Robinson: Chargers proved team can rebound from 0-4 start
Former Pitt star Burt Grossman played on the only NFL team to make the playoffs after starting 0-4: the 1992 San Diego Chargers.
That team went winless in September, getting outscored by an average of 16 points, then won 11 of its final 12 games.
Grossman, a former No. 8 overall draft pick, still lives in San Diego but tunes into Steelers games when he can. Now that the Steelers (1-4) finally have won, does he see any comparisons between them and his comeback-of-a-lifetime Chargers?
“I don't think they'll come back (and make the playoffs),” Grossman said. “They don't have the weapons. They've got some pretty good players, but they don't have the good, young players we did — Junior Seau, Marion Butts, Anthony Miller, Ronnie Harmon, Leslie O'Neal.
“The NFL is different now. It's hard to win 10 or 11 in a row. It's hard enough to win one.”
Grossman, one of the best defensive players in Pitt history, had eight sacks that '92 season but was only third on the team to O'Neal (17) and 22-year-old Chris Mims (10).
The Chargers were coming off a 4-12 season under coach Dan Henning and didn't win until Week 5 under Bobby Ross, the former Georgia Tech coach. But they lost only once more, to the Kansas City Chiefs, then avenged that loss by defeating the Chiefs, 17-0, in an AFC wild-card game. Their season ended with a 31-0 divisional-round loss at Miami.
Still, the Chargers went further than the Steelers, who started 10-3 under NFL Coach of the Year Bill Cowher. The Steelers were the top seed in the AFC playoffs but were beaten badly by Buffalo, 24-3. That came a week after the Bills rallied from a 35-3 deficit to stun Houston, 41-38, in the most remarkable comeback in playoff history.
The '92 Chargers' rally was exceptional, too, yet Grossman doesn't remember a game, a play or any one factor that, as he said, “flipped it.”
“Dan Henning was a laid-back coach, and Bobby Ross was more militaristic, and after a while everyone bought into it,” Grossman said. “The AFC West was weaker then, and once we got into playing in our division, it got easier.”
The Chargers were coming off four consecutive losing seasons in which they failed to win more than six games. They rebuilt under Ross, whose coaching staff included current Broncos coach John Fox, George O'Leary, Bill Arnsparger and Ralph Friedgen.
“You'd win two in a row back then, and everybody would get excited,” Grossman said. “It wasn't like Pittsburgh; there wasn't that legacy. (In '92) it became electric, contagious.”
New starting quarterback Stan Humphries directed the comeback. Two seasons later, he completed only 11 passes in the AFC championship game against the Blitzburgh defense, but two went for touchdowns in a stunning 17-13 Chargers upset.
The bad start by these Steelers, Grossman believes, is the result of their own success.
“All teams that are so talented, at some point that talent gets old,” he said. “The Steelers are getting old.”