clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Loss to Jacksonville Earns Spot in Top 10 Steelers Playoff Heartbreaks

Submitted via email by reader Tim Gleason...aka mary rose on the site. Not many bigger, more knowledgable fans of Steelers past and present than Tim.

You can contact me by clicking on the big banner titled 'Email the author.' Thanks for the piece!


1) 1995 season: Cowboys 27 Steelers 17...Obviously the stakes of this game were the highest.  We came into the game a double-digit underdog and outplayed the Cowboys.  We had 25 first downs, an exceptional number, compared to the Cowboys' 15.  Dallas was a paltry 2 of 10 in third-down conversions while the Steelers racked up 9 of 19.  The great Emmitt Smith was held to under 50 yards rushing.  Barry Switzer was completely outwitted by Bill Cowher and should have never gotten that job in the first place.  He was Jerry Jones' college buddy and inherited a dynasty left by Jimmy Johnson.  After riding that 1995 wave, Switzer didn't last very long as his incompetence became glaring.  He no longer could run a wishbone with superior talent like he did at Oklahoma.  For reasons that Steeler fans will never forget, Neil O'Donnell threw two beautiful passes into the hands of Larry Brown, making a cornerback the game's MVP.  He dashed inside the 20-yard-line on each, setting up most of Dallas's points.

2) 1972 season:  Dolphins 21 Steelers 17...This is my number two heartbreak for several reasons, not the least of which is that it occurred on the very day Roberto Clemente died delivering supplies to earthquake victims.  Having never experienced an NFL playoff victory, the Steelers finally broke through in grand style with the Immaculate Reception.  We seemed to be the team of destiny.  The '72 Dolphins are now heralded as one of the all-time best being the only perfect team (still), but what isn't mentioned is that they played the third easiest schedule in NFL history (70-126)!!  The Steelers were controlling this championship game, at home, when the desperate Dolphins called for punter to fake a punt and run.  And run he did, 37 yards to set up the tying touchdown.  The stakes of this game were huge, as Miami went on to defeat Washington in the Super Bowl, something the Steelers would also have done.  Because this was a Super Bowl waiting to happen,  and our very first, it is my number two heartbreak.

3) 2001 Season:  Patriots 24 Steelers 17...I consider 2001 to be the season the Steelers should have won their eighth Super Bowl.  I know that sounds greedy, but we were a touchdown favorite, at home in the championship game.  The Patriots just came off the tuck-rule game.  Just like 1995, two stinking plays did us in, both touchdowns on special teams.  We got a field goal blocked and instead of getting three points, seven went the other way.  Adding insult to injury, the Pats returned a punt for a touchdown.  That game broke my heart because the Pats ended up winning the Super Bowl against a Rams team already in decline from their title two years prior.  We were clearly better than New England and they were good enough to win their first Super Bowl.

4) 1994 Season:  Chargers 17 Steelers 13...This loss was as gut-wrenching as any and the only possible consolation is that the 49ers were waiting in the Super Bowl and pounded San Diego into complete submission.  Here we are hosting the title game as a double-digit favorite.  We just got done destroying Bill Belichick and the Cleveland Browns, 29-9.  The Steelers out gained the Chargers 229 yards to just 46 yards in the first half alone and were cruising 13-3 late in the third quarter.  Just like in the Super Bowl the following year, two shocking slash plays would doom the Steelers.  The first was a 43-yard touchdown pass to a tight end named Alfred Popunu.  Still not being able to drive the ball, the Chargers needed another shock play to score again and got it on a bomb from Stan Humphries to Tony Martin.  Still, Neil O'Donnell led Pittsburgh down to the three-yard line where the season would die.  Trailing by four, a field goal worthless, a fourth-down pass to barry Foster was deflected by linebacker Dennis Gibson.  A final sad footnote, Steelers' cornerback Tim McKyer, who was burned on the Martin touchdown, collapsed on the sideline feeling insurmountable grief and was carried off the field, never to wear black and gold again.

5) 1997 Season:  Broncos 24 Steelers 21...Again in Pittsburgh for the title and again the team they lost to went on to win the Super Bowl.  A month earlier we pasted the same Broncos badly.  This was ours to win.  We got down early and made a comeback.  We had Denver in retreat mode until a third and long conversion deep in their territory ended all hopes.  Elway hit Shannon Sharpe down the seam and the season was over.

6) 2007 Season:  Jaguars 31 Steelers 29...The game itself was the most heartbreaking game I've ever experienced.  The reason it is ranked 5th for me is because I really believe our hopes were slim-to-none in beating New England, Indianapolis and Dallas all in a row after that.  The games listed above were all Super Bowls gone south.  After a great first drive and the hope high, Jax hits us with another of our many long don't-cover-the-kick returns.  Hopes were all but gone heading into the fourth quarter down 28-10.  But the Steelers put on the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL playoff history to take the lead and then regained the ball with under three minutes.  A first down rush of five yards raised hopes further needing just one first down.  But the season unraveled from there.  First, a horrible third-down call forced us to punt.  The punt was terrible.  The return was too many yards.  And then on a fourth-down play, the officials allowed two blatant holding calls and David Gerrard ran for 32 yards to set up the winning field goal by Josh Scobee.  Season over.

7) 2004 Season:  Patriots 41 Steelers 27...This game had more at stake than the one above, since there is no question the Steelers could have whooped Philadelphia in the Super Bowl.  In fact, we had already beaten New England and Philly in back-to-back weeks during the regular season making this loss hard to swallow.  It's really tough when you lose at home in a championship game after going 15-1 and capturing the top seed.  The simple reason this game isn't ranked higher is that the game wasn't that close.  Ben was awful.  He gave up a pick six which is a dagger in a big game.  The defense was shredded.  We actually fought back and could have come within a touchdown with plenty of time still to play, but Cowher opted for a fourth-and-short field goal and it took some life out of the crowd and the game.  This Super Bowl was ours for the taking, but it was New England who did the taking.

8) 2002 Season:  Titans 34 Steelers 31 (ot)...After a thrilling come-from-behind win against Cleveland in the Wild Card game, the Steelers went on the road and played Tennessee toe-to-toe.  We got the game into overtime.  There is very little I dislike about the NFL.  It is the fairest sports system on the planet.  One of the few exceptions is the league's overtime format.  We lost the game because we lost the coin toss.  We never got the ball.  Making matters worse, the Titans missed the winning field goal and we should have gotten the ball, but a ticky-tack roughing penalty gave Tennessee yardage and another shot.  Game over.  The Titans then lost to the Raiders who lost to the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl, all of them beatable.

9) 1989 Season:  Broncos 24 Steelers 23...Just like above, we come off a thrilling three-point win in the Wild Card game at Houston when Gary Anderson nailed a 50-yard field goal in overtime, Chuck Noll's last great win.  We then hang with Denver for the entire game at Mile High.  Trailing by just one point with time running out, I can vividly see Bubby Brister's pass beautifully thrown to a guy named Mark Stock across the 50-yard line, needing just a field goal to win and time running out.  Stock drops the pass so well thrown it makes Jackie Smith's drop look like a circus catch.  Season over.  Mark Stock never played before 1989 and never after, but his name will live in infamy in my memory.  We lose by one stinking point, but it should be noted that Denver went on to get smoked unmercifully by a great San Francisco team in the Super Bowl after beating the Browns.

10) 1993 Season:  Chiefs 27 Steelers 24 (ot)...The six-seed in the tournament, the Steelers were looking good after Neil O'Donnell marched them 74 yards into the end zone in the middle of the fourth quarter on a 22-yard pass to tight end Eric Green.  Late in the game and leading by a touchdown, the Chief's Keith Cash blocked a Pittsburgh punt and Fred Jones returned it to the Steelers' nine-yard line.  After gaining just two yards in three plays, Joe Montana hit Tim Barnett with a seven-yard touchdown to tie the game and send it to overtime.  There Nick Lowrey kicked a 32-yarder to send the Steelers home.