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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Steelers - 5 Years at a Time (1970-1974)

This is a first

Chuck Noll was hired in 1969 and won his first game. Of course, he lost the next 13. 1970 was the year of the AFL/NFL merger and the foundation of the current NFL. The Steelers moved into the AFC Central, the forerunner of today's AFC North. And, they began playing in Three Rivers.

With a fair amount of Steeler Nation running a little short of perspective in a year when we will quite possibly miss the playoffs by just one game, I'm going to look at the last 40 years (the modern Steeler Era) in five year increments. At the end, I'll provide a bit of an overview of the past 40 years for Steeler Nation. And hopefully show that there's no reason to get worked up about 2009. Things aren't bad.

I was only 3 years old in 1970, so my earliest Steeler memories begin during this block.

Tag Line - The Steelers, after decades of futility, became an NFL power.

42-27-1 (.600 pct)

Close Losses %: 37% (10 of 27)

Winning Seasons: 3/5

Double Digit Win Seasons: 3/5

Playoffs: 3 seasons/3-2 record

Championship games: 2 (1-1)

Super Bowls: 1-0

The Steelers improved on their win total in 1970 and again in 1971, showing progress under Chuck Noll. Then, after only two playoff appearances in team history, three straight trips to the postseason, two AFC championship games and one Super Bowl win. Delirium for a long-suffering fan base that would shortly be known as Steeler Nation.

I define close losses as those by 7 points or less. An offensive play here, a key stop there, and a loss might have been a win. Even if it was a 'bad' game, I'm declaring it a competitive one, based on final score. The Steelers not only had a pretty good winning percentage for the block (about the equivalent of a 10-6 season today), they almost won over a third of their losses, including the 1972 AFC Championship Game.

KEY MOMENT - Many things happened that helped turn the franchise around in this block, but the breakthrough came in the 1974 AFC Championship game. Pittsburgh trailed rival Oakland (who had knocked them out of the playoffs the prior year) 10-3 at the start of the fourth quarter. The Steelers outscored the Raiders 21-3 in the fourth and secured the first of SEVEN Super Bowl appearances. Miami's reign would be over with the Steelers' emergence (the Dolphins had appeared in three consecutive Super Bowls, winning the prior two).

SUMMARY - 1970-1974 was a watershed block for the Steelers franchise. Chuck Noll transformed perennial losers into Super Bowl champions, stocking the roster with pro bowlers and future hall of famers. And this block featured perhaps the most famous play in football history, The Immaculate Reception.

TRIVIA - The Dolphins barely made it to the Super Bowl in their undefeated 1972 season. The Browns led Miami 14-13 in the fourth quarter of the playoffs. The Dolphins had an 80 yard drive to win 20-14. We almost had a Browns - Steelers AFC title game! And in the conference finale, the Dolphins converted a fake punt on a TD drive in what turned out to be a 4 point victory.

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