In the 80’s the Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon ran a column on Fridays season titled “The Upset Pick.”
Wilbon chose to lead week five’s UP this way: “The Steelers will show the last two weeks weren't a fluke by beating the Bengals at Three Rivers Stadium.”
Days like that make one appreciate the internet. When the Washington Post printed its weekly TV Guide, NBC assumed the Steelers-Bengals game wouldn’t be worth seeing. Some other game was listed. Today these updates come with a mouse click.
Back then you had to spy something tucked into a corner of newsprint, or miss it, which is what certainly happened to me.
I don’t know if someone called me or if just flipped on the TV to see if I could find out the score, but at about 3:45 I was shocked to discover NBC was showing the game. Not only that, the Steelers had just pulled within three within the two minute warning.
Hold the Bengals, the Steelers have a shot at pulling off another tremendous upset…
…Up to that point, it had been a topsy turvey game. The Bengals offense had manhandled the Steelers in week two, with Boomer Esiason racking up 328 yards, James Brooks and Ickey Woods romping for 192 yards, and Tim McGee and Eddie Brown torching the secondary for a combined 166 yards. Week five brought something a little different...
Bengals See a Different Pittsburgh Steelers Squad in Week 5
When I’d turned on the TV, Esiason’s passing was a pedestrian 219 yards, McGee and Brown were in check, and the Steelers defense was “containing” James Brooks having held him to 62 yards.
Less effective than their counterparts, the Steelers offense had managed three Gary Anderson field goals after scoring a touchdown on their opening drive. But it looked like it just might be good enough. Pittsburgh responded to Cincinnati’s fourth quarter go ahead touchdown with Anderson’s third field goal, bringing Pittsburgh within three.
The Bengals had just taken possession when I tuned in. Memory fails to provide details, but the Steelers defense was not yielding. The Bengals had started on their 41 and converted at least one first down, yet they were backed up to their 35.
I clearly remember NBC’s Joel Myers commenting on Pittsburgh’s predictability, to which Paul Maguire responded:
I mentioned that to Chuck Noll, and he said. 'Cincinnati knows we’re going to come at them and play hard-nosed football. There’s nothing we can do about it except go out and do it.'
Third down. The Steelers blitz…
- ...James Brooks breaks past the Steelers line, and tears through the secondary for a 65 touchdown run...
…So much for “can’t hope to stop him, but only hope to contain him.”
The Steelers were not done.
Brister took command and moved the team to about the Bengal’s 40 when disaster struck. He ended his final play lying on his back, ripping his helmet off writhing in pain. It looked so bad that even Sam Wyche and Boomer Esiason went out to offer comfort while the crowed at Three Rivers waited for the cart.
Todd Blacklage came in and drove the team to the Bengals 7, but time expired.
The Steelers had gone toe-to-toe with the defending AFC Champions and come within striking distance of an upset.
But any sense of “moral victory” was utterly lost at the sight of a promising young quarterback, who was completing 62% of his passes and had not thrown an interception in 4 games, carted off the field with his knee immobilized.
Monday failed to bring better news, as WMAL’s Ken Beatrice informed that Brister “had a sprained knee, he’s out AT LEAST three weeks.” Without Brister, could the Steelers avenge their 51-0 opening day loss by traveling to Cleveland…
…where they had not won since 1981?