I consider myself an amateur historian of the Pittsburgh Steelers and have a huge video collection of games dating back to the early 1970\’s. I also love going back in time via Google to read old newspaper articles about the team and that includes game recaps after disturbing losses as well.
Ever since the Steelers drafted David DeCastro and Mike Adams in the 2012 NFL draft, you can\’t help to think that there is a good chance that either one, or maybe even both, could possibly crack the week one starting lineup when the Steelers take on the Denver Broncos. As I pointed out in a previous post, should both DeCastro and Adams start week one, it could possibly be a first for the organization in the Super Bowl era. I know for a fact that it hasn\’t happened as far back as 1970 at the very least.
DeCastro is a near lock to start at right guard and it would be the first time since 1989 that a rookie draft pick has started at guard for the Steelers in week one of a season. That player was Tom Ricketts and it was not a pretty sight.
Before we get to the game itself you need to know that Ricketts was a first round draft pick out of the University of Pittsburgh where he played left tackle. He also holds the distinction of being the Steelers only 1b pick in the Super Bowl era of the draft. That means he was the second of two first round draft picks the Steelers that year thanks to the trade of linebacker Mike Merriweather to the Minnesota Vikings that was completed just before the draft got underway.
Ricketts was a three-year starter at Pitt and measured in at 6 foot 4 inches and weighed 300 pounds. Reports at that time stated he could bench press 405 pounds and squat 580 pounds. He was drafted to eventually play left tackle for the Steelers who had previously relied on Craig Wolfley the year before to play the position out of necessity. Wolfley, a guard by nature, was regarded as the smallest tackle in the league at that time.
Heading into the first game of the 1989 season against the Cleveland Browns the Steelers were beat up on the offensive line. John Jackson, who would have been the starting left tackle, was out with a sprained ankle. Guards John Rienstra and Terry Long were both sidelined with rib and knee injuries respectively while reserve guard Brian Blankenship was coming off of a neck injury that had him sidelined the previous two weeks. Even the rookie Ricketts was injured as he was nursing a broken left thumb. He would have started at left tackle in place of Jackson, but head coach Chuck Noll thought it would it would be easier for Ricketts to play inside instead until his thumb healed.
So Ricketts headed into his first NFL game not only handicapped physically, but position handicapped as well. He and the other members of the Steelers offensive line were not ready to face the likes of Michael Dean Perry, Robert Banks, Carl Hairston or Andrew Stewart either. Those four Browns defensive linemen were involved in four of the six sacks that the Steelers allowed of quarterback Bubby Brister that dismal at Three Rivers Stadium on the way to a 51-0 loss. The loss still stands as the worst margin the Steelers have ever lost by in the modern era. Ricketts was quoted as saying after the loss, “I\’ve never been in a mess like this in my life.”
To make matter worse, the Steelers 1a pick in that 1989 draft, running back Tim Worley, fumbled three times in the game and rushed for just 36 yards on 10 carries. He was booed loudly as you can imagine.
The Steelers have had a few more rookie linemen start week one since that dreadful day in 1989 as Marvel Smith started at right tackle for the Steelers in 2000 against the Baltimore Ravens. The final score? 16-0 Ravens. Another shutout. While Smith wasn\’t noted as having a bad inaugural game, the Steelers rushed for just 30 yards total on 18 rushes and gave up a sack. Maurkice Pouncey started at center for the Steelers in 2010 as a rookie at home against the Atlanta Falcons. The Steelers were without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was serving the first game of his four game suspension, but they did manage to win the game in overtime 15-9 on a walk-off 50-yard run by running back Rashard Mendenhall.
So that is three games that rookie linemen have started for the Steelers dating back to 1970 and they scored a total of 15 points and were shutout twice. Hopefully the presumed debut for DeCastro, and maybe even Adams, in week one against the Broncos goes much better than their rookie offensive line predecessors. Past performance is no guarantee of future results, right? That loss to Cleveland still stings though and will forever be etched in my mind every time a rookie starts the season on the Steelers offensive line.
One last note to disturb you. Ricketts was the 24th overall selection in 1989. DeCastro was the 24th overall selection back in April.
If you care to relive this as it was written in the newspapers back then: