The Steelers Once Owned Bill Belichick, What Changed?

Even in a still dark room, if you whisper the name 'Bill Belichick' to members of Steeler Nation, even the most wide-eyed optimists of the tribe wake up in a cold sweat. 

We know why. Bill Belichick has dealt the Steelers heart breaking playoff losses and humiliating regular season defeats.

Once it was different.

Lost amidst the tortured chapters of recent Steelers-Patriots history is the fact that the Steelers once owned Bill Belichick. Yes. Despite all of the losses to the Patriots, the Steelers are still 10-9 vs. Belichick.

 What? Really?

The New England Patriots' visionary-innovator-mad scientist was also once the head coach of the Cleveland Browns where often proved himself worthy of the dunce cap.

Belichick failed completely in Cleveland and the Pittsburgh Steelers were his biggest nemesis. Let's look back at the other side of the Steelers-Belichick rivalry.

Belichick Benefits from the Cleveland Curse...

Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriola insisted that Cleveland Municipal Stadium was cursed.

His essay pre-dates the internet but Belichick's first victory vs. the Steelers illustrates his point. 

 

  • Cleveland was at Pittsburgh's two. Carnell Lake LEVELED Leroy Hoard who flat on his back in the end zone. Bernie Kosar's pass ricocheted off of Keith Willis hand landing right on Hoard's chest for a Cleveland TD in a game whose final score was 17-14.

 

There's no uncanny explanation behind Belichick's home victory over the ‘92 Steelers. Unless you consider it "normal" that the only AFC Central quarterback to vanquish Cowher Power during its inaugural season wasn't Boomer Eaison, Bernie Kosar or Warren Moon, but rather Mike Tomzack.

In 1993, Pittsburgh totally dominated the Browns at Cleveland Stadium, yet Eric Metcalf  single handedly defeated the Steelers by returning not one, but two punts for touchdowns.

Was this a first glimpse of Belichick's genius? Was it the alternating Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde pattern of Steelers special teams coaches? Or was it simply the Cleveland Curse?

Who knows? But in Belichick's next victory over the Steelers 7 years later he again exploited special teams' breakdowns....

Steelers End, and Begin Eras at Belichick's Expense

With three Lombardi trophies, Bill Belichick is the most likely current NFL coach to tie Chuck Noll's record of four.

Its slightly ironic then that Chuck Noll won his final game against Belichick's Browns on a day when reserve corner Richard Shelton picked off Bernie Kosar 3 times allowing the Emperor to call it a day with a 17-10 win over the Browns.

In 1992, Bill Cowher put an exclamation point on his first winning season, and Belichick's second consecutive losing one, as Barry Foster set the team's single season rushing record in a 23-13 season finale vs. Cleveland.

When Tied for First Place, Cut the Quarterback!

By 1993 the draft and the advent of free agency had given Belichick a chance to put his own thumb print on the Browns and, far from confirming any genius-in waiting, his moves would lead even the causal observer to question is basic football wisdom.

Belichick had no use for Bernie Kosar, the quarterback he'd inherited, and had already anointed Vinny Testaverde as starter, but the Steeler injured Testaverde in the Eric Metcalf game at Cleveland Stadium.  

Now Bernie Kosar was a kid who wanted nothing more than to play for his home town Cleveland Browns. Kosar was a quarterback who went out and got the job done. He was the face of the franchise and the fans loved him. Art Modell thought of him as a son and signed Kosar to a long-term extension the previous summer.

Kosar returned to start but the Browns lost and, with Cleveland tied for first place in the AFC Central, Belichick cut Bernie Kosar and started Todd Philcox while Testaverde recovered.

Jerry Jones immediately signed Kosar as a back up and injuries forced Kosar into the game that very week.

Here's how Kosar and Philcox faired that Sunday:

 

 

Philcox lost three straight killing Cleveland's chance to grab a division title that had been ripe for the taking.

Two years later, in 1995 the Browns found themselves at 3-4 yet still tied for first place in the AFC Central. Vinny Testaverde was the reigning AFC offensive player of the month and had played well despite a 3 game losing streak.

Belichick benched Testaverde in favor of Eric Zeier. Zeier won his first start, lost his next, and had to go against Dick LeBeau in his third...

...Greg Lloyd unloaded on the poor rookie sacking him twice and intercepting him once, with Ray Seals and Levon Kirkland also netting sacks. Zeier went 7 of 19 for all of 67 yards as Pittsburgh pulverized the Browns 20-3.

The Steelers ended Zeier's starting days, and two weeks later the Steelers played their last game at the old Cleveland Stadium. In many ways it was the final game of the Steelers-Browns rivalry and Belichick's boys gave it their all, but it was not enough as the Steelers defeated them 20-17.

Cowher Power Surges, Belichick's Browns Bumble

Belichick's musical quarterbacks escapades book-ended four of the finest games the Steelers ever played against him or the Browns.

Pittsburgh finished the 1993 season at home vs. Cleveland, needing a win and help to make the playoffs. Arguably, it was Greg Lloyd's career game.

Down 9-3 at the half, Greg Lloyd challenged his offense, offering to play in their place, and then backed up his words with actions. The fact that he'd missed the previous two games with a torn hamstring failed to slow him.  

Lloyd dominated Cleveland, leading the team in tackles, making one sack, forcing two fumbles, and saving a touchdown by coming from out of no where to running down a ball carrier. The offense scored twice, finishing the game 16-9 and sending Belichick home with a second consecutive 7-9 record.

Week two of the 1994 season took Pittsburgh to Cleveland where The Curse seemed in full effect as The Browns opened a quick 10-0 lead. But then Darren Perry took over, intercepting Vinny Testaverde 3 times. Rod Woodson also intercepted him once, and by the end of the day Vinny was clueless about the coverages he was throwing into. The Steelers won after scoring 17 unanswered points.

Belichick's Browns recovered and took a 10-4 record into week 15 at Three Rivers Stadium with the AFC Central title in the balance. Yancy Thigpen and Barry Foster got the Steelers up 14-0 quickly. While the Browns did get 7 on the board before the half,  Steelers the defense completely smothered Cleveland for a 17-7 victory.

But Belichick's Browns were back at Three Rivers for the AFC Divisional Playoffs after knocking off Parcell's Patriots in the wild card.  

Before the game, Belichick bragged that he was going to "run between the tackles," never mind that Leroy Hoard, had only rushed for 40 yards in two games vs. the Steelers.

Darren Perry picked Testaverde off early setting the tone for the Steelers. The Steelers were up 24-3 at the half, and won 29-9 after Carnell Lake sacked Testaverde for a safety late in the 4th quarter. (For the record, Leroy Hoard gained 8 yards on 3 carries that day.)

It was one of the Steelers most dominating  playoff wins of the post-Noll era.

What Changed?

For all of their glory at Belichick's expense in Cleveland, the Steelers fortunes against him in New England have been decidedly different.

Why?

Tom Brady is the easy and most compelling answer. Hall of Fame Quarterbacks make even imbecilic coaches look respectable, for a while at least. (See Troy Aikman and Barry Switzer.)

But it goes beyond Brady.

Bob Kraft is a better, less meddlesome owner than Art Modell. But Belichick made several signature blunders, such as cutting Kosar, over Modell's protests.

In New England, Belichick drafts smartly and makes savvy if often ruthless personnel decisions. Only his ruthlessness was on display in Cleveland.

Belichick also innovates in New England in more ways no one over thought of, such as using linebackers as receivers. That imagination was absent in Cleveland.

No matter how you slice it, Belichick is not the same coach the Steelers once kicked around. He now causes serious problems for the Steelers.  

Why do you think what is true now wasn't then?

Can the Steelers do anything to turn the tables?

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