It’s hard for Steelers fans to hate the Dolphins as much as they hate the Bengals.
But they can try.
Sunday’s AFC wild card game at Heinz Field doesn’t come with the animosity of last year’s wild-card game. We don’t have the Twitter wars that we had last year between the Steelers and Bengals.
Part of that is because the Steelers don’t face the Dolphins twice a year. They lost to them 30-15 in Week 6 at Miami, but Ben Roethlisberger has faced them just seven times in his 13-year career. There isn’t enough familiarity to breed the contempt that exists between the Steelers and Bengals.
There was a time when games between the Steelers and Dolphins provided Steelers fans with warm, pleasant and even quirky memories. Roethlisberger won his first five games against the Dolphins. That includes his first career start in 2004. The Steelers’ hotel lost power in a hurricane, and the players got around by flashlight and bonded in the hallways. The Steelers won the game 13-3 at Miami, and they won their next 13 games that year and went all the way to the AFC championship game.
Weather was a factor when the teams met on Monday Night Football at Heinz Field in 2007. The game was played in a heavy rain and the players sloshed around in inches of water. The teams combined for 375 total yards before Jeff Reed finally gave the Steelers a 3-0 win with a 24-yard field goal with 17 seconds left.
The Steelers’ 23-22 win at Miami three years later was memorable for a replay review. The Steelers trailed 22-20 late in the game when Roethlisberger apparently ran the ball in for a touchdown but fumbled after breaking the plane. Upon further review, it was ruled that Roethlisberger fumbled before crossing the goal line. The thing was, replay provided no clear evidence that the Dolphins recovered the fumble. So the Steelers kept the ball and Reed kicked what turned out to be the game-winning field goal.
If the Dolphins felt like they got hosed on that play, the Steelers paid the piper in 2013. Antonio Brown stepped out of bounds at the Dolphins’ 12-yard line, ruining what would have been a miracle lateral-party comeback win on a kickoff return in the final seconds. The Steelers lost that game at Heinz Field 34-28. They needed just one more win that year to go from an 0-4 start to the playoffs. They were literally inches away. If only Brown had stayed inbounds. The final pick-six of Troy Polamalu‘s career even went to waste that day.
Steelers fans wondering how to get worked up over the Dolphins the same way they get worked up over the Bengals and Ravens should remember the heartbreak of that snowy afternoon. For a few seconds we felt the thrill of an improbable victory, pending the extra point. Then the referee announced that Brown stepped out of bounds.
It was like Eddie Murphy pulling the ice cream cone away and yelling “Psych!”
OK, so how can Steelers fans hate the Dolphins for that game just because Brown couldn’t keep his foot inbounds?
Then how about 1984? That was the last time these teams met in the playoffs.
The glory days were long gone, but in 1984 the Steelers went on a Cinderella run. They beat the defending-champion Raiders 13-7 in Los Angeles in the final week of the regular season to clinch the AFC Central title with a 9-7 record.
The Steelers went to Mile High Stadium and upset John Elway and the Broncos 24-17 in the divisional playoffs. They were one step away from the Super Bowl, where they would have faced the 49ers. The Steelers were the only team to beat the 15-1 49ers that year.
But Dan Marino and the Dolphins didn’t let the Steelers get another crack at the 49ers. They beat the Steelers 45-28 in the AFC championship game at Miami and Marino threw four touchdown passes.
All right, so maybe the Steelers deserved to lose that game for not drafting Marino in 1983. If anything, our fist-shaking should go toward the Steelers for putting us through 20 years of Mark Malone, Neil O’Donnell and Kent Graham before finally having the sense to draft Roethlisberger.
But who splashed cold water in the Steelers’ face a week after the Immaculate Reception?
That’s right. The Dolphins.
The Steelers had just beaten the Raiders for their first playoff win in four decades as a franchise. But none of the euphoria mattered to the killjoy Dolphins, who were going about the business of their perfect 1972 season and beat the Steelers 21-17 in the AFC title game.
The only time the Steelers have beaten the Dolphins in the playoffs was the 1979 divisional round. They beat them 34-14 at Pittsburgh on their way to winning Super Bowl XIV.
Since the last time they went to the Super Bowl in 2010, the Steelers have faced the Broncos (twice), Ravens and Bengals in their four playoff games.
The Dolphins haven’t antagonized the Steelers as much as those three teams, but they have left the Steelers asking “What if?” at certain points throughout their history and the Steelers can’t let it happen again.
Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets