10 Greatest Pittsburgh Steelers Postseason Victories in Franchise History
The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the most storied franchises in NFL history. Interestingly enough, their success in the postseason dates only back to 1972, when the team finally won their first playoff game. There have been some big wins and heartbreaking losses in the ensuing years.
Here's a look at the 10 greatest playoff victories for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
As always, feel free to share your memories, disputes and questions in the comments!
10. 1995 AFC Conference Championship: Pittsburgh 20, Indianapolis 16
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Of the team's eight conference title game victories, this one was the closest and the only one that came down to the opponent's final play. While the game has been forgotten in the ensuing years of battles with Baltimore and others, it remains one of the most memorable games in the franchise's playoff history.
The game was tied 3-3 after one quarter even though both teams had penetrated deep into opposing territory (Pittsburgh's field goal came after Kordell Stewart failed to reel in a Neil O'Donnell pass). At halftime, the Steelers held a slim 10-6 lead.
After three quarters, the game was 13-9. In the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh missed a field goal and Jim Harbaugh (yes that Jim Harbaugh) put the Colts ahead 16-13 with a 47-yard touchdown strike to Floyd Turner.
With just over three minutes left in the game, O'Donnell drove the Steelers 67 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Bam Morris scored from a yard out to put the Steelers up 20-16 with just over a minute-and-a-half remaining in the game.
With five seconds remaining, Harbaugh had driven the Colts to the Pittsburgh 29, but his final pass of the game hit the end zone turf after having landed on the chest of Colts receiver Aaron Bailey, who failed to bring it in before it rolled away.
With that, the Steelers had earned their first trip to the Super Bowl under Bill Cowher and their first since winning Super Bowl XIV after the 1979 season.
9. Super Bowl XL: Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10
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The Steelers had waited over a quarter of a century for their "one for the thumb" and their coach since 1992 was approaching the end of his coaching career without having won a title for his hometown team. That would change when the Steelers surprisingly reached and won Super Bowl XL.
The Steelers had overcome a lot in 2005 to return to the NFL's title game for the first time since their Super Bowl XXX loss at the end of the 1995 season. Bill Cowher, in his 14th season as coach, and Jerome Bettis, the team's aging running back, each seemed to be on a path to destiny as the 2005 playoffs unfolded and the Steelers became the first sixth seed to reach and win the Super Bowl.
The Steelers had been the first team to win three road playoff games in a row, but started the game sloppily. The Steelers trailed 3-0 at the end of one quarter and led only 7-3 at halftime on a controversial touchdown dive by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
After three quarters, the Steelers led 14-10 on a Super Bowl-record 75-yard touchdown run by Willie Parker.
Still, the game remained tense. With the fourth quarter winding down, Cowher and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt dialed up a trick play. Antwaan Randle El became the first non-quarterback to throw a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl as he hit Hines Ward on a 43-yard pass that put the Steelers in full control.
8. 2002 AFC Wild Card Round: Pittsburgh 36, Cleveland 33
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The Steelers have recently made a routine out of facing a team three times in the same season. This was the first of those years. The Steelers faced a furiously determined Browns team at Heinz Field and needed an impressive comeback by the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year to claim victory.
The Steelers were widely favored heading into their contest with the Browns, who had surprised everyone by finishing with their first-ever playoff berth since being reincarnated. Pittsburgh had beaten the Browns twice already in the regular season (albeit by three points in each game).
But it was the Browns, led by inexperienced quarterback Kelly Holcomb, who jumped out to a big lead. They lead 17-7 at halftime and 24-7 in the third quarter. The Browns led 33-21 in the closing frame and seemed to be headed toward a surprise upset.
But it was Tommy Maddox, who'd wrestled the team's starting quarterback job from Kordell Stewart early in the season, who would engineer the surprise. As the game wound down, Maddox led a 77-yard touchdown drive and then another long drive that ended with fullback Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala plunging three yards into the end zone. The Steelers converted for two points and led 36-33.
The defense held enough on the Browns' final possession for Pittsburgh to escape with a victory in a season that had been full of surprises.
7. Super Bowl XLIII: Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23
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The Steelers became the first team in league history to win six Super Bowl titles by defeating the upstart Arizona Cardinals. The game also featured one of the top two catches in league history, a game-winning pass to Santonio Holmes in the corner of the end zone.
The Steelers entered the game as heavy favorites facing their former offensive coordinator (Ken Whisenhunt) and his upstart Cardinals in the Super Bowl. The Steelers jumped out to a big lead.
In the fourth quarter, with the Steelers holding a 20-7 lead and with the league's top defense keeping Kurt Warner and the high-octane Arizona offense in check, the Cardinals suddenly broke out. Warner threw two touchdowns to Larry Fitzgerald and the Steelers were victimized by a holding penalty in the end zone. Those 16 points put Arizona ahead 23-20 with little time remaining.
Ben Roethlisberger, already a legend for directing game-winning drives late in games, took the field with the offense and Pittsburgh moved to the Arizona 6. After failing on a fade pass to the left on his first attempt, Roethlisberger came back with the same play to the right and hit Holmes just as he was approaching the sideline.
Holmes stuck both sets of toes in the end zone and cradled the ball as he fell, scoring the decisive touchdown and sealing his MVP trophy.
On the next possession, the defense rebounded from its struggles by forcing a Warner fumble that ended the game.
6. 2005 AFC Divisional Round: Pittsburgh 21, Indianapolis 18
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This game was the first in which a playoff team holding the sixth seed defeated a team with the top seed. It also featured a great defensive effort and a play that later became dubbed "The Immaculate Tackle" by fans.
The Steelers held leads of 14-0 and 21-3 in this game, stunning the crowd at the RCA Dome by holding the Colts and high-powered quarterback Peyton Manning down for almost the entire game. Ben Roethlisberger, trying to advance back to the AFC Championship game for the second time in a row, completely outdueled Manning in this game.
But the Colts would rally. Manning threw a 50-yard touchdown pass and the Steelers were forced to punt on their next drive. The Colts then looked to be beaten when Troy Polamalu intercepted Manning, but the play was incorrectly overturned by replay and Manning drove the Colts to another touchdown to pull within a field goal.
With the score 21-18, the Colts again had a chance, but the ball went over to Pittsburgh on downs at the 2. It seemed that all that remained was to send Jerome Bettis into the end zone to ice the game.
Instead, Bettis fumbled the ball and Colts defensive back Nick Harper took off with it. Somehow, Ben Roethlisberger was able to grab Harper's ankle and tackle him at the Colts 42. Soon after, Mike Vanderjagt missed a field goal from the Pittsburgh 28 and the Steelers had escaped in one of the more memorable playoff games ever.
5. Super Bowl X: Pittsburgh 21, Dallas 17
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This game pitted the Steelers against the Dallas Cowboys in a Super Bowl for the first of three times. The game, as would become common between these two teams, came down to the final moments, but the Steelers claimed their second title.
One of the miracles of this game was that Lynn Swann, who was named Super Bowl MVP for his 161 yards and a touchdown, played despite suffering a serious concussion against the Oakland Raiders in the AFC title game. He had spent two days in the hospital due to the hit. Many thought he would have to sit out or be relegated to a limited role.
The Steelers trailed heading into the fourth quarter by a score of 10-7, but scored 14 unanswered points to take a 21-10 lead (two field goals, a safety and Swann's touchdown).
The Steelers then had to hold off a Dallas rally. The Cowboys scored and then drove down again before Roger Staubach was intercepted in the end zone as time ran out. The Steelers won their second Super Bowl in a row.
Swann was named MVP for the game, but the defense also performed admirably in holding the Cowboys' powerful offense down and then snuffing out their last-minute rally.
4. Super Bowl XIII: Pittsburgh 35, Dallas 31
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One of the most high-scoring games in the team's Super Bowl history, it was the first time in which a defending Super Bowl champion had been beaten in the subsequent season's title game and also the first in which one team won their third title.
The Steelers/Cowboys rivalry had really begun in Super Bowl X, but Super Bowl XIII was when it began to boil over. The two teams were pitted against each other again in the Super Bowl. The Cowboys had just won Super Bowl XII the previous year while the Steelers had gone two years without making it to the big game.
The two defenses were the best in the league and each forced mistakes throughout the game and then capitalized on them. By the fourth quarter, however, Dallas had put themselves in a big hole. They trailed 35-17 in the middle of the final frame, but managed to make the game close with two touchdowns to pull within four points.
With 22 seconds remaining, the game came down to an onside kick. Dallas couldn't recover a second attempt and the ball ended up cradled by Rocky Bleier. The Steelers won their third title, the first team to win that many, and sent Dallas home empty once again.
3. Super Bowl XIV: Pittsburgh 31, Los Angeles 19
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The Steelers needed a fourth-quarter burst to come back against the NFC's Los Angeles Rams. Terry Bradshaw became only the second quarterback to win the Super Bowl MVP award twice as the Steelers closed out the 1970s as the first team to win four Super Bowls and the first (and only) to win four with the same coach.
The Rams were the first team in NFL history to have nine or fewer wins and reach the Super Bowl (the only other was the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, coincidentally also against the Steelers) and were widely expected to struggle in the big game.
The Steelers, however, struggled early. They went into the half trailing 13-10 and went into the final act trailing 19-17. In the fourth quarter, however, they scored two touchdowns (one by Franco Harris and one on Terry Bradshaw's 73-yard bomb to John Stallworth) to win the game.
Bradshaw was awarded the game's MVP trophy despite three interceptions and the Steelers were the first franchise to win four Super Bowls. They would remain at the top until surpassed by Dallas and San Francisco in the 1980s and '90s and wouldn't win another until 2005.
Chuck Noll remains the only coach to win four Super Bowls in six seasons and the only to win four Super Bowls. The second record is in danger now with Bill Belichick and the Patriots, but the first is one that may stand for a long, long time.
2. Super Bowl IX: Pittsburgh 16, Minnesota 6
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The Steelers waited 39 years for their first playoff victory, but had to wait 41 for their first Super Bowl. In 1974, longtime owner Art Rooney Sr. finally was able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the first time.
The Steelers entered the Super Bowl against Minnesota with the national sense that they would be a good opponent, but wouldn't have the ability to stop the talented Purple People Eaters on defense and quarterback Fran Tarkenton on offense.
Instead, the Steelers and the Steel Curtain defense held the Minnesota offense scoreless (their lone touchdown came from a blocked punt), allowed a record-low 17 rushing yards, recorded the first safety in Super Bowl history and sent running back Franco Harris into the record books with 158 rushing yards and the game's MVP trophy.
The game was 2-0 at the half before the Steelers scored a touchdown in each of the final two frames (one rushing by Harris and one pass from Terry Bradshaw to Larry Brown).
Perhaps the most memorable moment of this game came after it was over. In the locker room, Art Rooney was shown cradling the franchise's first of six Lombardi Trophies after waiting more than 40 years to reach the peak of the NFL.
1. 1972 AFC Divisional Round: Pittsburgh 13, Oakland 7
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It's hard to argue with the one that started it all and a game that has the most-remembered play in franchise history and perhaps one of the most memorable moments in NFL history.
The Steelers found themselves trailing 7-6 late in the game. With little time left on the clock, the Steelers had Terry Bradshaw, their young quarterback, drop back to throw. He was immediately under pressure and nearly slipped on the Three Rivers Stadium turf.
He threw a deep pass as he was going down toward fullback Frenchy Fuqua. Fuqua, however, was in a battle with Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum. The ball collided with either Fuqua or Tatum and caromed back to an oncoming Franco Harris.
As the ball descended toward the turf, Harris scooped it in just bare inches from hitting the ground. He then bolted into the end zone. The play was upheld on review and the Steelers had their first-ever franchise playoff victory.
The game has so many legends attached to it and nobody except Fuqua will ever know for sure if it was a legal play, but this game is certainly the team's greatest playoff victory to date.