Ah, September: The Steelers moved to 1-0 after a stunning upset over the defending champion Bengals, a warm-weather delight. In the blink of an eye, Pittsburgh’s playoff chances froze like any water left in December.
In fact, with less than 10 days left in 2022, the United States has been hit with some unbearably cold temperatures with cold fronts rearing their ugly heads. The thermometer will continue to drop through Saturday night, when the Steelers host the Raiders.
As of the writing of this article, Accuweather projected the temperature at Acrisure Stadium to be 10° with an “advantage” of -11° at night. Working in gusts of 29 mph, and keeping the heat in will be a huge challenge for everyone in Steel City on Christmas Eve. In fact, I grudgingly admit that the weather forecast is so grim it forbids me (from the Midwest) to attend!
That sub-zero rush sparked a query in my mind: Is this the coldest game in Steelers history? If not, what rivals that level of visceral coldness? And perhaps most importantly, how has Pittsburgh fared in such contests? Grab a blanket and some black and gold gloves, and let’s go over it.
Before delving into the search results for the coolest games in Steelers lore, it’s important to define the parameters in play.
Using Stathead’s powerful search feature provides the ability to scan games by weather. Crucially, Stathead notes that it gets weather data “from the airport of the city in question,” however “not every stadium is near the airport.” However, the system suggests that weather information should be considered a “very good approximation”. Furthermore, Stathead’s weather information is only accessible through the year 1960, which represents the lower bound for this discovery.
According to the site, the Steelers have played in only two games in team history that have been 10 degrees or colder: in 1977 and 1989.
On December 10, 1977, Pittsburgh visited the Cincinnati Bengals at Riverfront Stadium for a pivotal Week 13 game between the 8-4 Steelers and 7-5 Bengals. The temperature at the time of the game was 0 degrees with winds of 12 mph and air kick of -17, marking the coldest game in franchise history. Even though the game kicks off at 1:00 pm, this atmosphere can’t be fun for anyone.
The Bengals opened the scoring with Lemar Parish in the first quarter of Game 6 off Terry Bradshaw. However, the Steelers responded with a five-yard rushing score from none other than the running back, Franco Harris. Although Pittsburgh added a field goal from Roy Gerela, Sensei rallied to take a 10-0 lead behind a field goal of her own and a Ken Anderson pass to Pat McInally in the third quarter. The score is 17-10, with Chuck Noll’s team falling to Queen City.
The cold was not in favor of Pittsburgh’s ability to hold on to a firmer football game, as the away team gave up four fumbles. Although the Steelers amassed 362 total yards and 21 first downs, unforced errors – including 11 penalties for 95 yards – undermined a solid offensive performance, featuring 95 yards from Harris.
Fast forward nearly 12 years, and we come to the only other Steelers game reported with a temperature of 10 degrees or less: a Week 15 date with the Patriots at Three Rivers Stadium on December 17, 1989. The game featured a temperature of 3 degrees, winds of 10 MPH and Ravchel of -12.
Pittsburgh took a 7-0 lead via a Tim Worley rushing touchdown and never looked back. Backed by two groundouts from Merril Hoge and one from receiver Louis Lipps, the Steelers rolled 28-10 at home to move to 8-7.
Noll’s ground game was the catalyst for victory in such tentative, chilling moves as the Steelers were rushing for 219 carries and four touchdowns on just 39 carries (5.62 yards per bag). While the Patriots had some success through the air with Mark Wilson holding the advantage in possession for over 11 minutes, three visitor turnovers proved the difference.
To reiterate, only Pro Football Reference contains evidence that the Steelers play in two Toys with temperatures that reflect the expectations of Christmas Eve. This doesn’t mean, however, that Pittsburgh isn’t completely used to the cold.
Taking into account the two aforementioned harmonics, the Steelers have been a part of six total games with temperatures of 15 degrees or less. In fact, one such contest occurred just five years ago, when Mike Tomlin’s team beat the Browns 28-24 in Week 17, 2017; The reported weather was only 11 degrees. Other duels that meet these criteria occurred in 2009, 2005, and 1996. Cumulatively, the Steelers have a 3-3 record in these frostbitten conditions, averaging 23.2 points per game.
Expanding the temperature range to a flashy 20 degrees gives a sample size of the 20 total games the Steelers have participated in. Three of these competitions occurred from 2017 to 2018; Besides the battle with the Browns detailed a moment ago, the other two were Pittsburgh’s 2017 wild card win over the Dolphins and a 2018 divisional loss to the Jaguars. Finally, the Black and Gold are 11-9 in these games with an average of 25.1 points.
If the 10° forecast is maintained through 8:15 a.m. ET Saturday night, the Steelers’ Week 16 showdown with the Raiders will be the team’s coldest game since 1989 and the third-lowest. Ever. One notch higher, and it would be the organization’s first game in such wintry weather since 2017. Regardless of the mere demarcation of temperatures, the flow of chicken broth and swirling fireplaces will do their best to mitigate the seriously cold weather on Christmas Eve.
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