ShareThis Page

Robinson: 1968 Steelers team showed depths of futility

| Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, 10:40 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Titans' Zach Brown sacks Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Sometimes a football team gets what it deserves.

The 2013 Steelers are certainly an argument for that, as evidenced by their zero turnovers forced, a dormant-for-a-month running game and a nagging habit of falling behind by double digits every week.

But this unexpectedly bad season isn't common for a franchise that has had only one losing record in 13 years, and despite not winning a game of any kind since December, still has a very confident Ryan Clark predicting a playoffs run.

Flash back 45 years ago to the last time the Steelers started a season 0-4, and real futility reveals itself. Those '68 Steelers lost their first three games by an average of 28 points — and then got worse during what became a laughably bad 2-11-1 season.

Just like these Steelers, that '68 team didn't see it coming.

Following a season-opening 34-20 loss to the Giants at Pitt Stadium, a Pittsburgh newspaper headline proclaimed hopefully: “Defensive Line Almost the Equal of Rams.” The unit of Chuck Hinton, Ken Kortas, Lloyd Voss and Ben McGee was proclaimed as the NFL's new Fearsome Foursome.

The Steel Curtain, it wasn't.

The Rams' line of Hall of Famers Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones, near-miss Hall of Famer Roger Brown and Lamar Lundy — none too scared — punished the Steelers in a 45-10 win.

The Steelers, 0-3 after losing 41-7 to the Colts and backup quarterback Earl Morrall, planned to set the tone for their turnaround by all-out blitzing Browns quarterback Bill Nelsen in a Saturday night road. For some reason they chose not to during the 31-24 loss, and tackle Frank Parker explained afterward, “We chickened out.”

Coach Bill Austin, never a fan favorite, probably lost his job during the next two weeks.

First, Austin went for a tie rather than the win during a 16-13 loss to the Redskins. Then, on a day Dick Hoak was pounding the Saints for 166 yards, Austin mystifyingly pulled him so Earl Gros could be stopped on three successive short-yardage runs to seal a 16-12 loss.

The highlight — or lowlight — came in what was billed as “The Futility Bowl” and “The Game of the Year” as the 0-6 Steelers met the 0-6 Eagles. Fans openly rooted for a loss so the Steelers would remain in the running for likely No. 1 draft pick O.J. Simpson.

”We certainly will (draft him) — and we'll sign him,” youngish Steelers exec Dan Rooney said in advance of the game.

One of the most remarkable coaching decisions of all time cost them Simpson — and, for a change, it wasn't by Austin.

With his team backed up to its own 10 as time wound down, Eagles coach Joe Kuharich amazingly went for it on fourth-and-1. His explanation? His punter was so bad, he probably couldn't kick the ball out of field goal range.

The Steelers made the stop, Booth Lusteg converted a 15-yard field goal — one of only eight he made in 20 attempts — and Pittsburgh won 6-3.

“They'll be talking about this game for years,” Kuharich said, reflecting how bad the two teams were.

Forty-five years later, he's right. What these Steelers hope is they're not being talked about similarly in 2058.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.