If you did not read it yesterday, I highly recommend you the readers to check out the first half of my countdown of the Steelers’ best teams to not win a title. If you did read my post from yesterday and are hungry to find out who teams #5 through #1 on the countdown are, get ready, because they are listed and ranked below.
5. 1972 Steelers
Lost in Conference Championship Game to Miami (21-17)
After a 5-9 finish in 1970 and a 6-8 finish in 1971, the new and improved Steelers under Chuck Noll appeared ready for a breakout season in 1972, and set their sights on a postseason berth. When you talk about seasons where one can pinpoint exactly where a franchise’s fortunes change for the better, it would be 1972 for the Steelers, and boy was the rebuilding process finally headed in the right direction. After 40 years of almost perpetual losing, and not even a postseason victory to their names, the Steelers of 1972 changed the culture of the franchise. Three terrific years of drafting by Noll sprinkled in with some veteran holdovers from the 60’s such as Ray Mansfield and Andy Russell finally blossomed into an 11-3 season, and the franchise’s first ever Division title.
The Offense was of course a ground-based attack, and was led by 1972’s 1st Round Draft pick and future Hall of Famer Franco Harris. Harris earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and paced the team with 1,055 Yards rushing and 11 total Touchdowns (10 Rush and 1 Reception). Veterans Frenchy Fuqua and Preston Pearson also shouldered some of the load and rushed for a combined 929 Yards and 4 TD’s (Fuqua: 665 Yards and 4 TD’s, Pearson: 264 Yards).
Yet during a season where the Steelers finished 2nd in the League in Rushing Yards, 3rd year Quarterback Terry Bradshaw showed some marked improvement. Bradshaw threw 12 TD’s compared to only 12 INT’s with 1,887 Yards Passing and a career-high 346 on the ground with 7 TD’s in 1972. While those are not necessarily “sexy” totals, they were good considering the fact that he threw 46 Picks combined during his first two seasons and was a turnover machine early in his career. While Ron Shanklin and Frank Lewis were not a “Stallworth and Swann duo,” they still put up respectable stats for the team (Lewis: 27 Catches for 391 yards and 5 TD’s, Shanklin: 38 Catches for 669 Yards and 3 TD’s), and complimented the Steelers’ ground game enough to rank the Steelers 5th in the League in Total Points for the year.
’72 also saw the beginnings of the “Steel Curtain” Defense, as the unit ranked 2nd in the League in fewest Points Allowed (175) and 1st in fewest Rushing TD’s Allowed (6). “Mean Joe” Greene, Dwight White, and Andy Russell made the Pro Bowl, and 2nd year Linebacker Jack Ham led the team with 7 INT’s. The Defense was a turnover driven unit and finished with a League leading +22 Turnover margin, as the Secondary of Mike Wagner (6 INT’s), Glen Edwards (1 INT), Mel Blount (3 INT’s), and John Rowser (4 INT’s) were ball-hawks to be reckoned with that season.
The team started the season a tad sluggish at 2-2 and lost a close game to the defending Champion Cowboys in Week 4 at Texas Stadium. Yet after the Dallas game, the Steelers reeled off Wins in 9 of their next 10 games to finish the season with an 11-3 record, and avenged their only Loss during the stretch when they beat Cleveland 30-0 in Week 12. The stage was set for a Divisional Playoff showdown between the Steelers and Raiders at Three Rivers Stadium.
After the Steelers let a 6-0 lead slip through their fingers when Ken Stabler ran for a 30 Yard TD, it did not look good for the Steelers. But I guess December 23, 1972 was just the Steelers day, because from his own 40 Yard Line, Terry Bradshaw uncorked a pass over the middle which changed football history forever. I don’t think that I need to refresh anyone on what happened next, so I will let the picture to the right here illustrate the ridiculous combination of luck, hustle, and overall awesomeness do the talking for me:
Because of the N.F.L.’s then-wacky postseason format, the Steelers got to play the Conference Title game at home the following week against the 15-0 Dolphins which had beaten Cincinnati the week before. The Steelers appeared to be riding high off of “The Immaculate Reception” and the subsequent 13-7 victory, actually raced to an early lead against Miami. Yet a brilliantly planned and executed Fake Punt-Run by Larry Seiple of the Dolphins swung momentum Miami’s way, and the Steelers eventually lost the game 21-17 in spite of their valiant effort.
Pittsburgh likely would have beat Washington in Super Bowl VII the following week had they won, and it could have been a cherry on top of a “Cinderella Season” had the Steelers advanced to the title game and won. Still, 1972 was the ultimate “building block” year of the franchise because it paved the way for four decades of greatness which we have witnessed ever since.
4. 2010 Steelers
Lost in Super Bowl XLV to Green Bay (31-25)
The 2010 season looked doomed before it began as 2x Super Bowl winning QB Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of the regular season because of some “restroom indiscretions” with a woman of in Milledgeville, Georgia. Add to that the fact that the Steelers became the “poster-boys” for Roger Goodell’s crusade to eliminate physical football and all its remnants from the League, and cover his and the League’s behinds from future law suits in the process. Yet this 2010 team seemed to only respond to hard times as they rode to a 3-1 record during Ben’s absence (kudos to Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon), a 12-4 regular season record, an A.F.C. North title, and an A.F.C. crown.
In spite of Big Ben’s absence, a make-shift Offensive Line (aside from Rookie Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey), and Bruce Arians’ questionable play-calling, the Offense performed quite well when you consider the circumstances and their production. Running Back Rashard Mendenhall set career highs in Carries (324), Rushing Yards (1,273), and Touchdowns (13), and totaled 1,440 Yards from scrimmage. Backup Isaac Redman had 2 TD catches, and none more famous than his all-around stellar catch and run to win the game and Division against Baltimore in December of that season.
2010 also illustrated how terrific the Steelers’ Wide Receiving corps was. 2nd year man Mike Wallace stepped in for the recently departed San-smokio Holmes and caught 60 Passes for 1,257 Yards and 10 Touchdowns. Between Wallace, the crafty veteran Hines Ward, Rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, and Tight End Heath Miller the Steelers had quite the group of pass-catchers as Ben threw for 3,200 Yards and 17 TD’s in 12 regular season games.
Yet what I will always remember about 2010 was how incredible the Defense played that season. As a unit, the Steelers finished 1st in Points Allowed, 2nd in Total Yards Allowed, 2nd in Turnover Margin with +17, and 1st in all major categories against the Run (Fewest Yards, Fewest Attempts, and Fewest Touchdowns).
Inside Linebacker Lawrence Timmons got jobbed when he did not get a Pro Bowl berth, but he was a “Tackling Machine” like the fictional Bobby Boucher in 2010. Timmons led the team with 134 Tackles, grabbed 2 INT’s, had 10 Passes Defended, and 3.0 Sacks. Not to be outdone, the ageless James Farrior had his best season since 2004 and made 109 Tackles and 6.0 Sacks as the Steelers’ Inside Linebackers formed the most reliable duo in the League that season. Undeterred by the League’s campaign to thwart him, Harrison still notched 100 Tackles and 10.5 Sacks as him and LaMarr Woodley (10.0 Sacks) had 10.0+ Sacks apiece during the regular season for the third time as teammates.
The Defensive Line played just as stellar as all the units as Casey Hampton, Ziggy Hood and Pro Bowler Brett Keisel stood firm and allowed the play-makers to do what they do best. The real star of the Defense in 2010 was Troy Polamalu as he earned Defensive M.V.P. honors that year. Polamalu was a one-man-wrecking crew from his Strong Safety spot and made 7 INT’s on the season to go with highlight reel defensive play after highlight reel defensive play.
The Steelers had an incredible comeback win over the Ravens in the Divisional Round, and then held on for dear life and eventually prevailed over the Jets the following week for the A.F.C. crown. The only thing which stood between Pittsburgh and their 7th Super Bowl title were the hot Wild-Card Green Bay Packers. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Super Bowl XLV was simply not their day as they committed too many costly mistakes, and the Packers to their credit capitalized on them when they needed to do it.
2010 was almost a glorious “Eff You” season to Roger Goodell and the rest of his cronies throughout the League. I know that I would have paid top dollar to see the look on Goodell’s face had he been forced to give the Lombardi Trophy to the Steelers, but it just did not happen. Regardless, this 12-4 team played consistent football at an extremely high level through the entire season. Had this group just taken it one step further, you could argue that this team would have been the best one in franchise history over the last quarter century.