Pittsburgh Steelers fans trying to figure out just what went wrong against Dallas and Cincinnati might take comfort in a statistical anomaly involving their team. It turns out that the Steelers’ fates last fell flat for an extended period from 1998 to 2000. After missing the playoffs in ’00, the Steelers made the playoffs the next two years. Followed by ’03, when they missed the playoffs. The Steelers made the playoffs the next two years, indeed winning a Super Bowl. Then they missed the playoffs in ’06. Then made the playoffs the next two years. To miss the mark again in’09. As they have now missed in ’12, following two more intervening playoff years.
For Steeler fans, it’s our own little Mayan prophecy of doom.
The 2000 Steelers missed the playoffs for the third straight season, but unlike the ’98 and ’99 campaigns, 2000 saw the Steelers finish with a winning season. The year represented the change in Steeler fortunes perfectly, as the Steelers dropped their first three games only to finish winning four of the their last five. After a draft that produced Casey Hampton in Round One, the table was set for a team better known for shedding good players than acquiring them.
The ’01 and ’02 Steelers would go to the playoffs twice, winning the division both years while amassing a 23-8-1 record. The ’01 team would lose the AFC Championship Game to New England.
The 2003 Steelers were the only team in this group to lose 10 games, winding up 6-10 and well out of playoff contention. While defeat has many fathers, 2003 will simply be remembered as the year the Steelers decided to ride Tommy Maddox to glory.
The next period, 2004-2005, began Day One of the ’04 draft, when the Steelers drafted one Ben Roethlisberger, and ended a few weeks into January ’06, with the Steelers beating the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
The 2006 Steelers season really began with Ben Roethlisberger’s motorcycle accident. The team was slow to get out of its tracks, finishing a meager 8-8. However, the Steelers finished winning 6 of their last 8, setting the foundation for two playoff years.
2007-2008 began a month into the new year with the announcement of Mike Tomlin as Bill Cowher’s replacement at Head Coach. ’07 was also LaMarr Woodley’s breakout rookie year, as 2004 had been Roethlisberger’s. 2008 was the year experts judged the most difficult schedule any team had received in the past 30 years, a fact that only made it that much sweeter when the team ended the period with its sixth Lombardi Trophy.
2009 season was that rare event that enters our universe every decade or two: a Bengals season. They beat the Steelers twice on route to winning the division. The Steelers finished third behind Baltimore despite beating them in the next to last game and finishing with an identical 9-7 record.
Of 2010-2011, it can fairly be judged that the ’10 squad was good enough to lose the Super Bowl; the ’11 squad lost its playoff game in a blaze of spooky, Biblically-coincident passing statistics.
Which brings us to 2012. Despite the obvious frustration, it isn’t difficult imagining this team with another Lombardi in the next couple of years, provided it has a year or two of unusually good luck health-wise, balancing out all the bad.
We could yet get 32 straight games and two off-seasons without injury from No. 7, No. 24, No. 43, and No. 92. The development of Keenan Lewis and Will Allen into key contributors to the No.1 pass defense in the league might foretell a team that can shut down even the Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings.
My personal suspicion about ’12 is that Ben Roethlisberger has been just a little bit more taken by his newborn son than by football this year. He seemed to have lost that edge where winning is necessary, not just desirable. May the stars align for Steelers in 2013.
Now if we can only figure out the Pirates.
by Todd Jackson