1989 Steelers Avenge Opening Day Blow Out, Defeat Browns 17-7

Before Mike Tomlin’s Steelers first game against Eric Mangini in Cleveland, Steel Curtain Rising looks back at the 20th Anniversary of the second match up between Chuck Noll’s 1989 Steelers and Bud Carson’s Browns….

Division rivalries are not what they used to be.

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

In 1989, it was different.

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

When the Steelers took to the field in Cleveland Municipal Stadium on October 15, 1989 they’d dropped seven straight to the Browns and hadn’t won in the Dawg Pound since 1981.

Make no mistake about it. The Cleveland Browns enjoyed every moment of the 51-0 shellacking they’d administered to the Steelers on opening day.

Cleveland relished the thought of doing it again.

Pittsburgh took it personally. History would not repeat itself, they resolved.

Browns Victory Game A Reflection of the 1989 Season
Just as the ’89 Steelers offered a picture of contrasts, so did their October 15th contest at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. During the game the Steelers revealed some horrendous deficiencies, yet they countered those by showcasing an indomitable resiliency.

Consider:
So what if back up quarterback Todd Blackledge, starting his next-to last game in the NFL, only completed 32% of his passes?

  • Not a problem, especially if your defense intercepts Bernie Kosar four times for the first and only time in his career.

A leading receiver (Rodney Carter) who goes 3-30?

  • Less important if he scores a touchdown on one of the three.

Is it important that Warren Williams, Merrill Hoge, Rodney Carter, Ray Wallace, Todd Blackledge, and Tim Worley post a combined rushing average of 2.7 yards a carry?

  • Not when you still control time of possession, 35:20 to 24:40

Can the Steelers commit ten penalties for 121 yards and still win?

  • Yes, they can, especially when an opponent scores a touchdown to bring it to 10-7 with 8 minutes left to play and the Steelers answer with a 73 yard kick return.

Fail to convert 14 of 16 third and fourth down situations?

  • Converting on 4th and 1 at your opponents’ 3 just before the two minute warning carries a far greater impact.

You DO Add Style Points for This One
Although he was only a senior in high school then, one can look at the game stats and imagine Mike Tomlin saying “we don’t add style points….”

But on this day, he would have been wrong.

The Steelers 17-7 victory over the Cleveland Browns on the shores of Lake Eire that day was a moment of beauty.

Pittsburgh avenged a 51-0 opening day loss that had embarrassed them so and called the Steelers entire legacy into question. They shook off the loss of their (then seen as) rising start young quarterback. They compensated for offensive deficiencies with a hard hitting defense that forced and recovered 3 fumbles on top of four interceptions.

October 15th 1989 was a beautiful day for Steelers Nation. Four Weeks after starting the season losing two games by a total score of 92-10, the 1989 Pittsburgh had clawed their way to back to a .500 record.

And did it against the Cleveland Browns!

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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.

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