Steve Bono’s Steelers Career: From Striker Replacement Stud to Proverbial “What If?”

You’ll have to forgive me, but the only memory I have of former quarterback Steve Bono’s Steelers career is from my aunt through marriage.

We were watching some game in 1988 (since the Steelers finished 5-11 that year, it was no doubt a loss), and Steve Bono was standing next to starting quarterback Bubby Brister, when my aunt said, “Those guys are good looking.”

Steve Bono, Steve Bono's Steelers career, steelers strike replacement quarterback, steelers 1987 players strike, 1987 players strike

Steve Bono quaterbacks the Steelers to a win over Atlanta during the 1987 players strike. Photo Credit Spokeo via Plant Steelers

That’s it, that’s the only memory I have of the one-time scab, who once went 2-1 for the Steelers during the 1987 NFL players strike, before eventually departing for the 49ers and a few other NFL organizations during his 14-year NFL career that included stints with seven different organizations.

  • But since this is a Steelers site, you probably want to know about Bono’s time in Pittsburgh.

It was brief.

Bono was a sixth round pick of the Vikings in the 1985 NFL Draft, but did little of not in Minnesota before arriving in Pittsburgh as a free-agent signing in 1987.

  • However, with the veteran Mark Malone entrenched as the starter and

Bubby Brister, the team’s third round pick in the 1986 NFL Draft, as Mark Malone’s backup and starter-in-waiting, there wasn’t much for Steve Bono to be for the Steelers other than their third-string quarterback, which he was during the first two games of the 1987 campaign.

  • However, the NFLPA elected to go on strike after two games, just like the union had done five years earlier.

But, unlike  the 1982 strike that resulted in a loss of nine regular season games, NFL owners decided to use replacement players to offset the ’87 work stoppage.

While Steve Bono wasn’t exactly “scab,” having been around for two years without a real career break, he crossed the picket line and wound up starting all three games for the the Steelers strike replacement quarterback during the duration of the ’87 strike.

  • Pittsburgh went 2-1 during the three-week replacement player era, and Steve Bono completed 34-74 passes for 438 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.

Decent enough numbers, considering most of his replacement teammates were guys who were and would be (say it with me) bagging groceries once the strike ended, which it did after those three games. (OK, Hall of Famer’s John Stallworth and Mike Webster crossed the picket line too.)

Bono didn’t appear in any other games after the regulars returned in ’87 and only made two appearances for that infamous 5-11 ’88 squad, completing 10 of 35 passes for 110 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions as Todd Blackledge ultimately edged him out at backup quarterback.

Rick Strom,

Rick Strom during the Steelers 1992 season. Photo Credit: FinalShot

Perhaps mercifully (for him, not Pittsburgh), Steve Bono was allowed to walk after the ’88 season as the Steelers opted to hand their third string quarterbacking clipboard to Rick Strom. Bono did well for himself, as he signed a deal with the 49ers to be their third-string quarterback behind Joe Montana and Steve Young.

  • History tells us that was a thankless and impossible task if one wanted playing time.

But, in addition to earning two Super Bowl rings as an apprentice in both 1988 and 1989, Bono found his way into the starting lineup in 1991, thanks to back issues for Montana and multiple injuries suffered by Young.

  • Steve Bono started six games in ’91 for the 49ers, and won five games, while completing 141 of 237 passes for 11 touchdowns and four interceptions.

In his book, My Life Behind the Spiral, Young, a future Hall of Famer, talks about the frustrations of dealing with injuries, as he watched Bono lead an admittedly talented 49ers team to many victories in his absence. The fact that some of the more 49er fans claimed that Bono should be starting over Young undoubtedly contributed to his frustration.

Steve Young ultimately reclaimed his starting job, and Steve Bono resumed his role as backup QB and remained in San Francisco through the 1993 season before signing with the Chiefs for the 1994 campaign.

In Kansas City, Bono started 31 games in three seasons (Montana was with KC by then and was the Chiefs starter through ’94) and won 21 of them–including 13 in 1995–while passing for 6,489 yards, 37 touchdowns and 27 interceptions.

Neil O'Donnell, Kordell Stewart, Steelers quarterbacks 1990's

Neil O’Donnell and Kordell Stewart

Unfortunately for Bono, he could never quite get his Chiefs over the hump and played out his career as a journeyman backup for the Packers, Rams and Panthers, before leaving the game following the 1999 season.

  • True, Bono was never anything special, but could he have bested the likes of Brister and, ultimately, Neil O’Donnell and Kordell Stewart in Pittsburgh?

It’s hard to say.

After all, Steve Bono had the benefit of playing behind legends the caliber of Montana and Young while with the 49ers and absorbing their wisdom. And what about his coaches in San Francisco? In head coach Bill Walsh and quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren, well, can you think of two better offensive minds?

It’s easy to say Bono may have beaten out passers such as Brister and O’Donnell in Pittsburgh, but the fact is, the Steelers didn’t have anywhere near the level of talent the 49ers had in the late-80’s and early-90’s.

Besides, Bubby Brister was pretty darn talented in his own right, and as for O’Donnell, well, it’s hard to top three division championships, two AFC title games and a Super Bowl appearance.

Perhaps it is safe to conclude that, Steve Bono was probably a safer “game manager” than either the Bubster or Slash, but he also lacked Brister’s rifle arm and Kordell’s big play potential. And Bono would have been an upgrade at backup quarterback over Mike Tomczak.

  • At the end of  the day, Steve Bono was just a foot-note in Steelers history.

Could he have been more than that?

Steelers Nation is left to wonder.

 

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Historical Perspective: The A+ Steelers 1993 Free Agency Effort Didn’t Look that Way at the Time

Free Agency never fails to stir the passions of Steelers Nation and 2017 has been no exception.

That’s fine, but it is always good to apply a health perspective towards how the Steelers manage free agency and to provide that perceptive, we take a look back, way back, at Pittsburgh’s inaugural foray into free agency by grading the Steelers 1993 Free Agency effort. So here it goes. In the 1993 off season the Pittsburgh Steelers:

  • Lost a perennial Pro Bowl inside linebacker,
  • Lost a veteran starter who provided stability during a long rebuilding phase,
  • Lost a former first round pick edge rusher who never met expectations,
  • Rolled the dice by giving a measly third round restricted free agent tender to a key starter

Sounds ominously familiar, right? Seems like the Steelers got schooled by the harsh reality of NFL free agency?

Kevin Greene, Stan Humpheries, 1993 Steelers free agents, 1993 Steelers free agency

Kevin Greene sacks Stan Humpheries in the Steelers 1993 win over the Chargers. Photo Credit: AP, via al.com

That’s what a lot of people, including both Pittsburgh journalists and national ones such as SI’s Peter King, concluded at the time. So how would you grade would the Steelers 1993 Free Agency effort?

  • How about with an A+ ?

Yes, that’s correct, and to be bluntly honest, one doesn’t and/or shouldn’t have needed 20/20 hindsight to realize the Steelers were on to something.Here’s what the Steelers 1993 Free Agent tracker would have looked like:

1993 Steelers Free Agency, 1993 Steelers Free Agents, 1993 Steelers free agent tracker

Steelers 1993 Free Agency Tracker

The restricted free agent in question was none other than Neil O’Donnell who had done an impressive job as the Steelers starting quarterback in 1992 and was a restricted free agent, whom the Steelers lowballed with a 3rd round tender.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers smelled blood in the water, and made an offer to Neil O’Donnell setting off a firestorm in Steelers Nation the likes of which was not seen until September 2014 when the Steelers cut Doran Grant….

So, OK, so the Kevin Greene signing worked out pretty well, but even if you take that into account, how could anyone look at that chart above and grade the 1993 Steelers Free agent effort with an A Plus?

It is easy – by looking at the full range of the Steelers activity during that free agency period.

Steelers 1993 Free Agents: The One’s the Got Away….

While fans looked at Hardy Nickerson’s departure and lambasted Dan Rooney for “being cheap,” the truth is that a year earlier the Steelers had made Nickerson a competitive 3 year offer. Nickerson, knowing free agency’s arrival was imminent, balked and insisted on a one year deal.

  • The Steelers didn’t, and don’t do business that way.

They’d also picked Levon Kirkland in the 1992 NFL Draft. While one could run fiery Nickerson vs. Kirkland debate and you might even conclude that Nickerson was the better linebacker, you cannot claim the Steelers downgraded their defense by starting Levon Kirkland in 1993.

You always want a Tunch Ilkin type player to retire in Black and Gold, but when Green Bay made its 2.2 million dollar offer, Bill Cowher informed Ilkin that if he stayed in Pittsburgh, he’d be backing up Leon Searcy for a lot less. Ilkin took the money.

Aaron Jones’ defection amounted to addition by subtraction. Prior to free agency, the Steelers would have been stuck with Jones, instead they were able to upgrade and move on by drafting Kevin Henry. Jones did “OK” in New England, but in no way was worth the 1.8 million dollar two year contract he got.

Steelers 1993 Free Agents, the Ones that Arrived or Stayed

Jerrol Williams had underachieved under Chuck Noll, but flourished during Bill Cowher’s first season in 1992.

The Steelers wanted to keep him, but the San Diego Chargers made a 1.7 million dollar one year restricted free agent offer for Williams, an exorbitant sum at the time which the Steelers had no intent on matching. So instead, they went out and signed Kevin Greene.

L.C. Greenwood, Jack Lambert, Super Bowl XIV

L.C. Greenwood during the Steelers win in Super Bowl XIV. Photo Credit: Bill Smith, NFL via NFL.com

Although Kevin Greene arrived in Pittsburgh with 72.5 sacks to his name, or one less than then franchise record holder L.C. Greenwood had, he wasn’t well known in the NFL. Time would show that NFL Hall of Famer Kevin Greene represented an upgrade over Jerrol Williams, but few fans or sports writers wanted to concede it in the spring of 1993.

Peter King described the Steelers decision to give Neil O’Donnell a low-ball restricted free agent tender as “unwitting” and he was right. The Steelers had wanted to resign O’Donnell, but badly miscalculated by only tendering him $300,000.

  • But if the Steelers mistake quickly became clear, the franchise also refused to panic.

The team gave a long look at keeping Bubby Brister. The also considered bringing in Jeff Hostetler. But Bill Cowher and Ron Erhardt lobbied for Dan Rooney to match the Tampa Bay’s offer and he did, remaining a Steeler until Super Bowl XXX.

If another Steelers free agent pickup, linebacker Greg Clark, didn’t make it out of training camp, Mike Tomczak provided veteran stability at the backup quarterback position for seven straight years.

1993 Steelers Free Agency Complete Picture

While we haven’t finished painting the Steelers 1993 free agency picture yet, it should already be obvious that Pittsburgh clearly didn’t belong in Peter King’s “They Got Hurt” category.

  • And the moves already discussed might not have even been the most important moves the Steelers made.

Weeks after making Kevin Greene the highest paid defensive player in Steelers history, the Steelers did it again, by resigning linebacker Greg Lloyd to a 3 year contract. What was notable about the move wasn’t the money, however it was the timing.

  • In the spring of 1993, Greg Lloyd still had a full year remaining on his contract.

Resigning in your own players before their contracts expire is now common in the NFL, but it wasn’t in 1993. In fact, fans and commentators attacked the Rooneys for failing to grasp that “the point of free agency is to sign other team’s players, not your own.”

Rod Woodson, Steelers 1994 season

Rod Woodson during the 1994 season. Photo Credit: Behind the Steel Curtain

And while the move didn’t come until September, the Steelers did it again with Rod Woodson, reupping the Hall of Famer cornerback a year before he became a free agent. The Steelers also resigned Barry Foster, although that move didn’t work out quite as expected (even if it did indirectly open the door to the Jerome Bettis trade.)

So for those who haven’t kept score, the Steelers 1993 free agency effort saw the franchise:

  • Promote two, lower salaried draft picks in favor of retaining more two more costly starters
  • Practice some addition by subtraction by allowing a chronic under achiever to walk
  • Extend the contract of a legendary linebacker
  • Come to terms with two future Hall of Famers

Although the 2017 free agent signing period is far from over, there’s no shortage of people to passing judgment on the Steelers efforts, ominously observing how Patriots are getting stronger while the Steelers are getting weaker.

That might be the case, but before freaking out remember that in 1993 Peter King ranked the Steelers free agency effort at 24th and there were only 28 teams in the league then. While his number 1 team, the Green Bay Packers certainly helped themselves with Reggie White, he also listed the Falcons, Cardinals, Browns, Buccaneers, and Colts as “Leading the Way.”

  • None of those teams sniffed the playoffs that fall. The 1993 Steelers did.

And, as 1993’s lesson applies to today, James Harrison deserves Hall of Fame consideration, Antonio Brown is building a Hall of Fame worthy resume and Le’Veon Bell clearly has Hall of Fame caliber talent.

And the Steelers have taken steps to keep those 3 players in Pittsburgh. Just Say’in….

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

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Justifying Steelers Faith in Landry Jones as Backup Quarterback

In case you haven’t been paying attention because you’re a little too busy gnashing your teeth over the Pittsburgh Steelers lack of free-agent activity, Pittsburgh inked backup quarterback Landry Jones to two-year contract that will average $2.2 million annually.

  • If you have been paying attention or are just finding this out, chances are, you’re not very happy with this development.

After all, you may be one of the many fans who consider Landry Jones the worst backup in the NFL. Why do you think this way? In addition to the four interceptions he threw in an exhibition loss to the Eagles at Heinz Field last August, Jones has looked kind of shaky in his 16 career appearances (four starts). He’s completed 85 of 141 passes for 1,071 yards, while throwing seven touchdowns to six interceptions.

Landry Jones, Carson Palmer, Landry Jones Steelers backup quarterback, Steelers vs Cardinals

Landry Jones and Carson Palmer talk after Jones relief win over the Arizona Cardinals in October 2014. Photo Credit: Don Wright, AP via Arizonasports.com

So why are Landry Jones’ numbers so underwhelming, so blah? Maybe it’s because he’s a backup quarterback, who has occasionally filled in for a franchise-caliber passer in one Ben Roethlisberger.

Good starting quarterbacks are a rare find, and those with the Hall of Fame credentials that Ben Roethlisberger possesses are even rarer. Therefore, when that guy’s backup takes his place for any length of time, the drop-off is going to be noticeable.

  • Back to those simply good starting quarterbacks. Just how rare of a find are they?

They are so rare, Brian Hoyer, a 31-year old journeyman quarterback with 8,600 yards and 31 starts on his resume, just got $10 million in guaranteed money to be the 49ers signal-caller over the next two seasons.

Meanwhile, Mike Glennon, who hasn’t started a game in the NFL since 2014 and threw for just 75 yards last season, signed a three-year contract with the Bears for $45 million, with $18.5 million of it guaranteed.

  • Will Hoyer and Glennon pan out for their new teams? That remains to be seen, but if either one of them winds up out of a job next season, that wouldn’t be a shocker.

Last season, Brock Osweiler parlayed the seven starts and 1,967 passing yards he accumulated while filling in for the legendary Peyton Manning in 2015 into a four-year, $32 million contract from the Texans.

After a more than forgettable stint in Houston, Osweiler is now a member of the Browns, who acquired him in a trade on Thursday (and word is that the Browns are trying to trade Osweiler to another team or could cut him outright).

What’s my point in all of this? If it’s that hard to find a starting quarterback in the NFL, how can you expect the Steelers to find a better backup than Landry Jones?

  • Are there better backups in the NFL than Jones?

I’m sure there are. Would any of those backups lead the Steelers to a string of victories if Ben Roethlisberger were to suffer a serious injury? Probably not.

Landry Jones, Todd Haley, Steelers vs Cardinals

Todd Haley gives Landry Jones instructions as he heads to the field to face the Cardinals. Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham, Getty Images via LA Times

Landry Jones has been in offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s system since Pittsburgh selected him in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The reason Jones was brought in and groomed to be the backup was because the front office and coaching staff wanted someone who could step in at a moment’s notice and run the offense.

You remember what happened two years ago, when Michael Vick was signed just weeks prior to the start of the season and thrust into action in Week 3, following an MCL sprain suffered by Roethlisberger.

Mike Vick, who had only about six weeks to learn the playbook, was mostly ineffective, as the offense struggled mightily.

  • Does the offense run like a well-oiled machine under Jones? No, but at least the playbook and the system both stay the same.

In the grand-scheme of things, there is nothing less interesting to talk about than a team’s backup quarterback. Unless of course you live in Pittsburgh and the starter is Mark Malone, Bubby Brister, Neil O’Donnell or Kordell Stewart. Then you positively LOVE talking about starting the backup quarterback until reality reveals that David Woodley, Todd Blackledge, and Mike Tomczak really didn’t offer the Steelers a better chance to win….

…But that’s another conversation.

As we close, however, let’s concede that if Landry Jones becomes the Steelers starter for more than a couple of three games, Pittsburgh IS going to suffer for it. But let’s also remember that the same is true for just about any other NFL team, and that the Steelers could do worse at QB Number 2.

  • Therefore, just accept the fact that Landry Jones is the Steelers backup quarterback.

If you’re STILL fretting over that fact, then remember this – having Le’Veon Bell behind him and Antonio Brown in front of him will make Landry Jones a lot better quarterback. And besides, there seriously are more important things to worry about.

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

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The Pro’s & Con’s of Steelers Original Round Tender to Restricted Free Agent Ross Cockrell

Cornerback has been a liability for the Pittsburgh Steelers since at least 2013 and perhaps longer. While some of the criticism of Kevin Colbert’s attempt to address cornerback on the cheap (think Antwon Blake & DeMarcus Van Dyke) is legitimate, let’s also remember that the Steelers won Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII by starting two corners drafted in 4th round (Ike Taylor & Deshea Townsend).

But all of Kevin Colbert’s cornerback bargain hunting exhibitions have come up empty, and Steelers restricted free agent cornerback Ross Cockrell provides the perfect example.

The Steelers have already made an original round restricted free agent tender to Ross Cockrell, and here we review the merits of their decision.

Ross Cockrell, Steelers vs Raiders, Ross Cockrell interception, Mike Mitchell, William Gay

Ross Cockrell’s Red Zone interception against the Raiders in 2015. Photo Credit: USA Today’s SteelersWire

Capsule Profile of Ross Cockrell’s Steelers Career

After the 2015 pre-season’s first cut down day, the Steelers made a curious move – they claimed cornerback Ross Cockrell off of waivers from the Buffalo Bills. The Steelers had already traded for Brandon Boykin and, at least publicly, were still committed to Cortez Allen.

In week four when Ross Cockrell picked off a Joe Flacco pass in the Steelers Monday Night loss to the Ravens the move made more sense. At mid season, when he made a touchdown saving interception in the end zone against the Raiders, it make even more sense. Cockrell appeared in 15 games for the Steelers and started in 7 games by the Steelers count.

Perhap’s Cockrell’s biggest moment for the Steelers came in the playoff win over the Bengals, as Cockrell recovered Jeremy Hill’s fumble that Ryan Shazier had forced, opening the door to the Steelers come from behind win.

  • The Steelers saw enough of Ross Cockrell in 2015 to pencil him in as their 2016 starter.

Ross Cockrell started all sixteen games for the Steelers in 2016, and while he didn’t record any interceptions, he had 14 defensed passes. Fans didn’t hear Ross Cockrell’s name a lot during 2016, and for a cornerback that is often a good sign.

The Case for the Steelers Tendering Ross Cockrell

In 31 regular season games and 5 playoff games Ross Cockrell has proven himself to be a quality NFL cornerback. Moreover, he’s grown from someone the Steelers picked up off of the wavier wire into a starter on a defense that went all the way to the AFC Championship (although they did struggle there – so did the offense.)

When addressing the Steelers needs at cornerback heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell offered this:

Here’s another thing: Ross Cockrell is a treasure. He works so hard that no one will dismiss his chances. Therefore, no ones [sic] going to leak that they’re dissatisfied with their outside guys. And really, with how hard Cockrell works and how smart he is, there’s no certainty a high draft pick will beat him out. But I believe that with such a deep crop the value will be too good to pass up.

That sounds like Ross Cockrell has a lot of “upside.” Viewed from that perspective, one can only wonder if the Steelers original round tender, which would bring Pittsburgh a 4th round pick should another team sign Cockrell, is too low.

The Case Against the Steelers Tendering Ross Cockrell

The Pittsburgh Steelers need quality cornerbacks. Rookie Artie Burns, whom the Steelers took in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, showed a lot of promise in his first year. But William Gay showed signs he might be losing a step.

While Ross Cockrell was an improvement over Antwon Blake, that’s kind of like saying the Steelers improved at quarterback in 1988 after trading Mark Malone and starting Bubby Brister. The restricted free agent tender the Steelers offered Ross Cockrell is just under 2 million dollars per year.

  • Is Ross Cockrell really worth that much money?

Ben Roethlisberger’s Super Bowl window is shrinking, perhaps faster than thought even a year ago. The Steelers need proven production out of their cornerback position, not uncertain potential. Offering Ross Cockrell a restricted free agent tender is tantamount to trying to apply a BandAid to a wound that needs stitches.

Curtain’s Call on Ross Cockrell and the Steelers

Deciding on whether to tender or not to tender a restricted free agent can be tricky business for a team. While a tender does allow a team to hedge its bets, it also commits them to a certain dollar value (although RFA tenders are not guaranteed).

  • Ross Cockrell has shown enough in during his time in Pittsburgh that the rest of the NFL knows he can play cornerback.

He’s not a player like Stevenson Sylvester, whom the Steelers can opt not to tender and expect to get back in August or September should they decide they need him after all. Offering a right of first refusal tender to Chris Hubbard probably wouldn’t deter another team from making an offer to Ross Cockrell.

By giving Ross Cockrell an original round tender, the Steelers will force any team to sacrifice a 4th round draft pick to take him away, and Pittsburgh retains the right to match the offer. The Steelers have had teams make runs at their restricted free agents before, once with Jerrol Williams in 1993 and again in 2013 with Emmanuel Sanders.

The key to both situations is in both situations, the Steelers refused to panic. Given how great of a commodity cornerbacks are and how thin the Steelers are at the position, it’s possible that an original round tender for Ross Cockrell doesn’t carry a high enough cost to deter opposing General Managers.

But the Steelers conserve their options and will ultimately control what happens. That’s the right move. Ross Cockrell is the type of player who can help you win a Super Bowl, and the Steelers have ensured that they’ll be able to keep in in Pittsburgh.

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

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Chin Up Steelers Nation, There’s a Bright Side to the Ben Roethlisberger Retirement Talk. Seriously

As if the frustration of Pittsburgh’s 3rd AFC Championship loss to the Patriots wasn’t enough, Steelers signal caller Ben Roethlisberger dropped another bomb two days after the game. In speaking with 93.7 FM’s “The Fan” Roethlisberger responded this way to a question about how much time he has left to play:

I don’t know. It’s one of those things, I was talking to my wife about it last night and I’ve been talking to my agent about it and coach about it. I’m going to take this offseason to evaluate it, to consider all options, to consider health, family and things like that and just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season — if there’s going to be a next season — all those things. At that point and age of my career, I think that’s the prudent and smart thing to do every year.

Steeler head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed that he’s had these types of conversations with Ben Roethlisberger in the past, and Dale Lolley has gotten confirmation from one of his teammates as well.

  • It says here that the Ben Roethlisberger retirement talk remains a bit premature and that he’ll be back for in 2017.
Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger retirement, Ben Roethlisberger retirement rumors

Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement talk actually has a bright side (for him). Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

He’s too much of a competitor and the Steelers are too close to securing Super Bowl Number 7 for Number 7 to simply walk away. Players like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell give the Steelers the fire power they need to win another Super Bowl. Ben knows that and he’s not going to walk away from it. Not just yet.

But its sobering, if not surprising, nonetheless to start the Steelers 2017 off season hearing your franchise quarterback admit that he’s reached the point where his playing days are in the “year-by-year” phase.

The Bright Side to Ben Roethlisberger’s Retirement Talk

And if the news is a downer for Steelers Nation, there’s a decided bright side to the Ben Roethlisberger retirement talk for Big Ben himself. Unless injuries accelerate his timetable, Roethlisberger’s statement affirms that he’ll leave both the game and the Steelers on his terms and at a time of his own choosing.

  • Who was the last Steelers quarterback that walked away at a time and on terms of his own? Bobby Layne?

Sure, Mike Tomczak and Kordell Stewart returned to Pittsburgh to “retire” as Steelers. In Iron Mike’s case the Steelers gave him access to their press room at Latrobe to make the announcement, but denied him a 1 dollar contract. Kordell Stewart’s “retirement” came in 2012, seven years after his final NFL game and 10 years after he left Pittsburgh.

  • Compared to their predecessors, those two men were relatively lucky.

Terry Bradshaw of course blew out his elbow and barely got more than a grunting acknowledgement from Chuck Noll. Cliff Stoudt bolted to the USFL, only to “Pittsburgh Maulers Fans” sellout Three Rivers Stadium to pelt him with ice balls when returned with the Birmingham Stallions.

Mark Malone started for four seasons in Pittsburgh, but performed so poorly in 1987 that the Steelers traded him for an 8th round draft pick to the San Diego Chargers. Bubby Brister spent his final year in Pittsburgh as a backup, then went on to play for the Eagles, Jets, Broncos and Vikings.

Neil O’Donnell famously boasted that he’d take less money to stay with the Steelers as opposed to going to a losing team. After Super Bowl XXX, O’Donnell went to the 3-13 New York Jets, who became the 1-15 Jets. O’Donnell faired a little better after Bill Parcells took over, but Tuna decided he wasn’t worth the money and cut him. He played for Cincinnati and Tennessee after that, but never started another playoff game.

Tommy Maddox reportedly got into shouting matches with Bill Cowher during his final year as a backup to Ben Roethlisberger, found himself demoted to third string behind Charlie Batch and burned his final bridge with the Steelers by no-showing at the team’s White House ceremony following Super Bowl XL.

Ben Roethlisberger Deserves to Leave on His Own Terms

Steelers fans have been blessed. Terry Bradshaw played for 14 seasons and, although he wasn’t an instant winner, he developed into one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play. Ben Roethlisberger will return for a 14th season and perhaps one or two more after that.

  • But the day when Roethlisberger hangs it up isn’t too far off on the horizon.

Hopefully Ben Roethlisberger will add a Lombardi Trophy (or two?) before he calls it a career. But even if he doesn’t, he’s earned the right to step down on his terms. Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement will mark a sad day in Steelers Nation, but it the fact that Big Ben will decide should make us appreciate the moment much more.

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6 Improbable Steelers Backup Quarterback Upset Wins

Raise your hand if you’re Steelers fan excited to see Landry Jones start against the New England Patriots. OK. Didn’t think we’d get too many takers. Fair enough. With Ben Roethlisberger recovering from knee surgery and Cameron Heyward also the odds makers have been rather generous in installing the Patriots as 7 points favorites.

  • Still, should Steelers Nation abandon all hope?

Perhaps, but Steelers backup quarterbacks have a history of delivering some surprising results under duress. Here are six notable Steelers backup quarterback upset wins dating from 1988 to 2012 (no disrespect to Steelers 1976 rookie Mike Kruczek, just not old enough to remember him.)

Charlie Batch, Steelers upset Ravens 2012, Charlie Batch final game, Charlie Batch Ravens

Charlie Batch won his final start as 2012 Steelers upset Ravens on the road. Photo Credit: Chris Knight, The Patriot-News

1. 1988 – Todd Blackledge Leads Steelers to 39-21 win over Denver Broncos

It had been a bad week for Chuck Noll that began with a 34-14 drubbing in the Astrodome at the hands of arch nemesis Jerry Glanville. Noll cut short his weekly press conference when reporters asked him what it would take for him to step down. Terry Bradshaw called for Noll’s dismissal su

ggesting he was too old for the job. Bubby Brister was injured, and back up Todd Blackledge was struggling even to get snaps from Mike Webster.

In short, no one expected the explosion that was coming, led by Rodney Carter who took it 64 yards to the house on the game’s third play. Carter rushed for 105 yards, caught a touchdown and completed a pass, as Noll employed uncharacteristic trickery. Merril Hoge ran for another 94 yards, and Rod Woodson set up another score with a 29 yard interception and Gary Anderson kicked 6 field goals.

Todd Blackledge was only 9 of 17 for 129 yards on the day, but that was good enough to give Pittsburgh the win.

2. 1991 – Neil O’Donnell Authors 26-15 Upset of the Houston Oilers

1991 had been a tough year for Chuck Noll, and his Steelers had just been humiliated at home by the soon-to-be Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins. Scalping dished out by the Redskins the week before at Three Rivers Stadium had given the Steelers a 4-7 record, and 4-8 seemed certain against the 9-2 Oilers.

It is also true that perhaps Neil O’Donnell should be considered a backup, having started since relieved Brister 5 weeks earlier against the Giants, but Noll had been coy about designating a “starter.”

The Steelers ability to shut down the “Run ‘N Shoot” offense is one of the reasons why that never “stuck” in the NFL, but that was far from apparent in 1991. Games like this began to change the tune, as Bryan Hinkle, Thomas Everett, and Shawn Vincent picked off Warren Moon 5 times.

Those turnovers set up 3 Gary Anderson field goals, a 43 yard pass from Neil O’Donnell to Dwight Stone, and a Warren Williams touchdown. For the record, Neil O’Donnell went 12 for 29 for 155 yards one touchdown and 1 interception.

3. 1994 – Mike Tomczak Out Guns Dan Marino, Steelers Beat Dolphins 16-13

Perhaps the lead up to this game would have been different in the age of social media, but news that Mike Tomczak got the starting nod over Neal O’Donnell came as a surprise when game day arrived.

  • Imagine getting to the sports bar to learn that Mike Tomczak would square off against Dan Marino.

But got toe-to-toe Tomczak did, and how! In 1994, 300 yard passing games were relatively rare in the NFL but both quarterbacks broke the 300 yard mark, with Tomczak topping Marino’s yardage total. But for all of that passing, the game represented more of a defensive chess match. Chad Brown, Jason Gildon and Joel Steed team to sack Marino 4 times, with Levon Kirkland intercepting him once.

  • The Steelers held the lead until the Dolphins tied it a 48 yard field goal as time expired.

The Steelers won the toss, but could not score. The Dolphins took over at their 40, but the vaunted Steelers 1994 Blitzburgh defense stopped him cold at Pittsburgh’s 47. Mike Tomzcak excelled in overtime, scrambling twice and completed passes of 27 yards to Barry Foster and 23 yards to John L. Williams to set up Gary Anderson’s game winner.

As this site has previously observed, Tomzack’s ’94 wins against the Dolphins and the Raiders marked the shift of the focal point of the Steelers passing attack away from Eric Green and to Yancey Thigpen, Ernie Mills, Andre Hastings and Charles Johnson.

4. 2002 – Kordell Stewart Rebounds to Lead Steelers over Bengals 29-13

Time to fess up. Just as Neil O’Donnell wasn’t really the “Steelers backup quarterback” in the 1991 Astrodome upset of the Oilers, the Steelers win over the 1-10 Bengals can hardly fall into the category of an “upset.”

But its author, Kordell Stewart, most certainly was a backup. Less than one year removed from winning the team MVP award, Kordell Stewart found himself on the bench in favor of Tommy Maddox. Raul Alegre of ESPNDeportes had revealed 5 weeks eailer during the Steelers Monday night game vs. the Colts, Bill Cowher had confided in him that he hadn’t wanted to bench Kordell, but felt he had to because Kordell had lost the confidence of the Steelers locker room.

  • Expectations don’t get much lower than that.

Nonetheless, Kordell Stewart fearlessly took the reigns after Tommy Maddox’s injury the week before in Tennessee. The Steelers raced to a 17 point lead on a Jerome Bettis touchdown run, a 64 yard bomb from Stewart to Hines Ward, and a Jeff Reed field goal. But the Bengals fought back, scoring 14 points in the second half. The Steelers tacked on another 3 in the third quarter, but midway through the 4th the Bengals took the lead.

  • Kordell Stewart rallied the Steelers, first bringing Reed into range to boot a field goal, and then rifling a 27 yarder to Hines Ward which set up a 24 yard rumble by Bettis.

Kordell Stewart was flawless that day, going 22 for 26, one touchdown and zero picks.

5. 2005 – Charlie Batch off Bench @ Lambeau as Steelers beat Packers 20-10

2005 was a rough year for Green Bay, who entered the game at 1-10. On the face of it, that might make it difficult to categorize this win as “an upset” but if you’re playing at Lambeau Field, who do you want to be your quarterback Brett Favre or Charlie Batch, a man who hadn’t thrown a non-mop up time pass since 2001.

  • And did we mention that Jerome Bettis was out and that injuries limited Willie Parker to 5 carries?

The Steelers struggled in this one, as did Batch, but he played well enough to win, as did Duce Staley who saw his last real NFL action, and helped the Steelers win with 76 yards rushing and a touchdown.

6. 2012 – Charlie Batch Wins Finals Start, Steelers Upset Ravens 23-20

This Steelers 2012 game against the Ravens at M&T Stadium was one for the ages. The Steeler were reeling, having suffered back-to-back divisional losses, including an 8 turnover game to the Cleveland Browns. Charlie Batch had quarterbacked that game, and committed 3 of the turnovers, all interceptions.

And here the Steelers were, traveling to the home of their arch rival, with their 3rd string quarterback, 3rd string wide out, 2nd string outside linebacker. During the game, they would also lose their starting guard.

  • This was as hard fought game as you get.

The lead changed 5 times. Twice in the second half, Steelers turnovers gave the Ravens a chance to put Pittsburgh away, and twice Pittsburgh clawed back. James Harrison led the Steelers final rally, with one of his patended strip-sacks which came shortly after the Steelers had turned over the ball. Charlie Batch fired a missle to Heath Miller, who then willed himself into the end zone.

  • The Steelers defense held on the next drive.

Charlie Batch then took over at Pittsburgh 15 and with 6:14 remaining, led the Steelers on 13 play drive where Batch completed 7 straight passes, as Pittsburgh reached the Ravens 24 yard line. Shaun Suisham booted in a 42 yard field goal, and the Steelers had won.

Is Landry the Steelers Next “Legendary” Back Up Quarterback?

So, could Landry Jones author a game worth of inclusion of on this list above? With Cameron Heyward, Markus Wheaton, Marcus Gilbert and DeAngelo Williams out the odds are against him. But the odds were also once against Todd Blackladge, Neil O’Donnell, Mike Tomzcak, Kordell Stewart and Charlie Batch and they proved everyone else wrong.

Let’s hope Landry Jones follows in their footsteps.

 

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Like It Or Not: Steelers Will Live and Die with Landry Jones Until Ben Roethlisberger Returns

Pittsburgh Steelers fans had better get used to the sight of Landry Jones with his hands under Maurkice Pouncey’s but, as they’ll see it  week vs. New England and, if reports are correct, perhaps beyond that.

Not that concern isn’t warranted. This was a Steelers team that came close to upsetting the New England Patriots team in the 2015 season opener and has been itching for a rematch faster than you can say “HeadsetGate.”

steelers backup quarterbacks, landry jones

Like or not, Steelers Nation must get used to seeing Landry Jones under center

So fans’ desire for Ben Roethlisberger rise from the trainers bench, al la the Karate Kid, are well founded:

But if the longing for John Norwig to morph into Mr. Miyagi is understandable, the calls to start Zach Mettenberger or even more outlandish suggestions that the Steelers trade for Mark Sanchez, are not. For better and for worse, the Steelers will live and die with Landry Jones as their signal caller for as long as it takes for Ben Roethlisberger’s knee to heal.

There are lots of reasons for this, but everyone overlooks the biggest one….

Steelers Nation Keeps Up with the Changing Times

Bob Labriola and other members of Steelers Nation’s “4th Estate” have derided the outcry to immediately purge Landry Jones form the roster. And they’ve got the right reaction, unless you really think that Peyton Manning, Johnny Manziel or Tim Tebow would do better.

But if the sarcasim of the Labriola’s of the world is justified, then you also must credit these Steelers fans for being smart about one thing: They know a franchise quarterback when they see one.

Seriously.

From 1984 to 2004 the most popular player on the Steelers roster was whoever was backing up Mark Malone, Bubby Brister or Kordell Stewart. Neil O’Donnell won a bit of a respite, but even he heard calls to start Mike Tomczak in mid-1994. (Tommy Maddox was around long enough.) But between Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger’s time, if the backup quarterback wasn’t the most popular player in Pittsburgh, he certainly earned an honorable mention.

That’s has changed, and as well as it should, but “Landry Jones Anxiety” also reflects another more recent change.

Steelers Nation Appreciates What It Had When Its Gone

Since the beginning of the Bill Cowher Era the composition of the Steelers quarterback has remained pretty predictable: A designated starter, an experienced backup, and an up and comer.

The Steelers coaching staff and front office, whether it’s been headed by Tom Donahoe or Kevin Colbert, believe in experienced backups but have repeatedly tried to staff the 3rd string quarterback position with a player they can nurture into a backup. During the 1990’s they tried, unsuccessfully, with Mike Quinn, Pete Gonzalez and Anthony Wright. In the 00’s the Steelers tried it with Brian St. Pierre and a slew of 5th round draft picks.

  • The closest they got was with Dennis Dixon, who started 3 games for the Steelers, but he never matured into a stable backup.

Landry Jones is the first to achieve that status, and he’s unlikely to lose it save for an injury or a meltdown.

Mike Tomlin Stands By His Quarterbacks

Fans hoping to see Landry Jones on a short, or even medium leash can hold their breath for one simple reason: Rightly or wrongly, Mike Tomlin stands behind his quarterbacks. Going into his 10th year as head coach, Mike Tomlin has never pulled or benched a starting quarterback because of performance. Tomlin is loyal, sometimes to a fault, to his quarterbacks.

In both 2011 and 2012, Mike Tomlin had an experienced, healthy Charlie Batch standing on the sideline as his starter struggled, noticeably limited by injury, but Tomlin kept Roethlisberger and Leftwich in.

  • Given that precedent, it is hardly likely that Tomlin will turn over his offense to newly arrived Zack Mettenberger, who has yet to throw a pass for the Steelers in preseason.

Love it or hate it, the Steelers will live and die with Landry Jones until Ben gets back.

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Pittsburgh Steelers History vs Washington Redskins

The Pittsburgh Steelers history vs. the Washington Redskins includes 77 contests played over the course of 83 years.

The record reflects that the Washington holds the advantage over Pittsburgh. Overall, the Steelers record vs. the Redskins is 33-43-4. However, the Steelers are 7-4 vs. the Redskins since Chuck Noll’s arrival in Pittsburgh in 1969. The Steelers 2016 season opener on Monday Night Football at FedEx Field will mark the 78 installment of this series.

Art Rooney Sr. was the polar opposite to both George Preston Marshall and Jack Kent Cooke. And about the only similarity between Daniel Rooney and Daniel Snyder is the their first name.

Even if the rest of Steelers Nation isn’t ready to get the pitchforks out for the Redskins, the Steelers history vs. the Washington Redskins has provided a lot of memorable games – for both franchises. With the help of Tony Defeo we recount them here.

Scroll down or click on the link below.

LaMarr Woodley sacks Jason Campbell in Steelers 2008 win over Redskins. Photo Credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

LaMarr Woodley sacks Jason Campbell in Steelers 2008 win over Redskins. Photo Credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

1979 – Super Steelers Peak Against Redskins

November 4, 1979 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 38, Washington 7

Terry Bradshaw had his best day passing, to that point in his career. Both Lynn Swann and John Stallworth caught for over 100 yards, for only the second time in their careers. Chuck Noll’s offense totaled 545 yards – his best effort to that point. The Steelers scored 38 points against a Redskins team that entered the game as the stingiest defense in points allowed. It was the worst Redskins loss since 1970… And did we mention that Bradshaw missed most of the second half with a concussion?

  • If the Super Steelers of the 70’s had a single peak moment, the 1979 Redskins victory would be a candidate.

Joe Theismann describes the Redskins effort as “Embarrassing.” John Riggins conceded to John Clayton, then of the Pittsburgh Press:

They’re the defending Super Bowl Champs, and they’re playing at the top of their game now. You expect them to when November rolls around. That’s when the giants tart to wake from their slumber. They were awake today.

Indeed, in addition to the touchdown John Stallworth’s two touchdowns, Terry Bradshaw threw scores to Bennie Cunningham and Randy Grossman, while Rick Moser (who?) scored the Steelers final touchdown. Donnie Shell and Mel Blount both recorded interceptions.

The win over Washington marked the third straight week the 1979 Steelers demolished a playoff contender, with victories over Denver and Dallas preceding it, followed by another win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Key Takeaway from Steelers vs Washington Redskins History: 2 weeks later the 1979 Steelers fell 35-7, suffering their worst defeat in San Diego at the hands of Don Coryell, whose offense was coached by a then-obscure offensive coordinator named Joe Gibbs….

1985 – Redskins “Officially” Send Steelers into 80’s Mediocrity Era

November 24, 1985 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Washington 30, Pittsburgh 23

The 1984 Steelers had shocked the NFL by winning the AFC Central, upsetting John Elway at Mile High in the Divisional Playoff game and knocking on heaven’s door by reaching the AFC Championship. 1985 started with the bang of Mark Malone’s 5 touchdown game vs. the Colts. But that win was led to a 3-5 record at midseason, when a Malone injury led to David Woodley getting the starting nod, who led Pittsburgh to 3 straight wins.

  • Unfortunately, stomach flu would sideline Woodley, forcing Scott Campbell into his first NFL action.

Change was also the watch word in Washington. A week before Lawrence Taylor had sacked Joe Theismann, knocking out of the game and ending his career. Jay Schroeder responded by rallying the Redskins to victory, and started his first game against the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium.

Scott Campbell played a respectable first half, connecting with Louis Lipps and Rich Erenberg to tie the score at the half. However, the Redskins owned the second half, with the Steelers only managing two Gary Anderson field goals as John Riggins ran for a touchdown, while Mark Mosley knocked in two more.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: The 1985 loss to the Redskins dropped the Steelers record to 6-6, signaling 7-9 finish and introducing an era of Pittsburgh would find itself mired in mediocrity.

1988 – Young Steelers Suffer Serious Growing Pains vs. Redskins

September 11, 1988 @ RFK Stadium
Washington 30, Pittsburgh 29

Chuck Noll’s 1988 Steelers won the franchise’s first game without Art Rooney Sr. a week earlier against Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys. Could this young Steelers team upset the Super Bowl champions?

  • For 3 and 3/4 quarters, the 1988 Steelers teased that they could.

Bubby Brister showcased his rocket like arm and his mobility. First hitting Louis Lipps on an 80 pass were Lipps burned future Hall of Famer Darrell Green. Brister then scrabbled for a touchdown, although mistake that proved costly, Harry Newsome bobbled the snap, and the Steelers missed the extra point.

The Redskins pulled a point ahead as the fourth quarter began, but Brister hit Dwight Stone over the middle, Stone zinged past Wilber Marshall and ran 70 yards untouched for a touchdown. Gary Anderson knocked in his 3rd field goal of the game. Midway through the 4th quarter, the Steelers had a nine point lead…

…Yet, in what would be a recurring theme during the 1988 season, Tony Dungy’s defense failed to defend a 4th quarter lead. The Redskins scored quickly on a 74 yard drive, and then Darrell Green returned a punt 13 yards to the Steelers 44, setting up an easy field goal drive.

Just how bad was the Steelers defense? After the game Doug Williams confided in Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “I played terrible in the first half. The offensive line gave me time, and I wasn’t doing my job.” For the record, Williams had what was then a second best passing day for a Redskins quarterback completing 30 of 52 passes for 430 yards.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: The 1988 Steelers would lose several close games like this. But the great individual efforts that powered those “almost wins” revealed that these Steelers had real potential, something that the 1989 Steelers would realize. None of that was apparent as Pittsburgh finished 1988 at 5-11.

1991 – Redskins Render Steelers as Road Kill on Ride to Super Bowl XXVI

November 17th, 1991 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Washington 41, Pittsburgh 14

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins both entered the 1991 season with something to prove. In 1990, the Redskins had gone fallen in the NFC Divisional Playoffs a 49ers team that many assumed were en route to their 5th Super Bowl.

  • The loss carried extra sting in Washington, because only a few years before, it was the Redskins, and not the 49ers who’d been dubbed “The team of the 80’s.”

Although 80’s were over, another Super Bowl would put Redskins back in the conversation.

In contrast, the 1989 Pittsburgh Steelers had shocked the world, overcoming a disastrous start and a regular season that saw them shut out 3 times, only to see them make the playoffs and upset the Oilers in the Astrodome. In 1990 however, the Steelers limped to a 9-7 record, as inconsistency and an inability to win divisional games cost them a playoff game. Steelers Digest Bob Labriola editor remarked that 1990 marked the year the Steelers had either learned to win or to lose games.

  • The Steelers entered 1991 hoping to prove that learned to win.

Sadly, by the time the Redskins arrived at Three Rivers Stadium in week 11, Washington already had an 11-0 record, while Steelers held a 4-6 record, which wasn’t nearly as good as it looked.

The Redskins trashed the Steelers that day, as a Mark Rypien to Art Monk 63 yard hookup led to a 1 yard Gerald Riggs touchdown just four plays into the game. By half time the Redskins led 17-0. After three quarters the Redskins led 27-0.

  • Then the Steelers did what those 1990 and 1991 Chuck Noll teams did all too well – the teased.

Neil O’Donnell hooked up with Adrian Cooper and then Dwight Stone early in the 4th quarter to cut the
Redskin’s lead to 13. Suddenly, it seemed like the Steelers had a chance. Of course they didn’t. Ricky Sanders and Gary Clark hooked up with Rypein from 49 and 40 yards to reestablish the Redskin’s 27 point margin.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: Chuck Noll may hold a 2-1 advantage over Bill Walsh, but the Emperor was 0-3 vs. Joe Gibbs, a statistic that reveals just how great of a coach Joe Gibbs was – and that comes from someone who grew up actively rooting against Gibbs’ Redskins.

1997 – 3 Scappy Steelers Interceptions Seal the Deal

September 7, 1997 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 14, Washington 13

Just like in 1988, Pittsburgh opened the season with back-to-back games against Dallas and Washington. And like 1988, the Steelers were facing a Cowboys Super Bowl coach who would ultimately be heading into his final campaign. But unlike 1988, the Dallas Cowboys had come into Three Rivers Stadium, trashing the Steelers to the tune of 37-7.

  • So the Redskins arrived in Pittsburgh facing a Steelers team looking for a comeback to defuse the “Free Agency is ruining the Steelers” stories that were a stable of 1990’s.

The Steelers got their comeback win, but the outcome was in doubt until the final gun. For the record, Kordell Stewart rushed for one touchdown, to open the scoring and Jerome Bettis closed it with another touchdown. But the Steelers defense wrote the real story of the game.

Twice in the first half Gus Frerotte led the Washington deep into the Red Zone, and twice Pittsburgh’s defense picked off his pass in the end zone, with Darren Perry and Levon Kirkland splitting the honors. Following Bettis’ touchdown, Frerotte ripped off a perfect pass to Michael Westbrook, only to have Randy Fuller, he of 1995 AFC Championship fame, deflected the pass.

The Redskins had one final chance following the 2 minute warning and threatened to reach field goal range when Jason Gildon tipped a pass that Chris Oldham picked off, ending the game.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: This game established the 1997 Steelers as a scrappy, team that could rally to beat just about anyone during the regular season.

2000 – Steelers Scalp Redskins to Close Three Rivers Stadium

December 16, 2000 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 24, Washington 3

If ever there was a case study in contrast to who Daniel Rooney and Daniel Snyder run their franchises, the Steelers 2000 victory over the Redskins offers the perfect example.

The 2000 off season marked Daniel Snyder’s first full year as Redskins owner, and he made no bones about breaking from the past. Upon assuming control of the team, Snyder summarily fired dozens of Redskins first office workers, many secretaries and administrative staff, some who’d had decades of service to the team.

  • That meant less to Snyder than showing everyone a new chief was in charge.

The offseason also saw Snyder the first of many off season Lombardi Trophies by signing any and every big name free agent the Redskins could fit under their salary cap. Washingtonians drank the Kool-Aid. Deion Sanders signing earned a front page story in the Washington Post and 2 and a quarter full pages from the sports section. Fans called into radio shows predicting an undefeated season.

Prior to the season opener, an owner at the Wheaton Athletic Club remarked to a patron, “…I’m tired of hearing about Tampa’s injured players. A win is going to be a win.” The client’s response, “Yeah. And a Super Bowl is gonna be a Super Bowl.”

  • Given that the Steelers were coming off a 6-10 season, Redskins fans figured the final game at Three Rivers Stadium would be a road sign route to Lombardi number 4. If they thought of it at all.

By reality unfolds at its own pace. The 2000 Steelers started 0-3, but rallied with 5 straight wins and held a 7-7 record heading into their matchup against Washington. Meanwhile, at 7-6 but on a two game losing streak, Snyder fired Norv Turner. Before the Steelers game, interim coach Terry Robiskie was forced to admit that he’d need to clear any quarterback changes with Snyder.

  • The game itself was a work of beauty. A better send off for Three Rivers Stadium could not be had.

Jerome Bettis rumbled for 104 yards, and Deion Sanders pulled back rather than try to tackle. Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington intercepted Jeff George, Snyder’s anointed starter, two times while future Super Bowl quarterback Brad Johnson watched from the bench.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: When Daniel Snyder objects to Myron Cope’s “Wash Redfaces” nickname for the Redskins, Cope mocks Snyder on the air declaring: “If that boy billionaire thinks he can shut me up, he can take his head and stick it in a bucket of paint.”

2004 – Jerome Bettis Ties Franco Harris Record for 100 Yard Games

November 28th, 2004 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 16, Washington 10

Joe Gibbs return from retirement heading into the 2004 season was one of the biggest stories, as one of the most underrated coaches (nationally) would seek to revive the fortunes of a once proud fantasy. The Pittsburgh Steelers, following their 6-10 2003 campaign, were supposed to be in “Rebuilding” mode, as rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was to get an apprentice year behind Tommy Maddox.

  • But of course things seldom workout as planned.

The Steelers entered their week 12 matchup vs. Washington with a 9-1 record, while Gibbs Redskins had a 3-7 mark. But again, what looked to be a mismatch on paper, turned out to be something very different in reality.

The 2004 Redskins defense was deceptively good, holding the Steelers to a 13-0 lead at half time, thanks to two Jeff Reed Field goal and a Jerome Bettis touchdown (set up by a Antwaan Randle El punt return.) In the third quarter the Redskins made it look like they’d give Pittsburgh a run for their money, as Patrick Ramsey hooked up with Chris Cooley to make the score 13-7.

But another Jeff Reed Field goal, followed by a Deshea Townsend put the game out of reach as on a day where Clark Haggans, Joey Porter and Aaron Smith teamed to sack Patrick Ramsey 5 times.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: With his 4ths straight 100 yard game, Jerome Bettis tied Franco Harris’ franchise record for 100 yard games. Not bad for a player supposedly getting a “scholarship” year.

2008 – Steelers Nation Anexxes over Fed ExField

November 3, 2008 @ FedEx Field
Pittsburgh 23, Washington 6

For a Steelers fan who grew up in Metro Washington DC subjected to an endless stream of “Are you a Redskins fan?” “No,” “Then you’re a Cowboy in Redskins territory….” The Steelers 2008 Monday night win at FedEx Field was a portrait of glory.

Fans forget in hindsight that this game did not start out well for the Steelers. Bob Ligashesky’s special teams botched a surprise on-sides kick to open the game, followed by another Steelers turnover deep in their own territory. Redskins fans at FedEx Field were fired up, as Washington led for the first 29:28 of the first half until Ben Roethlisberger put the Steelers ahead with a rushing touchdown.

  • With Byron Leftwich taking over for an injured Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers defense took over.

James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley, Nick Eason, Aaron Smith, James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons, who saw his first extended action – at outside linebacker, combined for 7 sacks, and Tyrone Carter end a Jason Campbell streak of 271 passes without an interception.

Best of all, before it was all over, Steelers fans had taken over FedEx Field to the point where the Redskins were forced to use a silent count.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: Jim Zorn’s Redskins were 5-2 heading into the game, looking to make “statement.” Instead, the Steelers made a statement that they were serious Super Bowl contenders.

2012 – Dick LeBeau Schools RGIII

October 12, 2012 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 27, Washington 12

In 2012 Robert Griffith III, or RG3 was a rookie sensation that was shaking the NFL. After just 7 games pundit were already saying that RG3 was doing what Doug Flutie, Randall Cunningham, Steve McNair and Donovan McNabb had promised to do in earlier generations – prove that you could win big with a non-pocket passer.

  • Worse yet, the Steelers 2012 defense had been shaky, having failed to protect 4th quarter leads on 3 separate occasions.

Dick LeBeau answered by unleashing his defensive backs on the Redskins wide receivers, and the Steelers corners and safeties hit hard. This led to numerous drops on the part of the Redskins’ receivers. On offense, Todd Haley did his best Ron Ernhart impression, as the Steelers fed the ball to Jonathan Dwyer and dominated time of possession, keeping the ball for over 33 minutes as the Steelers beat the Redskins 27-12.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: Dick LeBeau improves his record to 15-1 against rookie quarterbacks. For the Record RGIII finished the day 16-34-177, 1 touchdown and 8 yards rushing. Need we say more?

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5 Times When Steelers Preseason Troubles Signaled Regular Season Stumbles

The lackluster loss to the Lions started the Steelers 2016 preseason campaign. Steelers Nation is already weighing poor performances from the likes of Alejandro Villanueva and Sammie Coates along with the poor tackling against solid play by the likes of Daryl Richardson, Landry Jones and Doran Grant.

  • Both sides of the discussion will punctuate their arguments with “Its only preseason.”

And rightly so. Steelers preseason results seldom indicate much about the coming regular season, and that’s even when stars like Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams are in the game.

But Steelers history also shows us that exceptions do exist. Click below for 5 times when preseason troubles signaled regular season Steelers stumbles.

Pittsburgh Steelers, steelers vs. lions preseason, Shamarko Thomas

Shamarko Thomas drops a should be interception in Steelers preseason loss to Lions; Photo Credit: Steelers.com

1. 1990 – Steelers Tread Treacherous Terrain of Walton’s Mountain

One surprise following the 1989 Steelers story book season was Chuck Noll’s decision, under pressure from the front office, to dismiss Tom Moore and hire Joe Walton as his offensive coordinator. On paper, the move looked smart. Walton’s offensive mind was well-regarded throughout the league.

  • The reality was something different.

In an August preseason game vs. the Washington Redskins, (yours truly’s first pro football game) the Steelers offense played dazed and confused, as Bubby Brister, Rick Strom and Randy Wright combined for 148 yards, most of which was gained during the game’s final two minutes. Afterwards, Chuck Noll opined that the only place the Steelers offense had to was up….

The 1990 Steelers opened the season without scoring an offensive touchdown during September.
Although the offense did find some rhythm in the middle of 1990, missed opportunities, misused personnel and miscommunication ultimately characterized Joe Walton’s tenure as Steelers offensive coordinator.

2. 1995 Bam is No Barry

Injuries, attitude and declining production prompted Pittsburgh to part ways with one-time franchise running back Barry Foster in the 1995 off season. The emergence of Bam Morris in 1994 made the Steelers decision much easier.

  • Steelers running back’s coach Dick Hoak raved about Morris during training camp.

But the truth is, Bam Morris’ preseason performances were forgettable.

Statistics are not easily available from those preseason contests. The record shows that Bam Morris did run well vs. the Bills in the Steelers first outing, going 4 for 24, but he went 7 of 16 in the next.

The latter performance telegraphed Bam Morris’ lack luster start to the 1995 season, where he just barely averaged over 3 yards a carry during the seasons first seven games, before Bill Cowher benched him in favor of Erric Pegram, who was an unsung hero of the 1995 AFC Championship season.

3. 1996 3 Headed Quarterback Derby Spins Its Wheels

When Neil O’Donnell departed after Super Bowl XXX the Steelers opted to promote from within as Bill Cowher held a three way quarterback competition in training camp between Mike Tomczak, Jim Miller and Kordell Stewart.

Mike Tomczak, Kordell Stewart, Pittsburgh Steelers, Steelers quarterbacks 1990's, steelers preseason quarterbacks, bill cowher quarterback competition

Mike Tomczak and Kordell Stewart quarterbacked the Steelers in the mid-late 1990’s. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

  • The Steelers meticulously split time between the three quarterbacks, down to ensure equal practice snaps.

Bill Cowher hopped that one man would establish himself.

Unfortunately none did. Bill Cowher declared Jim Miller the starter just before the regular season, but clarified he was making a gut decision. Cowher didn’t trust his gut that much, as Jim Miller’s time as the Steelers starting quarterback lasted all of one half, as Cowher benched him in favor of Mike Tomczak.

While Tomczak led the 1996 Steelers to a 10-6 record and an AFC Central Championship, by the time December arrived it was clear that Tomczak wasn’t going to take the Steelers on a deep playoff run as Bill Cowher began to give Kordell Stewart time, who also wasn’t ready to be a signal caller.

4. 1998 Steelers Lost without John Jackson

John Jackson got blown away in the final preseason game of the 1988 season, infuriating Chuck Noll so much that the Emperor had to be talked out of cutting him. Fortunately Noll listened to his assistants, as John Jackson would be a mainstay at left tackle for the Steelers for the next decade.

But when John Jackson reached free agency at age 32 in 1997 and the San Diego Chargers offered to make Jackson the highest paid offensive lineman in the league, the Steelers said so long.

  • It was a wise move, and the Steelers had invested heavily in drafting offensive lineman to replace him.

Unfortunately, none of them were up to the task. Bill Cowher tried various combinations at both tackle positions throughout the preseason as Jerome Bettis struggled to finding holes. Finally, Cowher moved Will Wolford to left tackle, slide Justin Strzelczyk to right tackle, and the offensive line was OK, until Strzelczyk got injured in a Monday night contest vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.

Jamain Stephens, 1996’s first round draft pick, finally got his chance to start, but the image of Bettis lighting into Stephens for not blocking well enough is the enduring memory of his tenure at right tackle.

It wouldn’t be until 2000 that the Steelers restored stability to left tackle, and their entire offensive line, but the troubles the Steelers experienced during their 1998 preseason campaign foreshadowed it all.

5. 2013 0-4 Preseason Foreshadows 0-4 Steelers Start

Look at the Steelers preseason results from 2007 to 2012 and there’s one constant X-1. The Steelers never lost more than a single game in preseason, irrespective if they finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs or playing in the Super Bowl.

  • Then came the Steelers 2013 preseason campaign.

For the first time in the Mike Tomlin era and the first time since Bill Cowher’s final season, the Steelers laid a goose egg in preseason. Commentator’s cautioned “Its only preseason” and Mike Tomlin explained the losses away, indicating that the men largely responsible for those losing efforts would find themselves on the waiver wire.

  • And they did. But those preseason losses also revealed the limits of the Steelers depth.

Depth that injuries to the starting running back, the two chief backup running backs, two starting tight ends, starting center, starting cornerback, and starting inside linebacker would test to the limit. The end result was the Steelers 0-4 start after an embarrassing loss in London to the Vikings.

In 2014 and 2015 the Steelers went 1-3 and 1-4 in the preseason, yet finished in the playoffs both times, so the “its only preseason” credo held true then. But 2013 was one year when piss-poor preseason performance signaled real trouble, at least at the start of the season.

 

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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 create, 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 reignight 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. 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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