On the Steelers: A big Bengals-Steelers game? Mark the date ... and maybe take a picture
Today's game is a classic that does not come around very often even though the Steelers and Bengals have played each other twice annually since 1970.
Only three other times in the past 30 seasons have both teams had winning records when they played each other in the second half of the season. All three were played in Pittsburgh and the Bengals won each time.
The Bengals also have not swept the two-game series since 1998, the only time that has occurred since 1990.
It is seldom these two rivals meet under such circumstances as they do today, mostly because the Pirates, er, Bengals have had just one winning season in the past 18.
Here are the only previous times over the past 30 years these teams have met in the second half of the season with winning records:
• In 2005 they played Dec. 4 in the 12th game, at Heinz Field. Both teams were 7-3 and Cincinnati won, 38-31, despite being outgained 474 yards to 324. The Bengals wiped their shoes with Terrible Towels and went on to win the AFC North. It was the Steelers' third consecutive loss and they were presented with these facts: Win four in a row to reach the playoffs, eight in a row to win the Super Bowl. They did just that, clipping the Bengals in Cincinnati in their first playoff victory along the way.
• You have to go back to 1990 for a previous date between winning Bengals and Steelers in the second half. That meeting also occurred in the 12th game, this one at Three Rivers Stadium. Again, Cincinnati came away with a close victory, 16-12, Dec. 2 after quarterback Bubby Brister (18 of 40) threw four incomplete passes after getting a first down at the Cincinnati 7 late in the fourth quarter. Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason threw only 14 passes, eight complete.
That was one of the more unusual seasons in the old AFC Central Division. That win helped the Bengals to a 9-7 record and a three-way tie with the Steelers and Houston Oilers. After the tiebreakers were sorted, Cincinnati was awarded the division title, the Oilers a wild-card playoff spot in the AFC and the Steelers were outside looking in, Chuck Noll's second-to-last season as their coach.
• In 1981, the teams met again in Three Rivers Stadium in December with winning records and again the Bengals came away with the critical victory, 17-10, behind quarterback Ken Anderson. It was Dec. 13 -- the next-to-last game of the season. The Bengals entered 10-4 and the Steelers 8-6. The Steelers had a late chance to tie but four Mark Malone passes fell incomplete from the Cincinnati 33 -- one to Hall of Famer Lynn Swann and two to Hall of Famer John Stallworth, who dropped one of them. The Bengals went on to a 12-4 record as division champs and lost in the Super Bowl to San Francisco, 26-21. That loss was the second of three in a row to end the season for the Steelers, who finished 8-8. It was the first time they did not have a winning season since they were 6-8 in 1971.
Among the reasons the Steelers were connected to running back Larry Johnson is his agent, Peter Schaffer. Some writers/broadcasters curried favor with Schaffer by throwing out names of teams that might be interested in Johnson, including the Steelers. Do not blame Schaffer. He was just doing his job. Too bad the writers/broadcasters could not say the same.
Anyone who has been around the Steelers for any 24-hour period would know that Johnson had as much chance of getting signed as did Michael Vick. Forget for a minute that Johnson had ripped his team, his bosses, been suspended twice by them and used homosexual slurs publicly. He also has been arrested four times since 2003 on assault charges against women.
The Steelers often will support their own who get into trouble, but they're not going to invite that kind of trouble into their locker room. One time I've seen them do it in the past 25 seasons and it was a mistake that may have helped them form their beliefs.
The Steelers were not good for much of the 1980s and at times desperate. That's what happened when they announced the signing of a certain defensive lineman one day. The next day, they released him when he failed his (wink-wink) physical. Yet two weeks later, they signed him again, apparently after his (wink-wink) physical condition improved.
It did not deter them from having a horrible season. Still, the player in question went with them to training camp the following season until they found a loaded gun in his Saint Vincent College dormitory room. That was enough. They released him and he later was suspended for steroids use.
Never say never, but Larry Johnson carries way too much baggage for the Steelers to ever consider him.
Already, Rashard Mendenhall was a rare breed when the Steelers drafted him in the first round in 2008. It was the first time they had drafted a running back in the first round since Tim Worley in 1989.
Mendenhall could achieve another distinction this season. He could become only the second running back drafted by the Steelers in the first round to rush for 1,000 yards. The only other one to do it was Franco Harris, drafted in the first round in 1974. He went on to do it nine times, seven of them in 14-game seasons.
Of the five other running backs who topped 1,000, the highest they drafted any was the fifth round, Barry Foster. The others were Rocky Bleier (16th round), Willie Parker (undrafted), and Jerome Bettis and John Henry Johnson, who came to the Steelers in trades.
Among the first-round picks who never hit 1,000 yards were Worley, Walter Abercrombie (1982), Greg Hawthorne (1979), Dick Leftridge (1966) and Bob Ferguson (1962).
Mendenhall has 573 yards at the halfway point of the season, 528 since he became the starter in the fourth game of the season.
First Published November 15, 2009 12:00 am