The 80’s could be called the letdown decade for the Steelers. If the Steelers of the 70’s had not set such a high standard, the decade would have been considered not all that bad. The Steelers did win more games than they lost and made the playoffs 4 out of the 10 years. Many people consider this decade as the best coaching job that Chuck Noll did, because the talent was not anywhere close to the teams of the 70’s. The 80’s could be summed up by the fact that the Steelers never could replace the core that made the team great, even though they tried like hell. Even when they were successful tragedy would befall the team and the player. They drafted Gabe Rivera in the first round in 1983. He was the heir apparent to Joe Greene, and he seemed that he was going to dominate the defensive line just like Mean Joe. After the 7th game of the season, he crashed his Datsun 280 ZX into another vehicle, which left him a quadriplegic. Terry Bradshaw who continued to excel at quarterback in the early 80’s, injured his elbow in 82, played in pain, then had what you could call unsuccessful elbow surgery, would play one half of football in 83 and his career was over. The Steelers could never come close to replacing him in the 80’s even though they used a no1 pick to try. More surprising, they never came close to replacing Franco Harris. They used two 1st round picks, one in 82, the other in 89 but both picks basically turned out to be busts. The decade had many ups and downs but would end up being a decade of mediocrity.
Record For The Decade: 77 Wins 75 Losses
Best Year: 1983 10-6 1984 9-7 Loss AFC Championship Game.
Worst Year: 1988 5-11
Why The Steelers Won More, Barely, Than They Loss: Simply, it was Chuck Noll. The talent was never top notch but somehow Noll made every team during that decade competitive. For whatever reason, the Steelers lost their ability to evaluate talent. The draft instead of rebuilding the Steelers, became one disaster after another. Of their 10 number 1 picks, only one, Rod Woodson would go on and have a great career. The only other thing the Steelers could think, was what might have been with Gabe Rivera.
Significant Games: There were two games that stand out in the 80’s and they occurred in 1989. The 1989 season started out worse than anybody could have possibly imagined. The Cleveland Browns opened the season at Three Rivers Stadium and put on a 51-0 pasting on the Black and Gold. The Steeler offense only netted 53 yards for the game. The next week they went to Cincinnati and got blown out again 41-10. For week 3, the Minnesota Vikings came to town, and many expected blow out number 3. Noll rallied the troops, and the Steelers took a 21-14 lead into the half, shut out the Vikings the rest of the way for a 27-14 shocking victory, that started the Steelers on their way to a 9-7 record, that got them a Wild Card berth in the playoffs. They went from getting outscored 91-10 in the first 2 games to a Wild Card game with their hated rivals the Houston Oilers. There was no love lost between Jerry Glanville and Chuck Noll. The Oilers had beaten the Steelers twice in 89 and were favored to do so again in the Wild Card game in the Houston Astrodome. It was a game the Oilers pretty much dominated, but until the 4 quarter could not get the ball in the endzone and trailed the Steelers 16-9. Then Houston was able to put two drives together, which resulted in touchdowns to take a 23-16 lead with about 5 minutes to go in the game. The Steeler offense somehow mounted a long drive and scored the tying touchdown with about 50 seconds to go in the game. The Steelers could not move the ball in the overtime and after a bad punt Houston took over on the Steeler 48 only needing a field goal to win the game. On the very first play of the drive Lorenzo White fumbled the ball and Rod Woodson recovered. The Steelers moved the ball to the Houston 33 and Gary Anderson kicked the winning 50 yard field goal. Next to his Super Bowl wins, this had to be one of Chuck Noll’s most satisfying wins. It was even more so because this loss cost Glanville his job.
The Decades Best Player: This was not the most talented of Steeler teams but there were two players who stood out, Mike Merriweather and Louis Lipps. Merriweather lost some of his luster when he got into a contract dispute with the team after the 1987 season and eventually went to Minnesota. He was Pro Bowler for 3 years with the Steelers. Louis Lipps was a deep threat extraordinaire. In 8 seasons he averaged almost 17 yards per catch and was the 1984 Rookie of the Year. He returned three punts for touchdowns during his first two seasons.
The decade ended with a bang but there was no momentum to be found when the Steelers headed into the 90’s. Noll would retire after the 91 season and a new regime would begin. The 90’s for better or worse, would bring a whole new vibe to the Pittsburgh Steelers.