1996-1998: The Era of Monday Night Battles in the Steelers vs. Chiefs series

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The Steelers and the Chiefs had a great rivalry during the mid-1990's, Image Courtesy of life.com

While they didn’t win any Super Bowls during the 1990’s, the Steelers fielded some damn good teams and played in some damn good games during that decade.  And from 1996-1998, Pittsburgh played in three straight M.N.F. games against one of the 1990’s best teams: the Kansas City Chiefs.

Sadly, those M.N.F. games have been long forgotten by many who don’t remember how fantastic those Steelers and Chiefs teams actually were.  I still have a lot of memories from those prime-time matchups at Arrowhead (all 3 games were in K.C.), so I thought that it would be a great idea to do my Wednesday history article on the subject of those three games and what I remember from each of them.  Hit that “Continue Reading” button if I’ve peaked your interest:

October 7, 1996

Steelers Win “Ugly” at Arrowhead

Steelers 17 – Chiefs 7

In a matchup that featured the A.F.C.’s top 2 teams from the 1995 season, this M.N.F. game was even more highly anticipated because of the fact that both teams had started off the 1996 season with stellar records.

After a season opening loss at Jacksonville where the Steelers lost the All Pro LB Greg Lloyd to a season-ending knee injury and benched starting QB Jim Miller in favor of crafty yet inconsistent veteran Mike Tomczak, the Steelers managed to win three games in a row.  This was mostly due to the Defense stepping up as always (Pro Bowlers like Kirkland, Brown, Lake, and Woodson had great seasons in 1996), plus the incredible play of newcoming RB Jerome Bettis and fan favorite Scat-Back/KR Erric “Pee Wee” Pegram.

The 1996 Chiefs rode their Defense led by All-Pros Neil Smith and the late Derrick Thomas and some stellar play by Steve Bono to a 4-0 start.  It would have been 5-0 had K.C. not lost a heartbreaker at Jack Murphy Stadium to the Chargers and fell into a 1st Place tie with San Diego for the A.F.C. West lead before their showdown with the Steelers.

So after I got home from my football practice and ate dinner, I settled into my parent’s living room with high expectations for the Steelers.  But despite their apparently solid play on both sides of the ball in a scoreless 1st Quarter, the Chiefs were the ones that eventually drew first blood!

Tomczak had a great day going 20 for 38 and throwing for 338 yards in the win, Image Courtesy of blog.pennlive.com

Luckily I had missed most of the 1st Quarter due to practice and eating, but I did happen to see when Marcus Allen scored on a 6 yard TD run in the middle of the 2nd Quarter to make the score 7-0 in favor of the Chiefs!

Down 7-0, the Steelers needed to answer and answer quickly before the dominated yet still leading Chiefs could pull themselves together and tack on more points.

Luckily, Pittsburgh struck back twice before the Half Time gun sounded and Norm Johnson booted two Field Goals from (21 and 32 yards) and the Steelers found themselves down 7-6 at Half Time.

In spite of their two scoring drives to end the Half, I was utterly disappointed in the 1st Half performance by the Steelers.  Both of those scoring drives should have netted 14 points total as the Steelers’ Offense stalled in the Kansas City Red Zone!  Seeing the Mike Tomczack led Offense do so well until they hit the Chiefs’ 20 yard line disgusted me to no end.  Luckily for the Steelers, the 2nd Half proved to be at least fruitful enough for them.

Early in the 3rd Quarter Pittsburgh made Kansas City pay for hanging around too long when they were able to finally push the ball across the Goal Line on a Bettis 5 yard TD run.  The Bettis TD was one of those vintage Bus runs where he just willed his way into the End Zone and across the Goal Line against all odds.

Running into the middle, Bettis (who had 103 yards rushing that night) couldn’t get anywhere but he just fought his way off the right side and hit paydirt as he fell into the End Zone as the ball crossed the Goal Line!  To me, this was the play of the game, and has to be included in one of the Bus’ Top 5 All-Time “Goal Line Runs.

It was 12-7 Steelers after the TD, and Cowher elected to try and increase the Steeler lead to 7 when he went for the 2 Point Conversion.  Tomczak converted when he threw a pass to Tight End Mark Bruener and the Steelers held a 14-7 lead with over a Quarter to play!

Now with the lead, the Steelers’ Defense turned up the intensity and smothered the Kansas City Offense for the rest of the contest.  Steve Bono looked lost all game long and was picked off twice (Randy Fuller and Willie Williams made the INT’s) and Marcus Allen gained only 69 yards on the ground.  This was a night where the Steelers’ showcased again to the nation why their Defense was still a force to reckoned with after losing Pro Bowler Greg Lloyd to an injury and Pro Bowl LB Kevin Greene to Free Agency.

When Norm Johnson booted a 43 yard Field Goal with just over a minute gone by in the 4th Quarter to give the Steelers a 17-7 lead, Pittsburgh put the game on essentially “lockdown” and won by that margin.

In the aftermath of the game, I was totally stoked at the time that the Steelers had beaten such a worthy foe on their own home field.  Yet even at 9 years old, cynicism still managed to get a hold of me as I was pissed that the Steelers couldn’t have ended the game in a more dominating fashion.

Moreover, I was angry that Tomczak’s 338 yard passing performance and Charles Johnson’s 125 yard receiving day (C.J. was money statistically in 1996) were overshadowed by 2 Bettis fumbles, a Johnson missed 28 yard Field Goal, and the 15 total penalties committed by both clubs.  This was really one of the first Steeler games that I watched in an objective fashion, and I was truly worried about the performance I saw on the field despite the “W.”

To me, if the Steelers were going to win games in January, they had to put their opponents away and not play patty-cake with them for over a Half of play and let drives go to die in the Red Zone.  But in spite of the fact that the Steelers had brought their “C” game to Arrowhead, they won the game.  And that was what was most important to me at the time.

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