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Steelers by the decade: 1990s

Posted Jul 15, 2014

A decade-by-decade look at the Pittsburgh Steelers.

1990s

A 9-7 finish in 1990 left the Steelers in a three-way tie for the AFC Central lead, but they were eliminated from playoff contention by a 2-4 division record. The 1991 team finished second in the division despite a 7-9 record, winning the last two games under Noll at home against the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.

On December 26, 1991 Chuck Noll announced his retirement from football after 39 consecutive seasons, the last 23 as the Steelers’ head coach, which made him one of only four men to coach the same team for 23 consecutive years. He left as the fifth-winningest coach in NFL history with an overall record of 209-156-1, and as the only coach to win four Super Bowls. Noll was rewarded in 1993 with his election to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

A new era began in 1992 with the retirement of Noll and the arrival of 34-year-old Bill Cowher, the National Football League’s youngest head coach at the time he assumed control. In the first season of the new era, the Steelers won the AFC Central division crown for the first time since 1984 with an 11-5 record. While the team enjoyed new-found success, Cowher was recognized by the Associated Press as the NFL’s Coach of the Year and six Steelers played in the Pro Bowl, the most in more than a decade.

Under Cowher the Steelers became the first AFC team since the 1970 merger to claim its 10th division title. Their 11-5 record equaled the best in the conference and gave the Steelers home field advantage throughout the playoffs. However, in the first postseason game at Three Rivers in exactly 10 years, the Steelers were defeated by eventual AFC champion Buffalo, 24-3.

In 1993, the Steelers earned a wild card playoff berth, marking their first consecutive playoff appearances since the 1983-84 seasons. A 9-7 record was good for second place in the division, but the season ended in a 27-24 overtime loss at Kansas City in the AFC Wild Card game.

The 1994 Steelers won seven of their final eight regular-season games for their strongest finish since 1978. They captured their second division title in three years with an AFC-best 12-4 record. After a 29-9 victory over the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the playoffs, Pittsburgh hosted it’s first AFC Championship game since 1979. The game went down to the wire and the Steelers lost to the San Diego Chargers, 17-13.

At 38, Bill Cowher became the youngest head coach to lead his team to a Super Bowl in 1995. Along the way, Cowher’s team captured their third AFC Central division title in four years, made their fourth straight playoff appearance and won the Steelers’ first AFC title since 1979. After a first-round bye, they defeated the Buffalo Bills (40-21) and the Indianapolis Colts (20-16), before losing to the Dallas Cowboys, 27-17, in Super Bowl XXX in Tempe, Ariz.

In 1996, the Steelers finished 10-6 and earned their fifth consecutive trip to the playoffs. Cowher ended the season with 57 career victories, ranking him as the second winningest coach in team history, behind his predecessor Noll.

The Steelers captured their fourth consecutive AFC Central title in 1997 while posting an 11-5 record. They were one play away from earning their sixth Super Bowl appearance but lost to Denver, 24-21, in the AFC Championship game. In 1998, the Steelers finished a disappointing 7-9, losing their last five regular-season games and missing the playoffs for the first time under Bill Cowher. The Steelers suffered their second consecutive losing season in 1999, when their record fell to 6-10.