Ah, September: the Steelers moving to 1-0 after a stunning upset over the defending AFC champion Bengals, and the delight of warm weather. In the blink of an eye, Pittsburgh’s playoff chances have frozen over like any residual water in December.
Indeed, with under 10 days remaining in 2022, the United States has been subjected to some unbearably chilly temperatures with cold fronts rearing their ugly heads. The thermometer will continue its decline through Saturday night, when the Steelers host the Raiders.
As of the writing of this article, Accuweather projects the temperature in Acrisure Stadium to be 10° with a “RealFeel” of -11° at night. Factor in wind gusts of 29 miles per hour, and preserving heat will be a major challenge for all personnel in the Steel City on Christmas Eve. In fact, I reluctantly admit that the weather forecast is so grim to even sway me (a Midwesterner) from attending!
This subzero surge sparked a query in my mind: is this the coldest game in Steelers history? If not, what rivals this level of visceral chill? And, possibly most importantly, how has Pittsburgh performed in such contests? Grab a blanket and some black and gold mittens, and let’s review.
Before delving into the results of the search for the most frigid games in Steelers lore, it’s important to define the parameters in play.
Using Stathead’s all-powerful search feature provides the ability to examine games by weather. Crucially, Stathead notes that it obtains weather data “from the airport of the city in question,” yet that “not every stadium is right by the airport.” However, the system suggests that the weather information should be considered “a very good approximate.” Further, Stathead’s weather intel is only attainable through 1960, which serves as a lower bound for this discovery.
According to the site, the Steelers have played in just two games in team history in which the temperature was 10° or colder: in 1977 and 1989.
On Dec. 10, 1977, Pittsburgh visited the Cincinnati Bengals at Riverfront Stadium for a pivotal Week 13 matchup between the 8-4 Steelers and 7-5 Bengals. The temperature at the time of the game was 0° with 12-mile-per-hour winds and a windchill of -17, marking the coldest game in franchise history. Despite a 1:00 p.m. kickoff, that atmosphere could not have been pleasant for anybody.
The Bengals opened scoring with a Lemar Parrish first-quarter pick-six of Terry Bradshaw. However, the Steelers responded with a five-yard rushing score from none other than the late, great Franco Harris. Though Pittsburgh added a field goal courtesy of Roy Gerela, Cincy enjoyed a 10-0 run behind a field goal of its own and a Ken Anderson touchdown pass to Pat McInally in the third quarter. The 17-10 score held, with Chuck Noll’s team falling in The Queen City.
The cold did no favors to Pittsburgh’s ability to hold onto a firmer football, with the away side ceding four fumbles. Though the Steelers compiled 362 total yards and 21 first downs, unforced mistakes — including 11 penalties for 95 yards — undermined a solid offensive performance, featuring 95 rushing yards from Harris.
Fast forward nearly 12 years, and we arrive at the Steelers’ only other reported game with a temperature of 10° or colder: a Week 15 date with the Patriots at Three Rivers Stadium on Dec. 17, 1989. The game featured a temperature of 3°, winds of 10 miles per hour and a windchill of -12.
Pittsburgh established a 7-0 lead via a Tim Worley rushing touchdown and never looked back. Powered by two ground scores from Merril Hoge and one from receiver Louis Lipps, the Steelers rolled 28-10 at home to move to 8-7.
Noll’s ground game was the catalyst for a win in such bone-chilling temps, with the Steelers rumbling for 219 carries and four touchdowns on just 39 carries (5.62 yards per tote). While the Patriots attained some success through the air with Marc Wilson and held a time of possession advantage of over 11 minutes, three turnovers from the visitors proved the difference.
To reiterate, Pro Football Reference only has evidence of the Steelers playing in two games with temperatures mirroring what is forecast for Christmas Eve. That isn’t to say, though, that Pittsburgh is wholly unfamiliar with the cold.
Factoring in the two aforementioned matchups, the Steelers have been part of six total games with temps at or below 15°. In fact, one such contest happened only five years ago, when Mike Tomlin’s team beat the Browns 28-24 in Week 17, 2017; the reported weather was a mere 11°. Other duels that meet such criteria took place in 2009, 2005 and 1996. Cumulatively, the Steelers possess a 3-3 record in these frostbite-inducing conditions, averaging 23.2 points per game.
Expanding the temperature range to a gaudy 20° grants a sample size of 20 total games in which the Steelers have participated. Three of those contests happened from 2017-18; besides the battle with the Browns detailed a moment ago, the other two were Pittsburgh’s 2017 Wild Card win over the Dolphins and 2018 Divisional loss to the Jaguars. All told, the black and gold are 11-9 in these games with an average of 25.1 points scored.
If the forecast of 10° is maintained until 8:15 ET Saturday night, the Steelers’ Week 16 clash with the Raiders will be the team’s coldest game since 1989 and third-lowest temperature ever. One degree higher, and it would be the organization’s first matchup in such wintry weather since 2017. Regardless of mere temperature demarcations, the flow of chicken broth and the swirl of bench heaters will do its best to mitigate dangerously cold weather on Christmas Eve.