The Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t on anyone’s radar heading into 1992. They were 7-9 in 1991 and in the 7 seasons prior to 1992, they only made the playoffs once. Chuck Noll, the head coach that guided the Steelers to 4 Super Bowl’s and many other division titles had just retired. The team opted to hire then Kansas Chiefs defensive coordinator Bill Cowher. Cowher, a first time head coach, assembled a team of mostly new coaches and he inherited a young roster that was perceived by many as mediocre with the exceptions of few, known players at the time.
Nobody expected this team to start off 6-2. One major reason for this sudden turn around was first year starting running back Barry Foster. Through the first 8 games of the 1992 season, Foster totaled 100+ yards in 7 of the 8 games including 6 100+ yard rushing games. At the halfway mark, Foster had 865 yards on the ground and was on pace to shatter Pittsburgh’s franchise record for rushing yards in a season set by Franco Harris (1,246 in 1975). Franco was splitting carries with Rocky Blier that season (and throughout his career), but what Foster was doing statistically in 1992 was absolutely amazing.
Foster finished the 1992 season on an absolute tear. Foster, who at this point was the clear focal point of this Steelers offense, averaged 103 yards per game rushing and 6 TD’s on the ground (in the final 8) which helped to propel the 11-5 Steelers to an A.F.C Central Division Title, their first division title in 8 seasons.
It’s really worth noting that the Steelers were not a terrific offensive team. They ranked 21st in passing offense (2,750) 23rd in passing TDs (15), 23rd in passing attempts (431) and 20th in completions (249), 15th in points (299) and in points per game (18.7). Meanwhile they ranked 4th in rush yards per game (134.8) with 105.6 of those rushing yards coming from Barry. His 2,034 total yards accounted for 41% of the Steelers total offense. He would finish the season as the #1 rusher in the AFC and he fell 23 yards short of Emmitt Smith for the rushing title. Foster had also tied a then NFL record, with 12 100 yards game during the season (was tied with Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders broke it a few years later with 14 100 rushing yard games). He was named to the NFL’s ALL-Pro team.
1992 Numbers: 390 carries for 1,690 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. 36 catches for 344 yards. 2,034 yards from scrimmage.
The Steelers defense that year finished 2nd in points allowed (14.1 Points Per Game), finished tied for 1st with “The Dome Patrol” New Orleans Saints in TD’s allowed (21), and 2nd with a +11 Turnover Ratio. Because the defense was so great, this gave extra possessions to the offense which led to Pittsburgh’s Offense and Foster take advantage all season long.
Although he also made the Pro Bowl in 1993, Foster spent the next couple years after 1992 battling various injuries that caused him to miss time. His Injury in 1994 opened the door for rookie Bam Morris to split carries. Thanks to his contract and the production of Morris, Foster became expendable and he was traded to the expansion Panthers. He would be cut during camp for failing to pass a physical. He opted to retire after that. But later in the 1995, the Cincinnati Bengals signed him to a $1m contract following the injury to their #1 overall pick Ki-Jana Carter, who injured his knee during the preseason. 2 days later Foster decided not to join the Bengals, returning his $300,000 signing bonus and opting to stay retired this team. After his first full pad practice, Foster claimed he felt like a “60 year old running back”. He left town and a couple days later he officially retired.
Barry Foster, unfortunately became another victim of the 370 curse. Arguably he is one of the best Pittsburgh Steelers that never became great. When you talk about great Steelers running backs, Foster’s name get left out because just as he appeared out of nowhere and became a star, he faded away into the sunset 2 years later just as easily.
Career years: 1990-1994
Career stats: 3,943 rushing yards, 4.3 YPC, 26 TDs
Injuries: Sprained ankle, sprained knee