The Steelers 1987


Looking forward to the next game against the Colts, Noll suggested that Dwight Stone could start at halfback against the Bengals if Walter Abercrombie was not up to it. Stone had made an impression in the win against the Colts and his prospects of becoming a fixture with the Steelers had increased.

The deadline for trading that was due to come into effect on the Tuesday, was extended for a week. That extension increased the possibility of the Steelers signing their number one draft pick of that year, Rod Woodson.


One player not pleased to have been back at practice Tuesday was Bubby Brister. He discovered he had been demoted to the third string quarterback behind Malone and Steve Bono.  He wasn’t told. The reality became obvious when the first snaps went to Malone before Steve Bono took over.

Mr. Brister was an unhappy man. After forgoing four weeks wages while on strike, he now discovered he had slipped behind a strike breaker. Brister told reporters, “I know I’m third team and I feel like crap because I hadn’t done anything to lose my job.

Bubby Brister media photoThe first thing I heard about it was this morning. I was here all day yesterday and they didn’t talk to me about it.

If they ain’t got the gumption to talk to me about it, I ain’t got the gumption to talk to them about it.”

Neither coach Noll or his offensive co-ordinator Tom Moore had talked to Brister about giving the backup quarterback spot to Bono.  It made sense in the respect that he was match fit and had not disgraced himself during his three games.

An unhappy Brister added, “I got here on hard work. I ain’t a crybaby. I beat Bono out before. It shouldn’t take long to beat him out again.” The comedy of it all was Bono and Brister were sharing a locker because of the post-strike increase to the roster of 72.

Brister felt he had been made a scapegoat, observing that no one else had lost their job. Looking ahead, Brister said, “I’m going to stay with my team. They are always talking about team unity and things around here like that. ”I don’t want to play anywhere else and I don’t want to be traded.”


With the strike now over, coach Noll said on the Wednesday before the Steelers next game (home to the Bengals), that the biggest challenge he faced in preparing the team would be getting his returning strikers used to contact again.

After the first full scale, full-squad workout with his expanded squad, Noll said, “Mentally, I think our guys are into it. Sure, they are all a little rusty and the timing is a little off, but the biggest problem is the contact aspect of it.

It’s not a question of them not being in good shape. When you talk about shape, people immediately think about a fat man who can’t run or move, but that isn’t our problem.

The problem is they have to get used to contact again and the body doesn’t like contact. So, when you start making a lot of physical contact again, you get very sore, and it prevents you from reaching peak performance. You want that peak performance on Sundays, and the task will be to get it.”

To accommodate the increased number to a roster of 72, practice was extended for almost thirty minutes to give each player enough work. “We ran them in and out and we’re spreading the work around. We’ll keep doing that until we see how everybody reacts and what works out best for us,” Noll commented.

When the Bengals played the Steelers in 1986 in TRS, they were handed a 30-9 drubbing. Reflecting on that defeat, Cincinnati’s coach Sam Wyche commented, “Last year in Pittsburgh, they just dominated us and controlled our defensive line and ran the ball very well. Their running game was exceptional.

They had their trapping game working and they just ran the ball up the middle all day.”  Earnest Jackson ran for 132 yards on 21 carries complemented by Walter Abercrombie running out 109 yards on 22 carries.

Philosophically Wyche added, “I doubt that the layoff will hurt their running game. Their traps are always effective.”

Rod Woodson media photoOn Thursday October 22nd when Pittsburgh came to a halt with the closure of Fort Pitt tunnel due to a fire, holdout Rod Woodson (pictured right) paid a flying visit to the city.  The fire was caused by a runaway tractor-trailer of bananas that affected the ventilation system of the tunnel, but the Steelers made sure there were no banana skins for Woodson to slip on when they gave him the royal treatment.

The 89th day of his holdout saw Woodson with his mother and his attorney Eugene Parker arrive in Pittsburgh at 11:30 to be shown around Pittsburgh by Dan Rooney. The entertaining included lunch at the USX tower, meeting Mayor Caliguiri, watching a Steelers practice with the climax a trip to Mount Washington before the visitors returned home to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Woodson agreed to the visit out of respect for the Rooneys. Woodson’s agent Marvin Demoff told reporters, “This meeting occurred because of Dan Rooney’s request. Pure and simple. He and the Steelers have done too much for the game for an athlete to say no to something like that. I don’t think anything more should be made of it than that.”

Demoff added that Woodson had decided in August to pursue track and field with the dream of competing in next year’s Olympics instead of playing football this year, but if Woodson told him that he has changed his mind, he would reopen negotiations with the Steelers.

“He can come back from there and say, ‘Gosh, the thing I want most in the world is to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Or, he can come back saying I really am not interested in playing football, no matter what the situation.

To play in 8 or 10 football games (in 1987) and give up a chance to compete in the Olympics may not be very compelling to him, irrespective of dollars. He’s going to be able to play football for an awful lot of years after track is over, one way or the other.”

The Steelers reported they did not want the visit to raise any false hopes, but several critical challenges had been addressed or brought out during the visit.

The Steelers had offered Woodson a four year contract worth $1.9 million, but Woodson was looking for $150,000 to $300, 000 more depending on whether it was Woodson or his agent talking.

Although no negotiations took place during the visit, Dan Rooney was hopeful they would resume soon. With the trading deadline rapidly approaching, Rooney was emphatic that they would not trade him.

Because of the cancellation of the week 4 game and the enforced replacement games broadcast on television to smaller audiences, the NFL reportedly repaid $6 million each to major stations ABC, CBS and NBC.

Buddy Brister Sporting News photoAfter a couple of days of scrutiny, Friday became decision day to decide the starters for Sunday’s game.

In a shootout between the striking and his replacement kicker, Harry Newsome won back his starting job from John Bruno who would face being released by the Steelers the following week when NFL rosters had to be pruned to 55.

Bruno told reporters that he had been happy to have experienced his time on the field suggesting that the best way to improve your ability was to watch other punters. The $4,000 coming his way for the additional week with the team took some of the pain away from losing his job.

Friday was also the day Bubby Brister (pictured left) returned to being Mark Malone’s backup. Coach Noll observed, “He wasn’t dropped to third. There was no first, second or third anyplace this week. We were giving people work and making a decision later. I was surprised as heck when I read in the paper he had been demoted. He told you that? That’s bad information.”

Brister later added, “They said I had misinterpreted it. We had not talked. I assumed I was third because I ran the third huddle and then the things Chuck said in the papers about me losing a golden opportunity and Steve possibly moving ahead of me. I was upset.”


Earnest Jackson 1987 media guide photoThe Pittsburgh Post Gazette thought Earnest Jackson (pictured right) the best bargain of the 1986 season and the best investment the Steelers had made since Art Rooney brought the franchise.  Jackson had already rushed for 1,000 yards with San Diego and Philadelphia, and had been picked up for nothing from Philadelphia after the Eagles had waived him.

His first season with the Steelers saw Jackson gain 910 yards in thirteen games and he was the team’s only offensive player selected to the Pro Bowl. Former running back, and now a Steelers assistant coach, Dick Hoak said, “He knows how to run. He gets into the secondary where those guys end up having to arm tackle and he runs through arm tackles. He makes all his decisions going full speed ahead, going toward the other team’s goal line.”

The Steelers were 3-0 when Jackson gained more than 100 yards in a game and they were 0-2 when he didn’t.

Entering the game against Cincinnati, Jackson was the NFL's leading rusher and 38 yards ahead of his nearest rival.  Jackson had helped his statistics by crossing the picket line and playing in the replacement games.

Other teams were resentful of the strikebreakers, but in Pittsburgh, solidarity seemed to be the priority.  Talk of teammates missing a block to get a quarterback or running backs killed were scorned. Craig Wolfley said, “I think that’s a crock. We are all professionals here. Everybody had to do what they had to do. How are you going to lay down out there? You’ve got your own problems.” Wolfley said he had no problems with Jackson and would be proud to lead the blocking for him.

Coach Hoak also promised that the after-effects of the strike would not carry onto the playing field. “These guys want to win games. One way we win games is to give the football to Earnest and Walter Abercrombie.

1987 Game 6
The Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2) vs the Cincinnati Bengals

Game Day programmeThe Steelers were favoured with 2.5 points by the bookies, but looked anything like the favourites as they struggled in the first half. The Bengals struck on the first possession of the game. They took just five plays to go 76 yards, including a Larry Kinnebrew contribution of 52 yards before he finished Cincinnati’s drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.

Reliable Gary Anderson reduced the deficit with his 45-yard field goal kick, but with Boomer Esiason passing his way to a 300-yard game, the Bengals scored again in the second quarter after a 78-yard drive on seven plays. Esiason finished the drive with a 41-yard touchdown pass to Mike Martin.

Perhaps inspired by Halloween just six days away, the Pittsburgh fans took on their typical buoyant, but critical attitude towards their football team and showered Mark Malone with their boos as his first half performance lacked any fire and only three points.

With the Steelers offense not firing, the defense had to step up and put some spark into the team’s performance. In the third quarter they gave the team a lift when Keith Gary tipped an Esiason pass that Bryan Hinkle intercepted before lateraling to rookie Delton Hall who returned it 25 yards for a touchdown. Steelers 10, Bengals 14.

Esiason continued to pass his team towards victory and on a two-play drive from Cincinnati’s 48, threw first a 43-yard pass to James Brook and followed with a 9-yard touchdown completion to Stanford Jennings. Gary Dunn blocked the extra point.

Bryan Hinkle media guide photoWith the Steelers running game non-existent, Malone had no choice, but to go to the air. When the Steelers received the kickoff at the beginning of the fourth quarter, they were 10 points behind, but Malone was now beginning to find his both his feet and his receivers. On a drive of 13 plays, he guided his team 64 yards and three points from Anderson’s 21-yard field goal. Steelers 13, Bengals 20.

Malone continued to execute effectively on the Steelers next drive and with three completions to John Stallworth for 33 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown reception that tied the game at 20-20, Malone was snatching an unexpected victory from the jaws of defeat. 

The defense set up the final scoring opportunity when Hinkle (pictured right) made another contribution with his interception. His attempted lateral became a fumble that another rookie, Thomas Everett, recovered on the Bengals’ 43. A holding penalty increased the drive yardage, but another Malone completion to John Stallworth of 45 yards kept the boo boys at bay and kept the drive alive.

Anderson kicked a 20-yard field goal to seal the Steelers 23-20 win with the players giving Malone the game ball for his fourth quarter comeback.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 23 vs the Cincinnati Bengals 20
Three Rivers Stadium October 25th 1987; 53, 692

If the quarterback controversy had been brewing in Pittsburgh before the first post-strike game, after the game against the Bengals, the tea was thick enough and ready to pour. It was doubtful that it would quench the thirst of those fans braying for the blood of Mark Malone.

“Obviously we are not as sharp as we’d like to be… but this was a big one. This was a test of more than just how sharp you are. It’s a test of other things.” As deep as the intellectual Noll always was, he continued, “People call it intangibles.”

Although the strike had been called off, talks between management and players continued in an attempt to resolve the many outstanding issues.

The NFL officials and management representatives met in Kansas on October 27th to agree on the proposals they would put before the union when negotiations began again.

After the NFL meeting, commissioner Pete Rozelle admitted that he had been opposed to playing the replacement games during the strike, but had been convinced by the Management’s executive committee on the necessity for them to go ahead. “It’s unfortunate we had to play them,” he said. “They certainly didn’t measure up to the NFL calibre.”

Looking ahead towards the next Steelers game in Miami, rookie safety Thomas Everett was expecting the secondary to receive a thorough examination by Dolphins’ quarterback Dan Marino.

In the 1984 Championship game loss to Miami, Danny Marino threw for 421 yards – the most ever against the Steelers – and four touchdowns. The last time the teams met in the regular season was 1985. Despite interceptions from Eric Williams, Robin Cole, Dwayne Woodruff and a fumble recovery from Donnie Shell, the Steelers lost 20-24 and Marino still managed 277 yards passing.

Even without their number one draft pick, Rod Woodson, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette considered the Steelers secondary had gone from the weakest part of the team to the strongest. Lupe

Tony Dungy media guide photoLupe Sanchez, the starter at cornerback, before being moved to free safety, had lost his job to rookie Thomas Everett. The move of Sanchez to nickel back was viewed as good for the player and the team as it was the position the Steelers had hoped to have him play in. Everett will be complemented by another rookie, Delton Hall.

With Woodruff playing well and Shell not showing his age, the Post-Gazette observed the secondary had turned from patsy to nasty. Coach Noll thought the secondary was substantially stronger than the one that helped take the team to the 1984 AFC Championship game.

The Steelers defensive coordinator, Tony Dungy (pictured right), explained, “I think we’re overcoming our mistakes better. When you have guys who can make big plays, they can get in bad positions or they can make a mistake on one play and come back and get an interception on the next play.

Where if you don’t have people capable of making big plays, every mistake you make is magnified because you can’t overcome it.”

Donnie Shell added, “I think we’re getting more competitiveness back there, more hard work and more quickness. That’s the difference.”


On October 28th, Rod Woodson became the highest paid rookie in Steelers history when he finally signed for the team.  Dan Rooney was given the credit for sealing the deal although his modesty prevailed when he told reporters, “My input may be overplayed, overvalued. We did need to do some of the things we did – the meeting in Los Angeles and having Woodson come here last week.”

Rod Woodson copyright unknownRooney confirmed the Steelers had rejected a number of trade offers for Woodson (pictured right) during his holdout. “Some teams called us and asked to trade him. We gave them a flat no and moved on. Rod Woodson never said he wanted to be traded.”

With the Steelers’ number one draft pick joining a secondary that was becoming a potent part of the defense, the question of where to slot Woodson into it was a pleasant dilemma defensive coordinator Tony Dungy had to face.

Woodson was willing to fit in wherever his coaches wanted him to play.  “I would play anywhere. I played two and a half years at free safety and the last one and a half at cornerback and I’m just getting comfortable at it,” Woodson said.

Dungy observed, “Free safety is probably the easiest spot to learn. He played free safety at Purdue and it gave him a chance to make a lot of plays. But long range, we think Thomas Everett is going to be a pretty good free safety. We wouldn’t want to put those two guys at the same position, so I’m still thinking about it. You have to think long range vs short range. Long range, he’s a corner.”

Dungy added he wanted to watch Woodson at both positions for a few days before making a decision.
During his first practice with his team, Woodson worked at cornerback and free safety with a few punt returns thrown in for good measure.  On his first play, Woodson was beaten on a short out pattern by wide receiver Lyneal Alston.

His potential shone through though when he dived to knock away a pass intended for Merril Hoge and then leapt into the air to bat away a deep pass intended for Charles Lockett.

“He’s got tough athletic ability,” said Dungy. “He doesn’t look bad. He has to get used to moving and cutting again and get used to the popping, but he’ll be all right.”

Coach Noll confirmed Woodson would not be activated for the forthcoming game in Miami and that the Steelers would request a two-week roster exemption for their new player. Noll remarked, “We have a 45-man limit. We’re not going to let somebody go in order to let somebody in that you don’t know anything about.


Delton Hall 1988 media guide photoThe big surprise regarding the strength of the Steelers secondary was how quick the rookies had contributed. The Pittsburgh Press observed that on July 20th, the Steelers three rookie defensive backs – Rod Woodson, Delton Hall (pictured right) and Thomas Everett – were all unsigned.

Chuck Noll commenting on players who missed camp and went on to become starters in the same season said, “I have never seen a defensive back who could do that. There’s so much technique, so many assignments involved. It doesn’t matter how talented he is if he’s not in camp.”

The Steelers number two draft choice Hall, didn’t sign until August 6 and three weeks later Dungy commented, “Hall doesn’t know what he’s doing.” A week later, Hall was starting and starring.

Thomas Everett, the number four draft pick, missed four weeks of practice and all the preseason games, but played part-time during the first two regular season games and will start in his third pro game – against the Dolphins.

As the Steelers prepared to travel to Miami, Earnest Jackson still led the NFL in rushing with 422 yards. Miami’s coach Don Shula was seeking his 250th regular season victory. The Steelers have never beaten the Dolphins in Miami while their quarterback Dan Marino topped the league with a rating of 106.9, completing 62.9 percent of his passes for 722 yards and 10 touchdowns with two interceptions. Mark Malone was going into the game with a rating of 40.3.

1987 Game 7
The Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2) at the Miami Dolphins (2-4)

At the beginning of the game, the Steelers dominant defense contributed to early the lead the team took. In the first quarter, David Little recovered a Hampton fumble on the Dolphins’ 38 and Mark Malone finished a 9 play drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Charles Lockett to put Pittsburgh 7-0 ahead.

The Steelers defense continued to dictate as Donnie Shell returned an interception 50 yards to increase the Steelers lead to 14-0. Dan Marion reduced Miami’s deficit with a 2-yard touchdown toss to tight end Bruce Hardy.

Mike Merriweather made his contribution to Pittsburgh’s tough defense just before halftime when he knocked away a fourth down Marino pass. Malone matched his defense’s vigour by leading his offense on a 10-play drive that finished with Frank Pollard’s 1-yard touchdown run to give the Steelers a 21-7 advantage at the half.

Whatever Don Shula said to the Dolphins in the locker-room during the break appeared to have the desired effect when the Dolphins returned to the field or did the Steelers defense think they had already won the game?

On the first drive of the second half, Marino led his team 71 yards on six plays including a fumble recovery by the quarterback before he finished with a touchdown completion to Mark Clayton.

The Steelers defense regained some momentum when Robin Cole’s interception set up a 43-yard Gary Anderson field goal that gave the Steelers a 24-14 lead with 4:19 left in the third quarter.

As he did on many occasions, Dan Marino then took control of the game. A 50-yard touchdown pass to Mark Duper reduced his team’s deficit to 21-24 before the game went into the final stanza.

With the Steelers offense now spluttering, early in the fourth quarter Marino took advantage of a deflected punt that put the ball on Miami’s 46. Marino took just two passes and 34 seconds to give the Dolphins the lead.

Dwanye Woodruff 1987 media guide photoAfter a 13-yard toss to Troy Stradford, a 41-yard touchdown pass to Clayton who then burned veteran Dwayne Woodruff (pictured right), showed how effective the quarterback in earning the title of the comeback kid.

Miami then benefited from a Malone interception that started a drive from their 38. Marino completed passes of 22 and 23 yards before the six play drive finished with Stradford’s 5-yard touchdown run that ensured the victory for the Dolphins.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 24 at the Miami Dolphins 35
Orange Bowl November 1st 1987; 52,578

Marino attributed his second half comeback to patience. The Steelers zone defense had been successful in the first half, but with help from their running game, Marino was able to make the big plays in the second. “We just had to find the holes,” said Clayton before adding, “and we picked them out well.”

Marino completed 25 of his 31 passes for 332 yards, with 2 interceptions while Malone only completed 18 of 36, with 1 interceptions for 2o5 yards.


After seeing his team pluck defeat from the jaws of victory, coach Noll accused his running backs of playing, “One Hand Touch Football.” He expanded by saying, “Occasionally, you have to break a tackle. They were touching us with one hand and we’d fall down. That is one-hand touch. Occasionally you have to get more than your blockers get you.”

A hurt Frank Pollard commented, “I guess they’ll be looking for new running backs here soon. You can’t single out the running backs. That was a team loss. Our special teams weren’t up to par. It was a combination of a lot of things. Miami was going harder than we were.”

Pollard suggested to the reporters that they ask coach Noll why the Dolphins might be more motivated than the Steelers. Walter Abercrombie suggested, "You draw your own conclusions. I was the one out there playing, and I was giving 100 percent out there. For someone to criticise my effort, that hurts."

Tony Dungy summed up the Steelers pain with his observation, “If the game had ended at halftime, everybody would have said ‘great’”


The previous weekend’s defeat in Miami meant the Steelers had to consider some adjustments for their next game in Kansas. A principal change contemplated by coach Noll was at quarterback. Noll gave credence to the usual quarterback controversy in Pittsburgh with his criticism of Mark Malone’s performance against the Dolphins.

“Well, his performance was not really good,” commented Noll. “He bounced some balls in. He threw behind some receivers. Those are things that have to be corrected.”

Immediately after the Miami loss, Noll highlighted some of the team’s poor performance with their ground game, suggesting the running backs went down too easily and were too quick to run out of bounds.

Walter Abercrombie media guide photoWalter Abercrombie (pictured right) responded by hinting the passing game might be the real reason for the defeat. “I don’t think you look at the offense and say the running game is the problem. You make your own conclusions,” Abercrombie said.

Bubby Brister started two consecutive games at quarterback in 1986 when Malone damaged his right thumb. The Steelers lost the first game in Cincinnati on a Bengals fake punt in the fourth quarter that was taken 61 yards for a touchdown.

When Noll retained Brister for the next game in Pittsburgh against New England, Brister became confused in the huddle, called the wrong plays with the wrong formations while his team scored no points and went on to suffer a 0-34 loss.

Noll felt that Brister had now made sufficient improvement to be given another chance – when the time was right. “He’s much better now then when he played last year,” remarked Noll.

In addition to hinting at the quarterback change, at his Monday press conference, Noll said he would try to work Rod Woodson into his first game against the Chiefs, but wasn’t sure where he would play him.

On Tuesday, the Steelers reduced their squad to the mandatory 50, waiving five players – running back Chuck Sanders, defensive back Chris Sheffield, center Paul Oswald, tackle Jim Boyle and wide receiver Lyneal Alston.

Sheffield and Oswald were union members who went out on strike. “It was tough to walk out, it was even tougher to come in and it’s tough to walk out now,” observed Sheffield as he left the Steelers office carrying an enlarged photo of himself in a Steelers uniform tucked under his arm.

Oswald and Sheffield took the total number of strikers who had lost their jobs to five joining Kelvin Middleton, Bruce Jones and James Hansen. “No one feels as bad about that as I do,” said players’ representative Tunch Ilkin.

However, Ilkin said Dan Rooney had compensated some of the strikers who were subsequently release, following up a pre-strike guarantee no repercussions would be made against Steelers who went on strike.

Of the Steelers 50 player roster, nine are players who joined the replacement team as free agents. Guard Brian Blankenship, quarterback Steve Bono, running back Rodney Carter, defensive lineman Jackie Cline, wide receiver Joey Clinkscales, cornerbacks Cornell Gowdy and Larry Griffin, tight end Danzell Lee and linebacker Tyronne Stowe.

Carter, who spent 1986 on injured reserve, said, “It was a tough situation everyone was going through. It’s always a tough situation when you put people in an environment like that where you have people who made the team and were let go.”


Rod Woodson media photoAfter Wednesday’s practice, holdout Rod Woodson was a little sore. “Real sore,” it was reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Neck, arm and back. Yesterday was my first day of hitting anything,” Woodson commented.

Woodson worked at free safety and right cornerback with coach Noll confirming that the newcomer could play some at free safety but the nickel back position is how he would be used initially.

Woodson said he would be the middle man when the Steelers drop three back in a deep zone and will line up near scrimmage and guard the slot man when only two safeties drop back deep.

Woodson was confident he knew the coverages well enough to pick up any changes when they were made on the run. “If I don’t, I’ll just bail out and go deep. It’s the only thing you can do – don’t get beat deep,” he observed.

After the next day’s practice, coach Noll remarked to reporters, “We’re going like we normally go. There’s no decision to be made.” Noll’s remarks indicated there would be no change at quarterback for game 8 in Kansas.

The only change suggested for the game was the introduction of Woodson. The rookie’s duties would be kick and punt returns and replacing Lupe Sanchez as the nickel back when the team put five defensive backs on the field.

Woodson was buoyant regarding his debut. Putting his Olympic ambitions behind him, Woodson said, “It’s encouraging to me. I want to play. That’s why I came in, why I came to play football, not to sit around and watch.

I think every athlete out here wants to play. I’m just another athlete who wants to play football and I want to get my chance. Even though it’s only been a week, I’m ready to play.”


The Pittsburgh Press jokingly noted in their November 7 edition that the Steelers had managed to break the trading deadline by continuing to trade sacks for interceptions. The Steelers were last in the NFL for sacks, but were top of interceptions with 15.

Joe Greene 1987 media guide photoDefensive line coach, Joe Greene (pictured left), considered that to be good. “Turnovers are always better than sacks. Getting the football is the name of the game on defense.”  The game plan was to concentrate on dropping back in coverage and stealing passes.

“It’s a product of our design,” confirmed coach Noll. “When you normally rush three guys, you’re not going to get a lot of sacks. What we’ve got are more interceptions and turnovers. You drop a lot of people back; you can expect to get turnovers. Sometimes those are better than sacks.”

Almost always, they are better. There is much greater correlation between turnovers and victories than sacks and victories.

“The goal is to get the ball, not necessarily get sacks or stop the run or the pass,” defensive coordinator Tony Dungy said. “Turnovers are positive. Sacks are one way to get the ball back, because they can stop drives, but they’re just one indicator.”

The regular defense had scored a touchdown in each of their four games, but only had three sacks to their credit.

When questioned about the lack of a pass rush, Greene replied, “What pass rush?”

 “Last year we rushed four defensive linemen,” added Gerald Williams who was usually part of the four-man line. “Now we have such a good secondary, we’re trying to go for interceptions. We’ve been rushing three defensive linemen on passing situations. Last year, even if we rushed three, we’d bring in a linebacker. This year, we’re not bringing a backer.”

The Pittsburgh Press suggested that part of the problem was the lack of a dominant pass rusher. Defensive end Keith Willis had 12 sacks in 1986, but only one this season. Greene replaced the other defensive end Edmund Nelson with Keith Gary for the Miami game and he was projected to continue in that position against Kansas.  Greene was hoping that Gary, who as backup the previous year had 6.5 sacks, would add the missing punch to that position.

With the Steelers heading to Kansas for their next game, the chances for a win were good. The Chiefs beat the Steelers in the final game of 1986 to go into the playoffs for the first time in fifteen years, before losing to the New York Jets in the wildcard game.

The Chiefs' momentum then fell apart and their special teams' coach, Frank Gansz, was elevated to head coach. Gansz's ascent saw the team decline and they would face the Steelers with a dismal 1-6 record.

The defense that had been a prominent feature of the Chiefs the previous season was now being taken apart while the offense had withered under a renewed quarterback controversy. Todd Blackledge, who had featured sparsely for the Chiefs during the season, would lead his team against the Steelers.

Blackledge's benching after the strike ended saw him demand a trade. It was the third time in five seasons that the starting job had been taken from him and the Chiefs’ first round draft pick in 1983 was not a happy quarterback. If Pittsburgh thought they had a challenge with their quarterbacks, Kansas were looking now at a major controversy.

Although Lyneal Alston and Jim Boyle had been cut by the Steelers earlier in the week, they were both signed to 1988 contracts.


Pittsburgh coaches and sport reporters had been talking the Steelers secondary up for weeks and the game in Kansas confirmed the validity for their enthusiasm.  While the offense failed to gain a yard on a fourth down that put the result of the game in the balance, the Steelers defense was proving to the NFL that it was a threat again.

As soon as they went on offense, the Steelers tried to self-destruct. On the Steelers first play from scrimmage with just over a minute gone in the game and at their 16, Mark Malone was tackled by Chiefs’ linebacker Jack Del Rio. Malone’s fumbled ball was scooped up by Bill Maas who carried it six yards into the end zone to put Kansas ahead. 

It was a blown assignment by Walter Abercrombie that allowed the hit on Malone and the running back’s performance suffered on the next couple of Steeler drives as he dwelt on his costly mistake.

Abercrombie fumbled the ball on the Steelers next possession when they were pressing and then gave up a motion penalty. “The tendency is to let it bother you for the next couple of series and it did,” commented Abercrombie.

Thomas Everett media guide photoThe Steel defense began to show the team the way with Thomas Everett’s (pictured left) interception in the second quarter. Pittsburgh took advantage of the turnover by driving 90 yards for a touchdown that tied the game 7-7. Malone’s 4-yard pass to Rodney Carter completed the drive.

The Steelers quarterback then became the villain. With just 32 seconds remaining in the first half, Malone’s pass, intended for John Stallworth who just happened to be in double coverage, was picked off by Deron Cherry and returned 30 yards to set up a Nick Lowery 41-yard field goal


Malone turned from being a rogue to champion during the first drive of the third quarter. Coach Noll took a rare gamble on a fourth and one on the Steelers 32. Malone continued the drive with a quarterback sneak and sealed his conversion to hero with a third down flip to Carter that resulted in a 26-touchdown and a 14-10 Steelers lead.

At the start of the fourth quarter, a punt return of 44 yards gave Kansas superb field position at their opponents 26. The Steelers defense held out, restricting the Chiefs to a 27-yard field goal to reduce their deficit to just one point.

Four minutes later, the Chiefs went ahead with a 38-yard field goal that followed another Malone interception. After the Steelers missed a 41-yard field goal, and with the Chiefs pushing to extend their lead, a hit from Thomas Everett forced a fumble that gave the ball back to Pittsburgh. This time the offense contributed to the team’s effort and Gary Anderson kicked a 44-yard field goal to edge the Steelers in front 17-16.

With such a precarious lead, the Steelers needed to keep their heads, but coach Noll took another risk on a fourth and one with his team on the Chiefs 38. Abercrombie was stopped from gaining the first down, giving the ball to Kansas.

With 1:17 left on the clock and no timeouts remaining, the Chiefs managed to get to the Steelers’ 40 with just 25 seconds left before Mike Merriweather nailed Bill Kenney for a 9-yard loss. Rod Woodson tipped the final pass of the game and although it was caught, time expired before Kansas could get another play in.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 17 at the Kansas City Chiefs 16
November 8 at Arrowhead Stadium; 45,249

Part IV of the Steelers 1987 strike season>>>

History Index>>>