1969 Pittsburgh Steelers season

1969 Pittsburgh Steelers season
Head coach Chuck Noll
Home field Pitt Stadium
Record 1–13
Division place 4th NFL Century
Playoff finish did not qualify
Pro Bowlers
AP All-Pros Roy Jefferson (1st team)
Team MVP Roy Jefferson

The 1969 Pittsburgh Steelers season constitutes what many consider to be the turning point of this once-moribund franchise. 1969 was the first season for Hall of Fame head coach Chuck Noll, the first season for defensive lineman "Mean Joe" Greene and L. C. Greenwood, the first season for longtime Steelers public relations director Joe Gordon, and the team's last season in Pitt Stadium before moving into then-state-of-the-art Three Rivers Stadium the following season.

Although considered a turning point in the team's history, the results were not immediate; after winning the season opener against the Detroit Lions, the Steelers lost every game afterwards to finish 1–13. The Steelers became the first team in NFL history since the 1936 Philadelphia Eagles to win its season opener and lose every remaining game, a feat not matched until 2001 when the Carolina Panthers won its season opener against Minnesota before losing every game en route to a 1–15 finish. The Steelers finished 1969 4th in the NFL Century Division and tied with the Chicago Bears for last in the NFL. With the Steelers finishing 1–6 at Pitt Stadium, it marked the last time the Steelers finished the season with a losing record at home until 1999.

As a result of their 1–13 records, Art Rooney of the Steelers won a coin toss with George Halas of the Bears to determine who would select Louisiana Tech quarterback Terry Bradshaw (the consensus number 1 selection among league teams) with the number one pick in the 1970 draft. By modern NFL tiebreaking rules, the Steelers would have automatically been given the first pick anyway, as the Bears' one win came against the Steelers in Week 8.


In the 1969 offseason, the Steelers hired former defensive coordinator Chuck Noll from the Baltimore Colts days after his loss to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. Noll became the team's 14th head coach in the franchise's history. While it took 36 seasons to go through the first 13, Noll stayed through 1991, establishing coaching stability for the Steelers not seen in other NFL franchises for the next 46. Since Noll's retirement, only Bill Cowher and current head coach Mike Tomlin have served as head coach of the Steelers.

According to Linebacker Andy Russell and other Steelers present, Noll assembled the team for their first meeting and plainly stated his thoughts on why the Steelers had lost so often for so long.

"So Coach Noll's first meeting, I’ll never forget the speech he gave," said Russell, who became a highly successful businessman after retiring from football in 1976. "He gets up and says, ‘I’ve been watching the game film since I took the job, and I can tell you guys why you’ve been losing.’ You could have heard a pin drop in that room. He says, ‘The reason you have been losing is you’re not any good.’" he said, ‘I’m going to get rid of most of you.’ Five of us made it from that room to the Super Bowl in ’74."[1]

Only a handful of players were carried over from the 1968 squad to the 1974 Super Bowl Squad, most notably veterans Andy Russell, Rocky Bleier, Ray Mansfield, and Bobby Walden. Additionally, Dick Hoak, who retired before the 1974 season, became the team's running backs coach and remained with the team in that capacity through the 2006 season. Bleier, who played his rookie season the year before and later became a major contributor to the Super Bowl championship teams, was fighting in Vietnam during this time and was wounded in combat just before the start of the season.[2]

1969 NFL Draft

1969 Pittsburgh Steelers draft
Round Pick Player Position College Notes
1 3 Joe Greene *   DT North Texas #32
2 30 Terry Hanratty  QB Notre Dame #5
2 42 Warren Bankston  RB Tulane #46
3 56 Jon Kolb  C Oklahoma State #55
4 82 Bob Campbell  RB Penn State
7 160 Chuck Beatty  DB North Texas #37
8 186 Joe Cooper  WR Tennessee State
9 212 John Sodaski  DB Villanova #49
10 238 L.C. Greenwood *   DE Arkansas AM&N #68
11 264 Clarence Washington  DT Arkansas AM&N
12 290 Doug Fisher  LB San Diego State
13 315 John Lynch  LB Drake
14 342 Bob Hourman  RB Ohio
15 368 Ken Liberto  WR Louisiana Tech
16 394 Dock Mosley  WR Alcorn A&M
17 420 Bill Eppright  PK Kent State
      Made roster       Pro Football Hall of Fame    *   Made at least one Pro Bowl during career

Although the Pittsburgh Steelers missed out on Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson, Chuck Noll used the 1st Round pick wisely by drafting North Texas State Defensive tackle, Joe Greene. Noll said years later that Greene would've been selected even if they had the top overall pick, passing over Simpson. Although Simpson went on to a Hall of Fame career before legal troubles overshadowed his NFL accomplishments, Steeler scouting set the standard excellent NFL scouting in the draft for years to come.

Greene's selection was not without controversy. The front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the next morning had a headline posted Who's Joe Greene?, owing to his relative obscurity despite being named a consensus All-American selection his senior year. The team also drafted Greene's defensive line mate, Arkansas AM&N defensive end L. C. Greenwood, in the tenth round. Greene and Greenwood formed the core of the famed Steel Curtain defensive line and played their entire career as teammates, with both retiring at the end of the 1981 season. The following year, Noll switched the team to a 3–4 defense, partially as a result of the retirement of two of his best defensive players.

Selecting Greene was wise. He was the 1969 Defensive Rookie of the Year at season's end.[3]

Joe Gordon was hired as the team's public relations director. Though his role was more behind-the-scenes, he would remain with the team in that capacity through the 1998 season, second only to Dick Hoak in terms of tenure with the team outside of the Rooney family, third counting Steelers radio commentator Myron Cope, who was not employed by the team but was associated with it through WTAE Radio and later WDVE on the official Steelers radio network.

Regular season


The 1969 Season started off well for the Steelers. After defeating the Detroit Lions 16-13, much of the roster believed they were on a Super Bowl run. However, after losing three straight times, first at Philadelphia 41-27, then at home against the Cardinals 27-14, and at New York against the Giants 10-7, team morale plummeted. The Steelers then lost the next 10 games and became the first team in league history since the 1936 Philadelphia Eagles to win their season opener but then lose every other game until the 2001 Carolina Panthers. Though after these losses, Art Rooney Sr. still had faith in Chuck Noll, and retained him for 1970. With the 1-13 record, the Steelers won a coin toss against the Chicago Bears (who were also 1-13) and for the first time since 1956, the Steelers got the 1st Pick in the NFL Draft. With the pick, the team's draft brought improvement with #1 pick Louisiana Tech quarterback Terry Bradshaw.


Week Date Opponent Location Time (ET) TV Result
1 September 21, 1969 Detroit Lions Pitt Stadium W 16–13
2 September 28, 1969 at Philadelphia Eagles Franklin Field L 27-41
3 October 5, 1969 St. Louis Cardinals Pitt Stadium L 14-27
4 October 12, 1969 at New York Giants Yankee Stadium L 7-10
5 October 18, 1969 at Cleveland Browns Cleveland Municipal Stadium L 31-42
6 October 26, 1969 Washington Redskins Pitt Stadium L 7-14
7 November 2, 1969 Green Bay Packers Pitt Stadium L 34-38
8 November 9, 1969 at Chicago Bears Wrigley Field L 7-38
9 November 16, 1969 Cleveland Browns Pitt Stadium L 3-24
10 November 23, 1969 at Minnesota Vikings Metropolitan Stadium L 14-52
11 November 30, 1969 at St. Louis Cardinals Busch Stadium L 10-47
12 December 7, 1969 Dallas Cowboys Pitt Stadium L 7-10
13 December 14, 1969 New York Giants Pitt Stadium L 17-21
14 December 21, 1969 at New Orleans Saints Tulane Stadium L 24-27

Game summaries

Week 1 (Sunday September 21, 1969): Detroit Lions

1 2 3 4 Total
Lions 3 0 3 7 13
Steelers 3 6 0 7 16

at Pitt Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Scoring Drives:

Steelers running back Warren Bankston fumbled twice but turned out to be the game's hero by scoring a 6-yard touchdown with just 3 minutes to play. On the touchdown, he broke attempted tackles by Wayne Walker and Mike Weger. Detroit's last drive was snuffed out by the Steelers on a fourth and one play that failed at the Lions' 36 yard line.Bankston ran for 52 yards in the game.[4]

Week 2 (Sunday September 28, 1969): Philadelphia Eagles

1 2 3 4 Total
Steelers 13 0 7 7 27
Eagles 0 17 14 10 41

at Franklin Field, Philadelphia

Scoring Drives:

The Steelers fell apart after the first quarter. Roy Jefferson caught 7 passes for 123 and scored a touchdown.[5]

Week 3 (Sunday October 5, 1969): St. Louis Cardinals

1 2 3 4 Total
Cardinals 0 20 0 7 27
Steelers 7 0 7 0 14

at Pitt Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Scoring Drives:

The Steelers committed 5 turnovers. Jefferson caught 9 passes for 115 yards and scored 2 touchdowns.[6][7]

Week 4 (Sunday October 12, 1969): New York Giants

1 2 3 4 Total
Steelers 0 0 0 7 7
Giants 7 0 0 3 10

at Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, New York

Scoring Drives:

The Steelers held the Giants to only 76 yards rushing but could not muster enough offense to win the game.[8]

Week 5 (Saturday October 18, 1969): Cleveland Browns

1 2 3 4 Total
Steelers 0 10 0 21 31
Browns 7 7 7 21 42

at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio

Scoring Drives:

The bumbling Steelers gave away two touchdowns to the rival Browns on interception returns. With less than 7 minutes left to go in the 3rd Quarter, Steelers Quarterback Terry Hanratty was intercepted by Erich Barnes and then in the 4th by Walt Sumner. The 4th quarter was a wild affair with a combined 6 touchdowns scored. Roy Jefferson caught 7 passes for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Steelers used two other quarterbacks besides Hanratty (Dick Shiner and Kent Nix).[9][10]

Week 6 (Sunday October 26, 1969): Washington Redskins

1 2 3 4 Total
Redskins 0 0 14 0 14
Steelers 7 0 0 0 7

at Pitt Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Scoring Drives:

The game was designated as Steeler Alumni Day and before the game, wounded Vietnam Veteran Rocky Bleier, using a cane, walked across the field to a standing ovation from the crowd of 46,000.[11] The Steelers defense played well enough to keep the team in the game but the offense could find no traction.[12]

Week 7 (Sunday November 2, 1969): Green Bay Packers

1 2 3 4 Total
Packers 0 14 10 14 38
Steelers 10 7 7 10 34

at Pitt Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Scoring Drives:

The Steelers defense forced 5 turnovers and held the vaunted Packers running game to less than 100 yards. The offense gained more total yards than the Packers. The improved play kept Pittsburgh in the see-saw game but it wasn't enough. Jefferson shined again by catching 7 passes for 167 yards and two scores. The Steelers could not find a solution for the Packers Carroll Dale, who had similar statistics.[13] The Packers Travis Williams had a spectacular game, scoring two touchdowns on a punt return and a kickoff return. Bart Starr sat out more than half the game, nursing a sore shoulder, but came into the game in relief of Dan Horn to lead the Packers.[14]

Week 8 (Sunday November 9, 1969): Chicago Bears

1 2 3 4 Total
Steelers 0 0 0 7 7
Bears 16 13 9 0 38

at Wrigley Field, Chicago

Scoring Drives:

Sacked 8 times, twice for safeties, Dick Shiner and Terry Hanratty were terrorized by Dick Butkus and his defense, giving the Bears their only win in 1969.[15] This would be the last game the Steelers would play at Wrigley Field and it also was Brian Piccolo's last home game for the Bears. He was diagnosed with cancer later that month and died in June 1970.

Week 9 (Sunday November 16, 1969): Cleveland Browns

1 2 3 4 Total
Browns 7 3 0 14 24
Steelers 3 0 0 0 3

at Pitt Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Scoring Drives:

Warren Bankston gained 96 yards while Roy Jefferson, going into the game as the NFL's leading receiver, was bottled up all day in double coverage. Former Steeler turned Browns QB Bill Nelsen turned crucial plays into completed passes to Paul Warfield to pace the Browns.[16]

Week 10 (Sunday November 23, 1969): Minnesota Vikings

1 2 3 4 Total
Steelers 0 7 7 0 14
Vikings 7 10 14 21 52

at Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington, Minnesota

Scoring Drives:

For the third straight week, the Steelers were embarrassed and never in the game. The Vikings scored on an interception return, a fumble return, three passes and two runs. The fumble return came after Charlie West fumbled a kickoff and John Beasley picked up the ball and ran 60 yards for a score. Joe Greene, the Steelers rookie (and future Hall of Famer) was thrown out of the game after losing his temper.[17]

Week 11 (Sunday November 30, 1969): St. Louis Cardinals

1 2 3 4 Total
Steelers 0 3 0 7 10
Cardinals 6 6 7 28 47

at Busch Memorial Stadium, St. Louis, Missouri

Scoring Drives:

The Steelers were beaten to a pulp as St Louis out gained them 401 to 187 yards. In the last four games the Steelers were outscored 161 to 34.[18]

Week 12 (Sunday December 7, 1969): Dallas Cowboys

1 2 3 4 Total
Cowboys 3 7 0 0 10
Steelers 0 0 0 7 7

at Pitt Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Scoring Drives:

The Steelers bounced back with an impressive effort against the powerhouse Cowboys at home. Dallas was playing to clinch a playoff spot but they had to battle through a mud bog to earn the prize. What turned out to be the winning field goal was set up by a punt return from Mel Renfro. The Steelers didn't cross midfield until the 4th quarter as snow began to fall. They kept the game close until Dick Shiner came off the bench and led them to a touchdown drive. A drive sputtered out with less than 2 minutes left but the Steelers got yet another chance. Shiner hit Roy Jefferson on a long pass to the Dallas 20 yard line but the game ended.[19]

Week 13 (Sunday December 14, 1969): New York Giants

1 2 3 4 Total
Giants 7 7 0 7 21
Steelers 0 14 0 3 17

at Pitt Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Scoring Drives:

Returning to his earlier season form, Roy Jefferson caught 5 passes for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns but the Giants' Fran Tarkenton was masterful in throwing 3 TDs.[20] In their final game at Pitt Stadium, the Steelers were in control of the game and seemed poised to win but were undone after Giants punter Dave Dunaway ran instead of punting and gained a first down for the New Yorkers. With the game on the line and the Steelers leading, Tarkenton faked a handoff to the middle of the line and then threw the ball to Ernie Koy, who was not covered by a defender. The hard luck Steelers left the muddy and snowy field as losers again.[21]

Week 14 (Sunday December 21, 1969): New Orleans Saints

1 2 3 4 Total
Steelers 14 0 7 3 24
Saints 0 10 7 10 27

at Tulane Stadium, New Orleans, Louisiana

Scoring Drives:

Earl Gros, a Louisiana native who played at LSU, ran for 3 touchdowns but the Steelers blew a 14-point lead to a Saints team that had not been in existence four years earlier.[22]

The Steelers did not return to New Orleans until 1974, when they defeated the Saints in the regular season, then ousted the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX seven weeks later.


NFL Century
Cleveland Browns 10 3 1 .769 4–1–1 8–1–1 351 300 L1
New York Giants 6 8 0 .429 4–2 4–6 264 298 W3
St. Louis Cardinals 4 9 1 .308 3–2–1 3–6–1 314 389 L3
Pittsburgh Steelers 1 13 0 .071 0–6 0–10 218 404 L13

Note: Tie games were not officially counted in the standings until 1972.


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