I feel like a teenager all over again.
Why do I say that? I’ve been reminiscing about the 1980s, back when times seemed simpler and the world was full of possibilities. Maybe it’s because I turned 50 in May. Maybe it’s because I really miss the formative years of my life.
Or maybe it’s because the Steelers are oh-so awful in 2022, complete with a 2-6 record and a place near the bottom of many statistical categories, both offensively and defensively.
That’s right, the offense, one now led by rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, is ranked 28th in total yards. As for the defense, one that was supposed to carry the team in 2022, it’s ranked 29th in total yards allowed. Yes, the unit has been without T.J. Watt since Week 1, but the defense was no bargain a year ago, even with Watt putting together a Defensive Player of the Year season.
The calls for head coach Mike Tomlin’s dismissal — calls that were always quite popular even during the good years — have been louder than ever.
Speaking of coaching dismissals, the Steelers have officially reached their bye week, and the only thing the fans are hanging their hats on at the moment is the possible firing of offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
Seriously, the fans are wishing for that like some fans wish for a championship.
The tide is low in 2022. In fact, it hasn’t felt this low since the late-1980s when 6-10 and even 5-11 campaigns became commonplace under the Emperor, Chuck Noll.
Yes, times were tough under Bill Cowher in the late-’90s, but this just “feels” different and more like the 1980s struggles when a turnaround wasn’t just a few moves away.
I guess that’s why I’ve been drawn to mid-to-late-’80s Steelers nostalgia as of late. Maybe that’s why I watched the NFL Films “highlights” from the 1986 campaign, one that ended with a 6-10 record, the franchise’s then-worst mark since 1969. That feature was narrated by Larry Richert, an unknown at the time but someone who would go on to become a Pittsburgh radio icon, as well as Dan Marino‘s brother-in-law.
- Oh yeah, Richert is the PA announcer for every Steelers home game at Acrisure Stadium.
I’ve also been watching broadcasts from the Steelers’ 5-11 campaign in 1988, their now worst season since 1969. The Steelers started off even worse in ’88 than they did through seven games of the 2022 campaign–1-6–before stunning a slightly better Broncos team, one that was without the legendary John Elway, 39-21 at old Three Rivers Stadium.
I’ll never forget where I was — at my grandparents’ home in Pittsburgh — when Rodney Carter opened the game by galloping for a 64-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0. The late Sam Nover, a long-time sports broadcaster for WPXI, a local affiliate for NBC, was the play-by-play man that day for the Peacock Network and screamed as if Carter had just scored a touchdown in the AFC title game. Maybe that’s because Nover was quite close to the Steelers in those days and was often the locker room reporter who interviewed the players during The Fifth Quarter postgame show.
- The Steelers actually jumped out to a 27-0 halftime lead and looked about as dominant as they would all season.
Much like today, there was talk of Pittsburgh climbing out of its hole and making it to the postseason, but 2-6 eventually turned into 2-10.
The ’88 season was so forgettable that I was given a free ticket to a game against the Eagles at Three Rivers Stadium. It was my first-ever Steelers game, and I went with my uncle–he’s the same age as me, believe it or not. We were two teenagers who had a great time and were surrounded by many lunatics in the stands who supported both Pennsylvania teams, as well as the right to punch each other in the face.
It was fun, but it wasn’t a victory, as the Steelers fell, 27-26, when a 57-yard field goal attempt by Gary Anderson was blocked at the buzzer.
It wasn’t all bad for the Steelers in ’88. In fact, they pulled things together near the end of the season and finished with three wins in their final four games–including an exciting 37-34 victory over the Houston Oilers at the iconic Astrodome on Sunday Night Football.
I don’t know if this current Steelers team can pull itself out of the mess it’s in and avoid its first losing season since 2003. If Pittsburgh can’t, well, the streak had to come to an end sooner or later, right?
I guess it would be fitting for it to happen in 2022, the first one without Ben Roethlisberger as the face of the franchise in nearly two decades.
If the Steelers do actually finish with a losing record in 2022, not only will it be the first time in 19 years, but it would only be the fourth such occasion since Bill Cowher’s arrival in 1992.
That’s pretty incredible, especially when you consider the fact that Pittsburgh finished with a losing record in four of the final seven seasons of Noll’s career.
- If you’re a Steelers fan, you should embrace the pain. Experience it.
It’s not often you get to witness something like this around here.