Since the Steelers have home field advantage in the also-ran postseason, we'll take a look back at some of the highlights and heartbreaks of playoffs past ...
Today: Dec. 31, 1972 -- AFC Championship vs. Miami Dolphins
To those of us under about age 45 -- it seems as if Franco Harris scooped up the Immaculate Reception in 1972 and galloped all the way to the 1974 season and a Super Bowl IX victory, but in fact that wasn't the case. The Steelers were the penultimate victims for the 1972 Miami Dolphins -- the NFL's only undefeated team (ask them, they'll tell you).
Because of a scheduling quirk, the 11-3 Steelers hosted the 14-0 Dolphins rather than vice versa. A blast of frigid winter weather could have helped the home team hosting its first-ever AFC Championship against the warm-weather visitors, but the New Year's Eve kickoff temperature was a balmy 71 degrees according to a Post-Gazette account of the game.
The Steelers drew first blood on an end zone recovery of a Terry Bradshaw fumble by guard Gerry "Moon" Mullins. Bradshaw, who had been treated for the flu at Divine Providence Hospital on the North Side just the day before, was knocked out of the game on the play by Miami safety Jake Scott. He was replaced by the Charlie Batch of the 1970's, Butler's Terry Hanratty.
Larry Csonka and Pittsburgh native Mercury Morris -- the original 'thunder & lightning' backfield -- racked up 144 rushing yards but it was a 37-yard fake punt run by punter Larry Seiple that set up a 9-yard TD pass from former Steeler Earl Morrall to Csonka to tie the game 7-7 at halftime.
The Steelers went back ahead 10-7 in the third quarter, but Miami pulled away behind a pair of Jim Kiick -- whose father played for the Steelers -- rushing TDs in the third and fourth quarters (above right). Bradshaw returned to the game and led a touchdown drive but threw two late picks to end the Steelers chances.
An interesting example of how the game has changed -- there were only 20 completions on 36 pass attempts in the entire game between the two teams' four quarterbacks (Bradshaw, 5/10; Hanratty 5/10; Morrall 7/11 ; Griese 3/5 ).
P-G coverage of the game:
- 'Steelers Run Out of Miracles' (game story by Jack Sell)
- The "Israeli Brigade of Franco's Italian Army'
- A 'Banner Day at Three Rivers'
- 'We Ran Out of Miracles' (editorial)
- Victory Postponed 'Until Next Year'
- Steelers Vow Comeback.
- (unrelated but sad & interesting: first Letter to the Editor is about Roberto Clemente's charity work. Clemente died the same night as the game but the news did not make it to this edition of the paper)
- Box Score.
Dec. 31, 1989 -- AFC Wild Card @ Houston
Though he'd coach two more seasons, this game was essentially the last hurrah -- and the last playoff win -- of the Chuck Noll era. It was a fitting win as Noll vanquished his brash young nemesis, Jerry Glanville, for whom Noll had a deep and not hidden disdain. The loss got Glanville fired.
The game was a slugfest. the Steelers scored early on the ground on a nine-yard Tim Worley run, which was set up by a Jerry Olsavsky blocked punt. Each team hit three field goals, putting the Steelers out in front 16-9 in the fourth quarter.
Future Hall-of-Famer Warren Moon finally found his spots in the Pittsburgh defense, and led the Oilers to two late touchdown drives putting Houston ahead 23-16 with 5:53 left. But Bubby Brister -- not exactly John Elway (who he'd later back up) -- led the Steelers on an 80-yard drive that was capped with a Merril Hoge touchdown to send it to OT.
The Steelers won the toss in OT but faltered. Harry Newsome shanked a punt and the Oilers were just about teed up for a victory until on first down Rod Woodson and Tim Johnston teed up Oilers RB Lorenzo White, forcing a fumble. Woodson recovered and a few plays later, Gary Anderson nailed a 50-yard field goal for the 26-23 win.
P-G coverage of the game:
- Ed Bouchette's game story invokes the Immaculate Reception.
- They were praying on Mt. Washington.
- Bruce Keidan: A Night to Remember.
- Play of the game: Woodson's forced fumble.
- Ron Cook: Oilers sick over loss.
- Hoge was the star of the game.