Much has been said in the past few weeks about the direction of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021. One of the arguments I’ve heard in many places can be paraphrased as follows:
“This team has only won three playoff games in 10 years. That is not acceptable for this organization. “
The first sentence in this statement is absolutely true. The Steelers have only had three playoff wins since their appearance in the Super Bowl XLV after the 2010 season. The number of playoffs won during this period is 15th, which literally makes them a team in the middle of the road. Of course, this is not a desired result. But to believe that the Steelers are that magical organization that continually produces playoff victories is not based entirely on historical reality.
To look back on the Steelers’ playoff success, I’ll start in 1972. Discussing things before the Immaculate Reception era is just not fair. The Steelers were not known as a winning franchise and had not made the playoffs for 25 years before claiming their first win over the Oakland Raiders in an amazing way.
In eight seasons from 1972 to 1979, the Pittsburgh Steelers scored four Super Bowl wins. During this eight-year period, the Steelers played the playoffs every season. Based on the then playoff format, the four seasons the Steelers won the Super Bowl went 3-0 in the postseason. During the other four seasons, two of them went 1-1 and the other two went 0-1. Even the great 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers team had two seasons left without winning a playoff game.
This isn’t really the point, it’s just a matter of putting things in context.
The point is that after the Steelers’ dominant postseason run of the 1979 season, where they won double digits every game in the playoffs on the way to their Super Bowl XIV win, there were extremely long playoff fights.
After head coach Chuck Noll led the Steelers to four Super Bowls in six seasons, he stayed with the team for another 12 years. In those 12 years, the Steelers had a total of two playoff wins.
During this “Noll: Post-Super Bowl” era, the Steelers hit postseason four out of their 12 years and only had double-digit wins in 1983 with 10 wins. It should be noted that the Steelers’ best winning percentage came in 1982 when they finished the short-strike season 6-3. But during those playoff runs the Steelers didn’t win until 1984 and 1989 when they went 1-1 in those postseason.
When Chuck Noll retired and Bill Cowher took over the team in 1992, they found immediate success in the regular season and played the playoffs over the next two seasons. Unfortunately, that didn’t mean playoff wins. After winning four Super Bowls, the Steelers went with only two playoff wins for 14 years. From 1980 to 1993, the Steelers had a postseason record of 2-6.
Before you dismiss this stretch altogether, we all acknowledge that the Steelers fought for the quarterback position. Stout, Malone, Brister, and O’Donnell are names that don’t usually sound positive to all Steelers fans. But that’s exactly what the Steelers did during that time.
If you look at the Steelers franchise and its history in terms of Super Bowls, it basically falls into three groups with other postseason births surrounding them. The Steelers had their four Super Bowl wins in eight seasons from 1972 to 1979 as they made the playoffs every season. The Steelers also had an outlier of six consecutive seasons that made the playoffs from 1992 to 1997 with a Super Bowl appearance in the middle. The Steelers then had another cluster that I’ll use for eight seasons from 2004 to 2011, where they made the playoffs six out of eight years, went to the Super Bowl three times, and won twice.
Aside from these three areas, the Steelers only have two other times where they have aggregated playoff births for three seasons or more. This happened from 1982 to 1984 and from 2014 to 2017. In either cluster, the Steelers failed to make it past the Conference Championship game.
Of course, it can be argued that the Steelers ‘regular season record over the past 10 seasons gave more hope for the playoffs’ success as they finished six of the last 10 seasons with double-digit wins and yet only managed to get three playoff wins. This is true.
The point is that the Pittsburgh Steelers may be equated for the most Super Bowl wins in NFL history, but that doesn’t mean the team has successes every year after the season. There are ups and downs that lead to multiple disappointments. And while the Steelers are in a difficult postseason, it’s not that the franchise has never seen it. Hopefully, after two years of missed postseason, the Steelers 2020 playoff spot is the start of another group of playoff seasons, rather than just an outlier on the way.