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Looking Back at the Steelers "Tease Games"

The 2012 Steelers finished a decidedly uneven 8-8, where they teased Steelers Nation into believing almost as often as they fell flat on their faces. Join us now for a look back at some of the more tantalizing "Tease Games" from Steelers history.

Charlie Batch clears the way for Jonathan Dwyer in the 2012 Steelers Upset vs. the Ravens
Charlie Batch clears the way for Jonathan Dwyer in the 2012 Steelers Upset vs. the Ravens

The 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers finished the season 8-8.

A mathematician would conclude that '12 Steelers played in perfect balance. A scientist might say they finished in a state of equilibrium. In financial terms, 8-8 qualifies as the breakeven point.

All of which simply illustrates how sport remains an art and not a science because the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers season was anything but balanced.

In fact, the Steelers the 8-8 mark signifies a terrible unevenness.

Injuries and inconsistency pushed the 2012 Steelers "Below the line" far too often, a fact made all the more frustrating by the times when the Steelers played well above the line.

This past season Pittsburgh tantalized Steelers Nation with its share of "Tease Games" -- games where the Steelers played like contenders or even champions in the making.

Site editor Neal Coolong has said that the Steelers mid-season victory over the New York Giants qualifies as his "Tease Game" for 2012. I agree with the Giants game, and also include the victory over Ravens, if because Pittsburgh succeeded under almost impossible circumstances.

Both games gave Steelers Nation legitimate hope that the Black and Gold could claim the division title, play deep into January and perhaps beyond.

Tease games are not unique to 2012, in fact they'll have plenty of company in the Steelers history books.

As the Steelerless NFL playoffs advance into the conference championships BTSC offers Steelers Nation a look back at other "Tease Games" that form as much a part of the fabric of the franchise's history as do more celebrated successes.

What Makes a "Tease Game?"

Defining a "Tease Game" is tricky, because the On Any Given Sunday phenomena remains real in the NFL. The definition here is a loose one, a "Tease Game" needs:

  • To be over another contender
  • Won by a Steelers team that had playoff potential
  • Generally come at mid season or later

Note, these are rough criteria, as all the selections below don't neatly fit into the box.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20, Houston Oilers 9
September 16, 1990 @ Three Rivers Stadium

This game makes the list by virtue of the team's pedigree. For those too young to remember, the 1989 Pittsburgh Steelers ignited the passions of Steelers Nation by overcoming horrendous 92-10 twin opening losses to not only make the playoffs but shock the Oilers in the "House of Pain" in the Wild Card.

While the 1990 Steelers lost in week 1, they got back on track in their home opener for the Houston Oilers with dominating defense.

D.J. Johnson set the tone by scoring a pick six on Warren Moon's first pass. The defense would dominate throughout the night, with Aaron Jones, Gerald Williams, Jeroll Williams, and Kenny Davis all sacking Moon.

When not planted to the turf, Moon still struggled, as Brian Hinkle intercepted him once, and Larry Griffin intercepted him twice. Moon threw 48 passes and broached the 300 yard mark, but could not find the end zone, as Dave Brazil's defense focused on hammering receivers after the catch, a strategy that resulted in successive drops.

A 3rd quarter Ray Childress safety on Bubby Brister brought Houston to within one, but Rod Woodson ended the game with a 52 yard punt return for a touchdown.

The game marked the Steelers first AFC Central home victory since 1987 and the wings of an opportunistic defense and special teams Pittsburgh appeared to retain some of the '89 magic.

While Steelers 1990 defense finished number 1 overall, Joe Walton's offense never got on track, with the Steelers ultimately being eliminated from a playoff spot by the Oilers in the Astrodome, as Tony Defeo has written (click here for Tony's excellent retrospective.)

Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Green Bay Packers 20
November 9, 1998 @ Three Rivers Stadium

In 1997 first year starter Kordell Stewart had led the Steelers to the AFC Championship where they lost in the waning minutes to the Denver Broncos. In 1998 the Steelers started unevenly, but took a 5-3 record into this Monday Night game vs. the sitting NFC Champions. For the first time in a year, the Steelers looked like a team capable of contending. For a half, at least.

The Steelers opened the game by scoring 27 unanswered points, with two Norm Johnson field goals and touchdowns from Charles Johnson, Kordell Stewart, and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala.

Green Bay got on the board with 3 in the second half, but Pittsburgh seemed poised to make it 35-3 early in the 4th quarter when Ray Sherman decided to get smart, sending Mike Tomazack under center and lining Kordell Stewart up at wide receiver.

Tomzack fumbled, Keith McKenzie recovered and ran the ball 88 yards back for a touchdown. Brett Favre wasted little time in getting his team another touchdown, and another Packers field goal made it 27-20, before the Steelers were able to close out the game with a win.

Pittsburgh Steelers 30, Jacksonville Jaguars 15
November 22, 1998 @ Three Rivers Stadium

True to form, the '98 Steelers followed their victory over Green Bay with a loss to the Oilers, but the AFC Central remained wide open as the 6-4 Steelers would host the 8-3 Jaguars in looked to be a critical divisional show down.

And the Steelers were ready, with Dwayne Washington opening the game with a 52 yard pick six. Norm Johnson tacked on three more field goals, and with Fred Taylor keeping the Steelers honest with a touchdown.

As the fourth quarter opened, the Steelers led 16-7, but Kordell Stewart connected with tight end Mark Brunner add to that sum by 7. Jacksonville struck back with touchdown and two point conversion, but Dwayne Washington slammed the door on their comeback hopes with a 78 yard pick six.

While the Steelers remained a game behind in the division title race, Kordell Stewart had finally strung a couple of consistent games together, the was defense gelling l, and a rookie named Hines Ward was working the offense. Pittsburgh seemed primed for a run.

Alas, it was a mirage. Four days later the Steelers traveled to Detroit for the infamous coin-flip game, followed by an aggravating loss to New England, and then Kordell crying incident down in Tampa which put the Steelers into full meltdown mode and inaugurated the "My Buddy's the Cop" phase of Stewart's career.

Pittsburgh Steelers 27, San Francisco 6
November 7, 1999 @ Candlestick Park

The '99 Steelers 6-10 record and the '99 49er's lousy showing make it a stretch to call this a true tease game, but the Steelers almost totally dominated that day, as Jerome Bettis scored two touchdowns on the ground with Hines Ward adding another through the air.

On the other side of the ball, San Francisco's offense scored 2 first half field goals and then did nothing. The win gave Pittsburgh its third straight victory and, at 5-3 the Steelers, entered mid season in healthy striking distance of the AFC Central race.

On that afternoon, San Fran's lone bright spot, 166 yards rushing by Charlie Garner, seemed like an aberration to everyone at the Pittsburgh Steeler Fan Club of Maryland's legendary "Purple Goose Saloon" watering hole, except for my old friend "Mike V." who insisted it was a danger sign.

Mike V. was right. The Steelers closed 1999 losing 6 of their next 7....

Pittsburgh Steelers 45, Kansas City Chiefs 7
October 15, 2006 @ Heinz Field

2006 will be remembered for Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle crash, the emergency appendectomy, the Super Bowl XL hangover, and subsequent speculation over whether Cowher was ready to hang it up.

But for one game the Steelers looked every bit the defending champion, and that came in their week 5 thumping of the Kansas City Chiefs. Willie Parker, Hines Ward, Najeh Davenport, and Nate Washington socred touchdowns for the Steelers, while reserve line backer Rian Wallace closed the game with a pick six.

Bryant McFadden and Troy Polamalu also had 39 and 49 yard interception returns and Chad Brown recorded his lone sack during his second stint in Pittsburgh.

The win seemed to get Pittsburgh back on track after losses to Jacksonville, Cincinnati, and San Diego but unfortunately the Steelers would follow it with another three straight losses.

Pittsburgh Steelers 28, Denver Broncos 10
November 9, 2009 @ Invesco Field at Mile High

Like their '06 counterparts, "Super Bowl Hangover" defines '09 Steelers. But there was a moment when it seemed that might not be the case. After a shaky start, the '09 Steelers won 4 straight heading into a Monday Night showdown vs. Josh McDaniels' then impressive 6-1 Denver Broncos.

As is the case with so many other "Tease Games" the Steelers opened the scoring with a pick six, this time by Tyronne Carter. The Steelers defense dominated throughout, with Troy Polamalu adding another pick while Carter added a second, and Brett Keisel sacked Kyle Orton twice.

The Steelers offense struggled through the first half, only explode in the second half with a dynamic attack that saw Ben Roethlisberger throw three touchdown passes to Mike Wallace and Hines Ward while Rashard Mendenhall ripped off 155 yards on the ground.

The win over Denver gave Pittsburgh their fifth straight, a tie for the AFC North lead, and made it 3 straight 6-2 starts for Mike Tomlin. The Steelers finally seemed primed for a title defense, but what Steelers Nation got was 5 straight losses characterized by special teams snafus and a shell shocked secondary.

Share Your Memories of Other "Tease Games"

What qualifies as a "Tease Game" is fully in the eyes of the beholder. There are plenty other games which could make this list, and perhaps some of the ones above do not belong.

Take a moment to share your thoughts, debate this list, and add your own memories.

Likewise, "Tease Games" seem to feature multiple interceptions by a single player and "pick sixes" appear with uncanny regularity. Anyone who thinks they can offer insights that explain this is more than encouraged to share.