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Plenty of classic home games for Steelers

Jerry DiPaola
| Sunday, Nov. 1, 2009

Identifying the best games played by the Steelers during the glory years at Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field is like finding the prettiest girl at the Miss America pageant.

There are plenty of good candidates and you can hardly go wrong with your pick. However, selecting the cream of the crop during the Steelers' lean years at Pitt Stadium and Forbes Field is a much more challenging task.

The Trib was up to the challenge and selected the five best games involving the Steelers at all four of their NFL homes since 1933.

Here are our five selections for games played at Forbes Field, Pitt Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field, as compiled by former NFL writer Jerry DiPaola:

Pitt Stadium

Nov. 16, 1958, Steelers 31, Giants 10 — Less than two months before the Giants famously lost in overtime to the Colts in the NFL Championship Game, 23-17, the Steelers dominated the Giants and stretched their winning streak to five. After the Giants took a 10-0 lead on a 1-yard run by Frank Gifford and a 42-yard field goal by Pat Summerall, Steelers quarterback Bobby Layne took over — scoring twice on 1-yard runs and throwing a 9-yard touchdown pass to Tom Tracy. Also, Gary Glick scored on a 37-yard fumble return and Tom Miner kicked a 43-yard field goal.

Nov. 18, 1962, Steelers 23, Redskins 21 — The last of Lou Michaels' three field goals led the Steelers to a dramatic come-from-behind victory during one of their finest seasons before the 1970s. The Redskins led, 21-6, after three quarters before the Steelers scored 17 points in the fourth quarter on Ed Brown's touchdown passes of 20 and 9 yards to Red Mack and Buddy Dial and Michaels' 24-yard field goal. The victory came within a stretch of six victories in seven games for the Steelers, who ended up 9-5 before losing to the Lions, 17-10, in the Playoff Bowl.

Nov. 10, 1963, Steelers 9, Browns 7 — One of the best Steelers teams ever to play at Pitt Stadium trailed the Browns, 7-0, at halftime. The turning point occurred in the third period when linebacker Bob Schmitz tackled future Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown in the end zone for a safety and the Steelers' first points. The Steelers won the game on Ed Brown's 9-yard touchdown pass to Gary Ballman in the fourth quarter. John Henry Johnson outgained Brown in the game, 131 yards to 99. The game started a streak of five consecutive games without a loss, although the Steelers (7-4-3) had two ties in that span.

Oct. 27, 1968, Steelers 6, Eagles 3 — The last Steelers team before Chuck Noll arrived played in the infamous O.J. Simpson Bowl, so named because the loser looked like it would get the 1969 first-round draft choice and the chance to pick the coveted running back from USC. Eagles coach Joe Kuharich didn't like the implication, but he didn't mind the risk involved in going for it on fourth down from his 10-yard line, instead of punting, with about a minute to go and the score tied, 3-3. After the Steelers held, Booth Lusteg's field goal won it, but neither the Eagles nor Steelers ended up with the top choice. The Bills took Simpson No. 1 and the Falcons and Eagles chose tackle George Kunz and running back LeRoy Keyes while the Steelers held their breath and, finally, took Joe Greene.

Sept. 21, 1969, Steelers 16, Lions 13 — The first season of the Chuck Noll era started well in front of 51,360 fans with a 16-13 opening-day victory. Running back Warren Bankston's 6-yard touchdown run with 2:57 left in the game decided the outcome, but the team's only other offensive outburst were three field goals by Gene Mingo. The victory offered no momentum for the Steelers, who lost each of their remaining 13 games and suffered their last losing season at home until 1999. The last Steelers game at Pitt Stadium was a 21-17 loss to the Giants and only 21,067 were there to see it. The Steelers didn't win again until Oct. 11, 1970, when they beat the Bills at Three Rivers Stadium, 23-10.

Three Rivers Stadium

Dec. 23, 1972, Steelers 13, Raiders 7 (divisional playoff) — The most famous game in NFL history also was the Steelers' first venture into the postseason since 1947 (second overall). The Steelers won in the game's final 22 seconds when rookie running back Franco Harris caught a deflected pass from Terry Bradshaw near his shoetops and turned it into a 60-yard, game-deciding touchdown that became known as the "Immaculate Reception."

Nov. 25, 1979, Steelers 33, Browns 30 (overtime) — Ultimately, the game was decided by the smallest player on the field, kicker Matt Bahr. Prior to that, the defense came up big with seven sacks of Browns quarterback Brian Sipe, five by L.C. Greenwood, who said he could barely stand after the four-hour game. Bahr kicked a 21-yard field goal with 24 seconds left to force overtime and a 37-yard game-winner with nine seconds left in the extra period for the Steelers' only lead. The Steelers trailed, 20-6, and 30-20, and Terry Bradshaw threw for 364 yards and Franco Harris ran for 151 on 32 carries and had a career-high nine catches.

Jan. 6, 1980, Steelers 27, Oilers 13 (AFC Championship) — This game might have been the final catalyst for replay review. The Oilers trailed, 17-10, late in the third quarter when Mike Renfro caught a pass from Dan Pastorini near the back of the end zone. Without the benefit of the multiple camera angles available today, officials ruled Renfro did not have control of the ball before going out of bounds, a decision argued with great passion by Houston coach Bum Phillips. The Oilers settled for a field goal, and the Steelers, who held NFL rushing champion Earl Campbell to 15 yards on 17 carries for the game, dominated from that point.

Jan. 15, 1995, Chargers 17, Steelers 13 (AFC Championship) — Coach Bill Cowher led the Steelers to the cusp of the Super Bowl in only his third season and suffered one of the most bitter defeats in franchise history. The heavily favored Steelers outgained San Diego, 415-226, in yardage, but the Chargers built their final margin on 43-yard touchdown passes from Stan Humphries to Alfred Pupunu and Tony Martin. The Steelers were 3 yards from the winning score, but in the last seconds, Dennis Gibson knocked away Neil O'Donnell's pass to Barry Foster in the end zone.

Jan. 14, 1996, Steelers 20, Colts 16 (AFC Championship) — The Steelers rallied in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Bam Morris, set up by clutch completions from Neil O'Donnell to Andre Hastings and Ernie Mills. The Colts nearly won the game on a desperation heave by quarterback Jim Harbaugh, but wide receiver Aaron Bailey couldn't handle the ball in a crowd of Steelers defenders in the end zone. Rookie Kordell Stewart caught a controversial touchdown pass in the second quarter after he had stepped over the end line.

Forbes Field

Sept. 20, 1933, New York Giants 23, Pirates 2 — The first game played in Steelers history was watched by 13,483 paid customers on a Wednesday night because of the blue laws that dated from the time of George Washington. Founder Art Rooney Sr. had his players wear blacked-striped, gold jerseys, adorned with the crest of the city of Pittsburgh. He was so thoroughly disappointed in his players' efforts that he later wrote: "The fans didn't get their money's worth."

Sept. 27, 1933, Pirates 14, Chicago Cardinals 13 — The team's first victory was played in the mud after a long, soaking rain. Butch Kottler's 99-yard interception return was the franchise's first touchdown. The game was decided when 36-year-old Christian "Mose" Kelsch, the oldest player in the league and four years older than Art Rooney, kicked an extra point, one of only two he had all season.

Nov. 22, 1942, Steelers 19, Chicago Cardinals 3 — Renamed the Steelers to reflect the industry that was a big part of the city's heritage, the team clinched its first winning season behind rookie first-round draft choice and future Hall of Famer Bill Dudley. The Steelers finished 7-4 and Dudley led the NFL in rushing with a team record (696 yards) that stood for the remainder of the decade. Dudley didn't score against the Cardinals, however, with Armand Niccolai kicking two field goals and Dick Riffle and George Gonda running for touchdowns.

Dec. 21, 1947, Eagles 21, Steelers 0 (Eastern Conference playoff) — Steelers players went on strike before the game, asking to be paid for the extra week of practice. A day later, they returned after it became clear Art Rooney had no intention of bowing to his players' demands. Worse, tailback Johnny Clement and his backup, Gonzales Morales, were injured and couldn't participate in the game that was played in front of a full house at Forbes Field. Clements, who had flown several combat missions in World War II, was the team's best player with more than 1,000 passing yards and 11 touchdowns while operating the single wing.

November 30, 1952, Steelers 63, Giants 7 — On a snowy afternoon, the Steelers entered the game with a 3-6 record, but scored nine touchdowns and 63 points, both team records that stand today. Jim Finks threw four touchdown passes, two to Dick Hensley. Lynn Chandnois, getting a running start after standing on the pitcher's mound, scored on a 91-yard kickoff return. The Giants lost three quarterbacks to injuries and defensive back and punter Tom Landy had to perform mopup duty. Only 15,140 spectators showed up, but after the game, they ran onto the field and began to tear the down the goalposts.

Heinz Field

Oct. 7, 2001, Steelers 16, Bengals 7 — The first official game was scheduled for Sept. 16 against the Browns, but was postponed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Kicker Kris Brown scored the first NFL points, quarterback Kordell Stewart recorded the first touchdown in the new stadium, and the JumboTron showed President George W. Bush ordering retaliatory strikes on Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Jan. 27, 2002, Patriots 24, Steelers 17 (AFC Championship) — The Patriots won without quarterback Tom Brady, who was injured in the second quarter and replaced by Drew Bledsoe. The game turned on two Steelers special-teams mistakes (a 55-yard punt return by Troy Brown and a blocked field goal, picked up by Brown and lateraled to Antwan Harris for a touchdown and a 21-3 Patriots lead).

Jan. 5, 2003, Steelers 36, Browns 33 (wild-card playoff) — The Steelers trailed by 17 points late in the third quarter until Tommy Maddox, who ended up with a team postseason record 367 yards passing, threw touchdown passes to Plaxico Burress, Jerame Tuman and Hines Ward, and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala scored the game-winner on a 3-yard run with 54 seconds left. Linebacker Kendrell Bell played most of the game on a badly sprained ankle and had to be helped off the field.

Oct. 31, 2004 & Nov. 7, 2004, Steelers 34, Patriots 20 and Steelers 27, Eagles 3 — The Steelers became the only team in NFL history to beat undefeated teams with at least six victories on consecutive weeks. The Patriots came into the game with a record 21-game winning streak, but the Steelers opened a 24-3 lead in the second quarter and dominated the defending Super Bowl champions by holding the ball for 43 minutes. Against the Eagles, the story was Jerome Bettis, who before the season was forced to take a $2.6 million pay cut just to remain in Pittsburgh. Filling in for Duce Staley (hamstring), Bettis ran for 149 yards.

Jan. 18, 2009, Steelers 23, Ravens 14 (AFC Championship) — The Steelers, who have played in more AFC title games (14) than any team, got back to .500, with their first championship-game victory at home since 1996. The defense held the Ravens to 184 totals yards and forced five turnovers and the Steelers scored on three Jeff Reed field goals and an interception return by Troy Polamalu.

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