Pittsburgh Steelers: All-Time Greatest Teams That Didn't Win the Super Bowl
The Steelers' six Lombardi trophies are a tribute to their unmatched success during the Super Bowl era. What's interesting is that the total should have been far more.
The Steelers have had their share of lucky bounces in their storied history, but a handful of bad breaks and untimely injuries have kept the Steelers' trophy case from literally overflowing.
I have selected the five Steelers teams that came tantalizingly close to adding a few more Super Bowl titles to the Steelers' record six wins.
Some of these teams are loaded with Hall of Fame talent. Others not so much.
There's a little something here for Steelers' fans old and young alike. Some of these memories are still fresh in the mind. Others will take you back to a time when disco was still popular.
I have ranked the teams in order of the amount of frustration caused. From "Oh well, we'll get 'em next year" to "I can't believe we lost this game."
I hope you enjoy the trip down memory lane.
5. 2004 Steelers Lose Rematch with Patriots in AFC Title Game
There is some debate as to whether the whole "Spygate" scandal had any bearing on the outcome of this disappointing loss. The more likely reason is that Roethlisberger simply ran out of gas.
The rookie sensation had taken the league by storm with his knack for fourth-quarter comebacks and his record 15-game winning streak to start his career.
But the signs were there for a fall. Roethlisberger's struggles down the stretch caused the Steelers to place even more of the burden on the running game and the vaunted defense.
Pittsburgh narrowly escaped the Jets in overtime in the divisional round game the previous week only to draw a rematch with a Patriot team it had dominated in the regular season.
This time, it was no match.
The 2004 team's 15-1 regular season mark was the best ever achieved in the AFC at the time, but that doesn't mean much when you don't bring home the hardware.
There is some debate as to whether this team belongs on this list, but its talent was undeniable. The evidence of this is in the fact that the Steelers returned the following year to win the title with essentially the same cast of players.
Steelers fans could take comfort in the fact that Pittsburgh had beaten both Super Bowl participants quite handily that season and were close to taking that final step.
Still, this one hurt.
4. 1972 Steelers Push Undefeated Dolphins to the Limit
The 1972 season was the one that launched the Steelers dynasty of the '70s. Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception" was the catalyst.
It could have been a fairy tale ending if Pittsburgh had gone on to win the team's first Super Bowl, but the undefeated Miami Dolphins were writing their own story that year.
The Steelers came painfully close, giving the Dolphins everything they could handle before bowing 21-17.
The turning point in this game came in the first quarter after Terry Bradshaw had driven the Steelers smartly to an early touchdown that gave Pittsburgh the lead and overwhelming confidence.
But Bradshaw was injured on the play and missed the majority of the game. The Steelers continued to dominate the action, but without Bradshaw the stagnate offense could not pull away from the Dolphins.
Don Shula effectively used a fake punt to set up a Dolphin touchdown and tie the game. Then Shula pulled an ineffective Earl Morrall and inserted Bob Griese back into the lineup to spark the Dolphins offense that was being manhandled by the Steelers defense.
Late in the fourth quarter, Bradshaw returned with the Steelers trailing 21-10. He paid immediate dividends, driving the Steelers 80 yards on four passes to pull the Steelers within 21-17. They would get no closer.
The Dolphins went on to their date with destiny, but the Steelers were building something special.
Steelers fans had been treated to a glimpse of Bradshaw's big game ability.
In the Steelers' locker room after the game, many of the Steelers themselves believed they had left the Dolphins off the hook and missed a great opportunity. Indeed, if Bradshaw had played the whole game it's not too far-fetched to think Pittsburgh would have won.
The Steelers' time was coming soon enough.
3. 2010 Steelers Fall Short of Collecting Seventh Lombardi Trophy
The 2010 Steelers overcame a lot of adversity to reach Super Bowl XLV. Not much was expected of them after learning Ben Roethlisberger would be gone for the first four games due to his suspension for violating the league's conduct policy.
But this Steelers team was a resilient bunch. They managed a 3-1 record in Roethlisberger's absence and outlasted the Ravens for the AFC North crown.
Then in the playoffs, as he had done so many times before, Roethlisberger rallied Pittsburgh from a halftime deficit to edge out the Ravens yet again in the teams' third matchup of the season.
In the AFC Championship game against the Jets, Roethlisberger was clutch late as the Steelers advanced to their record-tying eighth Super Bowl appearance.
Super Bowl XLV was admittedly not one of Roethlisberger's best performances. Still, he shrugged off a couple of interceptions and kept fighting to get Pittsburgh back in the game.
Roethlisberger's second touchdown pass and successful two-point conversion pulled the Steelers to within 28-25 late in the fourth quarter.
The Steelers' maligned defense needed to come up with a stop, something they hadn't done much of all day. A three-and-out would have been nice.
They didn't get it.
By the time the Steelers defense held, there was little more than two minutes remaining and the deficit was now six, 31-25.
Roethlisberger had done it before under similar circumstances, but this time it was not meant to be.
Steelers fans were left to ponder what might have been had the defense given the ball back with more time and only a field goal being the difference.
But ultimately, more damaging were the three costly turnovers. The last one was the back-breaker with Rashard Mendenhall's fumble coming as the Steelers were driving in Packers' territory towards the go-ahead touchdown and appearing ready to seize control of the game.
It was that kind of game. So close, but number seven will have to wait.
2. 1995 Steelers Unable to Win One for the Thumb
Simply put, Neil O'Donnell threw this one away.
Three interceptions for a man who still ranks among the all-time leaders in lowest interception percentage for his career. O'Donnell was off the entire game, often throwing balls high and off the mark.
It had been a career year for O'Donnell and his efficient passing had carried the offense all season. It continued in the playoffs as O'Donnell calmly directed the game winning drive in the AFC Championship Game against the Colts.
Few Steelers fans will ever forget the long, picture-perfect pass along the sideline to Ernie Mills that set the Steelers up inside the 5-yard line in the closing moments of their spectacular come-from-behind victory.
O'Donnell's scatter-shot performance in the Super Bowl ruined an incredible day by the scrappy, undersized Steelers defense.
Experts figured the Cowboys' mammoth offensive line would push the Steelers' smallish front all over the field and established Dallas as 13-point favorites. They were wrong.
Pittsburgh's lightning quick defenders were all over the field making plays and holding the league's leading rusher Emmitt Smith to only 49 yards on 18 carries.
The Steelers took everything the mighty Cowboys could dish out and they just would not go away. Thanks to a gutsy, surprise onside kick call from coach Bill Cowher and some power running from big Bam Morris, the Steelers found themselves down only 20-17 with 4:15 remaining.
They had the ball, the momentum and the Cowboys on the ropes. They were actually going to pull this thing off. It was going to be one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history.
On second down from the Steelers' 32-yard line, Andre Hastings went inside, O'Donnell threw outside into the waiting arms of Dallas defensive back Larry Brown and the dream was over.
This loss was particularly tough to swallow for Steelers' fans being that it was the franchise's first loss in Super Bowl play and it came to the hated Cowboys.
1. 1976 Steelers Can't Overcome Losses of Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier
The 1976 Steelers were believed by many to be the best team Pittsburgh ever put on the field. Few can argue with the absolute dominance they displayed over the final nine games of the season.
After stumbling out of the gate at 1-4 and losing Terry Bradshaw to a cheap shot from Cleveland's Joe "Turkey" Jones, the Steelers turned to their rushing attack and a ferocious defense to turn the season around.
They led the league by churning out 212 yards per game on the ground with both Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier going for more than 1,000 yards.
Over the remaining nine games, the defense shut out five opponents and allowed 28 points in the other four games combined. Opposing teams struggled to get first downs and sustaining drives was nearly impossible.
It was arguably the most dominant stretch of defense ever played by any team in NFL history.
The Steelers rolled into the playoffs on a nine-game winning streak and looking every bit unstoppable. Their opponents in the divisional playoff, the brash, young Baltimore Colts were not impressed.
The Colts maintained that the Steelers had not played anyone and certainly had not faced a team with an offense like their top-ranked unit.
After the carnage was over, the scoreboard read 40-14 Steelers.
The victory came at a heavy price. Both Harris and Bleier were lost to injuries. That left Pittsburgh with only one healthy running back for its showdown with the rugged Oakland Raiders.
Coach Chuck Noll and his staff were forced to install a whole new offense, a one-back attack featuring four receiver sets, for the AFC Championship Game and they would have one week to learn it.
Understandably, this put the Steelers at a huge disadvantage. Right from the start, the Steelers offense appeared out of sync, sometimes confused. The Raiders took full advantage and jumped to a 10-0 lead.
Terry Bradshaw played valiantly, and with some clutch third-down passing in the second quarter he lead the Steelers on a long touchdown drive that cut the deficit to 10-7.
But the Raiders were able to take advantage of a defensive holding penalty on the Steelers on what would have been a third down incompletion that set them up with a first down inside the Steelers' 5-yard line just before the half.
Ken Stabler's touchdown pass on the next play made the halftime score 17-7 instead of 13-7.
In the third quarter, the Steelers' offense continued to struggle and the vaunted Steel Curtain defense began to wear down from constantly being on the field.
Oakland's long touchdown drive against a tired Steelers defense made the score 24-7 and effectively put this game out of reach.
Afterwards, Joe Greene was adamant about the fact the Steelers would have won this game had they been at full strength. Jack Lambert wanted to play the Raiders again the following day.
These Steelers had three-peat written all over them. John Madden and company enjoyed their victory tremendously, as they should have.
But let's face it, the outcome of this game could have been far different.
1977 Steelers - This team had a roster full of Hall of Fame talent, but off-the-field issues destroyed the team's chemistry and chances at another Super Bowl title. There were holdouts, lawsuits and trade requests. Still, the Steelers were able to get by on their considerable talent most weeks and did win the division and push eventual AFC champion Denver to the limit in the playoffs before bowing out.
1973 Steelers - The weight of Super Bowl expectations and an injury to Terry Bradshaw hurt this team's shot at the Super Bowl. After an 8-1 start, the Steelers lost three in a row and their hold on the division title. They rallied to secure a wild card spot but lost on the road in Oakland.
1963 Steelers - Despite the fact that there was no Super Bowl in 1963, this team was one win on the final day of the season from advancing to what would have been the Steelers first NFL championship appearance. Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne retired one season too soon as it turned out. His presence that season would surely have been worth a couple of wins and a shot at the title.