A fabled franchise flashes the greatness needed to recapture championship glory, only to fall short in the playoffs thanks to a frustratingly bad call….
The next season begins with high hopes, only to have injuries strike key starters as the franchise slides into double-digit losses….
Disaster strikes again the next season, robbing the franchise of its starting quarterback….
.…The call goes to a rookie, who struggles in his first outing, but rebounds to lead his team to 7 straight wins.
We’re of course telling the story of the Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo and Dak Prescott. But this story isn’t exclusive to “America’s Team,” the Pittsburgh Steelers have lived through this too. As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to host the Dallas Cowboys at Heinz Field its interesting to reminisce about the situation the Steelers found themselves in 2004.
Ben Roethlisberger and Tommy Maddox in 2004. Photo Credit: Spokeo
Few were expecting to see anything from the 2014 Cowboys; no one expected Tommy Maddox to do anything other than hold a clipboard in 2002.
A blowout during the Cowboys home opener in 2014 led one writer to speculate over whether Jerry Jones berated his son demanding: “You made me pass on Johnny Football for this….” Yet, led by Romo, the Cowboys bounced back winning 12 games. They then beat the Lions in the playoffs, and appeared to be in position to upset the Packers at Lambeau Field only to lose the game based on the “Catch-Non-catch call.”
Tommy Maddox, aka “Tommy Gun” led the Steelers to 10 straight wins. While threw plenty of picks, as gunslingers are wont to do, commentators wondered aloud as to whether or not Maddox was throwing touchdowns to too quickly to Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress. In the playoffs, Maddox led a dramatic come from behind win over the Browns. The next week, however, the Steelers lost due to a bogus roughing the kicker call where Al Del Greco took a dive worthy of World Cup Soccer.
Unlike Romo in 2015, Maddox escaped the injury bug in 2003, but a good chunk of his offensive line did not, with Kendall Simmons struggling with diabetes and Marvel Smith getting hit with the neck injury that would ultimately end his career. Things got so bad that Bill Cowher had to move Alan Faneca from guard to tackle and back again depending on the down.
The 2015 Cowboys saw Romo, Dez Bryant and several other key players seasons ruined by injuries.
Of Young Dak Prescott and the Once Young Ben Roethlisberger
The parallels of the stories diverge a bit here, as the Cowboys didn’t pick Dak Prescott to be their franchise quarterback in the 4th round. Although the Steelers had done just that with Ben Roethilisberger, Big Ben wasn’t supposed to play as a rookie.
Like Dak Prescott, Ben Roethlisberger struggled in his first action, throwing a pick six vs. the Ravens.
But also like Dak Prescott, Ben Roethlisberger went on a tear.
Tony Romo is back to health, and team owner/general manager Jerry Jones admits the situation is muddled, and likely to remain so. Like Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson before him, Garrett appears to content to go with the hot hand. And so he should.
During the entire 2004 regular season, Ben Roethlisberger never once gave Bill Cowher a reason to second guess his decision to back Roethlisberger. However, Ben appeared nervous in the playoffs against the Jets, and struggled against the Patriots in the AFC Championship.
After the game, Bill Cowher insisted he never considered pulling Rothlisberger in favor of Tommy Maddox.
But after so many AFC Championship frustrations, the thought had to have crossed his mind at some point. No one is comparing the Keith Butler’s 2016 defense to Dick LeBeau’s 2004 version. But with Cameron Heyward and Ryan Shazier back, the Butler’s boys are showing signs of life.
Will that be enough to temp Jason Garrett into making a switch? Probably not, but Steelers fans can always hope….
It seems most PittsburghSteelers fans tell stories of that one definable moment when they fell in-love with their favorite football team.
For most who have been fans since childhood, that moment is usually tied-in with a parental figure, such as their father. Every year around Father’s Day, the Internet is filled with stories from writers, each recalling a time in their youth when their dad took them to their first game, and how this created a life-long love for a specific sports team and an everlasting bond with their father.
Alas, I have no such stories to share from my youth about becoming a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
Steelers fans take over Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego last fall; Photo credit: K.C. Alfred, San Diego Union Tribune
My father was never around, so I couldn’t develop any sort of bond with him–through sports or anything else.
My mom may have been a fan, but I don’t remember her donning Black and Gold or mentioning the Steelers in any way during the first six or seven years of my life.
Steelers Super Bowls of the 70’s a Formative Experience
I attended my first game back in 1988, at the age of 16, but by then, I was already a die-hard fan for almost a decade. And the person I attended the game with was my uncle, who is my age and more like a brother than any sort of parental figure.
Yet, despite a lack of direct family influence during my toddler and kindergarten years, I somehow became a huge Steelers.
One year, January of 1979, I was six and watching an old rerun of Tarzan in the living room of my house in Bellevue (a suburb of Pittsburgh), while my mom watched Super Bowl XIII on the little black-and-white TV in the kitchen as she washed dishes, (video available as of 6/30/16):
I remember seeing Lynn Swann celebrate after Terry Bradshaw threw him the Steelers final touchdown in the fourth quarter of their 35-31 victory over the Cowboys, but at that very moment, I could have cared less.
But by the following year, January of 1980, I was seven and fully-invested, as I watched the Steelers take on the Rams in Super Bowl XIV. And, ironically enough, while my mom took in the action in the living room of our new residence in the Bloomfield section of Pittsburgh, I sat in the kitchen and watched Pittsburgh outlast Los Angeles, 31-19, on that same black-and-white TV that was tuned into Super Bowl XIII one year earlier.
But how did I go from one extreme to the other in just one year of my life?
Obviously, there had to be something there. I do recall watching football games when I was no more than two or three years old, so maybe I was cheering for the Steelers all along and just don’t remember.
At the end of the day, however, it doesn’t really matter how I got from point A to point B. I may not have developed parental bonds through sports as a youngster, but I certainly fostered many bonds in my teenage years and early-20s, when I took in many games with my grandparents, my uncles, and my siblings.
And, believe it or not, in my 30s and 40s, I developed a bit of a Steelers-bond with my mother, who started to become a bigger fan right around the time Ben Roethlisberger came on-board and the franchise was about to add another Super Bowl chapter to its already storied history.
Back to my youth, and those many years I watched games all by myself without anyone else around. I guess when they say that Pittsburgh ingrains allegiance to the Steelers into a person, I’m the perfect example of that.
In the movie Invincible, Vince Papale‘s dad, who, like his son, was going through some tough times in his life, mentioned the 1948 NFL Championship Game between the Eagles and Cardinals. Running back Steve Van Buren scored the only touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter to clinch a 7-0 victory for Philadelphia. Vince’s father, a long-time blue-collar worker, said that touchdown served as a touchstone that got him through 30 years at the local factory.
After six Super Bowl titles and countless other postseason victories over the past 44 years, the PittsburghSteelers fans have given their own nation-wide legion of fans their own touchstones.
For some Steelers fans of course, winning the Super Bowl this year and bringing home the seventh Lombardi is the only thing that matters. It’s the only thing that mattered last year, the year before that, and every other year since the franchise became the standard-bearer for championship success back in the 1970s. Playoff victories, let along mere playoff appearances, simply don’t cut it.
As a life-long Steelers fan, I’m here to tell you that, for me, personally, you can get a ton of traction out of your favorite football team simply making the playoffs. Take last year, for example. After a Week 16 loss to the lowly Ravens, Pittsburgh was on the outside, looking in at January football. The Jets controlled their own playoff destiny, while the Steelers had to not only take care of business in Cleveland, but rely on a Bills‘ team whose offseason destination included golf courses and resorts having enough motivation to knock off a division rival.
Lo and behold, while the Steelers were dispatching of the Browns, Rex Ryan’s charges knocked off his old team, and Pittsburgh’s postseason ticket was punched.
I called at least two family members to celebrate because it truly felt like the Steelers accomplished something special.
Twenty years ago this past January, the Steelers fell to the heavily-favored Cowboys, 27-17, in Super Bowl XXX. Going into the game as a two-touchdown underdog, one would think Steelers fans might feel pride in the team’s effort. However, after falling behind 13-0 in the first half, Pittsburgh dominated the action the rest of the way and had America’s Team on the ropes. Only problem was, Steelers quarterback Neil O’Donnell forever cemented his legacy as one of the biggest goats in Pittsburgh sports history by throwing two second half interceptions that led directly to 14 points for Dallas.
To this day, when you mention the O’Donnell interceptions Steelers, fans bemoan the outcome and what could have been.
However, for me, I’ll always have fond memories of the Steelers run to the Super Bowl, after starting out the 1995 campaign 3-4 and looking totally outclassed at home by both the Vikings and Bengals in two of those four losses. That Bill Cowher inspired rebound gave me a quartet of “Steelers never forget” moments:
the 49-31 triumph in Cincinnati after the team fell behind 31-13 in the second half.
Neil O’Donnell hitting Ernie Millsfor 37 yards down the right sideline to the one-yard line in the waning moments of the AFC Championship Game at Three Rivers Stadium causing my two uncles embrace in our living room.
Colts’ quarterback Jim Harbaugh‘s Hail Mary pass falling to the turf in the end zone as time ran out
the euphoria that Sunday night when it finally sunk in that my Steelers, the team I had been watching for 15 years, was actually going to the Super Bowl.
I’ll never forget the celebratory feeling I had over the course of the next two weeks, as I took in everything about Super Bowl XXX and all things Pittsburgh and Dallas.
Was Super Bowl XXX’s ending sour? Yes. But sometimes, as Chuck Noll would likely remind us, it’s about the journey and not just the destination.
As a kid in the 1980s, I had very little memory of the 1970s. Therefore, those four Super Bowls and the heroes that brought them to Pittsburgh seemed almost mythical to me.
Thanks to NFL Films, I received a nice little education on the previous decade, and all those legends who dominated the football landscape every Sunday afternoon. But the reality for me in the ’80s was mediocre talent and mediocre records.
So, when I look back on Super Bowl XXX, I don’t get depressed or feel like ‘O Donnell cheated me out of a title. I cherish that time, because I never thought I’d actually witness my favorite football team play on the game’s biggest stage in-front of a world-wide audience.
But there was one final domino that needed to fall on Christmas night: The Vikings had to knock off the Bengals on Monday Night Football.
After falling behind 19-0, the Bengals, the defending AFC champions, had crawled back to within 22-21 and looked poised to indirectly ruin Pittsburgh’s holiday. But believe it or not, some guy named Brent Novoselsky eased everyone’s fears when he pulled in a one-yard touchdown pass from Wade Wilson in the closing moments to make it 29-21 and clinch a postseason berth for not only the Vikings, but the Steelers, as well.
I can still see Dwayne Woodruff, Pittsburgh’s veteran cornerback, who the ABC network had been corresponding with throughout the game from a remote location, throwing his hands up in victory, after Novoselsky’s score. Speaking of hands, I can still feel the nervous tingle in mine as I watched the end of that Vikings/Bengals match-up that night.
Unfortunately, my Steelers playoff-clinching celebration took a bit of a backseat to family unrest during the remainder of my high school Christmas break.
For a 17-year old with no where to escape the drama, my only release was dreaming about Pittsburgh’s wildcard match-up with the hated Oilers in the Astrodome on December 31, 1989.
Gary Anderson splitting the uprights @ the Houston Astrodome; Photo credit: Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE
You can read the specifics of the Steelers upset victory at the Astrodome here, but after legendary kicker Gary Anderson nailed a 50-yard field goal in overtime to give the Steelers a 26-23 victory, all the tension and drama I had been feeling that week was suddenly washed away.
As I walked around my neighborhood that night, thoughts of family strife were non-existent.
Here we are, some 27 years later, and I still have fond memories of that season and that single moment when I jumped out of my living room chair after Gary Anderson‘s over time field goal sailed through the uprights.
Gary Anderson’s overtime game winner in 1989 at the Astrodome didn’t secure a championship for the Steelers, but it instantly turned a bad time in my life into one that I still cherish to this day.
Pittsburgh kicks off its 2016 campaign with a trip to FedEx Field in Week 1 to take on the Redskins on Monday Night Football at 7:10 p.m. ET.
Much like a year ago, the Steelers will begin their home schedule in Week 2, and this time around they will take on their now most heated rivals, when the Bengals visit sans Vontaze Burfict, who is suspended to begin the season.
Along with the remaining AFC North foes, Pittsburgh’s home schedule will also include a Week 4 clash with the Chiefs on Sunday Night Football, and 4:25 tilts against the Patriots (Week 7) and Cowboys (Week 10) and Giants (Week 13).
Pittsburgh’s bye week will be on October 30, or three weeks early than a year ago.
The Steelers third prime-time game will be on Thanksgiving night, when they travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts as part of the third-leg of the NFL’s annual triple-header.
Burfict will get a chance to mix it up with the Steelers in Week 15, when Pittsburgh travels to Cincinnati for its fourth prime-time game, this time on Sunday Night Football.
The Steelers regular season schedule wraps up with consecutive home games on Christmas and New Year’s, as Baltimore comes to town in Week 16 and Cleveland visits Heinz Field in Week 17.
When I first moved here that meant only being able to see 2-3 games per year, and even then it required getting up at 2 or 3 am (and having to get up for work the next day.) Night games are hell, particularly after the US goes “fall forward.”
The flipside is, it is relatively easy to watch Steelers games on tape delay without knowing the ending.
This is of course theoretically possible to do in the US, but a lot harder to execute in practice. I’d imagine it would be dam near impossible for someone living in Pittsburgh to pull this off, and even for the legion of Steelers fans in Steelers Nation, it would still take a fair amount of discipline, cooperation from friends (and enemies) and a fair amount of luck.
And while the rational side of my brain reminds me that there’s no connection between when I watch and how the Steelers play, the sentimental side of my brain is wont to give into superstition.
And the Steelers generally do well on tap delay.
My first experience with tape delay was good: the 2001 Steelers beat the Titans and Ravens at Heinz Field. In 2002 the Steelers followed up their Dread the Spread season opening loss to the Patriots by laying an egg vs. the Raiders, the later of which I saw on tape delay. Yet, later in 2002, the Steelers beat Peyton Manning and the Colts on Monday Night Football.
2003 wasn’t so kind as the Steelers dropped Prime Time games to the Browns and 49ers on tape delay.
Ditto 2005 where tape delay had the Steelers losing to the Colts on Monday Night Football.
And so comes the Steelers 2015 season closer vs. the Cleveland Browns. This is one game that the Steelers will have to work to lose, which as last week’s loss to the Ravens reveals, they’re capable of doing it. But with Browns coach Mike Pettine reportedly already set to be fired, the Steelers should win this one in a walk.
So no tape delay assist (should be) needed.
However, Steelers vs. Browns is not the only iron Steelers Nation has in the fire as the 2015 NFL season closes. As EVERYONE knows, if Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills upset the New York Jets, the Steelers will make it to the playoffs….
…On paper the Jets should clobber the Bills.
But Rex Ryan has already upset his former employer. Doing so twice in one season, especially with the playoffs on the line for the Jets and the Bills only playing for pride is an uphill battle.
In other words, a perfect test for tape delay. Go Steelers!
Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is wondering if what once seemed to be his star pupil is actually underachieving or is simply mired in mediocrity, here is the Steelers report card for the loss to the Dallas Cowboys at Jerry’s World. As a caveat, no other report cards were consulted prior to this posting.
Quarterback Had the Steelers won, it would have been forgotten that Ben Roethlisberger started shaky, was uncharacteristically low on several key throws, and was below 50% passing for much of the early going. The amnesia is justified, as Roethlisberger put on a sterling performance to close the second half, and brought the Steelers back from deficits in the fourth quarter in strong fashion. But… He threw an interception, inside his own twenty, in over time. Maybe one costly error doesn’t negate everything Roethlisberger did, but it negates a lot. Grade: C-
Running Back Jonathan Dwyer started off with a strong 6 yard run, and then end up averaging 2.4 yards per carry, although nine carries isn’t much to judge by. Isaac Redman had a spectacular 22 yard run and looked good, on his other 2 carries. Ditto Chris Rainey, who made the most of his carries. It may have been through no fault of their own, but the running backs were largely a non-factor. Grade: B-
Wide Receivers This unit started out with some ball security issues, drops and inability to get in bounds, and of course finished with an inability to stay in bounds. But in between, the receivers turned in a pretty good game. Heath Miller was phenomenal in the first half. Mike Wallace burned his men so badly he had to wait for the ball, and Jerricho Cotchery made a couple of key catches. Grade: B
Offensive Line Ben Roethlisberger didn’t go down often early, but that was largely from his “Roger the Dodger” imitation. The run blocking was average at best. Both Max Starks and Kelvin Beachum struggled to contain pressure off the edge. But unit put up a winning performance until the Steelers final two possessions – when Roethlisberger needed time the most. That breakdown was unacceptable. Grade: D
Defensive Line Unlike Pittsburgh, Dallas’ running game was a factor, giving Tony Romo lots of 2nd and 3rd and shorts which he converted with relish. That starts with the defensive line. Likewise, the Steelers got little significant pressure on Romo. In fact, Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward were the only players to register any stats, although Brett Keisel recovered a fumble. With a depleted secondary, the Steelers needed something extra up front. They didn’t get it much from the line. Grade: C-
Linebackers Lawrence Timmons continued to make his case for defensive MVP registering a sack and stopping a key Dallas third down conversion. James Harrison saved a touchdown with a masterful strip at the goal line, and nixed some sort of trickery by slam dunking Romo on another 3rd and short. LaMarr Woodley played, but was invisible throughout the game. Larry Foote did little to distinguish himself. Grade: B-
Secondary You had to feel for Joshua Victorian. Has a Steelers corner ever been picked on so badly? Clearly he was over matched early on, but he did perk up, a little during the game. Still, poor tackling and yards after the catch were as much issues as completions, which were plentifully. Keenan Lewis turned in a strong game including some great touchdown saves. Ryan Clark led the team in tackles, and Troy Polamalu was second, although he’s clearly failed to be a force since his return. The Standard is the Standard, and the secondary was below the line. Grade: D
Special Teams Shaun Suisham was 1-1 on field goals. Chris Rainey had one nice kick return. No returns got called back on penalties. Dallas did have a long punt return. Antonio Brown had two long punt returns. Unfortunately on his second one, where he looked primed to set Pittsburgh up to ice the game, he put the ball on the ground. For an encore he passed on fielding a punt and the ensuring bounce put the Steelers another 15 yards in the hole. This unit cannot seem to stop tripping over its own too feet. The fumble was a decisive momentum shift. Inexcusable. Grade: F
Coaching After a heart breaking letdown the Steelers started off jittery. To their credit, Mike Tomlin kept the team on an even keel. On a day when Tony Romo was moving with alarming ease, the Steelers maintained their composure and did not hesitate to go blow for blow. And for all of the defense’s flaws, they did force Dallas off the field at a couple of key points (only to watch their special teams self destruct.)
Dick Lebeau had a difficult task. His adjustments didn’t manage to get much pressure on Romo, but overall the defense’s performance might have been good enough. Ditto Todd Haley. Much is made of the inability to get Heath Miller the ball in the second half, but the Steelers offense did tie the game in the 3rd and took the lead in the first. Ultimately the Steelers did make some adjustments, but they weren’t enough. Grade: C
Unsung Hero He’s a guy who doesn’t see the stat sheet a lot and will in all likelihood have to fight for a roster spot every summer at St. Vincents. But Ben Roethlisberger called his number twice, and twice he delivered with double digit receptions, including one that helped set up the Steelers first score. On the Steelers second score, he helped open the daylight that lead to Dwyer’s first half ending touchdown, and for that Will Johnson is the Unsung Hero of the Dallas game.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys are the NFL’s two most popular and by most measures, most successful franchises. They’ve now faced off 31 times, with Dallas holding a one game advantage in the series. Its hard to generalize about the series, given that:
When the Steelers took to the field for the game’s first possession, the question on everyone’s mind was, “Which Pittsburgh Steelers squad will show up today?”
The answer as previewed on the Steelers first drive left everyone in Steelers Nation queasy. After a nice six yard run by Jonathan Dwyer, Ben Roethlisberger threw:
A deep pass to Mike Wallace that Wallace probably should have caught and Dallas probably should have intercepted
A short pass to Antonio Brown that he might have been able to catch and that Dallas should have intercepted
A deep ball to Emmanuel Sanders that he caught and fumbled, only to have mercifully ruled as an incompletion upon review
Another pass that got batted around by Dallas defenders like a volley ball
Sadly, the sight of Drew Butler on fourth down was sign of relief. Things didn’t get much better on the Steelers next possession which ended with Mike Wallace making what looked to be a beautiful catch, only for him to fail to get both feet in bounds.
Even more sadly, these first two series most certainly foreshadowed things to come for the Steelers, although that might not have been immediately apparent.
Keep’n ‘em Honest in Texas
Tony Romo entered the game on a real hot streak, and figured to feast mightily on a Steelers secondary missing Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen and featuring someone named Josh Victorian starting at corner.
The record will, and should, reflect that Romo and his receivers did pick the Steelers secondary apart for much of the afternoon. At one point Romo was 20-25.
But that’s only part of the story. As has happened all season, in both victory and defeat, members from across the roster have made plays to keep the Steelers in the game.
Keenan Lewis broke up a pass to Dez Bryant to hold Dallas to a field goal
Lawrence Timmons smothered Murray on third and one to end Dallas first 3rd quarter possession
James Harrison sacked Tony Romo on an attempt to sneak something big on another 3rd and 1
Big plays weren’t solely limited to the defense. Near the end of the first half, Ben Roethlisberger flawlessly executed the 2 minute drill, and completing 3 passes to Heath Miller including a 30 yard touchdown. He also threw a 60 yarder to Mike Wallace to set up Dwyer’s second touchdown.
Jerricho Cotchery, Mike Wallace and Isaac Redman also made excellent plays on the drive the culminated with Antonio Brown’s go ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Failing on the Fundamentals
Although that touchdown gave Pittsburgh its first lead in the game, it also held the seeds for its downfall. Brown made an excellent catch on a very low pass, but the pass was low, as had been several others of Roethlisberger. Even as Pittsburgh was pulling ahead, its fundamentals were flawed.
Brown himself would make that painfully clear in just a few minutes.
A series of Dallas penalties and incomplete passes brought up 4th and 19 for the Cowboys. Not surprisingly, Jason Garrett opted to punt.
Antonio Brown fielded the ball and tore through the defense en route to giving Pittsburgh excellent field position, if not something bigger…
…Then he put the ball on the ground.
The repossession gave Dallas new life and they quickly tied the game. As he did on other drives, Tony Romo exploited the youth and inexperience of the Steelers corners, but he was even more successful because the Steelers failed to tackle cleanly, regularly yielding Dallas extra yards after the catch.
Things cascaded after that point.
The Steelers make shift offensive line, complete with David DeCastro making his first start, had done a workman like job, only allowing 1 sack in the game’s first 54 minutes.
The Steelers next possession was ended by a sack on third down
On the following possession, Roethlisberger was sacked on consecutive downs, for 8 yards each time
On the next play Antonio Brown inexplicably gave Dallas an extra time out by running out of bounds
Sure, the game went into over time anyway, but perhaps that extra time out is what allow Dallas to pin Pittsburgh deep and with no time to end regulation.
Finally, overtime ended with Ben Roethlisberger threw a risky pass and paid the price.
Against the Dallas Cowboys the Pittsburgh Steelers played hard and at times played well. But too often they ignored core fundamentals and ultimately lacked focus at key times.
They now need to find both fast, to have any hope of saving their season.
“Best” in the National Football League is defined by Super Bowl Championships. But how do you decide who is “the best of the best” when comparing championship teams from different eras? It’s an irresistible, unending, and most often unanswerable question because it’s rare when two truly great teams clash in a single era.
The glory earned by Bill Walsh’s 49ers was real, but in none of those Super Bowls did San Francisco defeat another team that also laid claim to the term “Dynasty.”
Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys of the ‘70´s established dynasties, and they did play each other in the Super Bowl. Twice. And that’s what makes their rivalry so special.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys have played 30 times and the series stands at a 15-15 stalemate. The links below take you back games that I have memories of starting with the Super Bowls.
First a little poetic license. I’m too young to remember Super Bowl X, but omitting this NFL classic would be a sin. Chad Millman and Sean Coyne chronicle this series in their 2010 book The Ones Who Hit the Hardest, arguing that the tensions between the two teams mirrored the 1970’s Sun Belt-Frost Belt social shift. While that’s interesting, this Super Bowl magnum’s true richness is in the Hall of Fame Talent found on both sides of the ball.
Although the Steel Curtain defense was at its prime, it couldn’t stop Roger Staubach from striking quickly to Drew Pearson for a 29 yard touchdown pass. Pittsburgh rallied quickly, thanks in part of the first of several acrobatic “Lynn Swann” catches. Dallas struck back by with three more, and the two teams stood at a stalemate until Cliff Harris’ ill-advised taunting of Roy Gerela after a missed kick. Jack Lambert would not stand for it, and tossed Harris to the turf.
Although Lambert pleaded with the official not to get ejected, his boldness inspired the Steelers. In short order, Reggie Harrison blocked a punt for a safety, and Roy Gerela kicked two field goals to put Pittsburgh ahead by 3, which they clung to until late in the 4th.
On third and 6 with 3:06 to play Dallas KOed Terry Bradshaw with a helmet-to-helmet hit on all out safety blitz, but not before he lofted a 64 yard pass to Lynn Swann, who put the Steelers up 21-10.
Pittsburgh had the lead, but Bradshaw was out and 3 minutes was a lot of time to give Roger Staubach…
What separates a great player in his era from an all time great?
For one, the all time greats elevate those around them. Roger Staubach only need 1:14 to put Dallas back in the game, and he did it with a 34 yard bullet to Percy Howard for a touchdown, making that the first and only pass reception of Howard’s NFL career.
Without Bradshaw, the Steelers failed to kill the clock.
Chuck Noll refused to punt, giving Roger Staubach ample time to go 61 yards.
But Noll had the best defense in NFL history at his disposal. He trusted them. And they delivered and they delivered as Mike Wagner tipped Staubach’s final pass into the arms of Glen Edwards.
This was the first Super Bowl rematch and arguably the best Super Bowl ever, with 7 touchdowns, a 22 yard touchdown run, and a fumble returned for a touchdown.
While still strong, the Steel Curtain had begun its decline. But Chuck Noll and Tom Moore compensated by unleashing Lynn Swann and John Stallworth with the help of Terry Bradshaw´s cannon.
The day’s defensive accolades belonged to the Dallas “Doomsday Defense” led by Randy White, Harvey Martin, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and the coke sniffing Hollywood Henderson. This was the year that Tom Landry unveiled the famous “flex defense” that befuddled the league.
Who would triumph? The Irresistible force or the Immovable object?
Super Bowl XIII was Terry Bradshaw’s finest game.
Lynn Swann and John Stallworth caught touchdown passes of 18 yards, 28 yards, and 75 yards, respectively
Although he threw just 30 times, he had 318 yards passing
Rocky Bleier closed the first half with another touchdown catch, making a play that a former Vietnam vet who was never supposed to walk again had no right to.
The game featured Hall of Fame caliber plays from both teams. Tony Dorsett gouged Pittsburgh’s defense for 96 yards on just 15 carries – an astonishing 6.4 yard average. Roger Staubach himself had a 3 touchdown game, including two in the game’s final 2 and a half minutes.
Looking back at Dorsett’s rushing dominance one might ask, why were Staubach’s heroics even necessary? Why didn’t Dallas run more?
The answer lies in Dallas’ inability to take advantage of opportunities, and in that age old flaw – cockiness.
With Dallas trailing 21 to 14 in the third quarter, Staubach hit Jackie Smith perfectly alone in the end zone – Smith dropped the ball
Midway through the 4th, Randy White recovered a muffed kickoff, only to fumble and then watch Dennis Wilson emerge with the ball from the ensuring scrum
One play later, Bradshaw hit Swann for an 18 yard touchdown strike
But it was the touchdown that set up the botched kickoff that provides the instructive tale.
Prior to Super Bowl XII, Hollywood Henderson had talked a lot of trash:
Insulting Randy Grossman
Calling Jack Lambert a “toothless chimpanzee”
charging that Bradshaw could not spell “cat” if you spotted him the “c” and the “t”
Midway through the fourth quarter Henderson slammed Bradshaw to the turf on a play whistled dead before the snap. Not content with an illegal it, Henderson took his time climbing off of Bradshaw, taunting him all the while.
Franco Harris, normally reserved to a fault, took exception to the taunts and got into Henderson’s face. According to Millman and Coyne, Henderson rebuffed him, “_uck you in your ass, and your mama, too.”
Harris’ response was simple. It was 3rd and 9 and Harris returned to the huddle and said “give me the ball.” Bradshaw complied, calling a special trap the Noll andMoore had designed to exploit a weakness in the Flex defense.
Harris ran straight through the hole, and went 22 yards later he found the end zone.
Staubach’s of course would lead two 4th quarter touchdown drives, leaving Dallas 22 seconds for an on-sides kick and a final shot at glory. But Rocky Bleier recovered the kick, sealing the Steelers 3rd Super Bowl victory.
Afterwards, a Cowboy’s radio commentator proclaimed “It was a triumph of blue collar over white collar.” Maybe that’s true. The grandson of a Mt. Oliver butcher who lived by the sweat of his brow certainly likes that ending to the story.
But truth is something perhaps grander yet.
It was a historical rarity that pitted two dynasties clashing in the game’s greatest show, with Pittsburgh coming out on top.
Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney, Sr. passed away on August 28th, 1988. The Chief’s death marked a transition for the team. Gone was Mark Malone, drafted in 1980 to replace Terry Bradshaw. Gone too were John Stallworth and Mike Webster, leaving Dwayne Woodruff as the final link to the Super Steelers.
As fate would have it, Rooney’s team would confront their historic rivals 7 days after his death, making it the final time that Chuck Noll and Tom Landry’s final contest. The game marked Bubby Brister’s first non-injury start and Michael Irvin’s NFL debut. It also began a sort of last hurrah for 1980´s Steelers stables such as Ernest Jackson who would soon find himself benched in favor of an unheralded second year player named Merril Hoge.
The Steelers won 24 to 21, allowing Noll to open with a victory over Landry in a season that would see him close it with a victory over Shula – and get precious little in between.
The 1989 Steelersrekindled the passions and imaginations of an aspiring Steelers Nation. They also left the 1990 Steelers with the 17th pick, and Emmitt Smith was still on the board when their time came.
…Dallas of pounced on Emmitt Smith, and Number 22 would make Pittsburgh pay for that error several times, beginning on Thanksgiving Day 1991.
Dallas scored the first 10 points on the heels of an Emmitt Smith touchdown and Ken Willis field goal. Floundering under Joe Walton´s offense, Pittsburgh got its first score in the third quarter thanks to Gary Anderson.
The Cowboys matched with 3 of their own, but with a late 4th quarter Warren Williams touchdown the Steelers threatened to make a game of it. Dallas responded, when Steve Beuerlein hit Michal Irvin across the middle. Gary Jones missed the tackle and even Rod Woodsoncould not chase him down as Irvin iced the game with a 66 yard touchdown.
Emmitt Smith had 109 yards on the day, more than the entire Steelers rushing offense….
Jimmy Johnson brought the Lombardi back to Dallas in 1992, the year an rookie head coach ignighted the passions of Steelers Nation with the phenomenon known as “Cowher Power.” Dallas repeated as champions in 1993 and, although the 1993 Steelers just snuck into the playoffs, they entered 1994 as the class of the AFC.
The stage was set Pittsburgh vs. Dallas at Three Rivers Stadium for FOX´s first NFL broadcast – the Steelers were to have their official coming out party as a legit contender….
…And the Steelers fell flat on their faces.
The Steelers did nothing right. Barry Fosterwas held to 44 yards rushing, and one of the game’s enduring images was Bill Cowher imploring Neil O’Donnell on the side lines “Throw the Ball Neil! You’re a quarterback, throw the ball!”
The Cowboys sacked Neil O’Donnell 9 times, including 4 by Charles Haley alone
Emmitt Smith decimated the Steelers for 171 yards
Michael Irvin had 8 catches for 139 yards
Overconfidence was the Achilles heal of Bill Cowher’s early teams. Every time they had a showcase game they failed miserably. And so it was on opening day 1994 vs. Dallas and so it remained later in January when the San Diego Chargers upset the Steelers in the AFC Championship game.
As mentioned above, Chuck Noll opened and closed 1988 with wins over Landry´s Cowboys and Shula’s Dolphins with only 3 victories in between. That 5-11 was a low point for Noll, but it disqualified Pittsburgh from the Aikman Derby, an “honor” which fell to Dallas.
Had the 1988 Steelers finished 2-14 Noll almost certainly would have drafted Aikman and probably also would have picked Emmitt Smith in 1990. Could that alternate scenario have led to a Super Bowl XXX pitting a Steelers team led by Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith vs. a Dallas Cowboys squad led by Steve Walsh and Barry Sanders?
We’ll never know. Dallas got Troy Aikman, leaving Pittsburgh to draft Neil O’Donnell in 1990. And those two picks would make all the difference in the big dance.
Dallas started fast, scoring the game’s first 13 points, as stage fright slowed the Steelers. But the Black and Gold got back into things when Yancy Thigpen caught a touchdown pass despite Slime Time Dieon Sanders’ blatant pass interference.
The Dallas Cowboys deserve full credit for winning this game, but Pittsburgh wounds were self inflicted. Early in the third quarter Neil O’Donnell threw a pass directly to Larry Brown who returned it deep into the Red Zone, where Emmitt Smith easily converted.
Undaunted, the Steelers got back on the board with a 46 yard Norm Johnson field goal, and then Bill Cowher made one of the gustiest calls in Super Bowl history with a surprise on-sides that Deon Figures recovered. The Steelers marched down the field and Bam Morris brought them to within 3, as the score stood 20-17 Dallas.
The Steelers defense held, but that did not stop Neil O’Donnell from striking again, as he once age threw directly to Larry Brown, who again returned it to the Red Zone. O’Donnell apologists argue that Andre Hastings ran the wrong route, but it’s the quarterback’s job to deliver a ball, and there was nary a black jersey in sight on Brown´s second interception.
Emmitt Smith put the Dallas Cowboys ahead for good a few plays later, sealing Super Bowl XXX for Dallas.
For the record, Troy Aikman was flawless in the game, going 15-23 with one touchdown and no picks.
The game evened Dallas’s Super Bowl record with the Steelers to 1-2, and pulled the Cowboys ahead in the Lombardi count by 1.
Troy Aikman torched the Steelers secondary for 4 touchdown passes
Yes, the Steelers effectively shut down Emmitt Smith, but that didn´t matter, as Dallas jumped to a 37-0 lead and held it until Mark Bruner hauled in a face-saving 4th quarter touchdown.
This game was neither the first nor the last of Bill Cowher’s infamous opening day blow outs. And true to form the Steelers rebounded landing in the AFC Championship later that year, while Dallas imploded losing their last 5 en route to a 6-10 finish as Barry Switzer lost control of the team.
But that future seemed very distant for both teams during that 37-7 drubbing one hot Sunday in August at Three Rivers Stadium.
The Dave Campo in Dallas ended with the faithful at Texas Stadium demanding that Jerry Jones bring Bill Parcells to Irving. Bring him he did. Tuna brought Vinny Testaverde with him….
…Vinny Testaverde got and still gets better press than any other overrated under achieving quarterback in the history of the NFL. But Parcells coaxed the best out of Vinny. Yet not even Big Tuna could will success out of Testaverde against his old AFC Central Nemesis….
…and for a while it looked like Vinny might just deny him it.
The Cowboys quickly jumped ahead on a Richie Anderson touchdown, but Ben Roethlisberger struck back with touchdown to Plaxico Burress, followed by a 51 yard field goal from Jeff Reed.
But Dallas tied it at the half, added another three to start the third quarter, and as the third quarter was ending the Cowboys appeared to pull away when Testaverde connected with Meshawn “Will You Just GIVE ME the DAMM BALL” Johnson for a 22 yard touchdown.
The Steelers tied it late in the fourth quarter with a touchdown, but Testaderde began masterfully killing the clock.
At third and 13 with 2:36 remaining Dallas only needed a first down to ice the game, but James Farriorknocked the ball lose and Kemo Von Oelhoffen recovered. Five plays later Jerome Bettis was in for the go ahead touchdown, dropping Testaverde´s record vs. the Steelers to 2-10.
Yet the Steelers entered the 4th quarter down 13 to 3. As Dallas held Willie Parker to 25 yards, Ben Roethlisberger and Heath Miller lost fumbles, and the Steelers converted a woeful 3 of 16 third downs.
Early in the 4th quarter the Steelers finally put together a long drive reaching the one, but despite trying on both third and fourth downs, Gary Russellcould not punch it in. The Dallas defense celebrated as if it had won the game.
Dallas offense lasted 6 plays and ‘Tone responded with a 35 yard punt return, giving the Steelers excellent field position, but the Steelers were forced to settle for 3. Again the Steelers defense responded with a three and out. Ben Roethlisberger hooked up 3 times with Nate Washington on the ensuring drive before throwing a 5 yard pass to Jeff Reed, trying the game with just over two minutes to play.
On its first play Dallas ran two yards up the middle.
Mike Tomlin called a time out. Tony Romo was audibly incredulous and visibly fluster by Tomlin’s take no prisoners move. You can watch the results for yourself, with a little music interlude, courtesy of “Renegade” (available as of 12-13-12):
The 2012 Steelers traveled to Jerry’s World reeling looking to regain footing after a shocking loss to the Chargers the week before. The Steelers might failed to play disciplined football, but the certainly lacked on flair for the dramatic in this one.
The Steelers opening drive featured 2 “should have been” interceptions on Ben Roethlisberger attempts to connect with Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, followed by an Emmanuel Sanders fumble that mercifully got ruled as an incompletion. Dallas jumped to a 10 point lead, but the Steelers fought back tying the game at the half.
The lead changed hands 3 times in the third quarter, but the Steelers opened a 24-17 advantage on a 7 yard Ben Roethlisberger-Antonio Brown hook up. Pittsburgh appeared to have Dallas on the ropes when its defense forced the Cowboys to punt next possession, and Antonio Brown appeared to be hammering the nail into their coffin as he returned the punt 22 yards, only to be stripped of the ball.
The Cowboys tied the score. The Steelers had two chances to mount a comeback, but three times in the next two possessions and once on consecutive downs. The Steelers won the toss in overtime, but a Roethlisberger interception was returned to the one, allowing Dallas to score.
The Pittsburgh Steelers victory over the Dallas Cowboys is perplexing to much of Steelers Nation, and for good reason. Against New England, the Steelers prevailed in what was supposedly a “statement game” and they did it by going back Steelers Football. Once you get beyond the “win is a win” credo, and set aside the phenomenal performance of the defense, it is hard not to view the Dallas game as somewhat of a step back.
But was it a step back?
At this point in the season Steelers Nation has little choice to accept the good with the bad. This team has a dominating defense of the likes that has been seldom seen. Its special teams are no longer a liability, and in fact have provided sparks at key moments in big games. But the offense can be generously described as “inconsistent.”
So be it.
Steelers fans who want to make sense of the Dallas game need look back no further than the lessons we learned in week 2 against the Cleveland Browns.
Steelers 2008 Season Previewed in Week 2
Week two might seem like a long time ago, but the game against the Browns gave Steelers Nation a good snapshot of what was to be for the rest of the season.
The Steelers defense dominated. It stifled drive after drive, and each time the Browns got some semblance of momentum going, the defense stepped up to stop them with a big play.
The offense of course struggled. At the time we thought, “Oh, it’s the rain and gail force winds….¨ Or, its only week two. Willie got his hundred, and Ben was able to rocket passes downfield…. But the offense never could establish a rhythm. In a game where they could have doubled or tripled the score on Cleveland, the Steelers had to settle for winning 10 to 6.
The Commitment that Mike Tomlin Established Against Cleveland
If there is one thing that shown in the Cleveland game, its that Mike Tomlin is a coach committed to letting games be determined by the players on the field of play. At the time Steel Curtain Rising observed:
When 2008 chapter on the Pittsburgh Steelers is written, game two will likely be cast simply as the night the Steelers went 2-0 by the ho-hum score of 10-6.
Fair enough, none of the key plays were outstandingly spectacular, nor will they be long remembered. But they nonetheless reveal something important. Mike Tomlin is a coach who is ready to put the game in the hands of his players, and when he does that the players will respond with poise.
Against the Browns, Mike Tomlin had chance after chance to play it safe. He declined each time, instead opting to play to win.
He did much the same against the Cowboys
2008 Steelers Play to Win
The Steelers offense played losing football for the vast majority of the game against the Cowboys. Anytime you defense secures four turnovers in a game of this level and your offense only converts them into 3 points, you know something is not going well.
Tomlin continued to put his trust in his players. His players persevered, and ultimately preformed. The Steelers of late have had trouble converting goal line situations. They found themselves in another to open the 4th quarter. They were down 13 to 3 and needed two scores.
Mike Tomlin went for the touchdown anyway.
Gary Russell of course failed to convert (or more aptly stated, the Steelers offensive line failed to block for Gary Russell).
Dallas’ defense celebrated as if the game was over.
Tomlin’s defense simply delivered.
Six plays later Dallas was punting, and three more plays after that Jeff Reed was making it a seven point game.
The Steelers defense came back and forced another three and out, and this time Ben Roethlisberger and Nate Washington delivered, leading the team on an eight play 67 yard drive that ended with Heath Miller’s touchdown pass. That score tied the game, but Tomlin wasn’t done.
Perhaps We Should Call it the Black and Bold
Dallas got the ball back with 1:58 yet. The conventional wisdom when you’re playing defense in this case is you prevent the big play and hope to be on the right side of the coin toss in over time.
Dallas ran Choice for two yards…
And then Tomlin called a time out.
Not content to play for the stalemate for the sake of reaching overtime, Tomlin played to win.
Press reports reveal that Romo was incredulous…
On the next play Dick LeBeau called what looked like Cover-2. Except it wasn’t. Thinking he was going to hook up with All Pro Jamie Witten, Romo fired pass that Deshea Townsend came out of no where to intercept, and return 25 yards for a touchdown.
Where to Go From Here?
At this point the adulation at the dramatic come from behind victory against the Cowboys has faded to the reality that the Steelers must travel to Baltimore to play the Ravens. Baltimore where they have not won in five years. Baltimore where only the Titans have been victorious this year. Baltimore, the team with a defense every bit as physical as the Steelers.
Its impossible to know the outcome, although the smart money would have to favor the Ravens. But the smart money wouldn’t have favored the Steelers comebacks against the Jaguars, Chargers, or Cowboys.
A big part of the Steelers success in those endeavors lines in the fact that Mike Tomlin plays to win. Whatever the outcome of the Ravens game, you can rest assured that Tomlin and the Steelers will not attempt to play it safe.
The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Dallas Cowboys by 20-13 in one of their most nerve wracking games in a season filled with barn burners and nail biters.
Its ironic that in what the Post-Gazette had dubbed the “Latin America Bowl,” referring to the fact that the Steelers and Cowboys are the two most popular teams in Mexico, the President of the Pittsburgh Steelers fan club of Buenos Aires, yours truly, down here in Argentina did not get to see the game until 24 hours after it was played.
Personal and professional commitments made this a tape delay affair, but I mustered my self discipline not to check the score, or any other NFL news, despite being connected to a computer all day.
Kudos go out to my wife, who despite my entreaties, went ahead and looked up the score this morning, but did not let off an inkling as to the fact that she’d done so, let alone give up the score. The Cancherita de Catamarca* earns a well deserved award for candor this week.
As for the game itself…. Wow. It is hard to know what to say.
The story has been much the same all season. The defense plays some dominating ball, and the offense finds a way to win. Special teams played their role too.
Suffice to say a more thorough post-game summary will be forthcoming in a day or so.
*No, my wife is not from Catamarca, but hey it sounds good.