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One Sunday In October

In 1984 the San Francisco 49ers became the first NFL team to go 15-1. Bill Walsh's team featured Joe Montana, Roger Craig, Dwight Clark, Randy Cross, Ronnie Lott, "Hacksaw" Reynolds, castaway Steeler draft pick Dwaine Board and Pitt Panthers Carlton Williamson and Matt Cavanaugh. Aside from Walsh the team was coached by the likes of George Seifert, Ray Rhodes, Sherman Lewis and Paul Hackett. Ed DeBartolo, Carmen Policy and Bill Walsh were already holders of one Lombardi. The 1984 49ers were quite a formidable assembly of NFL talent. This team started the 1984 season with 6 straight victories. This team ended the 1984 season as a dynasty reeling off 12 straight wins to close the season including the Super Bowl trophy. It would be their second Lombardi trophy. 18-1 was an almost a turbulent free ride. One Sunday in October the San Francisco 49ers hit a major bump along the road.

The 1984 Steelers were an interesting group. Terry Bradshaw was gone. The QB position was in shambles. Cliff Stoudt had been rightfully run off. Mark Malone (a former #1 pick) had been relegated to the bench. Dolphin castoff and Super Bowl loser David Woodley was under center of an under achieving offense. Most of the stars of the 70s Super Bowl run to 4 world titles had moved onto their life's work. Those that remained like Jack Lambert, Mike Webster, John Stallworth (1395 yards 11 TDs) and Donnie Shell (7 INTs) were productive. Other newer Steelers like Mike Merriweather (15 sacks a then franchise record) Louie Lipps (9 TDs) big Frankie Pollard (1036 total yards) Walter Abercrombie (745 total yards) and rookie Rich Erenberg (763 total yards) helped the Steelers compete with the best week in and week out. Having a Head Coach like Chuck Noll didn't hurt their chances either. In 1984 Noll would steer the Steelers through injuries at QB and an at times anemic offense to a 9-7 record and an upset playoff win in Denver before succumbing to Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins in the 1984 AFCCG at Miami 41-28. But on one Sunday in October the Pittsburgh Steelers stood toe to toe with a dynasty and found a way to win.

October 14 1984 at windswept Candlestick Park our Pittsburgh Steelers were set to battle the San Francisco 49ers. Joe Montana was the talk of the league. He had led San Francisco to 6 straight wins and talk of a run at the 72 Dolphins and another Super Bowl was all over the airwaves. The Pittsburgh Steelers staggered west at 3-3 coming off a 31-7 shellacking at Three Rivers Stadium at the hands of Pitt's Dan Marino. The media had the Steelers double digit dogs on this day and outside of Pittsburgh there were not many believers in victory. Even the budding young Steeler Nation was hard pressed for optimists on this one Sunday in October. But Chuck Noll had a plan. It was called Steelers football. Run the ball. Run the clock. Don't turn it over. Play physical. It has always been Noll's blueprint for victory in the Pittsburgh huddle.

The Steelers opened the game with a bruising running game and refused to back down from the obnoxious pompous bullies in red. "Pretenders to the throne" we thought and it sure started that way. Board, Stuckey and Tuiasosopo were being dominated by Super Bowl veterans Larry Brown and Mike Webster with help from their friends named Tunch, Wolfley and WIngle. The Steelers 3 headed monster at RB was working the 49ers line and past Keena Turner and the Hacksaw and into the 49er secondary. Pollard and Abercrombie sliced and Rich Erenberg diced into the end zone for first strike. Joe Montana and his offense spent almost the entire first half on the bench and only a late Montana TD scramble helped San Francisco avoid being shut out at halftime. The Steelers offense while controlling the ball and the clock was still limited in its ability to score actual points. With a 10-7 halftime lead the always tough Steelers defense kept Roger Craig and Earl Cooper in front of them and Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon out of the end zone. Montana was on target but only for 10 a clip. The 49ers were working for every yard and every minute. After a rough and tumble scoreless third quarter, the Steelers defense bent but didn't break. Ray Wersching hit a FG from 30 and the game was tied at 10 early in the 4th quarter.

The Steelers had stayed in the game by keeping the 49ers away from the big play. Dwaine Board had a sack and Keena Turner had an INT but the Steelers stayed out of trouble most of the day. Mark Malone (on his way to 11/18 156) looked cool and confident. A couple months on the bench without bruises didn't hurt. The 49ers player the Steelers seemed to have trouble with was old nemesis Wendell Tyler. Like in Super Bowl XIV Tyler proved a tough runner and elusive. Instead of just Jack Lambert trying to intimidate Tyler it was Lambert, Donnie Shell, Dewayne Woodruff and Bryan Hinkle. Tyler en route to over 5.5 a carry and 59 yards scooted past the exhausted defense for a 7 yard TD and a 17-10 49er lead with the 4th quarter ticking away.

It was time for the 49er Champion defense to rise up and stop Pittsburgh. The perfect Dolphins were in 49er sights. They 49er defense was not up to the challenge of stopping the solid and now confident Steeler running game. Pittsburgh ran the football and then ran it again. 15 plays and 83 yards of Candlestick Park belonged to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Frank Pollard who would prove to be a hero in Denver later in the season and earn his place forever in Steelers Lore plowed through San Francisco on his way to 105 yards...4 yards at a time. Pollard picked up clutch first downs on this blood and guts drive and all afternoon. John Stallworth amassed 78 yards on this one Sunday on 6 catches, the last a beautiful 6 yard spiral from Mark Malone for a TD and a tied game in the 4th quarter by the Bay. The Steeler Nation contingency in attendance mocked the now stunned and silent San Francisco crowd. TV rooms around Pittsburgh were utter havoc in popcorn and Wise Potato Chip debris, spilled Cherokee Red Pop and Iron City Beer and jumping and hugging. The Steelers had tied the mighty undefeated 49ers in the 4th quarter!! On a blood and guts drive!! Who would have thought?

Late in the 4th quarter of a late starting Sunday afternoon game by the Bay, dusk began to roll in. With winds whipping and Steeler and now 49er fans whooping Joe Montana took the ball in a tie game with 3 minutes left. It seemed like perfect Joe Cool time. In the gathering nightfall Montana spotted a receiver in the flat and threw the pigskin. Cool Joe didn't see Steeler LB Bryan Hinkle who closed on the pass and took off in stride 43 yards deep into San Francisco territory. The conservative Steelers ran the ball and set up Gary Anderson with a 22 yard short field goal and a 20-17 lead. Bedford PA was bedlam. Anderson's ensuing squib kick was returned to the 25 yard line.

There is now under 2 minutes left in the game on this one Sunday in October. The 49ers have no time outs and 75 yards of grass in front of them. This is really Joe Cool time. Right? Montana back to pass with onrushing Steelers cruising past the pocket promptly hits Dwight Clark, Earl Cooper and Roger Craig underneath. Merriweather, Lambert & Hinkle are stalwart tacklers. As the clock ticks under a minute then 30 seconds Montana calmly finds Earl Cooper two more times all the way to the Steeler 10 yard line and out of bounds. The 49er crowd is screaming "Coooop!"as Ray Wersching trots onto the field with 10 seconds left.

It was there in the wind of the Stick one Sunday in October 1984 that Ray Wersching hooked a 37 yard chip shot left of the uprights ending the 49ers dream of a perfect season. The scoreboard read Pittsburgh 20 San Francisco 17 Final. The 49ers and their fans were stunned. The Steelers celebrated on enemy turf. As the Gunner would say "How Sweet It Is!"

Old school tough minded Chuck Noll had beaten dynamic genius Bill Walsh the old fashion way...playing Pittsburgh Steeler football. The Steelers were still a long way from "one for the thumb" and would suffer through 20 more years of Lombardi indignation before claiming their rightful place at the top of the NFL heap. But...One Sunday in October 1984 the Pittsburgh Steelers kept the San Francisco 49ers from perfection and protected the Dolphin.