November 10, 1991: The Day the Modern "Steelers vs. Bengals" Rivalry Changed Forever

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The Steelers' fortunes against the Bengals changed in 1991 at Riverfront Stadium, Image Courtesy of stadiumsofprofootball.com

I wish that I could express truly how livid I still am at the fact that Joe Flacco was allowed to march his inferior Offense 92 yards with little to no harassment at all last Sunday night.  Enjoy your Bush League and premature Gatorade shower Harbaugh, we’ll see if your team has the stones to succeed in January.

So instead of belly-aching some more, I figured I’d write another history article for NPC about one of the most exciting yet overlooked games in modern Steeler history.  Since it is Bengals Week, I figured it would be a perfect time to discuss some past history of the rivalry.  Moreover I feel that this game is where we in Steeler Nation can truly pin-point where the rivalry itself turned into the Steeler-dominated one that we know and enjoy today.  Hit the “Continue Reading” button if I’ve peaked your interest:

Take the DeLorean to 88 mph as we go back in time:

As a child of the mid-late 1980′s I really began to comprehend the wonderment known as the Pittsburgh Steelers circa 1989-1991 or so.  Tales of the Steelers being mediocre at best but not completely awful during the 1980′s are exactly that to me, tales.   I have only heard the horror stories of the short-lived eras of Cliff Stoudt, David Woodley, Mark Malone, Todd Blackledge, during the 1980′s.

Moreover, I never witnessed the domination of the Steelers by the Cincinnati Bengals during the world’s greatest decade (1980′s).  Growing up in the 1990′s I only knew the Cincinnati franchise as the Myron Cope coined “Bungals,” or as Chris Berman used to call them “The Tricky Bengals” in jest.  Yet in the 1980′s, the rivalry belonged to the Bengals and Cincinnati swept the series in 5 out of 9 seasons in the decade (I don’t count strike-shortened 1982, The Steelers swept in 1987).

In fact, the Bengals were riding a 6 game winning streak against the Steelers into the 1991 season having swept the 1988, 1989, and 1990 matchups.  The rivalry had become a one-sided affair, and Cincinnati had won 15 of their last 21 games against the Steelers heading into that November game in 1991.

But heading into the 1991 season, something happened that many Bengal fans still point to as the metaphorical catalyst to the black cloud that hung over the franchise until their A.F.C. North Championship in 2005: Owner and Team Founder Paul Brown’s death in August of 1991.

Did Brown’s death have a direct effect with the downfall of the Bengals in the 1990′s?  Probably not directly, but it sure didn’t help that his son took over the team and how the roller-coaster ride for Bengal fans over the last two decades has been filled with drastically more lows than highs.  Anyway, before I go off on a tangent, let’s look at how these teams stacked up against each other heading into their Week 11 matchup in 1991.

Both Team’s 1991 Struggles

It certainly didn’t help at all that the 1991 Bengals were for lack of a better term “awful.”  They started off the season with an 0-8 record and Cincinnati finally managed to eek out a 23-20 win against the craptacular Browns the week before they faced off against the Steelers.  Sure they were 1-8, but the Bengals were getting a home game at Riverfront Stadium against a team that they had dominated for a decade.  The cherry on top of Cincy’s sundae was that the Steelers were 3-6, and Pittsburgh was forced to start the young Neil O’Donnell at QB who happened to be 0-4 so far that season while filling in for a nicked up Bubby Brister.  To make matters worse for Pittsburgh, O’Donnell hadn’t won a start in his entire 1.5 year career to that point!

The Steelers weren’t going anywhere in 1991, and although the team was littered with young and developing talent, they weren’t quite up to snuff when it came to stringing wins together.  1991 would also prove to be Chuck Noll’s last season in The Steel City, and it certainly had looked as if the mediocre at best 1991 campaign would be another down year for one of the greatest Head Coaches in League history.

Because Houston was running away with the A.F.C. Central at the time, and both teams weren’t in the hunt for the playoffs, the November game would be a “pride” struggle as the Bengals fought to keep their magic from the 1980′s going, and the Steelers looked to change things as a new decade was underway.  And let me say with full effect that this game is one that is not brought up often in the annals of this rivalry.  However, this game not only changed the face of the rivalry as Steeler fans of my generation know it, but it also was an exciting game as well.  So hit that
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