They say that the hardest things are forged out of steel. In football, that has proven true.
When the Denver Broncos host the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday afternoon for the right to advance in the National Football League playoffs, it will be a very tough assignment.
But it is not a task Denver has never faced before.
In fact, the one team that Denver has played most often in the playoffs is Pittsburgh—the always tough, solid, well-coached, hard-as-iron Steelers.
And so far, Denver and Pittsburgh have played six games, with the Broncos and Steelers tied at 3-3 in the toughest of playoff competition.
It’s not supposed to be easy, right?
The very first team Denver ever played in postseason was Pittsburgh, and Ring of Fame linebacker Tom Jackson intercepted Terry Bradshaw twice on Christmas Eve, 1977, as the Broncos won a 34-21 game that propelled Denver to its first AFC title and a berth in Super Bowl XII.
Denver ran smack into the Steel Curtain the very next year in Three Rivers Stadium and Pittsburgh was dominant in a 33-10 win on its own way to Super Bowl XIII, which the Steelers won.
In 1984, John Elway’s second year as a pro, he led the Broncos to a 13-3 record and a home game against a tough Pittsburgh team that won a hard-fought 24-17 game at Mile High Stadium. The Steelers went on to lose to the Dan Marino Dolphins the following week as Miami advanced to the Super Bowl.
Denver hosted Pittsburgh in a great game following the 1989 season, with the Broncos taking a 24-23 win here. Again, the Broncos went to the Super Bowl that year, beating the Cleveland Browns in Denver the following week.
One of the key plays in the Pittsburgh win was John Elway rushing for a key first down and being flipped literally onto his head—a play that brought the crowd to the feet in excitement and proved a precursor to one of John’s most famous plays, his diving, spinning first down against Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII.
In 1997 the Broncos won our first Super Bowl and did it the hard way, winning as a wild card, which meant four straight playoff wins.
The AFC title game that year was at Pittsburgh and the Broncos prevailed, 24-21 to move on to that eventual date with the defending champion Packers.
And finally, most recently, the Steelers defeated the Broncos in Denver by a 34-17 score in 2005 to again advance to the Super Bowl, defeating Seattle for the world title.
So Denver and Pittsburgh are deadlocked at three wins apiece, with the winner going on to the Super Bowl in five out of the six meetings.
So if you are sure of this week’s result, you are wrong about being sure. Both teams have won at home, and lost at home, and won on the road, and lost on the road, and advanced to the Super Bowl home AND away, against each other.
Fans should take a cue from the players and tighten their chinstraps this weekend.
It is a matchup of historical postseason significance, and Sunday will be, as Yogi Berra says, déjà vu all over again.