By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Talk about Super Bowl hangovers! Safety Mike Wagner's head still throbs 30 years later.
"Not only did we start 1-4, but Bradshaw was hurt," Wagner said the other day.
That was the topper for the 1976 Steelers. Two-time defending Super Bowl champs, they were about to lose for the fourth time in their first five games when the Browns' Turkey Joe Jones corkscrewed quarterback Terry Bradshaw's head into the hated unholy ground in Cleveland Stadium.
You don't get much lower than losing your Pro Bowl quarterback and slumping to 1-4 at the same time. Not unless you consider the 1995 Steelers, who just missed the Super Bowl the previous season. They lost their All-Pro corner-
back, Rod Woodson, and their starting quarterback, Neil O'Donnell, in the first game of the season and staggered into mid-season with a 3-4 record.
"I know it was tough in the beginning of the year," former linebacker Levon Kirkland said. "We were really scrambling at the time. We were really lost at the time and didn't have a whole lot of answers. And you're talking about a team that was really good the year before."
Wagner, Kirkland and others from those two remarkable Steelers comeback teams see a possible similarity to what they went through and what the defending Super Bowl champs of today are experiencing after four games and a 1-3 record.
Fans were frustrated, players and coaches were puzzled, just as they are today. Yet each of those two teams turned it around in remarkable fashion. The '76 Steelers won their next nine games to finish 10-4 and pummeled Baltimore in the playoffs before they lost the AFC championship game in Oakland without their two 1,000-yard runners Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. The late Art Rooney Sr. called it the best Steelers team he ever had.
The '95 Steelers also won their next eight games before losing what was, to them, a meaningless Christmas Eve game in Green Bay to go 11-5. They reached the Super Bowl, where they lost to Dallas.
It can be done.