Saturday December 23rd, 1989. With a temperature near zero three Wheaton High school wresters head home from the Lackey Tournament in Southern Maryland. Jim, an Eire transplant, is destined to place fourth in the states. Tom, an immigrant from Vietnam, is destined to win Montgomery County’s coveted Richard Monisera Award for most career points in the county tournament. The other is destined to a 5-15 record (including forfeits), but will nonetheless win the team’s most improved award.
All are Steelers fans. The Oilers-Browns game is on. If the Oilers win, the Steelers road to the playoffs is easier as the Steelers’ record would have trumped Clevelands.
Fate does not smile upon the Steelers that night. Cleveland works up a 17-3 lead at half time, only to see Houston score 20 unanswered points out of the “Red Gun” offense. But Bernie Kosar and Kevin Mack rally, to bring the final score to 24-20.
Now in addition to winning their final game, the Steelers need the Indianapolis Colts to lose to the New Orleans Saints, and the Los Angeles Raiders to lose to the New York Giants, AND the Minnesota Vikings must knock off the Cincinnati Bengals.
Steelers Head to Tampa Bay
The Steelers final regular season of the 1989 season was held on Christmas Eve. The fans had their tie-breakers memorized, the Steelers were simply focused on what was necessary to win.
It would be poetic to say that the team entered and left Tampa firing on all cylinders, but that would also be incorrect.
The Steelers did, however, start strong with a 72 yard kickoff return by Rod Woodson. Bubby Brister and the Steelers offense made quick work of a short field as Tim Worley scored the first touchdown.
But Tampa answered quickly with a 7 yard pass from Joe Fergerson to Mark Carrier.
The scoring really took off in the second quarter, as Bubby Brister put the Steelers back ahead with a 79 yard touchdown pass to Louis Lipps. Tampa responded with a field goal, but Brister and Lipps were to hook up again, this time on a 12 yard touchdown pass.
Rod Woodson struck again before the end of the half, picking off one of Fergerson’s passes and setting up a Gary Anderson field goal.
Tampa got on the board first in the second half, but only with another field goal, bringing the score to 24-13. But the Steelers answered immediately, as Tim Worley scored his second touchdown giving Pittsburgh 31 points.
Things looked to get a little dicey in the final two minutes as a blocked punt gave Tampa another two, and then Joe Fergerson and Mark Carrier hooked up to give Tampa 7 more.
But the on-sides kick failed, and the Steelers ran out the clock, having defeated Tampa 31-22, and finishing the regular season 9-7.
Christmas Comes, both Early and Late
Although the New York Giants really had nothing to play for, they defeated the LA Raiders, 34-17, sending Al Davis’ boys packing for the summer. The New Orleans Saints were also playing for pride, but they devastated the Colts, to the tune of 41-6.
If the Steelers went to bed Christmas Eve knowing their playoff hopes were alive, they were forced to wait until Christmas night to see if Santa were to deliver all of the goodies on their Christmas list.
Playing the Bengals in the Metrodome, the Minnesota Vikings amassed a 22-7 half time lead. But Cincinnati fought back, making narrowing the gap to 22-21. But that was not enough, as the Vikings scored a final touchdown to win the final game of the 1989 regular season 22-29.
The 1989 Cincinnati Bengals had gone 5-1 in the AFC Central. But loss to the Vikings dropped them to 8-8 whereas the Steelers finished 9-7.
That meant that the 1989 Steelers, the same team that lost its opener 51-0, lost its second game 41-10, suffered three regular season shut outs, went ten weeks without out gaining its opponents, and set all sorts of records for futility en route to an NFL last 28th ranked offense, were going to the playoffs.
And their opponents were none other than Jerry Glanville’s Houston Oilers.
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