The Dark Ages: Pittsburgh Sports
By Luke Schultheis, Layout and Sports Editor
January 10, 2021: Maurkice Pouncey’s snap flies over Ben Roethlisberger’s head. Big Ben and James Conner rush to the ball, but it’s too late. This is when everything fell apart.
Sure, the Steelers made the playoffs a year later. The Penguins did the same. The Pirates…were the Pirates.
In 2022, the Steelers sit at 2-6 and hold the 15 seed in the AFC. The Pens are on a seven-game losing streak—the longest in the Mike Sullivan era. And the Pirates—shocker—faced elimination a month before the playoffs started. It seems there is little to be optimistic about as a Pittsburgh sports fan.
Looking back, though, this isn’t the first time the Steel City struggled. The ‘80s were a rough decade.
The Steelers missed the playoffs in ’80 and ’81 and only made them in ’83 due to a strike-interrupted season. Apart from one AFC Championship appearance in ’84, the ‘80s marked an era of blowout playoff losses, losing seasons, and a conclusion to the Chuck Noll era.
The Pens fared even worse in the ‘80s. Their record was 34-111-15 the two years prior to drafting Mario Lemieux, and 24-51-5 in his rookie season. Through the decade, they appeared in the playoffs just three times and won one series. In addition, they had one of the worst goal differentials in the NHL at -477. While the offense showed glimpses of greatness, the defense ceased to exist.
As for the Bucs, nothing notable happened in the ‘80s. They finished last in their division three years in a row and went 57-104 in 1985. It was the first time they had a 100-loss season since 1954.
Despite the woes of the ‘80s, each team had something to prove the following decade. The Steelers made it to three conference championships and appeared in a Super Bowl. The Pens made the playoffs every year and won two Stanley Cups. The Pirates won the NL East three years in a row, which is a lot more than they’ve done in the past 20 years.
The Steelers are in rebuild mode. The Penguins are about to be in rebuild mode. The Pirates have been in rebuild mode for over twenty-five years. Things seem bleak.
Despite the rough start to the 2020s, each team is young and boasts talent that has yet to reach its full potential.
Only time will tell if Pittsburgh’s teams can rekindle their old fire.