Facing their old nemesis in their first-ever playoff matchup, the Steelers and their fans partied like it was 1979.
After two disappointing playoff losses, third year coach Bill Cowher's Steelers dismantled the Browns in the Divisional round of the 1994 playoffs, 29-9. It was the Steelers' third consecutive win over Cleveland that year, as it was also the Steelers first playoff win in Pittsburgh since the '79 season.
Cowher's first team, the 1992 Steelers, surprised everyone by going 11-5 after going 7-9 in Chuck Noll's final season. But Cowher's honeymoon period ended abruptly in the team's first playoff game, a 24-3 loss to the eventual AFC champion Buffalo Bills at home in the Divisional round. The Steelers went 9-7 the following year, and lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Chiefs in overtime, 27-24, in the Wild Card round. While Cowher had enjoyed much success in his first two seasons, questions regarding his ability to win a playoff game were beginning to surface.
The Steelers, and their coach, were on a mission in 1994. They won 12 games, the most since the '79 Steelers won the same amount, and claimed their second AFC Central championship in three years. While the offense was paced by running backs Barry Foster and Bam Morris, who combined to rush for nearly 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns, the defense was spearheaded by linebackers Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd, who recorded 14 and 10 sacks, respectively. The unit which tallied 55 sacks in '94, was appropriately nicknamed the "Blitzburgh" defense.
Hot on the Steelers' heels all season in the AFC Central race was Cleveland, who finished one game behind the Steelers with an 11-5 record. As good as Bill Belichick's Browns were, they couldn't defeat the Steelers in 1994. Pittsburgh came out on the winning end of both low-scoring, defensive affairs, besting Cleveland 17-10 in Week 2 and again in Week 16 in Pittsburgh, 17-7.
Ironically, Belichick's first postseason victory as a head coach was the Patriots, as the Browns upended New England 20-13 in the Wild Card game to earn a trip back to Pittsburgh. It would be a trip the Browns would surely regret taking.
With the rival Browns in town and with the frustration of the last two playoff seasons still fresh in everyone's minds, the Steelers kayoed Cleveland in a game that was never a contest.
After Gary Anderson kicked off the scoring with a 39-yard field goal, a two-yard touchdown catch by Eric Green and a 26 yard scoring jaunt by John L. Williams gave Pittsburgh a 17-0 second quarter lead. While Matt Stover offered the Browns temporary hope by booting a 22-yard field goal, their quick reprieve quickly ended after Yancy Thigpen pulled down a nine-yard touchdown pass to close out the first half.
The Browns would eventually find the end zone, but not before the Steelers padded their lead at 27-3 on Anderson's 40-yard field goal in the third quarter. Pittsburgh's 29-9 win over their long time nemesis was a sweet victory, while the fact that it was the third straight against Cleveland that year being the icing on the cake.
It was also the way Pittsburgh won that made the victory one to remember. It was vintage Pittsburgh Steelers football on both sides of the ball. Led by Foster's 133 yards, Pittsburgh gashed the Browns defense for 238 yards on the ground. The Blitzburg defense allowed just 186 yards while collecting two interceptions and limiting quarterback Vinny Testaverde to just 13 of 31 passing on the day.
The offense was humming, the defense was dominating, the Three Rivers Stadium crowed was in a frenzied pitch throughout the game. It appeared that the glory years in Pittsburgh were on their way back. Cowher's first playoff win started a run of four straight seasons that included a playoff win, and 11 years later, his final post season victory brought home the "One for the thumb" Super Bowl championship, the championship that was well worth the wait.