Super Bowl XIV was the culmination of the Pittsburgh Steelers and their incredible record as a football dynasty. It was their 4th title in 6 years. They had started as one of the greatest defenses with a solid running game. Yet they evolved into one of the league’s most explosive passing games with the ’78 rule changes. For several reasons this was one of history’s most unique champions. There were storm clouds on the horizon however…
In 1979 the Steelers were a defending champion and were the NFL’s best but it was evident teams were catching this aging team.
One of the most unique elements of this champion is how mistake prone they were. Did you know this was the only Super Bowl champion that won the title while leading the NFL in turnovers?? They had 52 turnovers and still went 12-4. In two of those games they turned it over 9 times in a 34-10 loss to Cincinnati, then 8 more in a 35-7 loss to San Diego.
However they could show extreme force as they beat Denver 42-7 and Dallas 14-3 in Super Bowl XIII 1/2. They bludgeoned two playoff teams that played in the last two Super Bowls in back to back weeks. These came during a four game stretch where they held each opponent to under 10 points. Yet they were bookended by the numbing losses to Cincinnati and San Diego.
The other unique aspect of this team is it’s the only champion ever comprised of players who had only played for Pittsburgh. All original draft picks and free agents. When they made it to Super Bowl XIV, it was almost a celebration of the Steeler way when they faced the Rams with 3 former Steeler coaches in Defensive Coordinator Bud Carson, Woody Widenhofer, and Dan Radakovich. These men were a part of the dynasty since they were on the staff back in Super Bowl IX and X.
When this team was challenged they could focus and win on experience. Truth be told the tell tale signs were there this would be the last year they would be ahead of the NFL pack. Their 31-19 win over the Rams out in The Rose Bowl was more a curtain call for those great aging Steelers. Chuck Noll’s men took their place as one of the NFL’s greatest dynasties.
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When Cincy beat the Steelers in Week #3 of that ’80 season, it could have easily been dismissed as, “well look at last year when they destroyed them”. Steelers then posted, perhaps, their most-dominant four-game stretch (already mentioned) of their entire ’70s Dynasty! Yes, perhaps due to them being ‘spent’ after that (and, yeah, the cracks were showing as you say), they lay quite that egg at Jack Murphy, but end up getting Cincy back in their rematch en route to another Lombardi.
“No biggie”, many may have been thinking. Despite injuries and turnovers, perhaps no real worries in Steel Town during that 4-1 start. Injuries and turnovers…been there done that recently, and still finishing on top, right? Well, after losing to Cincy AGAIN in Week #6, and then that very 45-34 loss to Oakland on MNF (and then at Cleveland; now they’re 4-4)?? Yes, looked to be over by then. Many close losses in ’80, but how about close WINS? And against some weak competition like Colts, Bucs, home vs Green Bay? Sadly, it all even-ed itself out. Like Parcells said, you’re as good as your record. And the ’80 Steelers ‘Exhibit A’ of that.
I credit Cincy’s super-brutal schedule in ’79 for their eventual representation of the AFC two years later! In that year before Gregg came on, they squared off against 12 teams that would end up finishing above-500!! Not to mention two respectable 7-9 teams: Knox’s Bills & Levy’s Chiefs! Crushing both the Steelers in that earlier contest and also the Eagles two weeks later – and beating Browns in the finale – offered a hint of what was to soon come.
Things were hardly any easier for the Bengals in ’80. Only playing against four losing teams, and two 8-8s, it’d be the second straight year they were in a division with three teams that would finish above-500! Ten winning teams total on the schedule this time instead of a dozen – wow, what a break! No, the simple uniform change not the reason for the sudden Super Bowl year in ’81! They couldn’t have been more battle-hardened/ready in those two years leading up!
The ’70s Rams…the Irony! The two years that they “should’ve” played the Steelers in the Super Bowl, they get hammered AT HOME to Dallas in the NFC Championship Game! In ’78, Ray’s first year, not only do they beat both Steelers & Dallas during the regular season, and not only was that win vs Steelers NOT a meaningless finale like in ’75, but the Rams were a staggering 7-1 vs teams that would finish above-500! And, yes, they had the #1 defense! That with home-field advantage, beating Dallas during regular season, yet still getting BLASTED by them at the Coliseum, 28-0! And, to top it off, Dallas had to wear those blue ‘bad-luck’/’jinx’ jerseys that they “never” won in!
Yes, the lack of QB-power is what always held them back. That and the fact that, despite Chuck Knox being a real good coach, Landry was simply on a higher level. Bud Grant as well. If the Vikings weren’t necessarily better in a given year, they always seemed to at least have LA’s number, at least. The irony that a 9-7 finisher with Malavasi at-helm instead of Knox, and new Ferragamo and Tyler on offense, would be the ones to represent the NFC instead. But most of those players on those very good Rams teams all decade long were there in that Super Bowl, and whatever shortcomings they struggled with early that season were now ironed-out! Especially with a truly inspired JACK YOUNGBLOOD leading the charge into the Rose Bowl!! And not only does he play…WITH A BROKEN LEG, he then plays…WITH A BROKEN LEG the following week in…the PRO BOWL!! Those were the days!
Steelers winning SBXIV – and in LA albeit not in the Rams’ actual stadium – was no small task at all! Rams threw everything they possibly could at them. And BUD CARSON, no stranger of course to them, on the opposing sideline? As you say, it was a ‘Curtain Call’. No, not consciously but subconsciously they “knew” this may be it, so put up another final “classic” performance! Just like when the Beatles, after fighting for years now, went into the studio all-but-“knowing” this would be their last recording sessions, and nailed ‘Abbey Road’! Beatles broke-up the following calendar-year in 1970, the Steeler Dynasty was deemed “over” sometime in 1980, after that 4-1 start.
Will never forget that 35-7 loss to San Diego … talk about a team that didn’t show up that day. A good wake-up call for them, though. 1980 season was a disappointment, for sure (and we’re going to be replaying that 9-7 campaign soon), but I remember watching them in Tampa Bay (was on sidelines for second half), and they were still imposing to say the least. They still had Bleier, Wagner, Kolb, albeit creakier. What killed them in the ’80 campaign were the two tight losses to the 6-10 Bengals (by one point and two points) and a one-point loss to Cleveland; winning those three games would have won them the division. Of course, they tellingly lost that 45-34 MNF contest to Oakland, which had radically changed its own chemistry by sending Stabler, Casper and Tatum to Houston. They still showed shades of their former glory in the close losses to the ’81 Niners and the ’82 Chargers in the strike postseason — and would likely have won those games had they been at full strength.
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Yup…I wrote about the Bengals having killed off the Steeler dynasty when NFL.com had their bracket ploy and put the 78 Steelers against the ’81 Bengals
I thought time had passed those Steelers by by then. They were on fumes at the end of both Super Bowl XIII and XIV. The games they played were getting closer and closer. By 1980, they had come back to the pack. Age and injuries slowed them like all teams. That 45-34 loss to the Raiders at home in 1980 proved it. The Cincinnati Bengals kept beating them and that ended the era on them.