When the Pittsburgh Steelers play their first football of the year in the annual Hall of Fame game in August, they will be embarking on the first stop of what will prove to be a trip down memory lane in a year that the league is reveling in doing the same.
The 2015 season is the 50th anniversary of the first Super Bowl, and nobody has more Super Bowl trophies than the Steelers. They will get the opportunity to play no less than four of five teams that they have defeated during the year, starting with the Minnesota Vikings in the preseason in a rematch of Super Bowl IX, the first notch tallied by the greatest dynasty of the Super Bowl era.
The team’s other two Super Bowl victories, of course, came against the Dallas Cowboys, whom they will play in 2016. Of course, because the schedule works out rotationally, the AFC North will play any given NFC division once every four years.
The season of the 50th Super Bowl, however, just so happens to pit the division against the NFC West, which has been the victim of three championship defeats thanks to the Steelers.
The great dynasty of the 70s ended in Super Bowl XIV with Pittsburgh’s defeat of the St. Louis Rams, who were then located in Los Angeles. Their two championships with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at the helm came in Super Bowl XL against the Seattle Seahawks, who have been in the championship game in each of the past two seasons, and Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals.
The last time the Steelers faced the NFC West was during the 2011 season. the West was just barely starting to scrape its way out from being a laughing stock with the emergence of Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers, who proceeded to reach three consecutive NFC Championship games beginning that season.
The 49ers embarrassed the Steelers that year to the tune of 20-9 as they teed off on a hobbled Roethlisberger, but Pittsburgh dominated the rest of the division, shutting out the Seahawks and Rams by scores of 24-0 and 27-0, respectively. Charlie Batch was the quarterback of record in the victory over the Rams. They also toppled the Cardinals, 32-20.
Of course, there’s been a lot of change since then. The NFC West was arguably the best division in the league for a brief time, but the 49ers’ wheels have begun to fall off, and whether the Rams ever fully right the ship remains to be seen. They will attempt to do so with a new quarterback this time.
The Cardinals and the Seahawks, however, should prove to be significant threats. The Seahawks need no special explanation, as their body of work is already evident, but the Cardinals were one of the best teams in the league before their quarterback, Carson Palmer, went down.
No doubt the league will make much of the fact that three of the Steelers’ four inter-divisional games are championship rematches. But of relevance in 2015 is how these games will test their championship fortitude to be in contention for Super Bowl 50.