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Jordan Love gets his shot in Pittsburgh as Packers look to end drought

A historical rundown of tough losses in the Steel City over 50-plus years

QB Jordan Love
QB Jordan Love

GREEN BAY – Following in the footsteps of two Hall of Fame quarterbacks was bound to be an unenviable position for Jordan Love. Nobody was denying that from the day he was drafted.

Yet on Sunday, in just the 10th start of his NFL career, Love has a chance to accomplish something neither Brett Favre nor Aaron Rodgers ever did. In fact, the last Packers QB to achieve it was Bart Starr, 53 years ago.

The task in question is winning a regular-season game in Pittsburgh. The Packers haven't done so since 1970, the Steelers' first season in Three Rivers Stadium, which coincided with future Hall of Fame QB Terry Bradshaw's rookie year. It turned out to be Starr's last win as a starting QB in his own Hall of Fame career.

Looking strictly at the quarterback history, the truly interesting aspect of what's turned into a half century of Packers futility in one city is that every QB who got a chance to win in Pittsburgh got just the one shot. One crack at it, that was it.

From Lynn Dickey (1980) to Randy Wright ('86) to Favre ('98) to Rodgers ('09) to Brett Hundley ('17), the Packers are 0-for-5 in Pittsburgh since Starr's win in '70, with a different starting QB in each try.

Moreover, aside from the Wright game, a 27-3 drubbing, four of the losses have been close and in some cases down-to-the-wire gut punches. For a less-than-enjoyable trip down memory lane, here's how those went.

Nov. 2, 1980: Pittsburgh 22, Green Bay 20

The Packers got the defending Super Bowl champions to turn the ball over six times but still came up short. That's because Dickey threw three interceptions of his own, and the Packers had two bad punt snaps, one that resulted in a turnover on downs in Green Bay territory and another that sailed over punter David Beverly's head and out the back of the end zone for a safety that proved to be the difference in the game.

Nov. 9, 1998: Pittsburgh 27, Green Bay 20

Down 27-3 entering the fourth quarter on a Monday night, the Packers rallied furiously, beginning with an 88-yard fumble return for a touchdown by linebacker Keith McKenzie. After a three-and-out, Favre directed a 10-play, 74-yard drive for a TD, tight end Jeff Thomason recovered Ryan Longwell's onside kick, and Favre drove the Packers to a field goal to get within seven points with 2:40 left.

But a second onside attempt failed, Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis ran three times for 17 yards to give him exactly 100 rushing yards on the night, and the Steelers kneeled it out from there.

Dec. 20, 2009: Pittsburgh 37, Green Bay 36

Two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger engaged in a Heinz Field shootout that saw 35 points scored in the fourth quarter alone. Rodgers threw for 383 yards and three TDs, while Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards and three scores, the last a 19-yarder to Mike Wallace on the final play of the game. Jeff Reed's PAT won it for the Steelers.

As an aside, Rodgers scrambled for a 14-yard TD in the second quarter and broke out his famous "belt" celebration. It's never been officially documented as the first one he displayed in a game, but it was the first time this reporter ever recalled seeing it.

Nov. 26, 2017: Pittsburgh 31, Green Bay 28

On the Sunday night of Thanksgiving weekend, the Packers weren't given much chance with Hundley filling in for the injured Rodgers, but they gave the Steelers all they could handle. Hundley enjoyed the best game of his career, throwing three long TD passes (39 yards to Randall Cobb, 54 yards to Jamaal Williams, 55 yards to Davante Adams) and directing a 77-yard TD drive to tie the game with 2:02 left.

But with 17 seconds to go and the ball on his own 30, Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown on back-to-back sideline passes covering 37 yards, the first an impressive tip-toe grab that had to be confirmed by replay. Chris Boswell's walk-off 53-yard field goal extended Green Bay's misery in the Steel City.

Well, that was fun. Or not.

Clearly the Packers have lost in just about every imaginable way in Pittsburgh. So how did they win that otherwise long-forgotten game back on Dec. 6, 1970?

It was no masterpiece. Larry Krause took the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown for the Packers, and there were a lot of lowlights from there, as the two teams combined for 10 turnovers (Pittsburgh six, Green Bay four) on a rather unpleasant afternoon featuring a 22 mile-per-hour wind and 7-degree wind chill.

The rookie Bradshaw had an absolutely miserable day, completing just three of 20 passes for 110 yards, 87 of them on a TD to Dave Smith. He threw four interceptions, as the Packers caught more of his passes than his own teammates, before he was benched for Terry Hanratty. Starr's 65-yard TD pass to John Hilton in the fourth quarter salted away the 20-12 triumph.

Is the Packers' secret to ending the drought in Pittsburgh hidden in that 53-year-old win somewhere?

Keisean Nixon had a 51-yard kickoff return last week, so maybe he's primed to break one like Krause did to start the game. Getting a bunch of turnovers against a Steelers team near the top of the league this year in turnover margin sure would help, too.

Whatever it takes. Not since 1970? Really? Really.

"That's crazy thinking about it," defensive lineman Kenny Clark said.

Crazy doesn't quite cover it, but close enough.