Photo courtesy of YouTube/NBC broadcast
From 1973 to 1984, the Pittsburgh Steelers never had a losing season.
During that stretch, Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl four times. One place where the Steelers uncharacteristically struggled however, was the Orange Bowl.
The Steelers had never won at Miami when they arrived on Oct. 6, 1985. With time ticking away, that appeared to be on the verge of changing. But with less than a minute to play, running back Lorenzo Hampton scored the game-winning touchdown to lift the Miami Dolphins to a thrilling 24-20 victory.
Setting the Stage
The Dolphins were 3-1 and on a 3-game winning streak as they got set to host Pittsburgh in an AFC Championship rematch. Miami blasted the Steelers for a trip to the Super Bowl the year prior, 45-28.
Pittsburgh was 2-2 coming in. After winning their opener, the Steelers had dropped two of three.
The Decisive Drive
For much of the afternoon, the Steelers had frustrated Miami quarterback and reigning league MVP Dan Marino. Marino had been intercepted three times.
A 33-yard field goal by Gary Anderson had given Pittsburgh a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter. With over four minutes to play, the Dolphins’ defense came up with a timely stop. Following a penalty on the ensuing punt return, the Dolphins began the decisive drive at their own 25-yard-line.
After struggling for much of the day, Marino was precise when it mattered. Marino completed his first four passes of the drive, including a 27-yard strike to Mark Clayton that moved the ball inside the Pittsburgh 40. A 22-yard strike to tight end Bruce Hardy put the Dolphins in the red zone.
Following a completion to Clayton that moved the Dolphins inside the 10, Marino found Clayton again for a critical third-down conversion to move inside the 5. Two plays later, Hampton was able to bounce a hand-off to the outside for the go-ahead 2-yard touchdown with 47 seconds remaining.
The Steelers’ last-ditch effort lasted just two plays. After a Mark Malone completion to John Stallworth for a first down, the Dolphins put the game away when Paul Lankford intercepted Malone with 25 seconds remaining.
24 of the game’s 44 total points came in the second quarter. Tony Nathan’s 1-yard touchdown run gave Miami a 7-0 lead after a quarter, but Walter Abercrombie answered with a 1-yard plunge of his own to draw the Steelers even early in the second quarter.
After a 48-yard Anderson field goal gave Pittsburgh its first lead, Marino threw his only touchdown pass of the day — a 2-yard strike to Dan Johnson. Pittsburgh regained the lead on Malone’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Weggie Thompson late in the first half.
Prior to Hampton’s game-winning touchdown, Miami’s Fuad Reveiz and Anderson traded second-half field goals. Marino passed for 277 yards in the victory.
The victory for Miami served as its fourth straight win. The Dolphins would drop three of their next four games, but won their final seven games to finish the regular season 12-4. Miami ultimately fell to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship.
After reaching the AFC Championship in 1984, the Steelers finished just 7-9 in 1985 for the first losing season since 1971. The meeting between Miami and Pittsburgh would be the last at the Orange Bowl — a place where the Steelers never won against the Dolphins. That thriller took place on this day 35 years ago.