On dark, desperate nights, I dream about being a Steelers fan.
If NFL franchises were people, the Bears were in their teenage years when the Steelers were founded in 1933. The Bears won the NFL championship that year, the team’s second-straight trophy. From that season until 1971, we won six championships. In the same time, the Steelers reached one postseason. One.
That all changed with the flip of a coin.
With both the Bears and Steelers coming off 1-13 seasons in 1969, a coin toss would determine the first pick in the 1970 draft. Bears vice president and treasurer Ed McCaskey called “heads.” The coin did not.
“I had dinner with Art Rooney after the coin toss, and he said to me: ‘You're supposed to be a sharp guy. You never call (the coin toss). That’s a sucker play,’” McCaskey told the Tribune’s Fred Mitchell in 1997. “That was the end of a terrible year.”
The Steelers drafted Terry Bradshaw number 1 in 1970, (here are Bradshaw’s thoughts on the toss), while the Bears traded the no. 2 pick to the Packers in exchange for three players who played a total of two seasons with the Bears. The coin wasn’t the only thing that flipped that day.
Before the coin toss, 1920-1969
- BEARS: 8x champs, 12x title game, 13x postseason, 13x 1st place, 9x sub-.500
- STEELERS: 0x champs, 0x title game, 1x postseason, 1x 1st place , 23x sub-.500
After the coin toss, 1970-2016
- BEARS: 1x champ, 2x Super Bowl, 14x postseason, 10x 1st place, 26x sub-.500
- STEELERS: 6x champ, 8x Super Bowl, 29x postseason, 22x 1st place, 9x sub-.500
That’s part of why, deep in Bears depression, my mind wanders to Steelers fandom.
The other reason is that they have what we have: a powerful past and strong civic pride. I absolutely LOVE that the three major pro teams in Pittsburgh — the Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins — have the same colors.
And nothing tops Pittsburgh’s consistency. Since 1970, the Steelers have had three head coaches and 10 passing leaders.
The Bears have had 10 head coaches and 22 passing leaders.
I think that’s why Bears games against the Steelers always stand out to me more than other non-conference opponents. Our team is typically riding a brand new wave each time we link up, while the Steelers are in the midst of the same old song.
Here, then, is my look back at my favorite, and least-favorite, Bears-Steelers games of my life.
Favorite Bears-Steelers game
1992: Bears 30, Steelers 6
1992 was one of those turning-point seasons for the Chicago Bears. Our 5-11 record was our worst since Mike Ditka’s first season as head coach. Not coincidentally, 1992 was Ditka’s final season as head coach.
It was also Mike Singletary’s final season in the NFL. When the teams ran out of the tunnel at Soldier Field on Dec. 13, 1992, we were riding a five-game losing streak and dead in the water at 4-9. The Steelers, under first-year coach Bill Cowher, entered were 10-3 en route to a division title.
This game, therefore, was Singletary’s final home game as a Bear. The team responded, kicking ass in all three phases in a 30-6 walloping to send Samurai out a winner.
“That’s something we’ve been thinking about all week,” Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh said after the game. “Mike has been so good over the years for Chicago and all of the NFL. It feels good winning.”
Singletary helped hold Barry Foster — who entered that game as the NFL’s leading rusher — to 25 yards on 12 carries. The Bears sacked Bubby Brister five times and picked him off twice, two of the team’s four takeaways.
I was there — an 11-year-old Bears fan with deep pride and a sense of history — and I’m telling you, Soldier Field had a championship feeling that day. We all knew what was at stake. There was no way we wanted Singletary to end his home career a loser.
Not to worry, Bears fans. For one day in 1992, we were champions.
Least Favorite Bears-Steelers game
1995: Steelers 37, Bears 34 (OT)
This game still haunts me. After winning a Wild Card in 1994 and shocking (and thumping) the division-champion Vikings in the Wild Card round in Minnesota, the 1995 Bears were a team on the come.
When the Steelers came to Soldier Field for a nationally televised Sunday Night game, we were 6-2, atop the NFC Central, and the #2 seed in the NFC behind the Cowboys.
The defense was good, but the offense was humming. Erik Kramer led the NFL in touchdown passes, with 21, while receivers Curtis Conway and Jeff Graham were on their way to posting the first 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the Bears since Dick Gordon in 1970 — the first time the franchise had a pair of 1,000-yard receivers.
Picture this, Bears fans: when this game took place, Dave Wannstedt was reigning NFC Coach of the Year, and a debate about Wannstedt vs. Cowher was heated and legitimate.
As the game wore on, it looked as if Wanny would settle the debate. The Bears led 24-20 entering the 4th quarter, and 34-27 with just over nine minutes remaining. We stuffed Pittsburgh on a three-and-out, and set Kevin Butler up for a 44-yard field goal with 8:46 to go.
Butler lined up for that kick as the NFL’s only perfect kicker of the season.
Pittsburgh tied the game. The teams went to overtime. The Bears punted. The Steelers drove. Norm Johnson lined up for a 24-yard field goal.
He hit it.
Steelers 37, Bears 34.
This was Pittsburgh’s second win in a season-changing run of eight straight. They finished 11-5 and lost Super Bowl XXX.
This was our first loss, starting a three-game slide and five losses in six games. We finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. After our 6-2 start in 1995, we didn’t get back to four games over .500 until starting 5-1 in 2001, our first trip back to the playoffs since 1994.
Highlights here, if you, ya know, don’t want to watch the full broadcast:
Bears-Steelers game I wish I saw
1969: Bears 38, Steelers 7
Two reasons I would have liked to see this game.
First, this was our only win of the season, which would have been a thrill. Seeing a strong performance from Gale Sayers in his final great season is something I would relish, and after hearing so many stories about Bobby Douglass, I would dig seeing him too.
Second, this is the Coin Flip Game! The Bears were 0-7. The Steelers were 1-6. Both teams finished 1-13. So there’s longstanding franchise history here too.
Terry Bradshaw said in 1970 that he “wanted to go to a loser” because that team would appreciate his talents and exploits. He wanted a franchise to win because he was there.
Favorite Bear who also played for the Steelers
Jeff Graham! After three years in Pittsburgh, the speedy receiver came to the Bears in 1994 and posted back-to-back career highs in receiving yards, breaking the franchise record for receiving with 1,301 yards in 1995. (Marcus Robinson broke his record four years later.)
Here’s a fun retrospective on his career from Football Perspectives.
Here is the full head-to-head Bears-Steelers log. Refresh your memory and tell me:
What were your favorite Bears-Steelers games?