I had originally planned to post this piece before the Week 17 contest between the Steelers and Browns. However, I forgot to schedule it, and it never was posted. But because I will be doing a couple of posts later this week which concern the Top 10 Steelers’ teams to not win a title, I figured that it would be nice to take a look back at one of the most dominating performances in the franchise’s Playoff history, and share my memories from the game as well.
The ’94 Steelers:
The 1994 Steelers were an ultimate throwback team at a time when the N.F.L. was just entering the stages of it becoming an ultimate “Pass Happy” League. But the fact that the media and the fans of the other 27 NFL franchises were enthralled by the pass did not seem to faze the Steelers in 1994.
Just like they had done throughout their history, the Steelers relied heavily on their ground game that season. And a group of talented Backs helped Pittsburgh to a #1 ranking in the N.F.L.’s Total Rushing Yards category that season. It was a thing of beauty to watch Rookie Bruiser Bam Morris and a rejuvenated Barry Foster pound the rock to the tune of 1,687 yards behind gaping holes made by Pro Bowlers Dirt Dawson, Duval Love and the rest of the terrific Offensive Line.
Quarterbacks Neil O’Donnell and Mike Tomczak (who subbed for O’Donnell when he was hurt) were just asked to not make too many mistakes and make enough plays to their pass catchers to keep their team in the game. TE Eric Green had a Pro Bowl season and proved how good he actually was when he wanted to play, FB John L. Williams had 51 grabs, and a young WR corps began to emerge in the form of Yancey Thigpen, Andre Hastings, Ernie Mills, and Rookie Charles Johnson. Yet as much as I would like to talk about the ’94 Offense, the thing that I will always remember about that ’94 team was how fantastic the Defense was. And Oh Boy, those guys could really lay the wood to some people!
Unselfishly like their predecessors had done and those that followed them, the Steelers Defensive Line shined in ’94 and helped to anchor the League’s #2 Defense in Points Against and Total Yards. The rotation of veteran Gerald Williams, Ray Seals, Rookie Brentson Buckner, and Kevin Henry at the DE spots was formidable against the run and pass as well with a combined 10.5 Sacks. And 2nd year NT and future Pro Bowler Joel Steed put together a fine season with 52 Tackles, 2.0 Sacks, and 2 Forced Fumbles.
The Linebacking corps featured some of the 1990’s finest players at their respective positions. I don’t think I need to remind any of you how awesome Pro Bowlers Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd were. They had 24.0 combined Sacks in 1994, and just punished the opposition with their speed and ferocity. Youngsters Chad Brown and Levon Kirkland also came into their own that season and had 100+ Tackles apiece and 11.5 combined Sacks.
For the sake of brevity I won’t go into how awesome the Steelers Defensive Backs were, but there sure was a lot of talent there in ’94. Hall of Famer Rod Woodson anchored the CB’s and had 7 INT’s that season. Safeties Carnell Lake and Darren Perry were also forces to be reckoned with as well, as Lake was the hard-hitting in-the-box guy, and Perry was the ball-hawk. This throwback team put together a 12-4 Record, won the A.F.C. Central Title, and won Home-Field Advantage in the A.F.C.. And with the #1 seed firmly in hand, the Steelers prepared for a familiar opponent in the Divisional Round: The Cleveland Browns.
The ’94 Browns:
The Browns, coached by Bill Belichick of future “Spygate Fame,” had finally gelled as a team for the first time during his tenure, and looked to make a strong playoff push after a successful 1994 season. The Browns finished the season 11-5, beat the two-time defending champion Cowboys at Texas Stadium, gave up the fewest points (204) on a Defense led by Pro Bowlers Pepper Johnson, Michael Dean Perry, Rob Burnett, and the late Eric Turner, had a strong running game with LeRoy Hoard and Earnest Byner, and played solid physical football. Really the only thing that stood between Cleveland and a shot at Super Bowl XXIX in Tampa was the Steelers. And man were the Steelers the Browns’ proverbial “kryptonite” that season.
In their two Divisional matchups, Pittsburgh won both contests, and had done so the way they had beat all of their opponents: running the ball, playing close to the vest on Offense, and relying heavily on their strong Defense. Nevertheless, Cleveland had stayed close in those games and had it not been for some Vinny Testaverde mistakes (he had 6 INT’s in two games) and big plays by the Steelers, they might have won one or both contests. The Browns entered the game with a loud confidence after dispatching New England the previous week with ease in the Wild Card game. Thus, the stage was set for a battle between juggernauts that had an intense hatred of each other.