Looking for a silver lining in the Steelers' slow start to the season?
Team founder Art Rooney said the 1976 team was the greatest in franchise history and that team started with one victory in its first five games. That was one of the stories Donnie Shell told Sunday night before taking in the Steelers-Bears game at Heinz Field.
Shell, a hard-hitting safety who played with the Steelers from 1974-87 and earned four Super Bowl rings, was in town for alumni weekend with many other former Steelers.
The 1976 team that started 1-4 ran off nine consecutive victories, including five shutouts, to end the regular season and make the playoffs. They beat Baltimore in their first playoff game, then lost the AFC championship in Oakland.
"You have to have the attitude and confidence that you can turn it around and get it right," Shell said. "Sometimes you start 0-2 and it's little things here and little things there. You just have to keep working at it. The [fans] were talking 'Hey, get rid of this team, get rid of that team.' They were being critical and rightly so because we weren't winning. But we turned it around. We started blitzing and playing some man-to-man defenses and came up with five or six shutouts. We turned it around. They'll turn it around. I'm not concerned with them. Coach [Mike] Tomlin will turn it around."
Shell credited Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll for his role in the 1976 turnaround. The Steelers split their first two games that season before losing three in a row.
The message from Noll was simple:
"Nobody is going to come rescue you," Shell recalled. "Don't look for someone on a white horse to come rescue. You're the team. You have to right the ship. He was a coach and teacher extraordinaire. That put the onus back on us. We had to right it."
Bryan Hinkle played linebacker for the Steelers from 1982-93 and experienced another remarkable turnaround after a sluggish start in 1989. The Steelers not only lost their first two games that season but were blown out by the Browns and Bengals by a combined score of 92-10.
That team won its next two and five of its final six to sneak into the playoffs. It beat Houston in a wild-card game and almost beat Denver in a divisional round game.
"It wasn't that we just lost the two games," Hinkle said. "We got blown out. It kind of humbled everybody. Chuck just let us know what we were doing, let us know that the way we were playing was not acceptable. I think guys just got it. This team is in the same position. We had the same talent the first two games as the rest of the year. It was a mental state. But it starts from the top. It was Chuck who really got us turned around that year and jumped on board with what he was saying."
More than his words, Hinkle remembered the look Noll had in those days more than anything else.
"It was just Chuck being Chuck," Hinkle said. "Chuck had been to four Super Bowls. He had been in the position where he had always had the success. We had some other leaner years with losing seasons before that, but he knew we had the talent. Chuck wasn't a man of a lot of words. It was more his look at you, his glare. We started stringing some together and really turned it around.
"It was just that mental focus and being positive that you can make the plays to win a game. Each guy has to think I have to do my job and make my play. Ben [Roethlisberger] can't go out and try to win the game. He has to do his job. That's kind of what Chuck preached back then. Take care of your job and it will take care of itself. That was from Chuck."
Marshall a Steelers fan
Bears receiver Brandon Marshall was born in Pittsburgh before spending most of his childhood in Georgia and Florida. But Marshall always maintained an affinity for his hometown team.
Marshall relayed a story highlighting his Steelers roots to NBC's Bob Costas.
"I'm in college in my doom room," Marshall said. "I've got a Steelers blanket on watching a playoff game -- the Steelers versus the Broncos -- and I'm cheering for the Steelers. A few months later I'm drafted by the Broncos ... and I still cheer for the Steelers. When I'm out of the playoffs, which is always right now, I'm cheering for the Steelers because they bring so much joy to the city."
Criticism from Bradshaw
Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who led the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories, questioned the Steelers' decision to not bring back former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians after the 2011 season.
Bradshaw was asked about the Steelers' offensive struggles on Fox.
"Ben Roethlisberger is going to the Hall of Fame, no question about that," Bradshaw said. "He could be the league MVP if he takes this team to the playoffs. ... Is [offensive coordinator] Todd Haley best served for Ben or was Bruce Arians best served for Ben? When they lost Bruce Arians they really lost a lot of this offense."
Offensive line shuffle
The Steelers benched their starting tackles in the first half. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert took a seat on the bench in the first quarter and was replaced by Kelvin Beachum. In the second, Beachum took over for Mike Adams at left tackle and Gilbert went back in at right tackle. Later in the quarter, Gilbert and Adams were back at their starting positions.
No big plays from defense
After the offense scored 13 consecutive points to make it 27-23 early in the fourth quarter, the defense had three opportunities to get off the field on third-and-long situations but the Bears converted two of those into first downs and then scored a touchdown on the third to put the game out of reach.
"As a defense, we're going to put that on us," defensive end Cameron Heyward said. "We have to step up and make the big play. Our offense definitely put us in the game. We had some chances on the goal line early on. We have to maximize our opportunities and learn from this."
It also was the third consecutive game without a turnover for the defense.
Close to turnaround
The Steelers are 0-3, but Heyward said the team is not far from turning the corner.
"We're ticked," he said. "Every game, we've been in it. It's a compilation of four to five plays that are changing the outcomes of these games. We're right around the corner from changing this. When you look back at each of these games, you can see it's the inches that are changing it. We're going to have to continue to work. Our backs are against the wall right now."
Big play for Bears
The crushing blow in the game came courtesy of backup wide receiver Earl Bennett, who made a diving catch of a Jay Cutler pass in the back corner of the end zone late in the fourth to put the Bears ahead, 34-23.
Bennett beat Steelers rookie Shamarko Thomas on the play. It was originally ruled that Bennett did not get both feet inbounds but was overturned on video replay.
"I went off the crowd's reaction and I didn't think I had both feet in," said Bennett, who had two catches. "So it was like, 'Man, I must not have been in.' But when I saw the replay, I knew I was in."
'Big Break' for local native
Mini-tour professional and "Big Break NFL Puerto Rico" participant Brian Cooper took part in the pregame Terrible Towel twirl.
Cooper, a McKeesport native who lives in Phoenix, was a participant in last year's "Big Break Greenbrier" on the Golf Channel. An ardent Steelers fan, he wore Steelers clothes on the show and even had a golf bag made in black-and-gold colors.
Cooper, 46, will be partnered with former Pitt and Minnesota Vikings defensive end Chris Doleman on "Big Break NFL Puerto Rico," which airs Oct. 8.
QB Landry Jones, WR Derek Moye, RB Le'Veon Bell, DBs Cortez Allen and Isaiah Green, OL Cody Wallace and DL Hebron Fangupo did not dress for the Steelers.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. Gerry Dulac contributed to this report. First Published September 23, 2013 5:00 AM