Pittsburgh Steelers' Top 5 Turnaround Seasons

Joshua HayesCorrespondent IISeptember 30, 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers' Top 5 Turnaround Seasons

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    The 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers have already lost two games in the fourth quarter, surrendering a potential 2-1 record or better and entering the bye week below .500. Though a losing start is hardly reason for alarm after only three weeks, the manner in which the team has fallen is an obvious source of concern.

    After all, the Steel City identities itself with its football team, a community with blue-collar roots that admires the Steelers' physical brand and defensive prowess. To date, both elements have been lacking.

    Yet before Black and Gold loyalists hit the panic button, they should remember that the franchise is no stranger to rebounding. Indeed, the Men of Steel have overcome adversity in the past, with end results that range from qualifying for the playoffs to winning the Super Bowl.

    Indeed, against the odds, the Steelers have more than once flirted with notion of winning the Lombardi Trophy, and they have even succeeded in attaining it.

    Before forfeiting hope in the midst of a slow start, allow the following five Steelers seasons to serve as a glimmer of hope. After all, three games do not define an entire season, and the complexion of a team can change at the most unlikely times. Just look at the 2011 New York Giants.

    These are the five greatest rebound seasons in modern Steelers history.

No. 5: Touchdown Tommy Saves 2002

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    Expectations were sky high entering the 2002 season. After all, the Steelers were coming off a 13-3 campaign in which they dismantled the defending champion Baltimore Ravens, experienced the rebirth of their enigmatic quarterback (Kordell Stewart) and narrowly lost the AFC Championship Game on a series of seemingly "fluke" plays. 

    A blocked field goal returned for a touchdown ultimately marked the difference against the New England Patriots; two Kordell Stewart interceptions in the fourth quarter prevented a Steelers comeback, but most felt "Slash" would continue his progress under center the next season.

    Pittsburgh supported No. 10 with their finest trio of receivers (Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress, Antwan Randle El) in many years, with Ward and Burress both eclipsing 1,000 receiving yards. 

    Likewise, the season marked the return of the league's top-ranked and most ferocious defense. Of note, cornerback Chad Scott was a playmaking machine in the defensive backfield in '01, and the defensive front harassed opposing passers. Defensive Rookie of the Year Kendrell Bell was the surprise stud of the group, while Jason Gildon and Joey Porter combined for over 20 sacks.

    The Patriots were the surprise defending champs, so fans in the 'Burgh salivated whenever the schedule opened with a Monday night rematch at brand new Gillette Stadium. It was time to put the "Cinderella" quarterback in his place. 

    Instead, Brady—who was injured for the majority of the conference title tilt—offered his first in a series of dominating performances against Pittsburgh.

    The Pats offense completely abandoned the run just before halftime. With the game tied, Brady threw 27 consecutive passes, giving New England the lead before intermission.  Then, after the break, he converted on 3rd-and-13 before rifling a demonstrative scoring pass to...Donald Hayes? Even after the Patriots returned to the run, the Brady onslaught continued, and an ineffective Kordell Stewart was unable to respond as the winded defense got embarrassed. 

    Minus the measure of vengeance they hopes to achieve, the Steelers hoped to overcome the opening 30-14 loss with a return to Heinz Field. Rich Gannon led a powerful Oakland Raiders offense into the Steel City for a battle of expected AFC heavyweights. If the Pats' pass-oriented strategy seemed skewed, the Raiders' approach bordered on absurdity, albeit effective absurdity.

    Gannon completed 43 of 64 passes, stealing a page from New England and leading Oakland to a 30-17 win. Stewart's offense could not sustain momentum all evening, marking another week of disproportionate play at the most important position.

    Thankfully, the Browns and quarterback Tim Couch were next on the docket. Couch only mustered 144 passing yards, but Stewart was in the midst of another paltry performance.  Trailing 13-6 late in the game, "Slash" finally over-tightened a half-decade-long leash, throwing an interception on a possible tying drive. 

    With his patience exhausted, Bill Cowher called upon the "one and only XFL MVP" to save the day. Tommy Maddox, affectionately to become Tommy Gun, completed 6-of-7 passes for 77 yards on an emphatic game-tying drive. After Phil Dawson fell victim to the "House of Kicking Horrors" to begin overtime, Maddox led an immediate game-winning drive. 

    The next week, Pittsburgh fell to 1-3, as the defense was unable to contain Deuce McCallister, but Maddox's three touchdowns against the Saints effectively secured the starting job. For Maddox, whose first stint in the NFL as a member of the Denver Broncos, L.A. Rams and New York Giants ended so ingloriously, 2002 would be a season of redemption.

    There were highs and lows along the ways, but the peaks outnumbered the valleys for No. 8.

    Enormous Peak: Following the loss in New Orleans, Pittsburgh won four straight games.  Maddox rallied the Steelers to a 3-3 record, outplaying Peyton Manning on Monday Night Football in a 28-10 win. Then, he led Pittsburgh to the top of the AFC North standings with back-to-back division wins over Baltimore and Cleveland.

     

    Peak/Valley Combo: Through three quarters of play, Maddox torched the Atlanta Falcons with four touchdowns. Michael Vick and crew trailed 34-17 in the fourth quarter, but the birds rallied to tie the game. 

    In overtime, a Hail Mary pass was completed to Plaxico Burress, giving Maddox a 473-yard passing total, but the receiver fell inches short of the goal line and the win.  After the tie, Tommy described the result:

    "They talk about how a tie is like kissing your sister."

    After leading by double-digits, the tie felt like a loss in the the Steel City.

    Cavernous Valley: Trailing 31-7 after his first poor performance, Maddox's three interceptions paled in comparison to a spinal cord injury that left the quarterback lying motionless at midfield in Tennessee. Tommy Gun would miss two games, but wept at a press conference in appreciation of the support the Pittsburgh community showed for him.

     

    Valley:  Despite dominating by 21 first downs and 400 total yards in a ridiculously lopsided affair, Pittsburgh's five turnovers, including Maddox's three interceptions, resulted in an absurd Houston Texans win, 24-6.

     

    Enormous Peak: After securing a playoff berth with a three-game win streak, Maddox and the Steelers trailed the Cleveland Browns 24-7 in the Wild Card playoffs. Into the second half, the offense had yet to score a single point. Then, it happened.

    Despite Kelly Holcomb's best effort, looking like Dan Marino in a Cleveland Browns jersey, Maddox was a fourth-quarter Joe Montana. Finishing 30-for-48 for 367 yards and three touchdowns, the former outcast led Pittsburgh to a stunning 36-33 victory, adding the the rich history of devastation up by Lake Erie.

    Though Pittsburgh's season ended controversially, courtesy of a fine acting job by kicker Joe Nedney in an overtime loss in Tennessee, the shot in the arm given to the Steelers by Maddox's right arm was undeniable. For one dream season, Maddox proved he could succeed at the NFL level, and the 2002 Pittsburgh Steelers were his direct beneficiaries. 

No. 4: 1995 Becomes the '9-Game Season'

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    When linebacker Dennis Gibson broke up Neil O'Donnell's pass attempt to Barry Foster, fans at Three Rivers Stadium fell silent. In the most heartbreaking moment in stadium history, the San Diego Chargers celebrated an AFC Championship while Steelers fans were left to wonder what could have been. The team had dominated statistically, leading 13-3 seemingly only moments earlier.

    Indeed, 1994 had just been shot down by lightning bolts.

    The emptiness felt by Steelers fans was illustrated as they exited Three Rivers Stadium. Walking the endless circular ramp was to be among a zombie nation opposed to Steelers Nation. With Terrible Towels soaking up the tears of the stunned, drones that moments earlier were rife with optimism were in a state of denial.

    The deadening silence spoke volumes about the state of mind across Steelers Country, a numbness that is painful to recall.

    With time, the wound began to heal. For Steelers Country, Super Bowls were not regular occurrences of these times. This opportunity was the first in many seasons, and fans prayed it would not be the last chance for their newly reinvigorated and talented team to attain "One for the Thumb."

    The theme for 1995 began as "Three More Yards," Pittsburgh's distance from victory against the Chargers. Ultimately, the year's slogan would become the "Nine-Game Season."

    The start of the campaign looked promising. Though the defense surrendered 108 rushing yards to the incomparable Barry Sanders, the Steelers held on for a 23-20 win against Detroit. The special teams was aces in the Astrodome, putting away the Houston Oilers to bolster the squad to a 2-0 record.

    Then, an invisible roof hovering over Three Rivers Stadium collapsed.

    An opening day injury to Rod Woodson began to take its toll on a secondary adjusting to life without the All-Pro defensive back. The offense was sputtering, and the entire team seemed out of sorts.

    A 2-0 start became a solemn 3-4 reality nearing midseason, including blowout home losses to the pathetic Cincinnati Bengals (27-9) and Minnesota Vikings (44-24). The low point came in Jacksonville, a 20-16 loss to the expansion Jaguars.

    Though the team attained a measure of revenge with a win over the Chargers, the victory was sandwiched between four defeats. 

    At this point, sensing the emotional sensitivity of a team that had lost its confidence, coach Bill Cowher brought the players together in an impromptu meeting. In an emotional moment, the coach announced the beginning of a brand-new nine-game season.

    With a renewed focus and an unspoken anger, the team finished the year with a fury that would propel them to Super Bowl XXX.

    In their "nine-game season," the Steelers would go 8-1, finishing a mere Yancy Thigpen drop away from a perfect 9-0 record. In an ultimately meaningless finale at Lambeau Field, Pittsburgh lost 24-19, though it should have won in the final seconds.  Thigpen's drop allowed the Packers to win the NFC Central Division.

    During the team's eight-game winning streak, victories did not all come easily, as a mix of nail-biters, comebacks and highlights made the '95 season one of the most dramatic years in team history.

    At Soldier Field, the Steelers trailed a wild contest to the Bears, 34-27. After a late interception gave Chicago the lead, Neil O'Donnell rallied the offense to the tying touchdown, a fourth-down strike to Ernie Mills that sent the game into overtime. From there, Norm Johnson kicked the game winner through the uprights, and the Pittsburgh Steelers reclaimed a winning record of 5-4.

    One week later, the team would host the "actual" Cleveland Browns, one of their former and bitter rivals, for a Monday Night Football contest at old Three Rivers. It was one of the most unique game atmospheres in team history, a rare showing of unity between the rival fanbases. Fans wore orange arm bands in respect for the rivalry, showcasing their disgust toward moving the team from Cleveland.

    The contest may be as much remembered for a wonderful play by rookie Kordell Stewart, a back-and-forth scurry behind the line of scrimmage lasting seemingly forever. By the time "Slash" made his way back toward the left side of the field, he threw a wide-open touchdown to blow the game open. The Steelers won 20-3.

    The highly emotional 1995 would continue the following weekend. Trailing the same Bengals who had destroyed it in Steeltown, Pittsburgh rallied from a 31-13 deficit with 36 unanswered points. A touchdown bomb to Kordell gave the team a 35-31 lead it would not relinquish.

    Three more wins secured a bye week for the squad, and its first playoff opponent was all too familiar.

    The Buffalo Bills, former AFC Champions for four consecutive seasons, entered Pittsburgh for a 40-21 beating, setting up another opportunity to represent the conference in the AFC Championship Game. Once again, the heavily-favored Steelers led in the second half, only to surrender their advantage.

    Late in the contest against, Jim Harbaugh and the Indianapolis Colts, the appropriately dubbed "Captain Comeback" threw a deep touchdown pass to give his squad a 16-13 lead. Indianapolis would have an opportunity later in the quarter to run out the clock, but the defense held stout.

    With the ball back in the hands of O'Donnell, a deep pass down the right sideline to Ernie Mills resulted in a fan-ruption of epic proportions. As the stadium shook, Bam Morris burrowed into the end zone to give Pittsburgh a 20-16 lead.

    After an emotional rally, Harbaugh threw a Hail Mary pass with no time left on the clock that was nearly caught for a game-winning touchdown. Truly, with every fan on pins and needles, it is impossible to imagine the magnitude of the outcry had Aaron Bailey caught the football that rested on his chest.

    Exorcising the demons of a year earlier, the resilient Steelers celebrated a return to the Super Bowl, though Bill Cowher would have to wait another decade before giving Dan Rooney the Lombardi Trophy. 

    Against the Cowboys, Pittsburgh fell, but Rod Woodson warmed fans' hearts with an impressive showing, particularly when he deflected a potential first down pass intended for Michael Irvin. He became the first player to come back from a catastrophic knee injury in the same season.

No. 3: The Bus Goes Home in 2005

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    The 2005 team started their season with many similarities to the 2002 squad. Although, it's immediately worth noting that the latter installment featured a franchise quarterback, while the former boasted the combination of an inconsistent passer and a one-shot wonder under center. 

    Consider:

    1. The '05 team entered play with high expectations following an AFC Championship Game loss. 

    2. In another remarkable similarity, the team had fallen to the New England Patriots...

    3. ...in the Steel City. 

    Again, Pittsburgh lost despite a superb defensive season as the Pats scored a Heinz Field record 41 points, thus ending the 15-game winning streak of rookie Ben Roethlisberger.

    4. In another coincidental parallel, the Steelers' first lost came with an opportunity for redemption, losing to Tom Brady and New England at Heinz Field. It was another fine showing by Brady, who completed 31 of 41 passes, rallying the Patriots from a 13-7 deficit in a 23-20 win.

    5. In both '02 and '05, the team endured a slump that jeopardized its chances of making the playoffs. 

    However, unlike three years earlier, the '05 squad's stretch of frustration came just after midseason.

    The entire team was a cohesive unit, each phase of the game picking up the other. With Big Ben out for three games, the defense came through in Green Bay, as Troy Polamalu's long touchdown return of a Brett Favre fumble was the key play in a 20-10 victory. A balanced offense sealed the deal in a prime-time win over the Cleveland Browns, 34-21. It was the team's fourth straight and seventh win.

    At 7-2, it appeared the Black and Gold were "Back n' Bold," picking up where they left off one season earlier in spite of untimely injuries to Ben Roethlisberger. However, the aforementioned slide cast doubt over a campaign with seemingly so much promise.

    With No. 7 out for one more contest, the team suffered a devastating loss in Baltimore. A perfect overtime pass from Tommy Maddox to Hines Ward ended up as an interception, the pigskin being booted high in the air by Ward's foot after the ball bounced off his chest and onto his toes. Moments later, the Ravens dropped Pittsburgh's record to 7-3.

    Roethlisberger returned for a Monday Night Football affair with the undefeated Indianapolis Colts. On their first play from scrimmage, Peyton Manning connected with Marvin Harrison for an 80-yard touchdown, and the rest of the contest followed suit. The 7-4 Steelers lost 26-7.

    The most devastating loss came against the Cincinnati Bengals, who led the AFC North by a game entering play. Big Ben's 386 yards and three touchdowns could not negate his three interceptions, opening the door for Carson Palmer to lead his team to victory with three touchdowns of his own. The 38-31 shootout effectively gave the Bengals a division title. Afterwards, T.J. Houshmandzadeh used the Terrible Towel as his own personal shoe shine rag. 

    The aftermath of the three-game skid left Pittsburgh's playoff hopes in doubt, rendering a season of clear promise into one of hazy uncertainty. With four games to play, the Steelers had to win out and hope for help. 

    An iconic contest against the Chicago Bears helped breed confidence for a monumental run.  Through mud and snow, big back Jerome Bettis plowed through Brian Urlacher for a signature touchdown that many fans point to as his defining career play. "The Bus" finished with 101 yards on 17 carries, anchoring Pittsburgh to a 21-9 win.

    Two road games against the Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns resulted in a combined 59-3 Steelers edge. Having received the help they needed, a postseason berth came down to one final home game against the Detroit Lions

    Jerome Bettis's final game in the 'Burgh saw a loud ovation, though it was the Willie Parker show (135 rushing yards) that catapulted the Steelers to a fourth straight win. The victory set up a playoff showdown between the Bengals and Steelers in the Wild Card Playoffs.

    Nevertheless, the Steelers were a long shot to win the championship, as no sixth seed had ever accomplished the feat. Pittsburgh was about to make history on one of the most fulfilling journeys in team history.

    In their postseason opener, Kimo von Oelhoffen met Carson Palmer's knee on the quarterback's first ever playoff pass, causing a hush to fall over Paul Brown Stadium.  Though Cincinnati held leads of 10-0 and 17-7, the Steelers rallied. Ahead 21-17, Pittsburgh's well-executed end-around/lateral/flea flicker dropped jaws back in the Steel City and broke the will of the "Bungles."

    The Terrible Towel had its revenge on T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Cincinnati, leaving the Steelers to celebrate with a mock chant of "Who Dey?!" from the visiting locker room.

    A week later, the heavily-favored Colts were already written into the AFC Championship Game in the minds of many, but the Men of Steel quickly changed their perspective.  Peyton Manning began the game 1-for-8 through the air, while Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers came out with a surprisingly effective passing attack.

    The Steelers led 21-3 nearing the fourth quarter, but a series of events put the outcome in doubt. Ahead 21-18, Pittsburgh held on desperately as Manning drove the Colts in the final seconds. The events that caused the collapse included a fourth-down conversion by Manning, an overturned interception by Troy Polamalu and an unbelievable Bettis fumble at the goal line as the Steelers tried to ice the game.

    Despite the late adversity, Mike Vanderjagt's missed field goal as time expired punched the Steelers' ticket to Denver.

    Following their epic clash against the Colts, the AFC Championship Game seemed anti-climactic. In a reversal of fortune from the previous January, Pittsburgh led 24-3 at halftime. Jake Plummer never recovered from a shaky first half, and the Broncos lost 34-17. 

    Once again, a road team celebrated the Lamar Hunt Trophy; this time, it was Pittsburgh.

    Super Bowl XL was to be hosted in Detroit, MI two weeks later, where Jerome Bettis would fittingly make a triumphant return to his hometown. It would be his final game after a superb career.

    Though the game is now remembered for its controversial officiating, one of the more overblown debates in team history, it was the Steelers who made the right plays at the key moments and the Seahawks who didn't. Plain and simple.

    On a perfectly executed reverse pass, Antwan Randle El hit Hines Ward for a touchdown. It was one of the prettiest gadget plays in NFL history, giving the Black and Gold a brand new Super Bowl highlight and another shiny silver bobble to add to their impressive trophy case.

No. 2: The Defense Dominated in 1976

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    Simple math showcases the dominance of the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers. In the final nine games of the season, the Black and Gold demonstrated a level of defensive supremacy that the NFL will never see again. 

    If one were to make a case for the '76 "Steel Curtain and friends" * as the finest defense of all-time, the following exhibits (from the team's last nine contests) would be used to build their argument:

    Exhibit A: The team shut out three straight opponents, outscoring them 95-0.

    Exhibit B: The defense recorded five shutouts across those nine games.

    Exhibit C: In two other contests, the unit surrendered a mere three points.

    Exhibit D: The Bengals scored only six points in the first game of the streak.

    Exhibit E: Altogether, the defense gave up a touchdown in only one of their final nine games.

    Exhibit F: Aside from their contest against Houston, the team gave up 12 points in eight games, an average of 1.5 points per outing.

    Exhibit G: The Oilers scored only 16 points in the Steel City, with one of their touchdowns coming late in an already decided contest.

    Exhibit H: Across all nine games, the Men of Steel gave up 28 points. That's just a hair over one field goal per game on average.

    Which begs the question: How did it happen? How did this team end up in a position where it had to "turn things around?"

    All things considered, it's almost unbelievable that the '76 squad BEGAN 1-4!!!

    If the team of the '70s was indeed the best football unit ever assembled, the '76 season was their crowning jewel, even if it didn't end with the type of real jewelry the club was accustomed to earning.

    The Steelers were the toast of the town by the mid-1970s. The Pirates and Steelers were championship ball clubs and the Steel City was dubbed "City of Champions."

    Consecutive Super Bowl wins put forever to rest the notion that Art Rooney's franchise was a competitive afterthought, erasing the notion of the owner as a lovable loser.

    Like their fine owner, Mr. Art Rooney, the Steelers name demanded respect. The new Steelers were an aggressive unit, executing with machine-like strength and precision, and nobody would be allowed to take them lightly.

    Jack Lambert had proven his stance on the matter months earlier, tossing Cliff Harris of the Dallas Cowboys to the ground during a Super Bowl altercation regarding a missed field goal by Roy Gerela.

    After that second straight Super Sunday victory, the Steelers took some time off from title-winning, only to come back strong and win two more Lombardi Trophies in '78 and '79.  Incidentally, the Steelers' best team ever, the 1976 squad, would not add to their championship legacy.

    The Steelers began their second straight championship defense season in 1976 with a contest against a team they had frustrated in two straight AFC Championship Game wins, the Oakland Raiders. John Madden and his swashbuckling (or is it knee-buckling?) band of bullying pirates erased a 28-14 fourth-quarter deficit in a comeback victory that seemed to starve the Steelers swagger.

    Instead of 1-0, the 'Burgh was 0-1 in a game that sapped their energy. After a win over the Cleveland Browns, three straight losses to the Patriots, Vikings and those same Browns threatened to destroy the campaign.

    Their huge collapse on opening day may have been a factor for their 1-4 start, begging the question: Where were the great Steelers?

    Where was the Blonde Bomber? Did the defense disappear?

    After their slow start, the team's legendary nine game finish resulted in another trip to the NFL playoffs.

    The excellence continued into the start of the playoffs, where the team destroyed Bert Jones and the top seed, Baltimore. The 40-14 blowout saw a disproportion in two distinct categories:

    Yards: 526-170

    First downs: 29-12

    Yet, there was a price paid. Running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier were injured in the blowout win and unable to play the next week in Oakland. Even with their efforts, the team may have still lost to a determined effort by the vengeful Raiders and coach John Madden.

    The day was December 26, 1976. It was the day that the finest team in Pittsburgh Steelers history lost its final game, 24-7, to the AFC Champion Oakland Raiders.

No. 1: 1989 Begins in Nightmarish Fashion

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    If you thought that the Steelers' opening day loss in Baltimore (7-35) was horrifying on September 11, 2011 and you are too young to recall the first game of '89, spare yourself the agony. Avoid the video and do not click the link.

    You couldn't resist, could you? In any case, fans old enough to recall the horrors of September 10, 1989 have done their collective best to purge the memory from their minds.  Falling behind to the Browns 30-0 at halftime, the team lost its home opener before thousands of faithful fans at Three Rivers Stadium, 51-0.

    A week later, the Black and Gold fell at Riverfront Stadium. The 41-10 loss to the Bengals continued a horrendous start. Considering the team finished 5-11 one year earlier, its worst result since Chuck Noll's rookie season as head coach ('69), few were astounded by the pair of defeats.

    Even still, the degree of their futility was undeniably shocking:

    51-0 and 41-10.

    91-10 in total. 

    In a turnaround campaign, the '89 Steelers would not only make the playoffs, but they'd also win a game, cost a popular head coach his job and narrowly miss the AFC Championship Game.

    So, why does this rebound rank ahead of teams that made the conference title game or beyond, including a Super Bowl win?

    Simply, this isn't a ranking of end results; this is a worst-to-first recollection of single season team turnarounds, and the '89 squad had the biggest turnaround of any. The '76 team had a dynastic roster of talent to facilitate their rebound from a 1-4 start. The 2002 and 1995 squads were both coming off of winning campaigns, and they had enough talent to overcome lackluster Septembers and/or Octobers. 

    Lastly, in 2005, all of the pieces came together at the end for a roster that clearly had a championship mettle.

    By all accounts, the '89 team would have been considered terrible heading into Week 3 of the season, a roster of losers with no recent winning ways to call upon for confidence.  Yet Chuck Noll rallied his team.

    Much of the NFL fraternity felt that the game was passing by Noll, feeling his influence on modern players was dwindling and his methods were outdated.

    With few stars, a lackluster quarterback in Bubby Brister and a huge hurdle to jump over after an 0-2 start, Chuck Noll took a measure toward silencing his doubters. This campaign was the last great hurrah, a fitting achievement for "Emperor Chaz." (Miss you, Myron!)

    Following the blowout losses to start the season, the team went into roller-coaster mode, a topsy-turvy season that seemed more like the Steel Phantom than the Steelers. In reality, the team didn't only rebound from an 0-2 start, but it also overcame a midseason skid!

    The Steelers fought hard to avenge their early losses against the Ohio squads, each rematch coming shortly after the initial disasters of Weeks 1 and 2. The Steelers lost a close home rematch to the Bengals, then defeated the Browns one week thereafter.  Pittsburgh's 17-7 win at Municipal Stadium was a huge catalyst for its later success, allowing them to at least consider their opening day debacle to be an aberration. 

    The 3-3 Steelers reclaimed a losing record with a 27-0 loss at Houston; the defeat was especially bitter for Noll, whose widely-publicized rivalry with Oilers coach Jerry Glanville was tipping in the favor of the loud-mouthed, seemingly self-aggrandizing Texan. Noll had accused Glanville's players of taking cheap hits, and Jerry fired back with the same claims about Noll.

    The reserved Noll was an NFL legend, a large contrast with the wisecracking Oilers ringmaster.

    Losses in Denver (34-7) and Chicago (20-0) dropped the team to 4-6. The Steelers, a rag-tag outfit of average at best talent, were doing what most felt they would: losing.

    Following a win over San Diego, the Steelers trailed 14-0 in Miami. Then, it happened.

    Dan Marino fell to injury, and Scott Secules replaced him. The backup quarterback threw two interceptions during a streak of 34 unanswered points by Pittsburgh.

    Following another disappointing loss to Houston, the Steelers won their final three games to barely qualify for the playoffs.

    Sometimes, fate has a funny way of evening scores, making history right and spiting those who deserve a good spiting...

    Noll's Steelers defeated Glanville's Oilers in the Wild Card playoffs. The Oilers had gained a reputation for choking in the postseason, and Houston fell to Pittsburgh in overtime, marking the coach's final game in Houston. Gary Anderson's 50-yard field goal was the final play Glanville would witness on the sidelines of the Astrodome.

    A week later, the Steelers led 23-17 before the great John Elway engineered a last-minute come-from-behind drive. The loss came in spite of a heroic performance by running back Merrill Hoge, who ran 16 times for 120 yards.

    The major theme of 1989 was simple—Noll had his finger on the pulse of a bad football team, allowing them to play beyond their standard capabilities. Though the legendary coach can cover most of one hand with championship rings, having won four Lombardi Trophies, this final season of the 80's may have been his finest coaching effort.