Recently myself and Brian Roach spoke about this topic on the Steel City Underground Podcast, but for those of you who prefer a print format, I thought I would whittle down the “best of” moments from our show and display them here for all to see: that is, those moments Steelers fans still dwell on!
What does that mean?
Well, from what you will read below, it should be apparent: there are some occurrences in Steelers history that us fans may never get over.
Not drafting Dan Marino
This might be one of the biggest blunders which setback the Pittsburgh Steelers for over a decade.
Dan Marino was born to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. He was born in Pittsburgh, went to Central Catholic and played at the University of Pittsburgh in college.
The Steelers, in 1983, were starting to show signs of players moving on. Injuries, age, and retirement hit the team, but at this moment they were still hopeful to have Terry Bradshaw playing. Bradshaw underwent offseason elbow surgery and the team ended up playing Cliff Stoudt and Mark Malone throughout the season.
In fact, they were good enough still in 1984 to make the AFC Championship game too.
But because of feeling as though they were too high on Marino as a hometown player, the Steelers passed on drafting him: the after effects of which cannot be quantified beyond “what if’s” but speculation would serve us right to think that Marino may have led Pittsburgh back to the promised land throughout the 80’s and 90’s.
The Steelers lost that 1984 championship game to Marino’s eventual landing spot, the Dolphins: a dagger in and of itself as the Pittsburgh native went on to have a Hall of Fame career.
Cowher’s biggest problem would be quarterback play until Ben Roethlisberger was drafted in 2004: Marino played from 1983-1999, setting a ton of NFL records in the process.
What it might have been if he stayed in the Steel City…
Neil O’Donnell’s performance in Super Bowl XXX
This goes hand-in-hand with Marino not being drafted in ’83.
The Steelers rebounded big-time under Bill Cowher, becoming a defensive force throughout “The Chin’s” reign as head coach. The team got close to Super Bowl glory several times, but bowed out of AFC Championship games when the other side of the ball didn’t bail them out.
After missing the Super Bowl with a conference title game loss at the end of the 1994 season, the Steelers returned with a vengeance and surged into Super Bowl XXX, only to have their quarterback play once again doom their fortunes.
“He Who Shall Not Be Named” (as playfully coined by my cohost Brian) threw three interceptions in the game against the Cowboys, making Dallas DB Larry Brown Super Bowl MVP in the process.
Note: The Marino effect would also see Kordell Stewart toss three interceptions in each of two other AFC Championship games for the 1997 and 2001 seasons.
Tebow-mania was sweeping the country when the red-hot 12-4 Steelers traveled to Denver to attempt a repeat appearance in the Super Bowl.
This iteration of the Steelers may have featured the last hoorah of their great defenses from the late 2000’s and it all came crashing to an end via a new overtime rule that saw the Broncos get the ball first and win in sudden death fashion with blown coverage by a backup defensive back. (Safety Ryan Clark, who suffered from sickle cell disease, could not risk playing in the mile high climate.)
This led to an easy toss and score play by Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown and early exit from the playoffs.
The Steelers would spend years recovering from the loss by rebuilding their team and replacing legends with Super Bowl experience.
Jesse Caught It
A more recent miscarriage of justice to the team, imagine if the Steelers weren’t wronged by the botched replay of Jesse James’ touchdown against the New England Patriots in Week 15 of the 2017 season.
They would’ve received the top seed and avoided a team that hand their number earlier in the season and eventually in the playoffs: the Jacksonville Jaguars.
That’s not to say that the Steelers wouldn’t have faced the Jags in the AFC Championship game or even had difficulty with the Titans, but earlier games in the year showed a different story when Pittsburgh stomped Tennessee at home 40-17, versus that of Ben Roethlisberger’s five-interception game and home loss to Jacksonville instead.
Another scenario could’ve seen the Steelers in a rematch with the Patriots in the AFC Championship: but with a win at home already and flipping the script so that New England had to travel to Heinz Field instead may have made all of the difference in a disappointing end to the Killer B’s era in Pittsburgh.
How big was James' play in the end? The league had to change the catch rule the following season!
Fighting for their playoff lives, the Steelers lost a shootout in New Orleans when their opponent was given this gift of a penalty, placing future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees on the one-yard line and giving the Saints an easy seven points.
The Steelers had other issues throughout the 2018 season, but were still a dangerous, potential playoff contender. This loss by three points put them behind Baltimore in the division standings and left them to praying that Cleveland could do something in the final week of the season. (They did not.)
For all intents and purposes, I point to this play as being the nail in the coffin for the 2018 season. It may seem like I’m crying over spilled milk, but here’s the impact: the league once again reviewed this (and a sort of “karma” play that also wasn’t called and saw the Saints lose in the playoffs) to change the pass interference rules so that they can be challenged in 2019.
Two bad calls two years in a row: two rule changes pertaining to said bad calls two years in a row. You be the judge and tell me I’m wrong!