- History of the Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelersare a National Football Leaguefranchise.
The early years: Decades of futility
The Pittsburgh NFL team, usually known as the Pirates in reference to their
Forbes Fieldbaseball club landlords, first took to the field on September 20, 1933, losing 23-2 to the New York Giants. Through the 1930s the Pirates never finished higher than second place in their division, or with a record better than .500 (1936). Pittsburgh did make history in 1938 by signing Byron White, a future justice on the U.S. Supreme Courtto what was at the time the biggest contract in NFL history, but he only played one year with the Pirates before signing with the Detroit Lions. The Pirates changed their name to the "Steelers" before the 1940 season.
After the 1940 season,
Art Rooneysold the Steelers to Alexis Thompson and bought a 50% stake in the Philadelphia Eaglesfrom owner Bert Bell. After Rooney got homesick and Thompson wanted to be closer to his East Coast business interests, the Bell/Rooney Eagles and the Thompson Steelers swapped franchise territory. Bell/Rooney's Eagles' corporate organization, including most of the players, moved to Pittsburgh and Thompson's Steelers moved to Philadelphia, leaving only the team nicknames in their original cities. (In fact, the "new" Steelers' corporate name remained "Philadelphia Football Club, Inc." until 1945.) Since NFL franchises are territorial rights distinct from individual corporate entities, the NFL does not consider this a franchise move and considers the current Pittsburgh Steelers as a single unbroken entity from 1933. [cite web | title = Blood Brothers: The 1943 Steagles became an unlikely product of the war years = Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | url =http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07238/811978-13.stm| accessdate = September 3 | accessyear = 2007 ] Rooney regained majority control in the Steelers in 1946, when Bert Bellsold his interest in the team upon becoming the NFL Commissioner. Art Rooney emerged with 58% of the club, while Rooney's brother-in-law, Barney McGinley, became a 42% owner. The Rooney family has since purchased half of the McGinley shares. [cite web | title = 1940s put Steelers to tests that nearly break them = Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | url=http://www.postgazette.com/pg/07259/817992-66.stm| accessdate = September 16 | accessyear = 2007 ]
In 1942 the Steelers posted their first winning season in franchise history, going 7-4 (good for second place in the Eastern Division) behind
Bill Dudley's league-leading 696 yards rushing.
World War II, the Steelers experienced player shortages. They twice merged with other NFL franchises in order to field a team. During the 1943 season, they merged with the Philadelphia Eaglesforming the "Phil-Pitt Eagles" and were known as the " Steagles". This team went 5-4-1. In 1944 they merged with the Chicago Cardinals and were known as " Card-Pitt" and informally known as the "Car-Pitts" or "Carpets". They went winless through the season. The Steelers went solo again for the 1945 season and went 2-8. Dudley was back from the war by the 1946 season and became league MVP. The rest of team did no better as the Steelers stumbled down the stretch and finished 5-5-1.
The Steelers made the playoffs for the first time in 1947, tying for first place in the division at 8-4 with the
Philadelphia Eagles. This forced a tie-breaking playoff game at Forbes Field, which the Steelers lost 21-0. Because of the Steelers and Eagles being placed in different conferences after the 1970 merger between the NFL and the AFL, the game marks the only time that the two major Pennsylvania cities have played each other in the NFL playoffs. Quarterback Johnny Clementactually finished second in the league in rushing yardage with 670.
That would be Pittsburgh's last playoff game for 25 years. In the 1948 offseason, coach
Jock Sutherlanddied. The team struggled through the season (one quarterback, Ray Evans, threw 17 interceptions to only five touchdowns) and finished 4-8. The team once again faded down the stretch in 1949 after a strong start, ending with a 6-5-1 record. That was followed up in 1950 with a 6-6 season, and consecutive losing seasons in 1951 (4-7-1) and 1952 (5-7).
After a 6-6 season in 1953 and 5-7 season in 1954, the Steelers drafted
Johnny Unitasin 1955. Cut by the Steelers in training camp, Unitas later resurfaced as a Super Bowlhero - with the Baltimore Colts. Pittsburgh suffered through yet two more losing seasons before a 6-6 campaign in 1957 in the first season for coach Buddy Parker. 1957 saw one other highlight, the hiring of the NFL's first African American coach, Lowell Perry as the Steelers receivers coach.
Early in the 1958 season the Steelers traded for quarterback
Bobby Layne, who led the Detroit Lionsto two NFL championships. The results were immediate, with the Steelers posting a winning record (7-4-1) for the first time in nine years - though they were still two games out of a playoff spot. 1958 also saw the first Steelers home games at Pitt Stadium, although their primary venue continued to be Forbes Field.
The Steelers finished above .500 again with a 6-5-1 record in 1959. After a 5-6-1 season in 1960,
Rudy Bukichtook over the starting QB job during the 1961 season, but fared no better. Pittsburgh finished 6-8.
The Steelers introduced the famous "
astroid" logo, based on that of the Steelmark used by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), in time for the 1962 season. Bobby Layne returned to the full-time starting quarterback position, and running back John Henry Johnsonhad the best season of his career with 1,141 yards (second in the NFL). Pittsburgh shored up on defense too, picking up Clendon Thomasfrom the Los Angeles Rams; he led the team with seven interceptions. Ernie Stautneranchored the defensive line. The Steelers had their best season yet, finishing 9-5. This was good for second place in the division, and a spot in the Playoff Bowl, which matched up the #2 teams in the NFL's two divisions. The Steelers lost that game, 17-10, to the Detroit Lions. Ed Brownbecame quarterback in time for the 1963 season after Layne retired. Pittsburgh finished 7-4-3, but in a hotly contested Eastern Division, that only allowed the Steelers a 4th-place showing. Ernie Stautner retired after the season. 1963 also resulted in a change of venue for the Steelers, who split their home schedule between Forbes Field and Pitt Stadium, moving exclusively to Pitt in 1964.
The next few years were total disasters for the Steelers. Another 1000-yard season for John Henry Johnson was the only bright spot in a lackluster 1964 season that ended in a 5-9 record. Another retirement stung the team, this one of coach
Buddy Parker. The wheels totally fell off in 1965, when the team finished at a league-worst 2-12. Over the next four years, the Steelers never finished higher than 5-8-1 (1966), with the team using eight quarterbacks between 1965 and 1969.
Indicative of the Steelers' struggles is the fact that Western Pennsylvania has long been an area producing fine quarterbacks, but the Steelers had never managed to keep them. Unitas was a native of Pittsburgh, making his later success even more jarring to Steeler fans.
George Blandacame from the Pittsburgh area, but the Steelers never signed him. The nearby town of Beaver Falls produced Babe Parilliand later Joe Namath, who became stars in the American Football League. The Steelers never signed the Beaver Falls natives, either. They did sign another future Hall-of-Famer, Ohio native Len Dawson, but would let him go as well, before he began a great career with the Kansas City Chiefs. Jack Kemp, a Los Angeles native, was also on the Steelers' roster before being cut. Like Blanda, Parilli, Namath, and Dawson, he became a star in the AFL in the 1960s, as the Steelers went downhill until finally drafting and signing Louisiana native Terry Bradshaw in 1970. By the time Western Pennsylvania had also produced future Hall-of-Famers Joe Montana, Dan Marinoand Jim Kelly, Bradshaw and his teammates had long since turned the Steelers from a laughingstock into one of the NFL's most successful and beloved franchises.
The 1970s: The Steel Curtain Dynasty
The Steelers' luck began to take a turn for the better with the hiring of coach
Chuck Nollin early 1969, though he too won only a single game in his inaugural season (their worst since 1941), defeating the Detroit Lionsin the season opener before losing the next 13 games. Joe Paternohad turned down the job before it was offered to Noll.
The team's luck also continued when they won a coin toss with the
Chicago Bearsafter the 1969 season (both teams went 1-13 in the 1969 season, with the Bears' lone win coming at the Steelers' expense) to gain the rights to draft Louisiana Tech superstar Terry Bradshawwith the first selection in the 1970 NFL Draft. As poor as the 1969 season was, it turned out to be a springboard for one of the most successful decades any NFL team has ever had.
Noll's most remarkable talent was in his draft selections, taking "Mean" Joe Greene in 1969,
Terry Bradshawand Mel Blountin 1970, Jack Hamin 1971, Franco Harrisin 1972, and in 1974, selected Mike Webster, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Jack Lambert. This group of players formed the base of one of the greatest teams in NFL history.
1970 was a turning point year for the Steelers. The team, along with the
Cleveland Browns(with whom the intense "Turnpike Rivalry" developed) and the Baltimore Colts, joined the former American Football League(AFL) teams in the new American Football Conference(AFC), following the AFL-NFL merger that year. The Steelers moved into Three Rivers Stadium, and Terry Bradshaw, picked first overall in the draft, started at quarterback. Myron Cope, thought by many as a Pittsburgh institution, entered the broadcast booth for a 35-year career as a Steelers radio commentator. The initial results, though an improvement over the late 1960s, were still unimpressive: a 5-9 record in 1970, followed by 6-8 in 1971.
1972, however, was the breakthrough year, and the beginning of an NFL dynasty. Rookie
Franco Harrisjoined the team and ran for 1,055 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. Pittsburgh finished 11-3, first place in the AFC Central, and made the playoffs for the first time since 1947.
Their first playoff game, against the
Oakland Raiders, at Three Rivers Stadium, featured one of the best-known plays in league history: the Immaculate Reception. On 4th down from the Pittsburgh 40-yard line with 22 seconds left and trailing 7-6, Bradshaw threw a pass intended for John "Frenchy" Fuqua. Raiders defensive back Jack Tatumknocked it away, but it was scooped up at ankle-height before hitting the turf by Franco Harris, who took it into the end zone for the winning touchdown and a 13-7 victory. In the AFC Championship the following week, the Steelers lost to the "perfect" Miami Dolphins21-17, who finished the season 17-0. It was a disappointing finish, but it started a run of eight straight playoff appearances. Arguably the most defining and memorable play in the history of the NFL, the Immaculate Reception thrust the Steelers into its glory years of the 70s.
After an 8-1 start in 1973, a losing streak late in the season cost the Steelers any home games during the playoffs, and they lost a tiebreaker to the
Cincinnati Bengalsfor first place in the division at 10-4. The Steelers traveled to Oakland for the first round of the playoffs and lost 33-14.
The Steelers selected the nucleus of the "
Steel Curtain" defense, in the 1974 draft. This allowed the team to reach the top for the first time. After an early quarterback controversy, where Joe Gilliamtemporarily took Bradshaw's starting job, the Steelers finished 10-3-1 and walked away with the division title, with "Mean" Joe Greene winning Defensive Player of the Year honors.
After dispatching with the
Buffalo Billsand Oakland Raiderswith relative ease in the AFC playoffs, the Steelers met the Minnesota Vikingsin New Orleansfor Super Bowl IX. The game was a defensive struggle: the only scoring in the first half was a safety scored by the Steelers when Minnesota quarterback Fran Tarkentonwas sacked in the end zone. In the second half, the Steelers scored a touchdown after a fumbled kickoff and clinched it with a late Larry Brown touchdown. After over 40 years of futility, the Pittsburgh Steelers had won their first Super Bowl, 16-6.
The team had an even better 1975 season. Pittsburgh ran off an 11-game winning streak and gave up more than twenty points in only two games.
Mel Blountwas named AFC Defensive Player of the Year, Franco Harris had 1,246 rushing yards (second behind O.J. Simpson), and Lynn Swanncaught 11 touchdown passes. The Steelers finished 12-2, best in the AFC. In the playoffs, Pittsburgh defeated the Baltimore Colts 28-10 in the first round, and survived a late scare from the Oakland Raiders(and a concussion by Swann) to win 16-10 in the AFC Championship.
The Steelers made their second straight Super Bowl, this one against the
Dallas Cowboysin Miami. Down 10-7 in the fourth quarter, Roy Gerelakicked two field goals and Bradshaw threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Swann to put Pittsburgh in the lead for good. After the Cowboys came back with a touchdown of their own, Roger Staubachthrew a last-minute interception that sealed a 21-17 win for the Steelers.
The two-time defending champions got off to a rough start in 1976, losing four of their first five games. The team regrouped and won their last nine regular season games, five of which were shutouts. For the third consecutive year, a Steelers player (this time Jack Lambert) won the AFC Defensive Player of the Year award. Pittsburgh finished 10-4 and blew out the Colts 40-14 in the divisional playoffs. In the AFC Championship, an injury-plagued Steeler team lost 24-7 to their perennial playoff nemeses and eventual Super Bowl champions, the Raiders.
Pittsburgh's 1977 campaign was a relative disappointment. Bradshaw threw more interceptions than touchdowns, fullback
Rocky Bleierhad only half as productive a season as he did in 1976, and the famed Steel Curtain defense gave up nearly twice as many points. The team still won the division at 9-5, but lost 34-21 to the Denver Broncosin the divisional playoff.
The Steelers kicked off 1978 with controversy, when during training camp they were caught wearing shoulder pads and would lose a draft pick the following year. [ [http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07255/816713-66.stm Flagging New England for illegal use of camera is on Steelers' minds ] ] The Steelers rebounded and Bradshaw had a career-high 56.2% pass completion rate and 28 touchdowns, while Lynn Swann had his highest receiving yardage, while also scoring a career-high 11 touchdowns. Pittsburgh posted a 14-2 regular season record, best in the NFL. In the playoffs, the Steelers blew away the
Denver Broncosand Houston Oilers by a combined score of 67-15 en route to Super Bowl XIII.
That game, a rematch with the Cowboys, is considered by many to be one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time. Bradshaw threw four touchdowns, but the Cowboys never were out of it, thanks in part to a fumble recovery for a touchdown by
Mike Hegman. After Swann and Harris scored touchdowns 19 seconds apart in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys countered with scores of their own by Billy Joe Dupreeand Butch Johnsonto pull within four points with 22 seconds left. The Steelers recovered the onside kick and pulled off a 35-31 win.
The 1979 season was the last season of the dynasty. Bradshaw threw for over 3,700 yards and 26 touchdowns and
John Stallworthhad 1183 yards receiving. The Steelers finished 12-4, once again tops in the AFC Central. In the playoffs they defeated the Dolphins 34-14 and the Oilers 27-13, to meet the Los Angeles Rams in their fourth Super Bowl.
The Rams played the Steelers tough for three quarters. Bradshaw threw three interceptions, but also had two long touchdown passes in the second half (one to Swann and one to Stallworth). The Rams couldn't counter and Pittsburgh won 31-19.
The team's success in this era led to the expansion of its fanbase beyond its geographic region. Even today, Pittsburgh remains among the league leaders in merchandise sales, and draws fans from across the country to its games. This loyal fan following is sometimes called "Steeler Nation" (predating the similarly popular '70s powerhouse, the
Oakland Raiders"Raider Nation") [Birth Of A Nation: Capturing The Identity of a Region. byline, John Mehno] , the term was coined by NFL Films as the producers studied the phenomenon of fans swarming Three Rivers from all directions and pronounced them the 'Steeler Nation,'. They are known for employing the " terrible towel" (a bright yellow cloth) as its unofficial symbol (created by Myron Cope), and as a rallying sign during Steeler's games.
1980–1991: End of an era
"One for the thumb!" was supposedly the rallying cry of the Steelers in 1980 as they began their quest for a fifth Super Bowl Ring. It was not so. Hard luck, numerous injuries, and an off year by Terry Bradshaw left the Steelers with a 9-7 record, missing the playoffs. This marked the end of the dynasty. 1981 was no better, with an 8-8 showing.
The Steelers were hit with the retirements of all their key players from the Super Bowl years. "Mean Joe" Greene retired after the 1981 season,
Lynn Swannand Jack Hamafter 1982, Terry Bradshawand Mel Blountafter 1983, and Jack Lambert after 1984.
Major changes were made to the Steelers during the next season, including coach Chuck Noll's installment of a 3-4 defense to deal with the league's new pass-oriented rules changes and the departure of Joe Greene and
L.C. Greenwood. Pittsburgh managed a 6-3 record nonetheless in 1982 (which was shortened due to a players' strike) and made it to the playoffs for the first time since 1979. In the playoffs they lost a heartbreaker when Kellen Winslowcaught two touchdowns in the 4th quarter of their first playoff game, a 31-28 loss to the San Diego Chargers.
Bradshaw was sidelined with an elbow injury for most of the 1983 season (his last), with
Cliff Stoudtpicking up the reins behind center. Franco Harrisran for 1,007 yards in his last season in Pittsburgh (he wound up with the Seattle Seahawksfor his final year), and Keith Willisrecorded a career-best 13 sacks. The streaky Steelers lost four of their last five regular season games, but their 10-6 record was still good for a division title. The Steelers closed the regular season with an emotional victory against the New York Jetsin the last football game ever played at Shea Stadium. Bradshaw, returning from injury, led the Steelers to the lead with two touchdown passes. He left the game in the first half after hearing a "pop" in his elbow when making his final pass, a touchdown. The Steelers made another quick first-round playoff exit, a 38-10 embarrassment against the Los Angeles Raiders.
1984 was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
Mark Maloneand David Woodleysplit quarterbacking duties, with Frank Pollardtaking over at running back and Offensive Rookie of the Year Louis Lippsshining at wide receiver. The Steelers' 9-7 record won them another division title. In the divisional playoff against the Denver Broncos, the Steelers came back in the fourth quarter to win 24-17, but they lost the AFC Championship to Dan Marino(the Pittsburgh native whom the Steelers passed up in the 1983 Draft) and the Dolphins, 45-28.
Despite career seasons from Lipps and Pollard, the Steelers' 1985 campaign collapsed in December, with them losing four of their last five to finish at 7-9. In 1986, Malone took over the QB job by himself and
Earnest Jackson(who came off back-to-back 1000-yard seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles) was added to the offensive backfield, but the team fared no better, at 6-10. An 8-7 record in 1987 was not enough to save Malone's job in Pittsburgh. Bubby Bristerbecame the Steelers' new starting quarterback.
The 1988 season was the worst for the Steelers in twenty years, with a 5-11 record.
Mike Websterwas cut during the offseason.
The 1989 team also got rough start, but won five of their last six to finish 9-7, enough for a wild card playoff spot. In the wild-card playoff game against the Houston Oilers, the Steelers staged a desperate fourth-quarter comeback to win 26-23 in overtime on a 50 yard field goal by
Gary Anderson. The game cost Houston coach Jerry Glanvillehis job. However, in their divisional game against the Denver Broncos, it was John Elwaywho staged the last-minute comeback and the Steelers went home with a 24-23 loss. Defensive back Rod Woodson, in his third season, made the first of seven consecutive Pro Bowls.
The Steelers finished 9-7 in 1990 led by the #1 defense in the NFL in terms of yards allowed. The defense was led by the secondary (mainly the superb
Rod Woodson) which was particularly effective limiting opposing passers to just 9 touchdown passes while intercepting 19 (the Steelers intercepted 24 total as a team). The 1990 season ended with another disappointment however as the Steelers lost twice in three weeks to the Cincinnati Bengals, and lost the season's final game on the road to the Houston Oilers to miss out on the playoffs.
1992–2006: The Bill Cowher Years
Chuck Noll, the Steelers famed longtime coach, retired at the end of the 1991 season. That season saw rookie quarterback Neil O'Donnellshow some flashes of brilliance, but the rest of the team faltered and the Steelers finished 7-9.
Noll was replaced by
Kansas City Chiefsdefensive coordinator Bill Cowher, a native of the Pittsburgh suburb of Crafton. Cowher led the Steelers to the playoffs in each of his first six seasons as coach, a feat that had only previously been accomplished by legendary coach Paul Brownof the Cleveland Browns.
Cowher made an immediate impact in the 1992 season, as did third-year running back
Barry Fosterwhose 1,690 yards was second in the NFL behind Emmitt Smith. Woodson recorded six sacks, a career high. The Steelers' 11-5 record won them the AFC Central title and a first-round playoff bye. Their hopes, however, came to a crashing end against the surging Buffalo Bills, in a 24-3 loss.
The Steelers collapsed near the end of the 1993 season, starting 6-3 but finishing 9-7. They clinched the final playoff spot at 9-7, and travelled to
Arrowhead Stadiumto face the Kansas City Chiefsin the wild card round. Leading 24-17 with two minutes left, the Steelers defense gave up a Joe Montanafourth-down touchdown pass to little-known Tim Barnett to tie the game. In overtime, the Chiefs won on a Nick Loweryfield goal, breaking Steelers fans' hearts yet again.
The 1994 season brought back memories of the 1970s Steeler teams. Barry Foster was joined in the backfield by rookie
Bam Morris, and together they gained almost 1,700 rushing yards. The "Steel Curtain" defense made a resurgence, with Kevin Greeneresponsible for 14 sacks and Greg Lloydtacking on 10 more. The Steelers' 12-4 record clinched them home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. In the divisional playoff Pittsburgh walloped the Cleveland Browns29-9, and were heavily favored in the conference championship against the San Diego Chargers. The Steelers seemed to dominate when the numbers were crunched: O'Donnell passed for 349 yards to Stan Humphries' 165, and had a nearly 2-1 edge in time of possession. But they gave up a 13-3 lead in the 3rd quarter when Alfred Pupunuand Tony Martin caught touchdowns of 43 yards each, and it was the Chargers who advanced to Super Bowl XXIX, by the score of 17-13. The 1994 Steelers finished their disappointing season three yards away from their first Super Bowl appearance since 1980 as an O'Donnell pass to Foster was batted down. This play epitomized the Steelers' season - incomplete. AFC Championship collapses, unfortunately for the Steelers, would become a hallmark of the Cowher era.
The Steelers' 1995 campaign was no less dominant. Foster left the team, but
Erric Pegram(picked up from the Atlanta Falcons) made up for it with an 800-yard season. Yancey Thigpenamassed 1,307 receiving yards and Willie Williams had seven interceptions. The Steelers' 11-5 record once again won them the division and a first-round bye. As in 1994, the Steelers dominated in the divisional playoff (a 40-21 win over the Buffalo Bills), but the cinderella Indianapolis Coltsput up a fight in the AFC championship. There were four lead changes, the last when Bam Morrisscored a one-yard touchdown with 1:34 remaining. Colts quarterback Jim Harbaughthrew a "hail mary" that was dropped by Aaron Baileyin the end zone. The Steelers narrowly won, 20-16, and went on to play the Dallas Cowboysin Super Bowl XXX.
The Cowboys, a team that thought themselves to be just as dominant in the 1990s as the Steelers were in the 1970s heyday, jumped to a quick 13-0 lead. Pittsburgh showed some signs of life, such as a
Yancey Thigpentouchdown before halftime, and a surprise onside kick recovery that led to a Bam Morristouchdown run narrowing the score to 20-17, late in the 4th quarter. The Steeler defense quickly forced Dallas into punting the ball back to the Steeler offense and Neil O'Donnellthrew his second and worst interception of the game, similar to his first, halting the Steelers come from behind win. Both interceptions gave Dallas easy touchdown situations. O'Donnell's three interceptions contributed heavily to the Steelers' 27-17 loss.
Super Bowl XXXwas O'Donnell's last game as a Steeler, as he signed with the New York Jetsas a free agent in the offseason. Pittsburgh had drafted Kordell Stewartin 1995, but he remained a backup through the 1996 season. Mike Tomczakreceived the starting duties. The Steelers also traded for running back Jerome Bettisfrom the St. Louis Rams, who ran for 1,400 yards in his first year in the Steel City. A late-season decline was hurting the Steelers Super Bowl chances, but their 10-6 record still won them the division. Pittsburgh won their wild-card playoff game handily (42-14 over the Colts), but lost just as handily, 28-3, to the New England Patriotsin the divisional playoff.
Stewart was given the starting quarterback job in 1997 after Tomczak failed to impress. Stewart did impress fans, however, in his first full season: 3,000 passing yards and 21 touchdowns. Bettis had another 1,000-yard rushing season, and Thigpen had 1,000 yards receiving to boot. The Steelers once again won the AFC Central, but their 11-5 record also gave them a first-round playoff bye. They narrowly won a 7-6 defensive struggle against the Patriots in the divisional playoff, setting the stage for an AFC Championship showdown at
Three Rivers Stadiumagainst the Denver Broncos. Kordell Stewartscored early, going for 33 yards with one of his well-known scrambles, but the Broncos exploded in the second quarter. A late Steelers comeback was squashed and the eventual Super Bowl champion Broncos went on to win 24-21.
It looked like the Steelers would be back in the playoffs for most of the 1998 regular season, going 7-4 in their first eleven games. But two losses to the
Cincinnati Bengalsand a loss on Thanksgivingto the Detroit Lionskept the Steelers out of the playoffs. The Thanksgiving game against the Lions in 1998 is most known for the infamous coin flip call before overtime. The game was tied 16-16 at the end of regulation when the referee told team captain Jerome Bettis to call "heads" or "tails" as he flipped the coin in the air. Bettis stammered while making the call, and referee ( Phil Luckett) stated "the Steelers called heads; it's tails." This caused an uproar from Bettis and the Steelers, as replays seemed to show that Bettis clearly called "tails." Contrary to many press reports, Luckett did not make a mistake in this incident. A week after the game, the tape was enhanced by local Pittsburgh TV station KDKA-TVand Bettis is clearly heard saying "hea-tails." A sideline microphone enhancement also clearly had Bettis telling Coach Bill Cowher that (Bettis) had said "hea-tails." [http://www.referee.com/sampleArticles/2001/SampleArticle0101/headsortails/headstailstext.html] The Steelers never got to touch the ball again and went on to lose 19-16. They would lose their next four games and would end up finishing 7-9.
The Steelers fell into turmoil in 1999. Stewart was benched partway through the season and Tomczak was given back his starting job. Pittsburgh's mostly new receiving corps (including future star
Hines Ward) showed their inexperience at times, and the team finished 6-10, their worst showing in eleven years.
It has become an article of faith among NFL pundits that the Steelers do not have a bad team two years in a row—they have never lost 10 or more in consecutive years since the 1970
In the 2000 season, the last one at Three Rivers Stadium,
Kent Grahamwas given a chance to start at quarterback. His below average play and nagging injuries early in the season gave Kordell Stewartanother chance to reclaim the starting quarterback role. The Steelers started to improve by teamwork alone. Jerome Bettishad a 1,341-yard season. Rookie wide receiver Plaxico Burressjoined the team to complement Hines Ward. Linebacker Jason Gildon, the team's only Pro Bowler, had a career-best 13.5 sacks. Up and coming linebacker Joey Porterposted 10.5 sacks as the team finished back above .500 with a 9-7 record. The defense did not allow a touchdown in 20 consecutive quarters during one stretch, just two shy of the NFL record set by the 1976 Steelers, also known as the Steel Curtain. After a hard fought season, exacerbated by a 0-3 start, the Steelers failed to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season under Bill Cowher. The Steelers did win their final game at Three Rivers Stadium by defeating the Washington Redskins24-3, ending the season with a 9-7 record.
The Steelers opened
Heinz Fieldin the 2001 season. Both Ward and Burress had 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and linebacker Kendrell Bellwas named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Bettis had to sit out the last five games of the regular season and start of the playoffs with a knee injury, but Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afalaand Amos Zereoueably filled in. The Steelers' 13-3 record got them home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Zereoue, filling in for Bettis, scored two touchdowns in the divisional playoff against the defending
Super Bowlchampion Baltimore Ravens, which the Steelers won 27-10. Pittsburgh then hosted its fourth AFC championship game in eight years, this one against the New England Patriots. Optimism was high as Bettis made his return. The Patriots jumped out to a big lead thanks to two special teams touchdowns, but the Steelers tried a third-quarter comeback with rushing touchdowns by Bettis and Zereoue. Kordell Stewart's final two drives both ended in interceptions, however, and the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots won the game 24-17.
Stewart's inability to win big games and tendency to throw interceptions cost him the starting job once again early in the 2002 season. Journeyman
Tommy Maddox, who won the XFLMVP after the league's only season, became the starting quarterback. Maddox lost only three games as the Steelers finished 10-5-1, tops in the new AFC North division. (Stewart, who made a short comeback after Maddox was injured later in the year, was cut and later resurfaced with the Chicago Bears.)
They faced their longtime rivals, the
Cleveland Browns, in the wild card playoff game. The Steelers were down 24-7 in the third quarter, but Maddox led them on a wild comeback. Jerame Tuman, Hines Ward, and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afalaall scored fourth-quarter touchdowns to win the game 36-33. The divisional playoff against the Tennessee Titanswas just as dramatic. Hines Wardtied the game early in the fourth quarter with a 21-yard touchdown, and the game eventually went to overtime. Tennessee won the toss and Titans kicker Joe Nedneylined up for a field goal, which he made. But the Steelers called timeout so the field goal did not count. Nedney's second try went wide right, but the Steelers were called for running into the kicker on Dwayne Washington. The third try was good and officially counted as the game winner, but over protests by Bill Cowherwho thought he called another timeout first. The 34-31 loss was another disappointing end to the season for the Steelers.
2003 was an overall disappointment. Due to injuries on the offensive line, and Maddox's previous success in the passing game, the Steelers strayed from their typical run-heavy offense. However, Maddox threw only 18 touchdowns to 17 interceptions, causing fans to wonder if the previous season was a fluke. Jerome Bettis and Plaxico Burress both failed to reach 1,000 yards. The Steelers collapsed to 6-10.
2004 Season: 15-1
In the 2004 draft, the Steelers took quarterback
Ben Roethlisbergerfrom Miami University(Ohio) in the first round. Maddox kept the starting job until he was injured in the second game of the season, in Baltimore, against the Ravens. Roethlisberger was pushed into action and immediately wowed fans. "Big Ben" did not lose a game during the entire regular season, setting a record for most consecutive games won with a rookie quarterback to start a career. Included were back-to-back convincing wins over the New England Patriots(breaking their record 21-game winning streak) and eventual NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles. By the end of the season, Roethlisberger and the rest of the Steelers were starting to show signs of wear, but they still escaped with victories every time. The Steelers completed the 2004 regular season with the best record in the NFL at 15-1, which is also their best 16-game season.
After 2003's failed attempt to focus on the passing game, the 2004 team returned to the typical Steelers formula, a run-heavy offense (61/39 run-pass ratio) and a strong defense. The team's dominant running game, featuring Jerome Bettis and
Duce Staley(acquired prior to the season in free agency), was bolstered by an efficient and often explosive passing attack led by Roethlisberger and receivers Burress, Ward, and Antwaan Randle El. The defense, one of the league's best, was anchored by Pro Bowl linebackers James Farriorand Joey Porterand Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu. Only three previous teams (The '84 49ers, the '85 Bears, & the '98 Vikings) have had a 15-win season, with the Steelers being the first AFC team to accomplish this feat. As a result of this dominant season, the Steelers received home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
Their divisional playoff game was against the Wild Card
New York Jets. Roethlisberger threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Reggie Tongue, but a Hines Wardtouchdown catch tied the game at 17-17 in the fourth quarter. Jets kicker Doug Brienhad two chances to win the game with a field goal in the final two minutes of regulation, but one kick hit the crossbar, while the other went wide left. Jeff Reed kicked a field goal 11:04 into the extra period to win the game, 20-17.
The Steelers were back in the AFC Championship, once again in Pittsburgh, for a rematch with the Patriots. New England went out to a big lead early after two first-quarter turnovers by the Steelers. In the second quarter,
Rodney Harrisonintercepted Roethlisberger (who had three picks overall) and returned it for a touchdown. The Steelers showed some signs of life in the third quarter, but it was not enough. The Patriots, another dynasty team that has been compared with the 1970s Steelers, won 41-27. This defeat marked the fourth time in ten years that the Steelers had lost the conference title game at home under Bill Cowher.
2005 Season: One For The Thumb!
Plaxico Burressto free agency (he would end up with the New York Giants), the Steelers took some steps to ensure a return to the postseason. They first selected TE Heath Millerfrom the University of Virginia in the 2005 NFL Draft. Other picks included Florida St. CB Bryant McFadden, Northwestern University OG Trai Essex, Georgia University WR Fred Gibson, and Temple University LB Rian Wallance.
In 2005, the Steelers hoped to make another post-season run. Injuries to
Jerome Bettisand Duce Staleyforced Willie Parkerto become the Steelers' starter at running back, and he acquitted himself very well in two convincing wins against the Tennessee Titans(34-7) and Houston Texans(27-7) to open the season. In the next game, however, the visiting New England Patriotshanded Ben Roethlisbergerhis first regular season loss as the Steelers lost the much-hyped rematch of the 2004 AFC Championship Game 23-20. Two weeks later, Pittsburgh came back to defeat the throwback-clad San Diego Chargers24-22 on a 40-yard field goal by Jeff Reed. The victory proved costly as Roethlisberger suffered an injury when he was hit on his left knee by the helmet of Chargers rookie lineman Luis Castillo. So Tommy Maddoxwas named starter for their home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Steelers struggled throughout the game, as Maddox threw two interceptions through regulation, but they managed to tie at 17 going into OT. Unfortunately, Maddox threw a costly interception to Jags DB Rashean Mathis, who returned it 41 yards for a touchdown, as the Steelers fell 23-17. Maddox's off-field arguments with head coach Bill Cowher cost him his #1 back-up spot. Fortunately, "Big Ben" was able to play in their next road game against their division rival, the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite winning 27-13, his left knee would need surgery. Big Ben fought through a lot of pain in the Steeler's 20-19 Monday Night victory over the Baltimore Ravens but reaggravated his knee injuries. Charlie Batchwas named the starter, and he provided victories over the struggling Green Bay Packers(20-10 on the road), and against their rust belt rival, the Cleveland Browns(34-21 at home), where during the game, wide receiver Hines Wardset the Steelers record for most career receptions (543), breaking John Stallworth's mark of 537. Unfortunately, Batch broke his hand, which forced him to the sidelines. Tommy Maddox was given the start for their road game against the Ravens, but again, he showed his inefficiency, as the Steelers fell in overtime 16-13. After Roethlisberger's return, the Steelers lost their first two games against the then-undefeated Indianapolis Colts(26-7 on the road) and at home against the resurgent Bengals (38-31), but recovered to win the last four regular season games (21-9 vs. Bears, 18-3 @ Vikings, 41-0 @ Browns, and 35-21 vs. Lions) to clinch the sixth and last seed in the AFC playoffs.
On a side note, during the last game of the regular season in Pittsburgh, the Steeler fans gave
Jerome Bettisa standing ovation when he was taken out of the game in the fourth quarter by Bill Cowher. It was the last game in Pittsburgh for Bettis, as he announced his retirement after the Steelers' ultimate victory in Super Bowl XL. Bettis finished the game with 41 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns, and gave the team a boost after the Lions had taken a 14-7 first quarter lead.
The Super Bowl run
On Sunday, January 8, 2006, the Steelers traveled to
Paul Brown Stadiumfor their Wild Card match-up against the Cincinnati Bengals. On the Bengals' second offensive play, Bengal quarterback Carson Palmerlaunched a 66-yard completion — the longest in Bengals' playoff history — to receiver Chris Henrywhile Steelers defensive tackle Kimo von Oelhoffentried to sack him. In what might be considered by Bengals fans as the defining moment of the game, von Oelhoffen hit Palmer's leg, striking his left knee from the side. Palmer had to be taken off the field on a cart. A magnetic resonance imagingtest revealed that both Palmer's anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments were torn by von Oelhoffen's contact, which also caused cartilageand meniscusdamage. It should be noted that von Oelhoffen's hit did not generate a defensive penalty.
Jon Kitnafilled in for Palmer and threw 1 touchdown pass and two interceptions. Despite trailing after the first quarter, the Steelers came within three points, trailing 17-14 at the half. Eventually, they shut out the Bengals in the second half and scored 17 points to win 31-17.
On Sunday, January 15, the Steelers traveled to the
RCA Domein Indianapolis, Indiana where they faced the #1 seeded Colts, and defeated them 21-18 in spite of a highly- improbable fourth quarter—including a controversial call reversal that turned a crucial Troy Polamaluinterception into an incomplete pass—which found the suddenly revitalized Colts offense with a chance to turn the game around. After recovering an unlikely Jerome Bettis fumble on the Colts 1 with just over a minute remaining, Colts cornerback Nick Harper sped downfield toward what would have been a game-winning touchdown, only to be tripped up by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a shoe-string tackle. This heads-up play probably prevented a game-winning touchdown for the Colts. The Steelers defense managed to hold their ground on the ensuing Colts drive, leaving the Colts with just one last chance to tie and send the game into overtime. But Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, missed a 46-yard field goal attempt—wide right—with :18 left in the 4th quarter. The game was the first time in NFL history that a sixth seed (Pittsburgh) defeated a first seed (Indianapolis Colts) in the playoffs. It also marked the first time that a sixth seed would get to play in a Conference Championship game.
January 22, 2006, the Steelers won their 6th AFC Championshipat INVESCO Field at Mile Highin Denver, Coloradowhen they beat the Denver Broncos34-17. Quarterback Ben Roethlisbergercompleted an efficient 21 out of 29 passes, 2 of which were touchdowns. He also ran for another touchdown as he led the team to victory. It marked the 1st time since the '85-'86 New England Patriotsand the 2nd time in NFL History that a Wild Card Team would get to the Super Bowl after winning the Wild Card Round, the Divisional Round, and the Conference Championship on the road. It also marked the first time that a sixth-seeded team would get to play in the Super Bowl.
In the Steelers' first trip to the
Super Bowlsince the 1995 season, they defeated the Seattle Seahawks21-10 in Super Bowl XLon February 5, 2006at Ford Fieldin Detroit, Michigan. The game had been hyped as a homecoming for Detroit native Jerome Bettis. The play by both teams in the game was mostly lackluster, although records were set for longest run from scrimmage (75 yards for touchdown by Willie Parker of the Steelers), longest intereception return (76 yards by Seahawks CB Kelly Herndon), and the first touchdown pass by a wide receiver (thrown by Antwaan Randle Elto Hines Ward on a reverse).
The Steelers become the 1st 6th-seeded team, since the NFL changed to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, to go to the Super Bowl and win. Their playoff campaign included defeating the first (Indianapolis), second (Denver), and third (Cincinnati) seeded AFC teams en route to the Super Bowl victory against the first seeded Seahawks from the NFC. Also, they are the first NFL team to win 9 road games. Ben Roethlisberger becomes the youngest QB to win a Super Bowl. They successfully tied with the
San Francisco 49ersand the Dallas Cowboysfor the most Super Bowl titles with five.
The 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers season began with the team trying to improve on their 11-5 record from 2005 and trying to defend their Super Bowl XL championship. They finshed the 8-8 and did not make it to the playoffs.Hoping to end their season on a high note, the Steelers flew to Paul Brown Stadium for an AFC North rematch with the Cincinnati Bengals. After a scoreless first quarter, Pittsburgh drew first blood in the second quarter with RB Willie Parker getting a 1-yard TD run. Afterwards, the Bengals would manage to salvage a 34-yard field goal by kicker Shayne Graham. After a scoreless third quarter, Cincinnati took the lead by getting a Willie Parker fumble and ending it with QB Carson Palmer completing a 66-yard TD pass to WR Chris Henry. Parker managed to make amends with another 1-yard TD run. However, the Bengals went back into the lead with Palmer completing a 5-yard TD pass to TE Tony Stewart. The Steelers would manage to tie the game late in the game with kicker Jeff Reed nailing a 35-yard field goal. Cincinnati quickly managed to get into field goal range, but Graham's 39-yard field goal went wide right. In overtime, Pittsburgh took advantage and won with QB Ben Roethlisberger's 67-yard TD pass to rookie WR Santonio Holmes. With the win, not only did the Steelers end their season at 8-8, but they also wiped out any hope that the Bengals had of reaching the playoffs.
The 2007 Pittsburgh Steelers season saw the team improve upon their 8–8 record from 2006, finish with a record of 10-6, and win the AFC North Division. The season marked the 75th anniversary of the Steelers franchise.The Steelers' 2007 schedule included two notable playoff rematches. The Steelers played the New England Patriots December 9 for the first time in the regular season since 2005, when they lost at home on a last-second Adam Vinatieri field goal 23–20. The 34-13 loss was also the Steelers' first visit to Foxboro, Massachusetts since 2002. The Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks 21–0 in week 5 on October 7, the teams' first meeting since the Steelers' 21–10 victory in Super Bowl XL 20 months earlier. The week 5 match was the Steelers' and Seahawks' first meeting in Pittsburgh since 1999 as well as the Seahawks' first-ever visit to Heinz Field. Another notable game occurred December 20 when the Steelers defeated the St. Louis Rams, 41-24, for their first-ever road win over the Cleveland/Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams (1-9-1). It was the two teams' first-ever meeting in St. Louis, a city the Steelers last visited in 1979 (a 24-21 win over the then-St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Memorial Stadium).
Six players from the Steelers were selected to play in the 2008 Pro Bowl. Two started, two were selected to the reserve squad, and two did not play due to injury.
#7 Ben Roethlisberger - Quarterback (reserve)
#39 Willie Parker - Running Back (injured, did not play)
#43 Troy Polamalu - Strong Safety (injured, did not play)
#66 Alan Faneca - Offensive Guard
#92 James Harrison - Outside Linebacker
#98 Casey Hampton - Defensive Tackle (reserve)
Entering the 2008 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost
Alan Faneca, after his contract expired and he signed with the New York Jets. The Steelers also signed quarterback Ben Roethlisbergerto an eight year, $102 million contract, the largest in franchise history.
teelers all time record vs. AFC North
Many Pittsburgh natives and fans consider the
Cleveland Browns, Oakland (Los Angeles) Raiders, and Dallas Cowboysto be the teams primary rivals. Upon conclusion of the 2006 season, Pittsburgh has a .500 record vs these 3 teams when combining regular and post season games.
Pittsburgh and Cleveland have been in the same division and have met at least twice a year since 1950. The Steelers hold a 2-0 post season record against the Browns.
The Steelers and Raiders have met 6 times in the post season, including 5 consecutive appearances between 1972 through 1976 which gave the 2 teams an unusual familiarity with the other since each is in a different division. Their post season record against one and other is tied 3-3.
Pittsburgh and Dallas first met in 1960 (the two actually met in the Cowboys' first game as a franchise, with the Steelers winning 35-28), and have faced each other in the Super Bowl on three occasions (X, XII, XXX) with Pittsburgh leading the series 2-1. In the 70's, Pittsburgh and Dallas where both renowned for stifling defenses named: "The Steel Curtain", and "The Doomsday Defense" respectively. Pittsburgh became the first team to achieve 3 Super Bowl wins when it defeated Dallas in
Super Bowl XII, and the first team to achieve 4 titles a year later when they defeated the Rams. Dallas defeated the Steelers in Super Bowl XXXto become the second team behind San Francisco to win 5 Super Bowl Championships. Ten years later Pittsburgh would join Dallas and San Francisco to become the third team to reach that milestone when they defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
* The Steelers have played 14 out of a possible 16 teams in the AFC at least once in the post-season. The team never played the
Seattle Seahawksin the post-season during their 25 year stay in the AFC, though the two would later meet in Super Bowl XLafter the Seahawks moved to the NFC. As of 2008, the Houston Texans, who have yet to go to the playoffs in their short existence, are the only team from the AFC the Steelers have yet to face in the playoffs.
* The Steelers hold a lifetime 7-0 record in the playoffs against divisional opponents in the playoffs, going 2-0 against Cleveland, 3-0 against Houston, and 1-0 apiece against Cincinnati and Baltimore. The Steelers would, however, later garner a loss to the Titans/Oilers franchise in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2002, the year after the Titans and Steelers were realigned into separate divisions.
ReferencesThe 50 Greatest Plays in Pittsburgh Steelers Football History: http://www.amazon.com/Greatest-Pittsburgh-Steelers-Football-History/dp/1600781055/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1204666458&sr=1-4
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