It's an age-old argument when sports fans delve into the realm of the hypothetical: What if one team from the past were able to play against another years after the fact?
I originally planned on writing an article ranking the top-10 Pittsburgh Steelers teams of all-time, until a friend told me about this amazing website that simulates fantasy sports matchups. It has been used (and sometimes heavily endorsed) by ESPN.com's Bill Simmons.
Today, thanks to those great folks at WhatIfSports.com, we can come up with a more definitive answer, even if it is based on the hypothetical.
The first thing was to find eight teams that were worthy of selecting for a playoff. Since Pittsburgh has six Super Bowl rings, picking the 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 2005, and 2008 teams was the easy part.
Finding the next two eligible teams for the argument would be more difficult. I remembered that a seventh Steelers team reached the Super Bowl; the 1995 team reached Super Bowl XXX, before falling to the Dallas Cowboys.
Four other teams reached the AFC Championship game and fell short: 1972 (the year of the Immaculate Reception), 1976, 1984, and 2004. That left five teams to help decide the final two playoff spots.
I decided to use the one statistic that would transcend decades and offensive eras in order to select the final two teams: scoring differential (points scored minus points allowed). I also used it to dictate the seeding in the tournament.
I discovered that the 1976 team had a scoring differential of 204 points, the most of the five teams and more than five of the the six teams that had already been selected, while the 1972 team had a second-best differential of 168 points.
But was it fair to use two non-championship teams from the same decade? My answer was no.
The final decision was to include the 1972 team, because even though the 1976 team had a higher differential and, arguably, the best defense ever, the 1972 team had a better historical footprint.
They fell to the only undefeated Super Bowl champion in league history, and Franco Harris's miracle, game-winning catch against the Oakland Raiders in the Divisional Playoff game is still considered one of the best ever.
The final team selected was the 2004 team, which went 15-1, with a rookie quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, and fell to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship, the team that eventually broke their record for most regular season wins in 2007.
The field was complete, and the final seeding was as follows:
1. 1975 (+211 pts.)
2. 1972 (+168 pts.)
3. 1978 (+161 pts.)
4. 1979 (+154 pts.)
5. 2005 (+131 pts.)
6. 2008 (+124 pts.)
7. 2004 (+121 pts.)
8. 1974 (+116 pts.)
Over the next several days, I will feature a series of game recaps based on this fantasy simulation tournament. The final two teams will compete in the completely artificial "Art Rooney Bowl", for the right to be called the "Best Steelers Team of All-Time."
I hope everybody enjoys the results, and hopefully Chuck Noll gets some sleep. He's got a lot of game-planning to do.
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