´ Steel Curtain Rising: Steelers vs. Bears, a History of Sparing Between Two Storied Franchises

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Steelers vs. Bears, a History of Sparing Between Two Storied Franchises

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears are two of the NFL’s most storied franchises whose origins go back to the founding of the league itself. Art Rooney Sr. and George Halas are both members of the NFL Hall of Fame.
  • And as is the case with many older franchises, the Steelers series record leaves them at a decided disadvantage 
In fact, the Steelers are 2-11 in Chicago, and 7-20-1 against the Bears overall. That lopsided record is due to woefulness of the pre-Chuck Noll Steelers.

The Steelers fare much better if one focuses on the more recent history of these two storied franchises, although they have had their difficulties against the Bears in “recent” season. The Steelers have faced the Bears six times in the last 23 years, and Steel Curtain Rising has neatly summed those meeting up below:

Ditka Takes the Wind over the Ball in OT
Bears defeat Steelers 13-10, at Solider Field, November 30, 1986

The 4-8 Steelers gave the defending Super Bowl Champion Bears a run for their money, even though they did not score an offensive touchdown. But that was good enough to force overtime when…

Iron Mike elected to kickoff, trusting in the wind and his defense. The Bear’s defense vindicated their coach, forcing a punt and setting up Kevin Butler’s winning kick.
  • Fun Fact: The Steelers only touchdown came in the third quarter on a fake field goal from Harry Newsome to tight end Preston Gothard.
Steelers Suffer Third Shut Out of 1989 Season
Bears Shut Out Steelers, 20-0 at Three Rivers Stadium, November 11, 1989

Aliquippa native Mike Dikta gave himself a hell of a home coming during the only game he coached at Three Rivers Stadium. His Bears netted 6 turnovers, wracked up 203 rushing yards, and held Pittsburgh to 54 rushing yards during their 20-0 shut out.
Cowher’s Achilles Heel or Mike Singletary’s Final Game in Chicago?
Bears defeat Steelers, 30-6 at Solider Field, December 13, 1992

Under rookie head coach Bill Cowher, the 1992 Steelers took the NFL by storm. They traveled to Chicago with a 10-3 record and a chance to clinch their first AFC Central Title since 1984. Cowher Power had rejuvenated the Steelers, and the sky was the limit. Or was it?

The Steelers fell flat on their faces. And then the Bears stomped all over them, to the tune of 30-6. Barry Foster ran 12 times for 25 yards. The Bears sacked Bubby Brister 5 times and picked him off twice. Worst of all, Pittsburgh looked lethargic and unfocused.

NBC commentator Bill Parcells attributed the result to the emotional surge occasioned by Mike Singletary’s final game in Chicago, sharing something to the effect, “I was in the Bear’s locker room prior to the game, and this was a team clearly ready to play.”
  • Cowher’s Admission: During Cowher’s early tenure, over confidence was his Steeler’s chronic Achilles heel. Cowher would perhaps dispute this general observation, but a number of years later he admitted that the 1992 game against the Bears was one of the few times the team had not been mentally prepared to play.
Streak to the Super Bowl, Vol. I - Super Bowl XXX
Steelers Defeat Bears, 37-24 at Solider Field, November 5, 1995
The Steelers 1995 Steelers started 3-4, and looked ugly doing it. After a particularly egregious loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Bill Cowher declared it was now a “9 game season.” Having beaten the Jaguars in week 8, they traveled to Chicago to take on the 6-2 Bears.

This was one of the most exciting games the Steelers have every played. The lead changed 5 times and the score was tied 3 times as the Steelers and Bears fought back and forth in this titanic struggle.

Hope faded for the Steelers when Barry Minter returned an interception to put the Bears up 34 to 27 late in the fourth. But Neil O’Donnell rebounded, taking the Steelers the length of the field capping off the drive with a 11 yard strike to Ernie Mills to tie it up just inside the two minute warning.

Cowher seemed ready to gamble it all when he sent in the 2 point conversion unit, forcing the Bears to burn their final time out. The Steelers kicked the extra point instead, and Willie Williams picked off Eric Kramer in OT, to set up Norm Johnson’s game winning field goal.
  • Cowher’s Quote: When asked if such a dramatic victory might have been a character building exercise for his recently struggling Steelers, Cowher’s response was concise and correct – “Games like this do not build character, they display it.” That character carried the Steelers to Super Bowl XXX
Steelers Start 1998 season 2-0, But…
Steelers Stumble Over Bears, 17-12, at Three Rivers Stadium, September 13, 1998

The 1997 Steelers had finished 11-5 and only two Kordell Steward goal line interceptions away from the Super Bowl. They’d beaten the Ravens 20-13 the week before, but had not looked good doing it.

The Steelers defeated the Bears 17-12 on the strength of Jerome Bettis 131 rushing game.
  • Cause for concern: Kordell Stewart went 17-30-1-1. Not bad numbers, but he only threw for 137 yards and was only 4-4 rushing. Whether it was because Ray Sherman didn’t know what he was doing, or a lack confidence, but this was the beginning of a tentative and timid Stewart, as opposed to the swashbuckling Slash that Steelers fans had seen before.
Streak to the Super Bowl, Vol. II
Steelers Smash Bears, 21-9, at Heinz Field, December 11, 2005

The Bears were coming off an 8 game winning streak. Despite their 7-5 record, the Steelers were coming off a 3 game losing streak, and looking at the possibility of needing to run the table to make the playoffs. The Steelers were up to the task, as the Bus led the march that ended with One for the Thumb in Super Bowl XL.

The Steelers totally dominated the Bears in the snow at Heinz Field. Bettis ripped off 101 yards as he plowed through Brian Urlacher and the Bears defense. Willie Parker was close behind him with 68 yards. Ben Roethlisberger hit seven different receivers, as the Steelers out gained the Bears by almost 100 yards, and dominated time of possession to the tune of 37:19 to 22:41
  • Bettis Final 100 Yard Game: This was Bettis’ 50th 100 yard game with the Steelers, a team record. It was also to be the Bus’ final 100 yard effort, and he gained all but one of them in the second half. He also scored 2 TD’s for the 16th time in his career, which brought him to 4th on the Steelers all-time scoring list.

Super Bowl Champion Steelers Slip, Signal Things to Come…
Bears Defeat Steelers 17-14 at Solider Field, September 20th, 2009

The defending Super Bowl Champions had won their opener doing what they had done during the previous season – snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. But this trip to Solider Field showed that things would not be so easy for the 2009 Steelers.

The Steelers got on the board quickly with a clockwork like opening drive engineered by Ben Roethlisberger. But Roethlisberger threw an interception and he was off after that, overthrowing and underthrowing receivers and throwing balls that were either too low or two high. Roethlisberger had help however,
  • Santonio Holmes had several drops
  • James Harrison got called for an inane illegal contact penalty for merely brushing up against Jay Cutler
  • Cutler made swiss cheese of a Troy Polamaluless Steelers secondary
Despite that, the Steelers hung in and appeared to be set to repeat history – pull out a win at the last moment.

Unfortunately Jeff Reed missed a long field goal, giving Chicago a victory. Unlike their ’08 brethren, this was to be the first of many last minute losses for the ’09 Steelers….

27 Years of Sparing

The Steelers and Bears are two of the NFL’s storied franchises. The Bears owned them during the glory days of Papa Bear George Halas. The two teams played infrequently during the Steelers Golden Age of Noll and Co. but not surprisingly the Steelers have made more success since then.

Since then, the two teams paths have crossed sparingly, but in one way or another each game has served an important part in the Steelers lore, if not determining a season’s fate.

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