20 years ago today the Steelers traveled to Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium for the second game of the 1989 season, reeling from the 51-0 shutout inflicted on them by the Cleveland Browns the week before.
Although the Bengals were defending AFC Champions, the Steelers had won in Cincinnati as recently as 1987, and harbored aspirations of showing the NFL that they were better than their opening day debacle.
The Steelers failed to realize those aspirations.
The Monday morning after the game my friend BBD approached my locker suggesting that "I think the Steelers should fire their defensive coordinator."
“Why?” I asked.
“Because they lost their first two games by a combined score of 92-10.”
I responded, “If 34 of those points came directly off of the offense, you can't come down too hard on the defense too hard, can you?”
Truthfully, if offensive self-destruction had defined the 1989 Steelers first game, dismal defense defined their second.
Boomer Esiason threw for 328 yards while Tim McGee and James Brooks had 100 yard days receiving and rushing respectively.
But the Steelers defense could not get out of its own way. The Steelers committed a record 144 yards in penalties 144 yards and handed the Bengals 7 of their 30 first downs. Worse yet, the Steelers failed to force the Bengals to punt even once.
This was the first time a Chuck Noll team, including his 1-13 team from his 1969 rookie campaign, had failed to force a punt.
Signs of Hope?
The difference between losing 41-10 and 51-0 is cosmetic at best.
Yet had the Steelers given their faithful fans some hope to hang on to?
Steel Curtain Rising applauds no one’s injury, but on defense Greg Lloyd and Thomas Everett had teamed up to deliver a devastating hit on Icky Woods that unfortunately derailed is career.
On offense, Bubby Brister, despite taking 6 sacks for the second consecutive week, completed 54% of his passes, and did not throw a single interception. Louis Lipps caught 5 passes for 122 yards and scored the team's only touchdown.
Lipps has been a familiar target in 1988, but Brister hit a total of eight receivers, as Dwight Stone, Rodney Carter, and newcomer Mike Mularkey began to make their presence in the offense felt.
Putting faith in these kinds of stats would constitute rose-colored glasses optimism on steroids; 20 years later they remain nothing more than glorified garbage time numbers.
Brian Hinkle’s Statement
But hard numbers do not carry the day in football games or football seasons.
The Tuesday after the game the Washington Post ran a little one inch, 4 line blurb on titled "Man of Steel."
It revealed that linebacker Brian Hinkle had played a full two quarters during the second half of the Bengals game on a broken fibula.
Brian Hinkle’s resolve and determination made a statement for the few with the savvy to listen.
Losing their first two games by cumulative score of 92-10 may have humiliated the team, but the 1989 Pittsburgh Steelers were very far from defeated.
Thanks for visiting. Steel Curtain Rising will pay tribute to the ’89 Steelers all season long. Game posts appear on Thursdays. To read the entire series click on the Steelers 1989 season tag. Leave a comment sharing your thoughts and memories.