What are the worst moments for each NFL franchise? Yahoo Sports provides our opinion, which you are free to disagree with (and we’re sure you will).
5. 51-0 loss to Browns in 1989
The 1980s are pretty much the only decade the Steelers weren’t consistently excellent, and no loss encapsulated that more than the season opener in 1989. Facing the rival Browns at Three Rivers Stadium, Cleveland scored three defensive touchdowns and beat Pittsburgh 51-0, still the worst loss in franchise history. Legendary coach Chuck Noll called the loss “the worst I’ve ever seen as a coach.” And it says something that it ultimately didn’t define the season. Pittsburgh went 9-7, including a win over that same Browns team five weeks later, and finished second in the division before winning a playoff game and then being knocked out by the eventual AFC champion Broncos. What can you say? It’s hard to find low points for this franchise. But a 51-point loss certainly qualifies.
4. Phil Luckett coin toss gaffe
This infamous incident wasn’t even the Steelers’ fault, but it makes the list nonetheless. A Thanksgiving Day matchup with Detroit in 1998 went to overtime, and running back Jerome Bettis clearly called “tails” during the initial coin toss to determine possession. For whatever reason, referee Phil Luckett said he heard “heads” on two separate occasions before even picking up the coin, showing tails, which produced a shocked reaction from Bettis and co-captain Carnell Lake. CBS broadcasters Greg Gumbel and Phil Simms even registered their surprise over the airwaves. The Lions made quick work of overtime, taking seven plays to get into a field goal range for a game-winning 42-yard kick by Jason Hanson. The loss spiraled Pittsburgh into a five-game losing streak to finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs. It started with an egregious miss by a referee.
3. Mike Tomlin tries to trip Jacoby Jones
The Steelers-Ravens rivalry has been intense. And bitter. And arguably the best in the NFL in the 21st century. One of its most infamous moments came on Thanksgiving 2013, in a primetime battle in Baltimore. Jacoby Jones was well on his way to housing a potentially game-clinching kickoff return before Steelers defensive back Cortez Allen caught him from behind. Thing is, he had help. In a complete broach of sideline decor, if you will, Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin actually had one foot on the field at the Steelers’ 38-yard line, which forced Jones back inside and allowed him to be caught by Allen. Jones immediately pointed back toward Tomlin after being tackled, and Tomlin was glimpsed on television not long after with a wry smile on his face. The league fined Tomlin $100,000 for the transgression, and while the incident ultimately didn’t change much – the Ravens still won the game, and the Steelers had already dug themselves too big a hole to make the playoffs by starting 0-4 – it’s not a good look for a franchise that prides itself on doing things the right way.
2. Joe “Turkey” Jones takes out Terry Bradshaw
One of the ugliest incidents of on-field violence in NFL history took place on Oct. 10, 1976, and the victim was Pittsburgh. Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw was wrapped up by Browns defensive end Joe “Turkey” Jones, but as whistles blew with the play’s outcome determined, Jones went further, body-slamming Bradshaw straight on his head. Bradshaw’s body went disturbingly limp, flags went flying and Cleveland was punished first with a 15-yard penalty, then with a $3,000 fine for Jones. The damage to Pittsburgh’s season was more severe. Bradshaw returned three weeks later but wasn’t the same, completing the fourth-lowest percentage of passes of his career. The Steelers leaned on their legendary Steel Curtain defense and running game to reach the AFC title game, and linebacker Jack Lambert has called the 1976 edition the best Steelers team of the decade. This one didn’t end with a title, and one of the dirtiest plays you’ll ever see contributed to that.
1. Neil O’Donnell throws two picks to Larry Brown
Pittsburgh’s 1990s resurgence under head coach Bill Cowher culminated with a trip to Super Bowl XXX, where the hated Dallas Cowboys awaited. The Steelers had never lost the big game, and had beaten Dallas twice as part of their four previous titles. By Super Bowl XXX, the Cowboys had won four of their own, and went on to break the tie by winning the game on the back of Larry Brown. Or maybe more accurately, the mistakes of Neil O’Donnell. Two interceptions in the second half had huge ramifications in their own ways, starting in the middle of the third quarter. With Pittsburgh trailing just 13-7 and Dallas blitzing on third-and-long, O’Donnell floated an aimless ball into the flat that fell perfectly into Brown’s waiting arms. His return helped set up an Emmitt Smith touchdown, pushing the lead back to double digits. But the real heartbreak came late in the fourth quarter, after the Steelers had cut the lead to 20-17 and gotten the ball back with 4:15 remaining. In what could be construed as a photocopy of the first interception, O’Donnell fired down the right sideline anticipating wide receiver Andre Hastings to be there. Hastings ran a hitch route, however, and the only person in the area to catch the pass was Brown. His return to the Pittsburgh 6-yard line led to another Smith touchdown and effectively ended the comeback bid. It was a rough night on the biggest stage for the Steelers, and outside of this game, that’s almost totally foreign to them.