With a pocket full of plutonium, I set the Delorean to December 10, 1983. Ronnie Reagan was president, Say, Say, Say by a not-yet-feuding Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson began its' first day on a six-week-stay as the No. 1 single at the top of the charts, Xavier Roberts' Cabbage Patch Kids were causing fisticuffs in malls from sea to shining sea, the United States had just completed nuclear testing at a site in Nevada and Will Byers was still stuck in the UpsideDown—all while a nearly-bald girl roamed the town of Hawkins, Indiana, searching for Eggos.
Meanwhile, in the NFL, Saturday football was being played at Shea Stadium in New York City. In fact, it was the last time NFL football was played in the Big Apple as the New York Jets played their final home game before leaving to join the Giants across the river in the New Jersey Meadowlands. But that was merely a sidebar for Steelers Nation as their team gathered at the other end of the stadium to face the Jets. It was Week 15 and Terry Bradshaw was warming up to take snaps under center for the very first time in 1983. What nobody knew, however, was that this would be the very last time he’d do so in his Hall of Fame career.
After the NFL Draft in April which saw the Steelers bypass hometown phenom, Dan Marino, the Steelers embarked on what would be one of their most tumultuous seasons. The man they drafted instead of Marino, Gabriel Rivera, would get behind the wheel of a car intoxicated, just six-weeks into his career, and never walked again.
Despite the tragedy that was Rivera's accident, the Steelers started the season with a 9-2 mark behind Bradshaw's understudy, Cliff Stoudt. No. 18 was assuming Bradshaw's role after "the Blonde Bomber" reinjured his March of '83 surgically-repaired elbow in training camp, and remained sidelined week after week. With the Pittsburgh beat writers questioning Bradshaw's throwing status after every practice, the Steelers kept playing Stoudt. While the quarterback struggled throughout the year, the Steelers found ways to win mostly due to Franco Harris and a staunch defensive corps. But Chuck Noll's team hit the proverbial wall in Week 12, losing three straight games including Minnesota at home, getting completely drumsticked by Detroit on Thanksgiving 45-3 and falling to Cincinnati at home in Week 14.
With the Steelers in danger of missing the playoffs altogether and needing a win against the 7-7 Jets to stop their slide and ward off the (closing-in) Cleveland Browns to win the AFC Central, Pittsburgh needed a hero — and fast. With Bradshaw finally being activated the week prior, and whispers that he could possibly play getting louder, Head Coach Chuck Noll turned to his four-time Super Bowl champion to take the field and to borrow from Brad’s Hall of Fame speech...put his hands under Mike Webster's butt one more time.
The Jets and Steelers traded punts to open the game. The Jets punted again and then, on Pittsburgh's second possession, the 35-year-old veteran proceeded to evoke memories of his earlier glory days. He hooked up with TE Bennie Cunningham on a 24-yard pass to get things moving. Frank Pollard rumbled for 17 more yards to the Jets 28. On third-and-ten, Bradshaw darted to his right and threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to the rookie WR from Penn State, Gregg Garrity. Garrity was wide open in the middle of the end zone. Bradshaw engineered an 8-play, 77-yard drive for the first Steelers’ score.
After another Jets’ punt, the Steelers moved down the field again with a mix of runs by Harris and Frank Pollard, a 17-yard pass play to Pollard and a defensive pass interference penalty on New York. With the game now in the second quarter, No. 12 fired a five-yard strike to WR Calvin Sweeney who ran the remaining five to pay dirt to put the Steelers ahead by a score of 14-0. Years later, Bradshaw recounted that he heard a pop on the play and knew his arm was gone. He went straight to the sidelines and told Steelers’ equipment manager, Tony Parisi, "I'm done". And he was right. He would officially announce his retirement in on July 24, 1984.
After Bradshaw's 20-play effort, and a box-score line of 5-of-8 for 77 yards and two TD passes, the Steelers turned to Stoudt to continue what Terry started. The offense started to stall, but then safety Ron Johnson returned a Richard Todd interception to the Jets 9-yard line that resulted in a 29-yard Gary Anderson field goal. Then another Jets punt and another Anderson field goal (40 yards). The halftime air was sweet perfume for the Steelers with a dominant 20-0 lead.
After the Steelers intercepted Todd twice and sacked him a total of three times, backup Pat Ryan's first pass was intercepted by CB Mel Blount, resulting in a 13-yard touchdown pass from Stoudt to the veteran Cunningham. 27-0 Steelers.
The only bright light for New York was receiver Johnny “Lam” Jones. Jones caught a 27-yarder for a TD in the third to cut the lead to 27-7. Jones finished the contest with 146 yards on seven grabs and that one TD.
In the fourth quarter, Stoudt threw an 18-yard scoring pass to set the final score at 34-7. Stoudt finished the game going 8/15 for 83 yards, two TDs and a pick. Sweeney led receivers with three grabs, 42 yards and two scores. But that final TD reception from Bradshaw links him as a footnote in Terry's HOF career.
The running game continued to carry the Steelers, as it had all season, with 242 yards. Harris, in the third-to-last game of his legendary Steelers career, (He'd spend 1984 in Seattle) gained 103 yards, while Pollard chipped in 78.
On the defensive side of the ball, Blount, Johnson and Donnie Shell all had interceptions, while Gary Dunn, Robin Cole and Keith Gary all had sacks.
Despite the loss and their team being eliminated from the playoffs that day, many of the 55,000-plus Jets fans in that Flushing, NY, stadium tore down the goal posts and absconded with anything they could get their hands on, as their team would depart for the swamps of Jersey. Legend has it that fans show up to this very day to autograph shows with seats from that game to be signed.
Pittsburgh lost to Cleveland in Week 17, but the Steelers won the divisional title with a 10-6 record. But Stoudt imploded in the 38-10 playoff loss to the Los Angeles Raiders the following week.
The Steelers won their last game of a trying 1983 campaign that day, but also lost one of the most prolific Steelers in their history.