Retrospective on The Steelers 1989 Season – An Introduction

As regular readers know, Steel Curtain Rising is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Steelers 1989 season.

Our first article detailing the Steelers 1989 draft ran in July. We followed in August, with another article which provided the backdrop to the 1989 season.

Judging by the number of Google hits and the number of reader comments, this is going to be a popular series, and Steel Curtain Rising is excited to bring it to you.

Why the Steelers 1989 Season?

Steelers Nation is fortunate to follow a team with a very simple definition of success: Did Pittsburgh win a Super Bowl? Yes = a successful season. No = No.

Given that, might be odd to celebrate a season that ended with a loss in the divisional playoffs?

Perhaps so.

Much about that the Steelers 1989 season defied normal. After all:

  • The Steelers 1989 draft class made a tremendous impact…

…only to fade quickly in later seasons, save for a few gems.

  • Opposing teams out gained the 1989 Steelers for 10 straight weeks…

…yet the Steelers went 4-5 during that stretch.

  • The Steelers offense was shut out 3 times during the season…

…on three other occasions, the Steelers offense brought the team from behind.

  • They started out losing to the Browns and Bengals by a score of 92-10…

…those same Steelers finished a dropped pass away from the AFC Championship game.

An Incredible Story

How were they able to do it? No one knows for sure, but look deeper and you’ll see a story of men, players and coaches who believed in one another and believed in themselves, and who always refused to say “Quit.”

  • Ultimately, it is a testament to the coaching genius of the Emperor, one Charles Henry Noll.

That’s an incredible story. And one that does not always get its due. When Chuck Noll retired in 1991, if memory serves, only one Pittsburgh columnist (Gene Collier I think) gave 1989 season significant attention.

The brief bio on Chuck Noll that followed the NFL Films 1992 Steelers highlight film only devoted a sentence to the 1989 season.

And, if memory serves, the Post-Gazette’s Steelers 75 Year Anniversary series didn’t do a full-length article on it either.

Steel Curtain Rising is Happy to Fill the Void

On the Thursday of each week, Steel Curtain Rising will post an article telling the story of the game that was played on that day 20 years ago. (This week we’ll run the article on Wednesday, in deference to the Steelers home opener.)

Player profiles and other goodies will come as time allows.

Along the way you’ll be able to follow the entire series by clicking on the Steelers 1989 season tag. And of course, Steel Curtain Rising invites you to share your memories and insights from that season.

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History of Steelers Titans Rivalry

The Steelers Titans rivalry may never have read the level of intensity of the Steelers-Ravens rivalry and might not have the historic roots of the Steelers-Browns rivalry or the Steelers-Raiders rivalry, but bad blood festered between the two teams during the final years of the AFC Central.

  • And regardless of the division, games against the Titans are always hard hitting affairs.

You could fill a small book with anecdotes from Steelers-Oilers rivalry; suffice to say, Bud Adam’s decision to move his team to Tennessee only intensified the tension between these the tension between these two teams.

  • While the Steelers may lead the series 41 to 29, the naked truth is that the Titans have dominated since arriving in the Volunteer State, to the tune of 12-7.

This once and future rivalry has created some glory, but a lot more pain for the Steelers. Click below to relive any one of  these key moments in the Steelers Titans rivalry, or scroll down to read them all.

1996 Oilers at Pittsburgh – The Punter Mixes it Up

This was the last time the Houston Oilers visited Three Rivers Stadium and the contest was billed by then NBC studio commentator Joe Gibbs as the game that was to preface the changing of the guard in the AFC Central. The teams played as if division supremacy was indeed at stake. Steelers win, 30-16.

  • Substitute punter Shayne Edge gets throw out of the game for fighting – you know there is bad blood when your punter gets ejected.

1997 Titans at Pittsburgh – Tennessee’s First Visit to Three Rivers Stadium

This was Tennessee’s first trip to Three Rivers, although as the “Tennessee Oilers” Steelers win 37-24.

  • Greg Lloyd makes his first splash play of the 1997 season, with a long fumble return.

1997 Steelers Close Season at Tennessee – Bettis Puts Team First

This was a meaningless game, as the Steelers had all but locked up the AFC Central crown. The Steelers lose 16-6.

  • With 1,665 yards rushing Jerome Bettis could have easily taken a shot at Barry Foster’s single season Steelers rushing record of 1,690. The Bus instead puts prudence over pride and decides to rest for the game.

1998 Titans at Pittsburgh – Is the Giant is Slipping….?

The Steelers bring a 5-2 record into this game, fresh off an impressive 20-13 win over Kansas City on Monday Night Football. But the Steelers performance has been inconsistent thus far, as Kordell Stewart looks lost under center, and all but refuses to throw the long ball. The Steelers come out sleep walking, and Eddie George shreds the Steelers run defense. Tennessee wins 41-31.

  • Kordell Stewart flaunts his immaturity, claiming that he played a good game, his three interceptions not withstanding.

1998 Steelers at Tennessee – …Yes the Giant has Slipped

For all intents and purposes, this game comes down to a missed field goal by replacement kicker Matt George that would have put the Steelers within six to win. But the simple fact is that the Steelers did not get it done. Tennessee wins 23-14.

  • The Steelers almost always found a way to win the close ones under Bill Cowher. Although the Steelers rebound to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars in the succeeding week, the fact is that the losses to the Tennessee signal that the Steelers are no longer contenders.

1999 Steelers at Tennessee – Mayhem in the Secondary

Titans win 16-10. The four point difference in this game should fool no one. If you want to know how this game went consider this:

  • Safeties Scott Shields and Travis Davis have a Tennessee receiver (Chris Sanders?) in double coverage deep downfield. Both of them either have a chance to make a play on the ball or land a hellacious hit. Neither player does either. Instead, they more or less freeze as Sanders gets a 46 yard reception to set up a score.

1999 Titans at Pittsburgh – Steelers Become a Side Show

This game was actually played on January 2nd, 2000. If the Steelers had looked lackluster since losing to the expansion Browns at mid-season, they play a spirited game. And that is the problem. The team is horrendously undisciplined and unsettlingly soft at the core. Consider:

  • Bobby Shaw catches a garbage time touchdown and celebrates by lifting his jersey to show off a Superman shirt.
  • Levon Kirkland, all 280 plus pounds of him, intercepts a Neil O’Donnell pass inside the 20, and lets the former Steelers quarterback muscle him out of bounds.

2000 Titans at Pittsburgh – From Glee to Grief in Two or Three Throws

The Steelers have started the 2000 0-2 getting defeated by the to-be champion Baltimore Ravens and upset by the Browns in Cleveland. They have been left for dead by most of the NFL, and many in the Pittsburgh media have started a deathwatch vigil on Bill Cowher’s job. Tennessee arrives for this final game at Three Rivers stadium as defending AFC Champions, and the Steelers fight tooth and nail, only to be heart broken, 20-23

  • Steelers Nation rejoices as Jason Gildon slams Neil O’Donnell to the turf, drawing blood…
  • …Celebration turns to agony when O’Donnell’s injury brings Steve McNair onto the field. McNair only needs only five throws to take the Titans to the end zone and put them on top for good.

2000 Steelers at Tennessee – The Virtue of Disappointment

After losing in the final moment of week three to the Titans, the Steelers show their tenacity in that game, loss notwithstanding, was no fluke. They arrive in Nashville with a five game winning streak only to lose 9 to 7.

  • Bill Cowher states that after the game his team is more disappointed than it was during previous losses – and this is a good thing, because it reveals that the Steelers are once again accustomed to winning.

2001 Titans at Pittsburgh – A Corner of Steelers Nation Goes Global

Plaxico Burress, of modern day “shoot thyself with an unlicensed hand gun in a night club” fame has done everything thing possible to earn the “bust” label that has followed him since he was drafted… Until today. Burress has a breakout game as the Steelers win 34-7.

  • Most will either remember the game as the day Dennis Miller got the key to the city of Pittsburgh, or the first Monday Night Football game at Heniz Field. But it marks another milestone. It is the first game that yours truly watches the Steelers from Buenos Aires. An ESPNDeportes tape delay means that game is shown at 2:00 am locally, but we dutifully rise to watch and the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Buenos Aires is born!

2002 Steelers at Tennessee – Tommy Gun Caught in the Crossfire

Tommy Maddox, of XFL Fame, has come off the bench to rescue a season that appeared doomed after the Steelers opened the season with to back losses to the Patriots and Radiers.

In fact, Maddox takes the league by storm lighting up opposing offenses, to the point where commentators begin to suggest that perhaps the Steelers are scoring too quickly with him under center. Unfortunately, Maddox takes a vicious hit that leaves him momentarily paralyzed on the field. Titans win in 31-23.

  • Although Maddox is not permanently injured, and does return to lead the Steelers to the playoffs, he is never quite the same.
  • Also, coming off the bench, Kordell Stewart almost brings the team back. In fact, he’ll play his best two games as a professional in relief of Maddox.

2002 playoffs, Steelers at Tennessee – And the Oscar Goes to…. Joe Nedely

The Steelers fall behind early, but claw their way back in a pure dog fight that sees James Farrior land straight on his head, and Hines Ward throw a two point conversion pass. The game goes into overtime as the Titans win, 34-31.

  • The Steelers make a clean block attempt on Joe Needley as he misses his first attempt at a game winning field goal. Needley takes soccer player like dive, drawing a penalty. Given a second chance, he makes it sealing the game for Tennessee.

2003 Titans at Pittsburgh – Its Going to Be a Long Season….

The Steelers jump out to an early 10-0 lead, only to implode on two Tommy Maddox interceptions, a safety, and a blocked field goal, as the Titans win 30-13.

  • The combination of poor pass protection and poor decision making by Maddox is to become one of the common threads in what will ultimately become a 5 game losing streak for the Steelers.

2005 Titans at Pittsburgh – The Bus Begins its Final Rounds

The Steelers open the season by dominating the Titans 34 to 7. Bill Cowher had concluded the preseason by admonishing that “the passing game isn’t where it needs to be,” but Ben Roethlisberger completes 9 of 11 for 218 yards and two touchdowns. Willie Parker also runs for 162 yards.

  • While the road would get far rockier further on, this will always be remembered as the Steelers first victory on the Bus’ final stop at the Lombardi Trophy presentation at Super Bowl XL.

2008 at Tennessee — The Titans Continue to Torrment

Entering the game the Titans appeared to be a team on the decline, while the Steelers appeared to be a team on the rise. All of the pundits were picking Pittsbrugh.

  • They should have known better.

The Steelers defense has spentthe 2008 season stuffing opposing offenses, and humbling Pro Bowl quarterbacks like Tony Romo and Philip Rivers. Even in victory Peyton and Eli Manaings have looked like mere mortals in front of the Steelers defense…

…So it would only go to figure that the Titan’s would be the first defense to net more than 300 yards and journeyman Kerry Collins would be the first quaterback to finish a game with a passer rating over 100.

Credit the Titans for play a well hard fought and well executed game. They deserved to win.

But its also true that the Steelers simply left a lot of plays out on the field, on both offense, defense and special teams.

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