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The Steelers abroad: An abbreviated history

Written by Dan Gigler on .

big ben  big ben profileThe profile of that protruding proboscis is recognizable on either side of the pond.

With 0-3 Pittsburgh facing 0-3 Minnesota this Sunday in London, everyone's a comedian. A friend quipped that it'd be the worst thing to happen to the Brits since the Blitzkrieg; another said it was America finally getting retribution for the Stamp Act, while another simply dubbed it the 'Pooper Bowl.'

Nonetheless, while the most disappointing Steelers start of this millennium wasn't quite the backdrop many fans (much less NFL executives) had hoped for when Big Ben travels to Big Ben, there will be a game Sunday, and it will count in the standings -- a first for the Steelers on foreign soil.  

But while this is the first regular season game that the Steelers will play abroad, the black and gold's legions have previously invaded five other countries on three continents for preseason games between 1990 and 2000. 

A look back at the Steelers' previous adventures abroad ... 

MONTREAL: August 9, 1990 -- Steelers 30, Patriots 14

american bowl montrealGene Collier, then writing for the Pittsburgh Presss, ominously describes the first full dress rehearsal for the 'new' Joe Walton offense as only he can: 

"To begin the '90s, the Steelers finally unveiled the offense of the '80s, the best part of which was pretty much what they have been doing since the '70s, which is what the Green Bay Packers were doing in the '60s. 

"There is probably a way to work the '50s and the '40s in there somewhere, but, hey, it's only the first exhibition game. 

"Why it had to be in Montreal, which many of the Steelers understand to be in a foreign country, is a long, boring story I'm sure. Nearly 27,000 people who couldn't remember why they didn't much like football in the first place wound up paying $35 a seat to see stuff like Hart Lee Dykes dropping a pass. ... 

... the Steelers deployed a new offense to help squash the New England Patriots 16-0 in the first half, which was followed by a titanic 14-14 struggle in a second half waged largely by platoons of the Future Construction Workers of America.

"I felt pretty comfortable with it," said Bubby Brister of the new offense, which often deploys two tight ends and one wide receiver, or two tight ends and one back and two wide receivers, or three tight ends, or is it three french hens? "It's designed to keep people off balance." 

"Brister was one of them, completing only three of 10 passes for 35 yards, throwing twice directly to persons in the wrong uniform ..." 

"It is hugely ironic that after 15 years of whining about the predictability of the Steelers' offense, built resolutely around the hallowed Sophisticated Trap Offense, Steelers fans might now find that Joe Walton's offense is substantially less predictable but even more of an eyesore." 

You can read Ed Bouchette's game story here

BARCELONA: August 1, 1993 -- 49ers 21, Steelers 14

NFL-American-Bowl-1993-Steelers-vs-49ers-Estadi-Olimpic-Cok"The Olympic torch burned brightly at one end of the stadium and a full moon hovered at the other. 

"And there was halfback Tim Worley again, lighting up the Steelers' offense, burning a little brighter with each relentless step. 

"The NFL's first excursion into Spain looked all too much like any other first exhibition game as the San Francisco 49ers outlasted the sloppy Steelers last night, 21-14. 

"But for Worley, the 7,500-mile round trip to Spain represented another move forward in his long journey back. He led the Steelers with 75 yards on nine carries, including a 35-yard run that should have been ruled a touchdown. It came on the heels of his successful performance in a scrimmage the previous week against the Washington Redskins ... "

Read the rest of Ed Bouchette's game story here.

TOKYO: July 27, 1996 -- Chargers 20, Steelers 10

Can't find anything linkable for the game story (or any pics) but here's the first few paragraphs of Ed Bouchette's story ... 

"The hammer came down to start the Steelers' quarterback derby on the Pacific Rim last night, but it landed even harder on defensive end Brentson Buckner and two reserve linebackers. ...

"The injuries overshadowed the Steelers' 20-10 loss to San Diego and the public unveiling of their three-way battle for the starting quarterback job."

*** Next day story on the QB race between Mike Tomczak, Jim Miller & Kordell Stewart. 

*** PG headline that says "Here we go Steelers!" in Japanese

*** Bouchette also had a nice preview feature for the game about tackle John Jackson

"John Jackson is a curiosity to most Japanese who see him walk the crowded streets here. 

"They do not see many black men who stand 6 feet 6 and weigh 300 pounds walking the streets of Tokyo. 

"What they do not know is that Jackson is one of them. The Steelers' starting left tackle is half Japanese. He was born in Okinawa, the son of a U.S. serviceman and his Japanese wife. 

"Players of many descents and nationalities have played in the National Football League, including Samoans, but no full-blooded Japanese has become a starting position player in the league. Jackson may be the closest to it and when he is introduced with his Steelers' teammates for tonight's 10 o'clock (EDT) American Bowl game against San Diego, hardly anyone in the crowd at the Tokyo Dome will know that he is half-Japanese. 

"In fact, hardly any of his teammates or coaches know it. ..." 

Read the rest here

DUBLIN: July 27, 1997 -- Steelers 30, Bears 17

ireland logo

This was a homecoming of sorts for the Rooney family, proud Irish-American patriarchs of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but time would prove it to be something of an advance scouting trip for Dan Rooney's second career: American Ambassador to Ireland. 

Nominated by to the post by President Barack Obama in 2009, Mr. Rooney served there until last December. 

Almost immediately upon his being nominated there were whispers that the Steelers might make a return trip to the Emerald Isle while Rooney but that ended up being little more than wishful thinking; however, U2 ended up doing a show at Heinz Field, so you do the math.  

steelers abroad*** The game marked the beginning of Kordell Stewart's turbulent career as a Steelers' starting quarterback. Read Ed Bouchette's game story.

*** Apparently Greg Lloyd broke a year-long media silence to take a few moments to insult the Irish people, and according to Bouchette's story, Dan Rooney was not amused. 

*** Read a second account of the Lloyd rant from the Youngstown (OH) Vindicator. It's amusing.

*** Post-Gazette alum Dennis Roddy's take on the culture clash between Ireland and the United States.

*** New York Times preview of the game with an interesting little anecdote about a World League of American Football (remember that?) player who was practice fodder for the Steelers in Ireland.

*** Quick Bleacher Report synopsis of the game featuring vintage Mike Tomczak photo. They also misspell Pittsburgh. Jags. 

A handful photos from that week ...ireland practiceThe Steelers practice at Croke Park. The sign says "Do not walk on the grass" in Gaelic.

ireland stashThe 'Stache and The Chin. Then Chicago Bears coach Dave Wannstedt hits a driver from the practice tee while Bill Cowher looks on at St. Margaret's golf club in Dublin in July 1997. Just a coupla 'Burgh lads on the links. 

ireland busTo streamline things, and because a chunk of their training camps were cut into, the Steelers and Bears practiced against each other in the days leading up to the game.

ireland catchWill Blackwell pulls in a catch on the pitch at University College in Dublin.

ireland 43Trivia question: Who was the last Steeler not named Troy Polamalu to wear #43? Answer: George Jones, a running back from San Diego State who played with the team for one season in 1997.

MEXICO CITY: August 19, 2000 -- Colts 24, Steelers 23

steelers mexico logoThe Steelers last foray abroad was to the country that likely boasts its largest fan base outside of the United States: Mexico

Though the game had an exciting finish, it was a harbinger for what would be the team's last 0-3 start to a season. Ed Bouchette picks up the narration: 

"The Steelers' search for an offense spread internationally last night, and little turned up. 

"Not even Interpol could help them. 

"The Indianapolis Colts won this Mexican hat dance, 24-23, sending the Steelers to their first defeat in four exhibition games. 

"But, truly in the preseason, it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game, and in the first half when both teams played their first units, the Steelers did not play well on offense, defense or special teams. 

"At least not until the second half when the offense came alive with Kent Graham and Tee Martin. ..."

[editor's note: Hoo boy. Read that last sentence again and file it under most unlikely words ever written in the English language.] 

"This American Bowl game had the flavor of a Pittsburgh steel mill, when they were still around. The crowd of 87,145 in Azteca Stadium was predominantly Steelers fans. They twirled thousands of Terrible Towels as if they had bought them off the rack at Giant Eagle. They booed and hooted the Colts, one time provoking a delay of game penalty because Peyton Manning could not be heard calling the signals above the din of "Deee-fense." 

[No link for the rest of the story. Sorry!] 

Some pictures from that week ...

steel mex cahr slashKordell Stewart and Bill Cowher use headphones to listen to a translator for a press conference.

steel mex rooneyDan Rooney meets with the Mexican media.

steel mex peezyJoey Porter signs autographs for Mexican fans.

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