November 8, 1981
Comeback at the Kingdome and David Trout the Jagoff
Seahawks 24 – Steelers 21
At 5-4 the 1981 Pittsburgh Steelers embarked on a 3 game road trip where they would probably have needed to win all three of the games to stay alive in their quest for the playoffs. After a disappointing 1980 season where they failed to make a 3-Peat happen, a solid 1981 campaign would be just what the team needed to set things right again. Luckily for the Steelers, they started their 3 game stretch against the lowly 2-7 Seattle Seahawks. Yet whatever the case was, the Steelers blew the game in the final seconds and set themselves up for a let down in 1981.
The Steelers came out looking like the team that was desperate for a win and drew first blood in the 1st Quarter with a Franco Harris 6 yard TD run. Seattle responded with a 37 yard Effren Herrera Field Goal and the 1st Quarter ended with the Steelers leading 7-3. The Steelers countered in the 2nd Quarter by moving the ball very effectively on the ground. Franco Harris, Frank Pollard, Russell Davis, and Sidney Thornton all chipped in solid efforts on a day where they rushed for a combined 156 yards. However, it was a little bit of trickeration that led to the 2nd Steelers TD, and the TD is still tied for the longest pass play in team history. At their own 10 yard line, Terry Bradshaw threw a short sideline pass to backup QB Mark Malone. What seemed like a normal pass play ended with Malone streaking down the field for a 90 yard TD reception. Up 14-3 it looked like the Steelers would be in complete control at that point. Then when Sidney Thornton ran in a TD from 4 yards out it looked like the Steelers wouldn’t be stopped that day.
Seattle had other plans however, and by the time the 1st Half ended Jim Zorn had fired a 44 yard TD pass on a screen to Dan Doornink to close the gap to 21-10. Even with the Zorn TD pass, the Steelers could simply let their aging but still effective Defense hold Seattle and win the game. The 3rd Quarter represented that notion, because both teams went scoreless and the Steelers’ Defense held firm. The stage however was set for one of Jim Zorn’s best comebacks and a heart-breaking dumpster fire of a loss for the Steelers that ultimately would mean Pittsburgh missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
The 4th Quarter belonged to the Seahawks and most importantly their mid-season RB pickup Theotis Brown. Brown was able to capitalize on some Steelers mistakes as well as some big plays by his offense. On the first TD of the 4th Quarter Doornink again bit the Steelers with a 34 yard catch and run which set up Brown’s 1 yard TD run to bring the Seahawks with 4 points at 21-17. The biggest play of the 4th Quarter was a 53 yard catch by Steve Largent that set up the go-ahead score, another 1 yard TD run by Brown. Now down 24-21 the Steelers needed to mount a late game drive to either play for O.T. or the win. They actually managed to move the ball inside the Seattle 10 before the drive stalled. Sadly in one foul swoop they were done in by their Kicker David Trout.
A local boy from Pitt, Trout beat out Matt Bahr (who would go on to have a stellar career in the N.F.L. and earn another Super Bowl ring with the Giants in 1990) in training camp and was primed to be a nice story. However, 1981 was a disaster for Trout, and he even had one game against the Browns where he missed 3, yes THREE P.A.T.’s! However, all Trout needed to do was boot a 22 yard FG to send the game at the Kingdome to O.T.. Sounds simple enough right? Well, he didn’t! The dude freaking missed a glorified P.A.T. with almost 20 seconds to go and the Steelers lost the game! Older Steelers fans have told me about what a total cluster-bleep this game was and how the team was able to snatch defeat from a what seemed to be a vice like grip hold of victory.
Regardless of the loss, the Steelers still won their next 3 games in a row to stand at 8-5 and in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot. But three close losses in a row to Oakland, Cincinnati, and Houston signaled the death-knell for the season and the beginning of the end for the 1970’s players that built the dynasty. Mean Joe Greene would retire following 1981, as would J.T. Thomas, and Lynn Swann and Jack Ham would retire after the 1982 season. While 1983 and 1984 were playoff years, the Steelers’ winning ways and ability for late game heroics seemed to be at an end.