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Pittsburgh Steelers: The 10 Best Steelers Teams in Franchise History

Nick DeWittAnalyst IJune 22, 2011

Pittsburgh Steelers: The 10 Best Steelers Teams in Franchise History

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    Just as choosing the 50 greatest Steelers of all time is a daunting task, choosing the best from among all of the teams is hard to undertake. There have been so many great Steelers squads over the years that it's hard to draw a line anywhere.

    There are several teams from the last several decades that have distinguished themselves from the rest, either by winning a championship or by playing better football than anyone would have expected.

    Here's a look at the 10 greatest Steelers teams of the long, proud history of the franchise.

10. 1972, 11-3 Record, Lost in AFC Championship

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    Memorable Moments

    The Steelers made their first successful run at a division title, winning the AFC Central with an 11-3 record.

    Rookie running back Franco Harris burst onto the scene after a stellar Penn State career and rushed for over 1,000 yards in his first season.

    The Steel Curtain defense finally came together and put up an excellent season, helping the Steelers defeat opponents with a formula of smash mouth running and staunch defense.

    Chuck Noll finally took the team to the playoffs for the first time. The Steelers had only made one previous appearance in the postseason.

    The Steelers, after 39 years of operation, won their first playoff game with one of the most memorable plays in NFL history, the "Immaculate Reception" by rookie Franco Harris.

     

    How Did it End?

    Despite trumping the Oakland Raiders 13-7 in the first round, the Steelers couldn't get past the undefeated Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game. Despite putting up a tough fight, the Steelers would lose a close game to the eventual champions.

    This season would lay the groundwork for all of the great Steelers teams to come. This was the beginning.

9. 2004, 15-1 Record, Lost in AFC Championship

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    Memorable Moments

    After taking over for the injured Tommy Maddox in Week 2, rookie Ben Roethlisberger won a record 13 straight starts for the Steelers and became the first rookie in NFL history to win more than six games in his rookie season.

    The Steelers also set a franchise record for wins in a season by finishing 15-1. They won 14 straight after losing in Week 2 to the Ravens.

    The season also marked the return of Dick LeBeau to run the defense. The Steelers defense emerged again that year as a force to be reckoned with after stumbling in previous years under the stewardship of Tim Lewis.

     

    How Did it End?

    The Steelers were the first AFC team to finish 15-1 or better and during the regular season had ended the Patriots' 21-game winning streak. In the AFC Championship, however, the Steelers couldn't repeat the feat and lost to the Patriots in a blowout.

8. 2010, 12-4 Record, Lost in Super Bowl XLV

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    Memorable Moments

    With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suspended for the first four games of the season, many people expected the Steelers to fold. Instead, they thrived on defense and clutch offensive plays and posted a 3-1 record to open the year.

    Charlie Batch emerged from the fourth spot on the depth chart to have what is probably a last hurrah with a couple of excellent starts during that four game period.

    Roethlisberger emerged from suspension better than ever and posted numbers that would have been stellar for an entire season.

    Rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown emerged as excellent weapons as well as the team laid the groundwork for the future.

     

    How Did it End?

    The Steelers looked gritty and tough all season long, but in the Super Bowl, their defense wilted and the offense became turnover-prone as they lost a close contest with Green Bay.

7. 2005, 11-5 Record, Won Super Bowl XL

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    Memorable Moments

    Jerome Bettis returned for one last run at a title with the Steelers and had an excellent season as he teamed up with emerging star Willie Parker.

    Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El electrified the passing game as Ben Roethlisberger followed up his rookie campaign with another effective season in which he showed he could play through injuries.

    Troy Polamalu provided some great defensive highlights with amazing plays that showed he couldn't be accounted for on many plays because of his combination of speed and instinct.

    The Steelers won three road playoff games to reach the Super Bowl—the first time that had ever happened.

     

    How Did it End?

    After rallying around the battle cry of "one for the thumb" since 1979, the Steelers finally claimed that elusive fifth title by upending the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 in one of the most-watched Super Bowls ever.

    Willie Parker ripped of a record 75-yard touchdown run, and Hines Ward hauled in a pass from wide receiver Antwaan Randle El and took home Super Bowl MVP honors.

    Most importantly, Jerome Bettis got to go out on top.

6. 1979, 12-4 Record, Won Super Bowl XIV

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    Memorable Moments

    The Steelers won a tight battle with the Houston Oilers for the AFC Central crown, beating the Oilers 38-7 in the second game of the season by notching five interceptions (two by Mike Wagner).

    The Steelers also sent 10 players to the Pro Bowl that season and had six players chosen as All-Pros.

    Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris turned in excellent seasons on offense. Bradshaw had his highest total yardage of his career in 1979 with 3,724 yards (one of only two 3,000 yard seasons) and Harris posted his second-best season with 1,186 yards and 11 touchdowns (it was also his second-to-last 1,000 yard campaign).

     

    How Did it End?

    The Steelers successfully defended their Super Bowl title, winning their fourth championship in six seasons by besting the Los Angeles Rams.

    The game was not without tension as the Steelers nearly surrendered the game by coming out flat against a feisty 9-7 Rams team.

    This would be the swan song for the great 1970s teams. The Steelers would fade to a competitive, yet largely unsuccessful, team for most of the 1980s.

5. 2008, 12-4 Record, Won Super Bowl XLIII

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    Memorable Moments

    Santonio Holmes made one of the most amazing catches in Super Bowl history with his game-winning grab as time wound down. It wasn't the only big play of the game, however. James Harrison brought in an interception as the first half ended and dashed 100 yards for a crucial score that broke the game open for the Steelers.

    During the regular season, the Steelers finished 12-4, despite facing the most difficult schedule in over 30 seasons. The Steelers played three memorable contests against the Baltimore Ravens that season. All of those games were decided by less than a touchdown.

    James Harrison's stellar season earned him NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors, and the Steelers also sent three players to the Pro Bowl.

     

    How Did it End?

    The Steelers rode the momentum from navigating the league's toughest schedule to their record sixth championship.

    Mike Tomlin did one of his best coaching jobs, taking a team that had finished 10-6 the previous year and pushing them to become champions despite a patchwork offensive line.

    The Super Bowl ranks as one of the most memorable in history and was marked by the big plays above as well as Ben Roethlisberger's inspired effort on the final drive.

4. 1974, 10-3-1 Record, Won Super Bowl IX

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    Memorable Moments

    The Steelers made their first appearance in a championship, ending a 41-year wait for team owner Art Rooney and the fans of Steeler Nation.

    The Steelers drafted four future Hall of Fame players in the draft of 1974: Mike Webster, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann and Jack Lambert. All would contribute to the team's first championship and to the three that followed it in quick succession.

    Two years after the Immaculate Reception thrilled Pittsburgh fans and sent the Oakland Raiders packing in the playoffs, the Steelers vanquished the Raiders again to advance to the Super Bowl.

     

    How Did it End?

    Against a more seasoned Minnesota Vikings team, the Steelers defense dismantled the competition. Franco Harris lead the offense, which did just enough to put the Steelers over the top in a 16-6 game.

    With that, the Steelers won their first title, and Art Rooney received his first Lombardi Trophy from then-commissioner Pete Rozelle.

3. 1975, 12-2 Record, Won Super Bowl X

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    Memorable Moments

    The Steelers entered the season as Super Bowl champions for the first time and wasted no time defending their title by going 12-2 in the regular season.

    They also won the AFC Central title again. That marked the first time the team had won consecutive division titles and the third time they'd won it overall.

    During the playoffs, beloved radio announcer Myron Cope begged fans to bring yellow towels to the game to help cheer on the players. Originally designed to be nothing more than a one-time gimmick, the towel evolved into the powerful Terrible Towels that fans know today.

     

    How Did it End?

    The Steelers defended their Super Bowl title by winning another, this time against the Dallas Cowboys.

    The 21-17 victory over Dallas would spark a lively rivalry between the two franchises, which have combined to play in three Super Bowls together and have won 11 of the 45 Super Bowl titles.

    Super Bowl X would be one of the best-remembered Super Bowls, punctuated by Jack Lambert's near ejection for defending kicker Roy Gerela and the Steelers' second safety in two years in the Super Bowl.

2. 1978, 14-2 Record, Won Super Bowl XIII

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    Memorable Moments

    The Steelers posted an excellent 14-2 record in the first 16-game season and won their fifth division title and their sixth in seven years.

    Pittsburgh also sent 10 players to the Pro Bowl in 1978.

    The Steelers opened the season 7-0, the best start in team history and finished the year on a five-game winning streak. Both of their losses that season were by seven points or less.

    After the regular season, the Steelers rolled through the AFC playoffs with two blowout victories at Three Rivers Stadium against the Denver Broncos and Houston Oilers.

     

    How Did it End?

    The Steelers faced the rival Dallas Cowboys once again in the Super Bowl. This time, they got involved in a shootout with Roger Staubach's team.

    Terry Bradshaw played one of his finest games, and the Steelers managed to best the Cowboys in the shooting match by a 35-31 score. The Steelers claimed their third title in five years.

1. 1976, 10-4 Record, Lost in AFC Championship

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    Memorable Moments

    The Steelers struggled to a 1-4 start, but with Terry Bradshaw injured, rookie Mike Kruczek lead the team to a 6-0 mark (ironically the record for rookie quarterbacks before Ben Roethlisberger came to Pittsburgh in 2004) and helped save the season.

    Both Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier posted 1,000-yard rushing seasons for the Steelers.

    The Steel Curtain defense had its finest season, helping the Steelers post five shutouts, including three in a row in the middle of the season.

    In the end, the Steelers sent 11 players to the Pro Bowl and won their third consecutive division title.

     

    How Did it End?

    Arguably the best Steelers team in history was badly affected by injuries as the playoffs progressed. After throttling the Colts in the first playoff game, the Steelers couldn't get past their old rivals, the Oakland Raiders, in the AFC Championship Game.

    Despite the loss, this Steelers team was special beyond the won-loss record. This was possibly the greatest team in the history of the franchise.

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