Back in the buildup to the Week 16 game against the floundering Ravens, the talk was of a resilient Pittsburgh Steelers team that scraped and clawed its way through injury and misfortune to, finally, with two games left to play, have in its hands the power to control its own destiny. Win the last two games, and advance to the playoffs—perhaps even win the division.
As the story goes, of course, the Steelers went on to lay an egg to the lowly Ravens starting their fourth different quarterback of the season, losing control of their playoff destiny, and the talk began immediately about the futility of the Mike Tomlin era—you know, the real Mike Tomlin era, after most of Bill Cowher’s players had gone.
Over the course of the past four seasons since the Steelers’ last playoff run, Pittsburgh had only been able to advance to the postseason twice, and they lost each of those games in the opening division round, in 2011 as a 12-4 Wildcard to the Broncos, and in 2014 as an 11-5 division leader to the upset Ravens.
The Steelers were about to miss the playoffs for the third time in five seasons, in so doing guaranteeing a span of five seasons in which the team would have failed to win even one postseason game, which is something that had never happened under Cowher, nor under Chuck Noll, since the dawn of the Super Bowl era.
Sparked off by the fabulous and improbable 1972 divisional triumph over the Raiders on the strength of the Immaculate Reception, the Steelers as a franchise began the single most successful postseason legacy in NFL history in the modern era.
And Mike Tomlin was about to spoil it all.
You see, while the media was making a big deal over the fact that Tomlin was on the precipice of reaching a level of postseason futility that had never befallen his much-beloved predecessors in Noll and Cowher, the fact of the matter is that Pittsburgh is, plain and simply, spoiled.
The Steelers are the only franchise in the league, including all expansion teams, that has never endured a five-year playoff victory drought in the Super Bowl era. And with their own surprising victory last night, Tomlin’s Steelers assured that that legacy would remain intact for at least another five years.
The vast majority of franchises’ most streak futility streaks don’t even extend back into the 1990s, let alone the 1980s. If I recall correctly from my research, only the Packers’ most recent futility streak has its beginning in the late 1980s, which is about 15 or so years more recent than when the Steelers began their spectacular postseason run.
Pittsburgh is now 34-22 all-time in the postseason, and 34-21 in the Super Bowl era, tying the Cowboys for the most playoff victories in NFL history. Their six Lombardi Trophies are more than any other team has. And they have never known an expanse of five or more seasons without the taste of postseason victory.