Thursday, January 8, 2009

Playoff Memories From Days of Yore

2009 "Blackened Gold" award winning story

Looking out my office window here at the "Black and Gold" headquarters, the weather is cold, snowy and there should be more of the same for the next few days. Not a good environment to play in if you're a west coast-based football team that's used to playing in the 70s.

I really don't know how much of an advantage bad weather can be for the Steelers during the playoffs, but I do know that I was in two of the worst weather circumstances ever at Three Rivers Stadium and it was no picnic being there, believe me.

My first experience with super-cold playoff weather came in 1974 when the Steelers beat the Oakland Raiders while en route to their eventual first SuperBowl championship. This was the famous game where the Raiders accused the Steelers ground crew of "icing down" their side of the field. Hatred between these two teams was at a fever pitch since the Raiders had lost the year before on Franco's "Immaculate Reception", a play they have bitterly resented for years now, and the only thing I can remember about the game, other than being colder than I had ever been, was wide receiver Frank Lewis, a speed burner, catching a dart from Bradshaw and getting open with a cut on a very slippery surface that led to a long touchdown. I also remember how distraught I was when I ran out of hot chocolate in my thermos!

ABOVE: All-time great, Terry Bradshaw, never let snow get the best of him.

Another memorable time came in 1980 when the Steelers defeated the Oilers in the famous "ice bowl" game. This game had the temperature around 32 at kickoff with a steady drizzle. But by the time it got to near the end of the first half, the rain was turning to sleet, with the field conditions rapidly deteriorated as did the Oilers' ball handling skills. The Steelers wound up cashing in a few opportunities before the half to win going away.

I covered that game from the baseball (endzone) press box in an earlier incarnation of "Black and Gold" (the paper version) and in that game I can remember dreading going back out into the elements after being inside the warm press lounge at halftime. To compound matters, this was one of those games where the shooting was basically over in the first half. The second half was simply a matter of the Steelers defense applying a stranglehold on Houston's offense. But this was an AFC Championship. It's memorable to think back to being there, but believe me, conditions that day were miserable. The locker room was, as would be expected, a joyful place to be. Bradshaw, Franco, Dwight White, Joe Greene, Lynn Swann all held court at their stalls. I remember how happy Brad was in particular. This team was at its' zenith as the greatest team ever and in a couple weeks they would win their fourth SuperBowl against the Rams. Things would then begin to go downhill in the 80s as one by one, the ravages of time would take their toll, one player at a time.

I did a little research for you just to give you an idea as to what our chances look like this weekend...bad weather or not. First of all, in their entire history, the Steelers have been involved in a grand total of 46 post season games. their overall record is 27-19 (.586%).

Here's how things break out on a round by round basis: Wild Card games 3-4 (.428%)

Divisional Playoff games 13-7 (.650%)

AFC Championship games 6-7 (.461%)

SuperBowl games 5-1 (.833%)

Statistically, the Steelers have already missed out on their worst part of the playoffs, the Wildcard round. Odds are 2-1 that they will again win in the Divisional Playoff round if you subscribe to using the past as a barometer for future events. What doesn't look good are our chances in the AFC Championship round. At best, we're less than a tossup to win that game. But if we can clear that hurdle, then break out the silver polish, because we'll be needing it for that sixth trophy as the Steelers own a superb .833% winning record in "The Biggest Game".