heated up a notch when the Oilers moved to Tennessee. How do we know?

In their first game after the move to the Volunteer State had been announced, Shayne Edge, the Steelers backup punter, got ejected from the game for fighting – you know things are bitter when your punter gets tossed from the game for mixing it up.

Today’s game lacked nothing for intensity, with the sideline scuffles and hard hits. It was everything a game with the Titans should be.

Defense Delivers, Defense Dominates

So sometimes when people write that we’re not going to be very good or maybe they’ll go 2-2 or 1-3 when Ben out, that’s a lot of the stuff that pisses us off.” – Chris Hoke

Everyone knew that the Steelers would need to lean on their defense and lean on them hard. What no one could be quite sure about, was whether the unit would deliver.

Today we have that answer, and as a result the Roethlisbergerless Steelers are 2-0.

Any adjective attached to Chris Johnson’s name will fail to do him justice. Not only did he run for 2000 plus yards in his sophomore season, he entered today’s game with a 5.3 yards-per-carry average.

Emmit Smith’s was lower at a comparable point in his career, and Johnson’s average even best’s Barry Sanders’ by a hair. The Bus? Not even close.

When you face a player of Johnson’s caliber the old ESPN NFL PrimeTime adage is, “You can’t hope to stop him, you can only hope to contain him.”

  • Don’t tell that to Dick LeBeau’s defense, who stopped Johnson cold.

And they did it missing their starting nose tackle and while rotating in Nick Eason, Ziggy Hood, and Steve McClendon.

The Steel Curtain, 2010 edition played a flawless game, led by Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and Troy Polamalu. This group of players were relentless. Relentless in containing Johnson, relentless in pounding receivers, relentless in tormenting Titans quarterbacks Vince Neil and Kerry Collins.

The scoreboard might show 11 points, but in truth, the Steelers defense pitched a near shutout.

Given that it came so early in the season, against a team of undefined quality, it may never get recognized as such, but this may have very well been one of the finest defensive performances in franchise history.

Offense, Half Full or Half Empty?

Man, I don’t know who we had in there for a spell there.” – Mike Tomlin on the injuries to the offensive line.

When your defense causes 7 turnovers, you have the right to expect your team to score 30 or more points. Instead, the Steelers offense put up 12, all off of Jeff Reed’s foot.

The numbers behind those points look even more grim, as the Steelers:

  • Went 2-15 on third downs (that’s 13%),
  • Gave up 4 sacks,
  • averaged a collective 2.65 yards a carry when you take out Dennis Dixon’s 21 yards scramble

Steelers Nation should not ignore the warning signs implicit in these stats, but nor should they be taken with undue alarm.

Mendenhall ground out 23 carries and earned a respectable 3.0 yard average against a very tough front seven that knew the Steelers were going to run the ball.

Charlie Batch might have only gone 5 for 11, but he has seen little time with the first unit, and was playing, at times, with 3rd and 4th string tackles Tony Hills and Jonathan Scott. And while their play left a lot to be desired, Tony Hills has made tremendous strides, and could have done worse in his first real NFL action.

Above all, the offense avoided any costly mistakes.

The offense is going to need to do more in the future, but against the Titans it was enough to carry the day.

It is good to be 2-0.

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1989 Steelers Squash Patriots, 28-10

In the late 1980’s “Dave the Predictor” of the “Harris in the Morning” show on Washington’s WCXR offered “Office Pool Picks” every Friday morning. With the internet years away and the Steelers getting little national coverage, I listened intently to the picks, hoping to gleam a shred of insight into the Steelers fortunes for the coming Sunday.

  • Although I fondly remember “Dave the Predictor,” up until that point he had gone the entire 1989 season without picking the Steelers once.

And despite the fact that the Steelers were 7-7 and the Patriots were 4-10, “Dave the Predictor” still picked New England over Pittsburgh.

WCXR’s signal certainly did not reach from the Washington area to Pittsburgh, but perhaps a fair number of Pittsburghers shared in the skepticism, as only 26,594 people braved the -12 wind chill, making it the Steelers smallest crowd on record at Three Rivers Stadium.

Banner Day for the Steelers Offense

What a shame that so few turned out, because this was the first in a series of contests between the Steelers and Patriots that marked either important milestones or turning points for the men in Black and Gold (to read more about Steelers-Patriots history, click here.)

In this case, it was the the game where the Steelers offense, much maligned through out the NFL during 1989, came alive.

Tim Worley had his second 100 yard game and scored a touchdown. Merril Hoge was close behind, adding 63 yards, and two touchdowns. Louis Lipps added 58 more and another touchdown on a 58 yard reverse.

Bubby Brister only managed 165 yards passing that day on 16 attempts, but Brister made each pass count. Hitting Mike Mularkey twice four 40 yards, and rookies Derrick Hill once for 33 yards and Mark stock another time for 23 yards.

The Steelers defense relentlessly hammered the New England Patriots as Tim Johnson, David Little, and Aaron Jones each sacked Marc Wilson. Cornerbacks Dwayne Woodruff and rookie David Johnson each nabbed interceptions.

The Steelers in fact kept New England out of the end zone until giving up a garbage yard touchdown in the game’s final two minutes.

  • It was the Steelers best day offensively, and it was also the day that the team perked its record above .500 for the first time.

That was good, but they were still last in the AFC Central, as Bud Carson’s Cleveland Browns defeated the Minnesota Vikings to improve their record to 8-6-1. Cincinnati trounced the Houston Oilers 61-7, improving their record to 8-7, but the Oilers retained a 9-6 division lead.

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Oilers Get 4th Timeout, Beat ’89 Steelers 23-16

This was the one everyone had waited for. When Chuck Noll dedicated the Steelers to securing a playoff spot when they were 4-6, there was no question which of Pittsburgh’s remaining six games was the biggest.

It was their December 3rd match up with the Houston Oilers.

Chuck Noll and Jerry Glanville

If it is safe to say that in 1989 rivalry between the Steelers and Browns ran deeper and still held the most intensity, it is also safe to say that the passion on the surface for the rivalry with the Oilers was hotter.

Jerry Glanville, with his showboat tactics and overt encouragement of dirty play was the antithesis of Chuck Noll. Noll and Bud Carson might have had their differences, and you can sure bet that Carson enjoyed the post-game hand sake after defeating his former mentor 51-0 in the season opener. But Noll and Carson certainly respected one another.

Houston so thoroughly thrashed the Steelers in week 7, that the 27-0 score betrayed the lopsidedness of the contest.

In week 12, the Steelers were 6-6 and the Oilers 7-5 clinging to a narrow lead in the division. A win would knock Houston down a peg, and give Steelers another divisional win to help with those all-important tie breakers.

It was time for Pittsburgh to show the NFL they were for real.

Steelers Start Strong, But Oilers Finish on Top, with Help

And the Steelers began the game doing just that, jumping to a 10 point lead on the strength of a Gary Anderson field goal, and a Merrill Hoge touchdown.

But Houston fought back, they scored two touchdowns late in the first half, although on the latter touchdown drive an official’s error awarded Houston an extra time out.

The Steelers marched the length of the field twice in the second half, but both times were forced to settle for Gary Anderson field goals, although the latter one tied the score, late in the fourth quarter.

  • But Houston struck back, marching 80 yards to score a touchdown with 21 seconds remaining to give them the lead with 21 seconds left to go.

Houston of course would hold on to that lead, and improve their record to 8-5 while the Steelers, with three games left, were knocked back into the losing side of .500.

At 6-7 sitting in last place in the AFC Central the odds of the Steelers making the playoffs were discouraging.

But the men in Black and Gold remained undaunted.

To read the entire series on the 1989 Steelers, click here (and remember to scroll down.)

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A Video Tribute to the Old AFC Central

Steel Curtain Rising is pleased to share with youa tribute to the old AFC Central.

It aired 20 years ago today, on the occasion of the 1989 Steelers second regular season game against the rival Houston Oilers.

Narrated by the legendary Pete Axethelm, one of the men who helped put ESPN’s NFL GameDay on the map prior to his untimely death in the early 1990’s.

So sit back and take two and a half minutes to revel and reminisce about the days when division rivalries didn’t simply represent rallying points for the fans, but real blood vendetta’s for the players.

No wonder Tunch Ilkin found his way to broadcasting. Is there any better way to describe Jerry Glanville than as a “water moccasin?”

We think not.

To read Steel Curtain Rising’s entire tribute to the 1989 Steelers, click here.

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