On Thursday, the NFL released the 2023 schedule, and for the first time in nearly a decade the Pittsburgh Steelers were given a home game for the season opener, snapping a streak of eight straight seasons opening the year on the road.
Not only did the Steelers get a home game for the season opener, they also drew an opponent they haven’t opened the season against at home in three decades, that being the San Francisco 49ers.
The last time the Steelers opened the season at home against the 49ers? Sept. 5, 1993 at Three Rivers Stadium, early in future Hall of Fame head coach Bill Cowher’s tenure.
San Francisco came into the 1993 season coming off of a 14-2 season under head coach George Seifert, having lost in the NFC Championship Game to the Dallas Cowboys. The Steelers entered 1993 for their second season under Cowher after going 11-5 in his first season in 1992, losing in the AFC divisional round to the Buffalo Bills.
Therefore, the Week 1 matchup at Three Rivers Stadium was one of the marquee ones to open the 1993 season, even if it was a 1 p.m. kickoff.
Entering the Week 1 matchup, there were some concerns under center for both teams. San Francisco had the reigning 1992 NFL MVP in Steve Young, but he was dealing with a thumb injury that left him questionable, while the Steelers had Neil O’Donnell, who was dealing with an elbow injury.
Young ultimately started the game for the Niners, but O’Donnell was on the bench for Mike Tomczak to open the game.
Playing through the thumb injury, Young started fast for the Niners, leading San Francisco down the field for an early 3-0 lead on a 37-yard field goal from Mike Cofer. Later in the first quarter, Young then hooked up with future Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice on a 5-yard touchdown pass — Rice’s 104th of his career — to stake the Niners to a 10-0 lead.
As the 49ers rolled offensively, Pittsburgh struggled to get in gear under Tomczak. The backup quarterback was picked off, and then later took a bad sack after being tripped up by his own lineman on a play-action pass.
Those struggles by Pittsburgh offensively paved the way for the Niners to push their lead to 17-0 in the second quarter. Young again found Rice from 6 yards out, beating cornerback D.J. Johnson and safety Darren Perry for the score.
Pittsburgh got going offensively late, getting on the board before the half on a 29-yard field goal by kicker Gary Anderson, which seemed to provide a bit of a spark for the Steelers. That spark ignited in the second half as Cowher made the change from Tomczak to O’Donnell, leading to a Steelers comeback.
Running back Barry Foster, coming off of a dominant 1992 season — he rushed for 1,690 yards and 11 touchdowns on 390 carries, finishing second in the MVP voting behind Young — scored from 5 yards out after a 28-yard catch-and-run on a screen by Leroy Thompson, making it a 17-10 game.
Anderson added a 39-yard field goal later in the third quarter to make it 17-13.
Then, Rod Woodson came up large for the Steelers, picking off Young on a broken play and then lateraling the ball to Johnson, giving the Steelers life.
Ultimately, the Steelers didn’t do anything with the interception — one of three passes picked off against Young on the day — setting the stage for late-game drama.
With the Niners holding a 17-13 lead and driving deep in Pittsburgh territory, right tackle Harry Boatswain clearly recorded a false start, but no whistle was clearly blown, leading to Steelers’ outside linebacker Kevin Greene sacking Young and throwing him to the turf at the conclusion of the play.
The move by Greene ultimately resulted in an encroachment penalty on the future Hall of Fame linebacker, giving the Niners new life, causing the Steelers and Cowher to lose their minds with the officials.
One play later, Young threw a 5-yard strike to tight end Brent Jones for a 24-13 lead, which would ultimately hold up for the San Francisco win.
In the season-opening loss, O’Donnell came off the bench in the second half and completed 9-of-16 passes for 92 yards, while Tomczak was 4-for-11 for 46 yards and two picks in the first half. Foster rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, while adding six catches for 30 yards, leading the Steelers.
For San Francisco, Young completed 24-of-36 passes for 240 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions, and Ricky Watters rushed for 46 yards on 14 carries before being ejected from the game.
Rice finished with eight catches for 78 yards and two scores, and Jones finished with six catches for 50 yards and the late touchdown.
The Niners went on to finish 10-6 that season, winning the NFC West but again losing to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game. The Steelers finished 9-7 that season, second in the AFC Central, falling in the AFC Wild Card round to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Hopefully the 2023 season will be a bit different for Pittsburgh after opening up the season against the visiting 49ers with a loss.