If Russell Wilson or Justin Fields start off the 2024 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have done something they haven’t accomplished in nearly 40 years. “Accomplish” probably isn’t the right term for it. This is a feat teams don’t exactly tout. But it will make the first time since 1982-1985 the team has had a different starting Week 1 quarterback four years running.

This time around, it’s guaranteed to happen. Pittsburgh turned over their entire quarterback room this offseason, a group now consisting of Wilson, Fields, Kyle Allen, and rookie John Rhys Plumlee. Ben Roethlisberger ended his Hall of Fame run in 2021, hanging up his cleats after the season. Pittsburgh’s transition since began with Mitch Trubisky in 2022, who lost his spot to Kenny Pickett one month in. Pickett was the clear-cut starter for 2023 but his season went downhill following the preseason, traded away to the Philadelphia Eagles two months ago. Now, Wilson or Fields – likely the former – will get the nod.

What on Earth happened in the 80s? A good question to generally ask but we’ll stay specific here. It was a similar transition from their last franchise quarterback. Terry Bradshaw’s final starting year came in 1982 before an elbow injury ended his career. He’d play in 1983 but make only one appearance, throwing two touchdowns in a Week 15 victory over the New York Jets. Cliff Stoudt was the first man tabbed to replace him, a former fifth round pick. His performance to kickoff 1983 was a disaster, barely completing half his passes and throwing three interceptions in a 14-10 loss to the Denver Broncos.

The rest of Stoudt’s year wouldn’t go much better, leading the team to trade for Miami Dolphins QB David Woodley to start the 1984 season. He started but didn’t finish the game due to a third quarter concussion, Pittsburgh falling to Kansas City to begin the year. Finally, Mark Malone was the team’s starter in Week 1 (he replaced Woodley in ’84 but did not start) to open up the ’85 season against the Indianapolis Colts. It became one of Malone’s best games, a five touchdown performance in a lopsided 45-3 win. It remains the second-largest Week 1 win in Steelers’ history, a record at the time and only surpassed by their 43-0 shellacking as they welcomed the Cleveland Browns back to the NFL in 1999.

Malone would break the streak by beginning the 1986 season, starting 14 games. He would also start the 1987 Week 1 game before Bubby Brister was given the keys in 1988. To recap and compare.

Steelers Four QB Changes (2021-2024)

2021: Ben Roethlisberger
2022: Mitch Trubisky
2023: Kenny Pickett
2024: Russell Wilson/Justin Fields

Steelers Four QB Changes (1982-1985)

1982: Terry Bradshaw
1983: Cliff Stoudt
1984: David Woodley
1985: Mark Malone

Comparing the two offers semi-similar results. Obvious enough, the catalyst and reason why teams start four different quarterbacks to begin four different years. There was the aging franchise quarterback who could still flash but whose bodies were breaking down. You had veterans like Trubisky and Woodley. You had the first round picks who didn’t work in Pickett and Malone (Malone spent far more time in Pittsburgh).

Given the fact Wilson and Fields are free agents after the season, there’s a chance this streak extends to five. But Pittsburgh is banking on one of these guys working out and signing an extension after the season. So long as the Steelers keep playing these musical quarterback chairs, they’ll never become a true contender.


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