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Steelers News: Pittsburgh vs. Oakland rivalry has very deep roots

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Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Franco Harris runs Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have seen better days than they are currently experiencing. The black-and-gold have dropped back-to-back games for the first time since 2016, after losing to the Broncos and Chargers in consecutive weeks. Now they turn their attention to another AFC West opponent, the Oakland Raiders, in Week 14.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at how the Oakland vs. Pittsburgh history has a very rich history, and while the history between the Steelers and Raiders will travel to Las Vegas, there will be a piece of that history left behind in California. The move might have been inevitable to some, but the fact the roots of this history are based on Oakland.

Let’s get to the news:

Steelers-Raiders rivalry rich with NFL history

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Pittsburgh Steelers played their first game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Oct. 25, 1970, and from that point over the next six years, two months and two days, the Steelers would visit the multi-purpose park six times.

The franchises never have shared the same division. But during their common heydays, it seemed like they did.

“It felt like we went out there every year,” four-time Steelers Super Bowl champion running back Rocky Bleier said. “And it felt like we played them twice a year: once in the regular season and again in the playoffs or (conference) championship game.”

The Steelers and Raiders did, in fact, meet nine times over five seasons between 1972-76. The Steelers played just as often at the Oakland Coliseum in that span (five times) as they did the home stadiums of AFC North rivals Cleveland, Cincinnati and Houston.

“You knew going there,” Bleier said of Oakland, “that their fans were absolutely rabid.”

The Black-and-Gold. The Silver-and-Black. Two iconic American sports franchises. Sunday’s 4:25 p.m. Steelers-Raiders matchup might not necessarily be the most anticipated NFL game of the day, but that is only because the 2018 Raiders are 2-10.

Ask any football fan over 50, though: Steelers-Raiders instantly conjures up memories of what was once must-see NFL TV.

“It brings me back to my childhood,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said this week, “and really when I fell in love with football was watching these two teams play.”

Adding extra nostalgia is Sunday’s meeting almost certainly will be the final one in Oakland. The Raiders announced their intention to move to Las Vegas, ending a history of Steelers-Raiders games in Northern California that dates to a 31-14 Raiders win on that October day 38 years ago.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin this week gave his players what veteran guard Ramon Foster called “a history lesson” for playing in what is one of the NFL’s oldest stadiums.

“He was just letting guys know where we are going,” veteran receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said. “Into the Black Hole.”

Arguably the NFL’s most renowned fan seating section, the Black Hole is known for its colorful personalities and less-than-hospitable treatment of opposing players.

“Obviously, being a visitor in that stadium, for people who have never been before, you got the guys with costumes,” Heyward-Bey said. “And then there’s the bad locker room. I mean, it’s horrible.”

No questioning that, but that 52-year-old visiting football locker room is also the spot of one of the Steelers’ greatest moments. It’s where the franchise celebrated earning its first Super Bowl berth via a 24-13 victory Dec. 29, 1974.

That was just one of two AFC title games the Steelers played in Oakland and also part of a stretch of five consecutive seasons the Steelers and Raiders met in the postseason.

The most famed moment among those meetings, of course, came at Three Rivers Stadium: Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception in 1972. The Hall of Fame running back will be in Oakland for Sunday’s game.

“There’s a rumor going around that Phil Villapiano is going to be escorting Franco Harris to the stadium,” Gruden said. “If that happens, that will be one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.”

The linebacker who was covering Harris when he made the famous deflected catch, Vallapiano is one of several Raiders who, to this day, believes the Immaculate Reception was illegal.

For almost four decades until his death, eccentric Raiders owner Al Davis was among that group of Immaculate Reception truthers. And to hear Bleier tell it, it was the frosty relationship between Davis and Steelers coach Chuck Noll that led to the rivalry. The two were on the staff of the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers together from 1960-62.

“One of the reasons that we didn’t have numbers on our practice jerseys was because of the fact that Chuck Noll just never trusted Al,” Bleier said. “And it would be harder for them to be able to spy on us and understand who’s playing what position.

“Or at least that’s how part of that story goes.”

Steelers notebook: Gruden: ‘Tomlin brought out the best in me’

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

One year into his NFL coaching career, Mike Tomlin was at a crossroads when Jon Gruden replaced Tony Dungy as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Gruden could have cleaned house and gotten rid of Dungy’s assistants. Instead, he kept most of the defensive coaches intact, including Tomlin, defensive line coach Rod Marinelli and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Gruden, who has returned from a 10-year hiatus to coach the Oakland Raiders, explained his reasoning this week on a conference call with Pittsburgh reporters.

“I met Mike previously through Monte Kiffin,” Gruden said. “When I got the Tampa job, I was well aware of the kind of personnel we had, the kind of defense we had, and I wanted to keep that band together — not just the players. I wanted to keep Marinelli, Tomlin, Monte Kiffin and the whole defensive coaching staff together.

“I’m really fortunate to say I was able to coach with those guys, and those are some of the best memories I have in football.”

Tomlin worked under Gruden for five seasons before leaving to become the Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator. One year later, he was hired by the Steelers.

Gruden, whose specialty was offense, recalled his competitons with Tomlin on the practice field.

“We used to call each other out. We used to go after each other on the practice field,” Gruden said. “He’s a fun guy to be around. He’s got a great enthusiasm for football. He’s a tremendous leader and great competitor, man.

“He wants to win every drill. He wants to win every single thing he goes up at you against. He brought out the best in me, and I think I brought out the best in him and I think he would tell you we had some fun battles.”

Tomlin referred to his old boss as a “top-notch strategist.”

“I am sure he spent a lot of time analyzing us, not only this week in preparation for the game, but just largely,” Tomlin said. “Our defensive schemes are kind of prevalent throughout ball. He’s the kind of guy that studies and digests football.”

Kevin Gorman: Steelers need to win the fourth quarter

By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Pittsburgh Steelers break the regular season into four quarters, and they enter the final four-game stretch clinging to a half-game lead in the AFC North Division and the fourth seed in the conference.

With games at Oakland on Sunday, at home against the New England Patriots, at the New Orleans Saints and at home against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Pittsburgh Steelers might need to do more than to play “Renegade” to get Terrible Towels waving for a playoff run.

“It’s the fourth quarter of the season. We know how important that is,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “You need to be playing your best football in December going into January. This is a big stretch for us, and we’re playing some really good football teams … good ones at home and good ones on the road.”

What the Steelers need to do is play their best football in the fourth quarter of the fourth quarter. That’s been a problem so far, as the quarters of their season have mirrored the quarters of their games.

They scored only six points in the first quarter of the first four games, when the Steelers started 1-2-1. They dominated the second quarter of the next four games, outscoring opponents 66-3 in four consecutive victories. The third quarter saw a split, with wins over the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars followed by losses to the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers.

The Steelers haven’t been a great fourth-quarter team, despite dramatic, last-minute comeback wins at Cincinnati and Jacksonville. Opponents have outscored the Steelers in the fourth quarter of five games this season, by a combined total of 99-75.

“You want to win every fourth quarter, regardless. That’s always the most important quarter of the game,” Roethlisberger said. “For us, we have to go out and play great in this fourth quarter because it carries over into the postseason, if you have a chance. We always say, ‘Peak at the right time.’ ”

Roethlisberger knows as well as anyone that the key to peaking at the right time involves not throwing picks at the wrong time. He’s thrown more interceptions (13) than the Steelers have takeaways (12), and their minus-8 turnover ratio ranks tied for 26th in the NFL.

“For me personally, it’s just taking care of the ball,” Roethlisberger said. “You can’t turn it over. You have to take care of the ball just like you would in the postseason. Every mistake is magnified. I approach these last four games like they’re the first four games of the postseason.

“Turnovers are the key to football games, both ways. You’ve got to get them, and you have to keep from giving them up.”

The Steelers have done the opposite the past two games. Against the Broncos, Roethlisberger threw an interception in the end zone to end a last-minute rally. Against the Chargers, a collision in the end zone between cornerback Joe Haden and safety Sean Davis prevented a pick that instead popped into the hands of Keenan Allen for a touchdown.

The Steelers know if those two plays turn out differently, they could be 9-2-1 and in position for the AFC’s second seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs. Haden believes the Steelers are “super close” to forcing turnovers and is impressed how they are accustomed to playing for and in the postseason.

“The one thing that you realize here is they’re so used to playoff football,” Haden said. “The season’s never over. The playoffs are always coming. The regular season is a season in itself, then the postseason is another season. We have that mindset that we’re still building for something, that we’re always at the end of the season going to have more football to play.”