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The 1988 Pittsburgh Steelers season was the franchise's 56th in the National Football League. Hall of Fame team founder and owner Art Rooney died at age 87 less than two weeks before the start of the season on August 25. The team wore AJR patches on the left shoulder the entire season in memory of "The Chief".
The team finished the season at 5-11 failing to improve on their 8-7 record from 1987, and had their worst record since finishing an NFL-worst 1-13 in 1969. As of 2018, the 5-11 mark remains the team's worst record since 1969, and they have only finished with ten losses twice since, in 1999 and 2003.
The Steelers got off to a disappointing start.[according to whom?] After winning their home opener against the Dallas Cowboys, the team lost six straight, their first six-game losing streak since 1969. The team never recovered after the skid, and at one point had a 2-10 record after a 27-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns. It was the Steelers worst start to a season since the merger. The team had several horrible and forgetful games during the season.[according to whom?] One of those games was their week 10 game against the Cincinnati Bengals, a game in which they lost, 42-7, the most points they had allowed in a game since 1985, when they allowed 54 points against the Chargers. The Steelers did, however, finish the season on a positive note, winning 3 of their last 4 games to finish the season 5-11.
Mike Webster, who was also from the Class of 1974, entered the season as the sole remaining member of all four Super Bowl teams. However, change appeared to be imminent when the team drafted KentuckyguardDermontti Dawson in the second round of the 1988 draft. Although Dawson would be playing guard his rookie season alongside Webster, it was apparent that Dawson was drafted to be groomed as Webster's eventual replacement at center. Webster would be released by the Steelers in the following offseason, officially ending the team's link to all four Super Bowl clubs.
To the delight of Steelers fans, and even most of the players, the Mark Malone era officially ended in the offseason as well. Malone, who had lost the starting quarterback job to Bubby Bristerthe previous year, was traded to the San Diego Chargers during the offseason. Malone had also become hugely unpopular with fans and teammates for blaming his mistakes on other players and acting as if he were the "heir" to the QB position after the retirement of Terry Bradshaw. At one point, a locker room fight between Malone and the rest of the team ensued before being broken up by veteran offensive tackleTunch Ilkin.