The Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Francisco 49ers are two of the modern NFL’s most storied franchises. The Steelers defined the Gold Standard for excellence in the 1970’s and the 49ers dominated the 1980’s and continued winning Super Bowls into the 1990s.
Going into 2023 the Steelers record against the 49ers is 10-12, but of course time robbed history for a chance to see a definitive match up between titans of separate decades.
However, the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. San Francisco 49ers is filled with both inspiring upsets and disappointing losses for the Steelers. We recount all of them since 1984 here. Click on the links below to relive a specific game, or simply scroll down to read them all.
Steelers vs. 49ers 1984: Chuck Noll & Mark Malone vs. Bill Walsh & Joe Montana I
October 14, 1984 @Candlestick Park
Pittsburgh 20, San Francisco 17
Is there a more celebrated Steelers victory of the 1980’s?
Who can say? No matter what, this game nearly tops the list. The year was 1984, and the 49ers were steamrolling the league. In fact, were it not for one game, the 49ers would have been perfect.
This would be the first time that the duo of Chuck Noll and Mark Malone would square off against Bill Walsh and Joe Montana, and this game shows you why we play games instead of leaving the contest to Madden-like computer simulations. The Steelers matched San Fran with tough defense with smart ball control to keep the 49ers off balance the entire day, and in the process added the lone blemish to the 49ers would-be perfect season.
- For more on this game see One Sunday in October and #12 in the Steelers Greatest Non-Super Bowl Wins in History on Behind the Steel Curtain. Also see the Steel Curtain Rising’s Chuck Noll vs. Bill Walsh series.
Steelers vs. 49ers 1987: Chuck Noll & Mark Malone vs. Bill Walsh & Joe Montana II
September 13th, 1987, Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 30 @ San Francisco 17
Joe Montana finished the 1987 season with a 102.1 passer rating. Mark Malone finished the 1987 season with a 46.6 passer rating (yes that’s forty six point six.) And although Montana did outplay Malone on this fateful day, it wasn’t enough.
Rookie cornerback Delton Hall, linebacker Mike Merriweather, and veteran cornerback Dwayne Woodruff all picked off Montana’s passes. Delton Hall, who won the Steelers rookie of the year award only to fade, opened the game with a 50 yard fumble return to put the Steelers up by 7. Mark Malone only completed 9 of 33 passes, but one of those was for a touchdown to tight end Preston Gothard (who?). Earnest Jackson, Walter Abercrombie, Frank Pollard, Harry Newsome teamed to rush for 184 yards and a rookie named Merril Hoge caught his first NFL pass for 27 yards.
- With this win, Chuck Noll passed his mentor (and Walsh’s mentor) Paul Brown on the NFL’s all time win list
Steelers vs. 49ers 1990: Rod Woodson vs. Jerry Rice I
October 21st, 1990 @Candlestick Park
San Francisco 27, Pittsburgh 7
The 49ers entered the game at 6-0 looking every bit the team en route to a 3 peat, while Pittsburgh entered with a 3-3 record, looking every bit like the team suffering from a hangover following the Steelers storybook 1989 season.
Joe Montana was on fire that year, but the Steelers came with a secret weapon – the NFL’s number one defense that had only given up 3 touchdown passes in 6 games. The Steelers felt they could win this game, if only they could avoid mistakes….
…And mistakes the Steelers made. Although Rod Woodson and Thomas Everett intercepted Montana twice, Joe Walton’s offense failed to capitalize. Barry Foster ‘forgot’ that uncaught kickoffs are live balls, setting up an easy San Fran TD, and a Charles Haley strip sack of Bubby Brister set up another. A 49er’s interception would stop any chance of a Pittsburgh comeback.
- In their first face off, Rod Woodson held Jerry Rice to 3 catches for just 31 yards.
Steelers vs. 49ers 1993: Rod Woodson vs. Jerry Rice II
September 5th, 1993 @ Three Rivers Stadium
San Francisco 24, Pittsburgh 13
After taking the league by storm in 1992, the NFL scheduled what was to be one of their marquee match ups of opening day by pitting the Steelers vs. the 49ers on opening day at Three Rivers Stadium. With Neil O’Donnell on the sidelines with tendonitis during the first half the 49ers built up a 17-3 lead.
Neil O’Donnell came off the bench to get Pittsburgh back in the game narrowing the score to 17-13, before Steve Young connected with Brent Jones for a touchdown, making the Steelers regret that Chuck Noll cut tight end whose sin was to be a better pass catcher than run blocker.
- In his second match up with Rice, Rod Woodson held him to just 78 yards, but 2 of Rice’s 8 catches were for touchdowns…
Steelers vs. 49ers 1996: Don’t Spot the 49ers 16 Points (and Expect to Win)
December 15th, 1996 @ Three Rivers Stadium
San Francisco 25, Pittsburgh 15
It was a tricky time for the Steelers. Already with 10 wins and the division title in the bag, a first round playoff bye remained in their grasp…
…But Mike Tomzack was faltering as the team’s starter, and injuries had ravaged the team all season. The Steelers gave up a quick touchdown, and then a safety to spot the 49ers 9 points. If memory serves, another turnover set up the 49ers next score, putting the Steelers in the hole 16-0.
- In their final match up, Rod Woodson again held Jerry Rice under 100 yards, although Rice did score a touchdown with one of his 8 catches.
Steelers vs. 49ers 1999: Solar Flare, Before a Total Eclipse
November 7, 1999 @ Candlestick Park
Pittsburgh 27, San Francisco 6
After watching the 49ers both beat them 3 straight times and beat them to one for the thumb this was supposed to be the one that Steelers fans had been waiting for. And on paper it was. The Steelers jumped to a 17-3 first half lead on the strength of Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward touchdowns and a field goal. The Steelers dominated the score board winning the game 27-3.
After a 2-3 start, the Steelers had now won 3 straight to improve to 5-3. All looked well but… the 49ers Charlie Garner rushed for 166 yards. The following week Kordell Stewart’s fumbled snap led to the upset at the hands of the expansion Browns.
- The ensuring quarterback controversy would dominate the news, but the failing defense, as Joel Steed’s knees gave way, was one of the under reported stories of the Steelers 1999 meltdown.
Steelers vs. 49ers 2003: Tommy Gun Misfires
November 17, 2003 @Candlestick Park
San Francisco 30, Pittsburgh
Tommy Maddox had been the 2003 version of Tebowmania having gone from out of football, to the XFL, to resurrecting the Steelers 2002 season. Alas, 2003 was not as kind to Maddox, as the Steelers pass defense struggled, injuries decimated the offensive line, and Cover 2 defenses frustrated Maddox. The ’03 Steelers had gone 2-1 before losing five straight. By the time they were 2-6 they mounted the “win a game, lose a game” see-saw.
- Unfortunately, the Steelers trip to San Francisco came on the downside of that see-saw.
San Francisco opened a 14-0 lead at the end of the first half, and the Steelers feigned making go at it by scoring the first touchdown in the second half, but the 49ers would score 20 unanswered points until Tommy Maddox hooked up with Randel El for a final, face saving touchdown.
Steelers vs. 49ers 2007: Make that 3-0 for Mike Tomlin…
September 23, 2007 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 37, San Francisco 15
Just two weeks earlier Steelers Nation had no idea about what to make of Mike Tomlin, the man who leapfrogged Russ Grimm to succeed Bill Cowher. By the time the 49ers arrived at Heinz Field, Tomlin was already 2 and 0 and notched his third win at San Francisco’s expense.
What stands out when looking at the stat sheet is that role players made all of the splash plays for the Steelers that day. Allen Rosseum got his 15 minutes of fame as a Steeler with a 98 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Jerame Tuman caught the only touchdown pass, and Najeh Davenport ran for 39 yard touchdown, while Bryant McFadden had a 50 yard pick six.
On defense the story was a little different, as then starter Bryant McFadden had a 50 yard pick six and veteran James Farrior and rookie LaMarr Woodley both sacked Alex Smith.
Steelers vs. 49ers 2011: The Night the Lights Went Out @ Candlestick
December 19, 20011 @ Candlestick Park
San Francisco 20, Pittsburgh 3
This was the last Monday Night Football game played at Candlestick Park and the lights appropriately went out in the middle of the game. Its also marks the moment when the lights went out on the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers, who had a chance to leap above the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North race.
- Alas, it was not to be.
Ben Roethlisberger had been injured in a Thursday Night Football contest ten days prior to the game. Mike Tomlin decided to play him. While many defended Tomlin, the truth is Tomlin should have pulled Roethlisberger. This much was clear when Roethlisberger couldn’t even make it to the line of scrimmage in the hurry up offense.
Given Charlie Batch’s rustiness in coming off the bhttp://steelcurtainrising.com/2011/12/tomlin-chokes-on-roethlisberger-decision-steelers-lose-to-49ers.html/ench in subsequent games, Tomlin’s decision is more easily understandable. However, Roethlisberger shouldn’t have been on the field.
- The loss gave the Ravens control of the AFC North, forcing the Steelers to travel to Denver to play Tim Tebow in the Wild Card
Steelers vs. 49ers 2015: Ryan Shazier’s Breakout Game
September 23rd, 2015 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 43, San Francisco 18
The easy lead on this game was that the Steelers offense led by the short-handed Killer Bees scored over 40 points while running just 52 plays. And to be sure, only 6 of Ben Roethlisberger’s passes hit the ground, while Antonio Brown had nearly 200 yards receiving and even Darrius Heyward-Bey looked like he could be a weapon on the passing game.
- But the real star of the show was Ryan Shazier.
Mike Tomlin broke form and wasted little time making Shazier his starter as a rookie in 2014. But injuries sidelined Shazier, and when he return he found himself competing for playing time with Vince Williams and Sean Spence. Fans were already beginning to call Shazier a “bust.”
- Shazier swiftly began altering that narrative that Sunday afternoon against San Francisco.
Shazier exploded with 15 tackles, dropping 3 49ers for losses, a strip-sack, a fumble recovery all while completely neutralizing Colin Kaepernick as a running threat. While some griping over his development continued, this was the first game where Ryan Shazier signaled he could be something really special.
Steelers vs. 49ers 2019: The Mason Rudolph “Era” Begins
September 22nd, @ Levi’s Stadium
San Francisco 24, Pittsburgh 20
Stunning disappointments had marked 2019 thus far for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The year began with fallout of Antonio Brown’s late season meltdown, ultimately leading to his trade. Then tragedy struck at St. Vincents as wide receivers coach Darryl Drake died suddenly.
Meanwhile Antonio Brown orchestrated his exit from Oakland, only to land with the Patriots, who creamed the Steelers in the season opener. And to prove that things get worse before they get better, a week later the Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger for the season.
- This led to Mason Rudolph’s first start.
People forget but Rudolph’s first start went saw him play reasonably well, as rookie Diontae Johnson made his presence known while Minkah Fitzpatrick, newly arrived via trade, made an immediate impact, notching an interception, a QB hit and a pass defensed.
The two teams actually traded the lead several times, with the 49ers pulling ahead with just over 1-minute remaining. Mason Rudolph tried to rally, but could only muster 9 yards.