Splish, Splash, ’89 Steelers Give Miami a 34-14 Bath

1988 Steelers had closed out their season by defeating Don Shula’s 6-10 Miami Dolphins. While Chuck Noll’s 5-11 season prompted all sorts of “has the game passed him by” speculation, few pundits asked the same question of Shula, despite the fact that Shula had been in the game longer than Noll.

And by week 12 of the 1989 season, it would seem that the pundits had vindicated themselves. At 7-4 Miami was contending for playoff position, whereas, their victory over San Diego notwithstanding, the Steelers appeared to be jockeying for drafting order.

Prior to the game Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook even speculated at the prospect that Noll might be about to deliver Shula, Noll’s mentor, his 285th victory.

Appearances, however, can deceive.

1989 Steelers Dolphins, Merril Hoge, Tim Worley,

3 Merril Hoge touchdowns led the 1989 Steelers over the Dolphins, but Tim Worley got the call on this play.

Dolphins Keep Up Appearances… for a Quarter

The Dolphins opened up the game just as you would expect a 7-4 home team to do against a 5-6 vistor.

  • They scored touchdowns in both opening possessions, including a 66 yard pass to Mark Clayton.

But Marino’s bomb to Clayton coincided with the arrival of a dark rain cloud over Joe Robbie Stadium.

  • You’d think that a team that lives in Miami wouldn’t be bothered by a little rain.
  • You’d think it would be a distinct part of home field advantage, much the way cold is in the Northeast.
  • You’d think this would especially be the case when the visiting team had an 0-6 six record playing on your home field.

All logical assumptions. All wrong on this day.

Splish, Splash, Steelers Give Miami a Bath

The rain came. And came, and came. 2 and a half inches in 15 minutes, to be exact.

According to Merril Hoge, the rain was like “a bucket in the face.” Rod Woodson chimed in, sharing that the rain was a “blessing from Mother Nature.”

The Steelers offense responded first, moving the ball down field on a 72 yard drive that included a key third and 2 conversion to Mike Mularkey and one which Merril Hoge cap stoned with a one yard touchdown drive.

Then Rod Rust’s defense struck, and struck with a vengeance just three plays after Hoge’s score when Dolphins running back Sammy Smith fumbled the ball at Miami’s 23 yard line, and Carnell Lake scooped it up, ran three years, and then latereled to Dwayne Woodruff who took it the remaining 21 yards to even the score at 14-14.

Before the half was over, Gary Anderson gave the Steelers a 17-14 lead by booting a 27 yard field goal, and the Steelers kept on rolling out of the locker room, as Bubby Brister nailed rookie Derrick Hill for a 53 yard pass that ended at the Miami 5. Merril Hoge did the honors with a 5 yard touchdown on the next play to make it 24-14.

  • But the Steelers weren’t done. Miami fumbled the ensuing kick off and Gary Anderson knocked in 42 yard field goal, bringing the total to 27-14.

On the very next series, Scott Secules had a pass bounce off of Jim Jensen but Greg Lloyd was kind enough to catch it for him, returning the ball to the one. Merril Hoge closed out the score by punching in another touchdown from the one, to make it 34-14.

Dan Marino is on the sidelines with bruised ribs, as the Steelers are holding a 20 point lead over Miami going into the fourth Irve, and it looks like Pittsburgh is going to pull this one out folks.– CBS Sports Anchor, Brent Musberger

The 1989 Steelers-Dophins game of course was not broadcast in the DC area, but I remember Brent Musberger’s game break as if it was yesterday.

I must confess, that when I heard the news, I was ecstatic. I supposed I was old enough to know not to celebrate an injury, but 3 months away from my own first serious sports injury, I can say I didn’t really understand.

Marino was actually out of the game because of a shoulder injury, only the second game he had to leave because of injury, due to a hellacious hit that Carnell Lake had delivered in the first half, making that Lake’s second “splash” play of the game.

Lake wasn’t the only member of the Steelers 1989 draft class to step up. Derrick Hill play key roles in two scoring drives, and ended the day with three catches for 3-93 yards – phenomenal considering the conditions.

Tim Worley, who’d been flashing in recent games, ran 22 times for 95 yards, coming in just shy of his first 100 yard game.

Reflecting on the Rain

Miami refused to use the rain as an excuse, but the Steelers were proud of their ability to perform. Merril Hoge argued that “I don’t think Miami is used to playing in those conditions…. We accepted the weather conditions and overcame them.”

Dwayne Woodruff offered, “Its just normal conditions for us.”

Noll, however epitomized Pittsburghness when asked about the weather:

I guess that’s one of the problems you have when you have lovely weather all of the time. You pay the price.

Do You Believe?

It’s great that the Post-Gazette’s 11/27/89 edition provides us with these quotes via Google Newspapers.

After the Steelers had recovered from their horrendous 92-10 start, much of the NFL ignored Pittsburgh, save for offering them in passing as a living example of the “On Any Given Sunday” phenomenon.

But the most lasting quote comes from my memory, and was supplied by the following Monday by Troop 757 Assistant Scout Master Rick Legger, a Canadian émigré and devout Redskins fan. Reflecting on the Miami game told me:

“Those Pittsburgh Steelers are starting to create some believers – and I am one of them.” Finally, I had some company.

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’89 Steelers Defeat Detroit Lions 23-3 in Even Record to 2-2

Fresh off their startling upset of the Minnesota Vikings, rest of the NFL wondered if there the 1989 Steelers really had “something” or if the Vikings game was just another example of “on any given Sunday.”

  • The 1989 Steelers dominated almost every phase of the game during week four against the Detroit Lions.

Rod Rust’s defense proved to more than a match for Wayne Fontes “Silver Stretch” Run’n Shoot offense, as Dwayne Woodruff and Larry Griffin hauled in interceptions of 8 and fifteen yards, and the defense forced and recovered two fumbles. They also collected three sacks, including one more by rookie stand-in Jerrol Williams.

No one yet knew that Barry Sanders was a Future Hall of Famer only four games into his rookie season, but Sanders had already shown some solid explosiveness as a runner.

  • Rod Rust’s Steelers defense held Barry Sanders to 1 yard of five carries.

The Steelers offense took full advantage of the opportunities created on defense. Louis Lipps recorded his sixth 100 yard game and the second of the 1989 season. In addition to Lipps, Bubby Brister hit six different receivers including stand out third down running back Rodney Carter, who pulled down six passes, bringing his season total to 17.

bubby brister, 1989 Steelers road games, 1989 Steelers vs Lions,

Pittsburgh uaterback Bubby Brister on the road during the 1989 Steelers season. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

On the way to a 78% completion percentage, Bubby Brister completed 15 consecutive passes, a record that Ben Roethlisberger only tied in 2007.

  • The fact that Brister accomplished in spite of suffering another 6 sack game makes this feat all the more impressive.

By the end of week 4 the Steelers had improved their record to 2-2. Two straight wins and a .500 record may be nothing to write home about, but it sure beats losing 92-10.

Yet, one of those wins came against an 0-3 Detroit Lions team. So questions remained. Was Steelers Nation witnessing the galvanizing the Steel Curtain under Rod Rust? Could this seemingly no-name offense play consistently?

  • And what about Bubby Brister?

In two weeks he’d posted completion percentages of 73 and 78%, and had not thrown a pick since week one. Was Number 6 a star in the making?

The Steelers would find a far more difficult test awaiting them, as week five brought a return bout with the division rival defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals at Three Rivers Stadium.

You can follow Steel Curtain Rising’s season long tribute to the ’89 Steelers by clicking here.

 

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