´ Steel Curtain Rising: Steelers Ready to Reverse Playoff History Against Chargers?

Who gets the game ball for the win over the Colts?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Steelers Ready to Reverse Playoff History Against Chargers?

Regular readers of this site’s Watch Tower column know that the Post Gazette’s Ron Cook has been a frequent target. The objective behond Watch Tower of course isn’t to flame anyone, let alone single out a lone columnist.

Yet, Cook keeps offering such juicy fodder…..

In this case, it coincides a with preplanned article not even related to media analysis, nonetheless, Cook really helps set the table.

Those Who Ignore History are Doomed to Repeat It
We can be thankful that Cook is a columnist and not a coach. His comments in blue reveal why.

The first rule of tournament play is:
  • Never look past the round you're in

    Because of the [Wild Card Weekend] results, they get a relatively weak opponent -- the San Diego Chargers -- at home Sunday in their first playoff game and won't have to go to Tennessee for the AFC title game….
The first maxim of the true competitor is:
  • Never underestimate your opponent.

    …The Chargers did the Steelers a favor Saturday by beating the dangerous Indianapolis Colts…
And of course, driving with your eyes closed violates plain common sense.
  • To wit, learn from the past.

    …Better that the Chargers come to Heinz Field
Really Ron, you sure you want to put your name on that?
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the San Diego Chargers Playoff Home Away From Home

Cook is crassly ignorant. The story value of division rivals playing the AFC Championship has Cook licking his chops so feverishly that he’s blinded himself to a very pertinent part of Pittsburgh’s playoff history.

The Vegas odds makers are no doubt looking at the Chargers 0-13 record in Pittsburgh when they installed the Steelers as 6 point favorite. The naked truth is this:

The Chargers flat out own the Steelers in the post-season. And all of the games have been played in Pittsburgh.
But while Ron Cook is wrong to thumb his nose at history, there is cause for hope in Steelers Nation.

1979 The Playoff Trip to San Diego that Never Was
History is and should be measured by what happens, not by what doesn’t happen. Most of the time.

So perhaps this is one of those times when the exception counts. The first Steelers-Chargers post-season game is in fact, the one that never was…

The Steelers entered the 1979 playoffs as the number two seed. Don Coryell’s Chargers held top billing. After defeating Miami in the Divisional playoff game, the Steelers awaited the winner of the Chargers-Oilers game. For one moment at least, Steelers Nation was rooting for Bum Philips and Earl Campbell. And its not just because the Oilers would have to travel to Pittsburgh.
  • Of the Steelers four losses in the 1979 season, only one really stood out. And although I was in Maryland and in the beginning of elementary school at the time, I remember the game.
Coming home, excited when my brother told me the Steelers were on, and then devisated to see that they were losing, and of course at that age not understanding why.
Fouts, Winslow and the Chargers of that era are known for Air Coryell. But the fact is it was their defense that decimated the Steelers. Not only did dropping their DB's back into deep coverage result in five Bradshaw interceptions, but the San Diego defense managed to sack the blond bomber on the order of somethink like 8 times.*
  • It says here that the Steelers would have prevailed in an AFC Championship game, but I can also remember the consensus on NBC Sports that January was that with the Oilers upset of the Chargers, the Steelers had dodged a bullet
Steelers 50th Anniversary Celebration Gets Cut Short

The Steelers 6-3 record qualified them for the AFC Tournament in that strike shortened season. Out of the playoffs in 1980 and 1981, much of Steelers Nation had hopes that the two years on and two years off of Super Bowl victories would repeat itself. The Steelers were celebrating their 50th Anniversary after all.

But it was not to be.

Terry Bradshaw and John Stallworth were in playoff form, a strike from number 12 to 82 gave the Steelers a 28 to 17 fourth quarter lead.

But the Steel Curtain of old was no more. Absent Greene, White, Holmes, and Greenwood, and with other stars such as Blount and Ham approaching the end of their days, the Dan Fouts led the Chargers to score 2 touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including one in after the two minute warning.
  • This was Bradshaw's final playoff game. His numbers were 39-23 for 325 yards, 2 TD's and 2 Ints. It was also the final playoff game for Jack Ham and Lynn Swann.
3 Yards Short -- January 15th, 1995, AFC Championship at Three Rivers Stadium, Steelers vs. Chargers
Was there ever a blacker day in Steelers playoff history?
Super Bowl XXX? Nope, no one gave us a chance and we’d have won if not for Neil O’Donnell. The 1976 AFC Championship, perhaps this comes in second, but there were mitigating circumstances.
Fog Bowl II against New England? Certainly a let down, but nothing on the order of this day.

The Steelers were prohibitive AFC favorites throughout the 1994 season. Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Dermonti Dawson, and Carnell Lake’s day had arrived. Chad Brown and Levon Kirkland were coming into their own.
Behind the league’s best offensive line the trio of Barry Foster, Bam Morris and John L. Williams ran over everyone. Neil O’Donnell was discovering he had weapons such as Yancy Thigpen, Ernie Mills, and Andre Hastings instead of simply trying to force the ball to an overweight and under achieving Eric Green.
  • Cowher Power's day had come... Or had it?
The Steelers had home field advantage, and had utterly destroyed Bill Belichick’s Cleveland Browns in the Divisional round. (God, Times Square at the end of World War II didn’t have anything on the celebration at Baltimore’s Purple Goose that day.)

San Diego entered as the AFC West Champions, but had just eked out a victory against Miami the week before. They were all stood between the Steelers and the right to fight the San Francisco 49ers to be the first franchise to win five Super Bowls.
  • Cowher Power's Day Had Arrived.... Or had it?
No one gave the Chargers a chance. The Steelers themselves were so confident that Eric Green was planning to lead a group of Steelers to pre-record a Super Bowl rap video, until Bill Cowher discovered this an nipped it in the bud.

All credit for that victory goes to Bobby Ross and his staff. The Steelers simply could not run. Neil O’Donnell did move them the air, but twice they got into the red zone and were forced to settle for field goals.
  • The Steelers were holding to a 10-3 lead at half time, but NBC analyst made the ominous prediction: "If Pittsburgh is not careful, San Diego is going to steal this game."
And that’s just what happened.

Alfred Pupunu’s name that will forever live in infamy among Steelers fans. I remember the play like it was yesterday. The Chargers handed off. The entire Steeler defense swarmed. I thought “they’re going to clobber him well behind the line of scrimmage.” Except it wasn’t a hand off, it was the best run fake I have ever seen. Alfred Pupunu was wide open for the 43 yard touchdown pass.

The play only brought San Diego within ten points, but the Steelers could do nothing. Later on cornerback Tim Mckyer blew the coverage against Tony Martin for the go ahead score. O’Donnell marched the team from the 17 to the 3 with time about to expire, and then came up short on a pass to Barry Foster…

History is about Past, but by Those in the Present Who Make Their Own
That brings us to today.

On paper the Steelers are the better team. They’ve beaten San Diego once before. Still, there’s that nasty precedent hanging on their backs?

Or is it?

Of the Pittsburgh press corps, only the Post-Gazette's Gene Collier sought fit to bring up the Steelers tortured playoff history with the Chargers. Based on the rest of the reporting, it seems like its not on anyone’s mind.

Just as well. It shouldn’t be.

As Steel Curtain Rising has said before, one can easily imagine Mike Tomlin’s response to any question about the past “That was their story, we are still writing our story.”

Although John Mitchell is the only player or coach still around who was on the field that day, this team appears to have learned the lessons handed down by that generation of Steelers.

Whatever else might bedevil these Steelers at Heniz field on Sunday night, the players seem well prepared for the game. If any of them read Ron Cook's column, they're clearly not buying into it.
With a 12-4 record after having played the NFL’s toughest schedule, most coverage of the Steelers seems to be punctuated with a kind of “well, but” tone to it.

No worry.

When Willie Parker was asked by Ed Bouchette about the state of the once vaunted Steelers rushing attack his response was this:

"I just have to change that. It doesn't bother me at all. I came into the league with very little respect. My goal has always been to just take respect."

I can’t think of a better attitude to take into the playoffs.
*If anyone can give me the total number of times Bradshaw was sacked that day, I'd be grateful.
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