SUPER BOWL XIII CHAMPION 1978 PITTSBURGH STEELERS

In the “Battle of Champions”, Super Bowl XIII on January 21, 1979 the defending champion Cowboys took on the Steelers in deciding who was to be the team of the decade. The first Super Bowl with a kickoff pushed back so that it would conclude in front of a primetime audience.

xiiipsThis was arguably one of the best Super Bowls of the first 25 that were played. Even though the Steelers had bested Dallas in Super Bowl X, this could make things even.  The discrepancy of 10 Steelers in the Hall of Fame vs. 3 for Dallas is beyond ridiculous considering Pittsburgh barely won 35-31.  Of course Cowboy fans point to a bogus “incidental contact” pass interference call between Benny Barnes and Lynn Swann, then you have the Jackie Smith dropped pass…nevertheless referee Fred Sweringen blew that interference call…it’s important because John Stallworth was out for the second half and the Steelers couldn’t move the ball.

Let’s take a trip back in time. Aside from Oakland and Miami, the Steelers and Cowboys were viewed as the best teams of the 1970’s.  The Steelers had won it all in 1974 and returned to the Super Bowl as a powerful defending champion. Pittsburgh repeated as champions and established themselves as a dynasty.  They dropped off the championship mantle for ’76 and ’77 yet were poised to return in 1978.

xiiips2In their absence the Dallas Cowboys had retooled themselves and ascended to the Super Bowl XII championship with Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett added to the mix. The young players that joined the Cowboys in 1975 like Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, and Randy White were now starters and superstars.  Now they were set to do what Pittsburgh had done and repeat as Super Bowl champions.  So for the second time they’d meet in a Super Bowl with one team coming in as a defending champion.

In 1978, the NFL saw rule changes that allowed receivers to only be chucked within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. This “Mel Blount rule” along with a rule allowing pass blockers to extend their arms liberalized the passing game. Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers became a new team as he led the league with 28 TDs thrown. The Steel Curtain wasn’t as stout as it had been in the mid 70’s yet they allowed the fewest points in the first 16 game season with 195 allowed. Franco Harris was still a 1,000 yard rusher at this time.

So this powerful 14-2 challenger went down to Miami’s Orange Bowl to take on the defending champion Cowboys who finished 12-4. For only the second time in the 13 year history of the Super Bowl, we would have two teams facing that each previously had won the game before. The first was the Steelers meeting the Cowboys in X, so everyone anticipated a great game for XIII. Two prime champions faced off and an epic battle ensued.

The Steelers opened up the scoring 7-0 with a Bradshaw to John Stallworth pass from 28 yards out.

After the Cowboys came back and tied the game with a Staubach to Tony Hill pass, Dallas “Doomsday Defense” struck. “Hollywood” Henderson and Mike Hegman sacked Bradshaw with Hegman stealing the ball and scoring with it. The Steelers were down 14-7 when a few plays later…

Each team’s defense forced multiple turnovers during the first half. The majority of the 2nd quarter had the teams deadlocked at 14 when the Steelers sustained a drive just before halftime. With seconds to go, Bradshaw connected on his 3rd TD of the half with this pass to Rocky Bleier.

Terry finished the first half with 253 yards with his 3 touchdowns and would become the first QB to throw for over 300 in a Super Bowl. Keep in mind this was the same quarterback that had nearly played his way out of a job in 1974. All the footage of his mistake prone ways as a young player were being extinguished in the mind as he put on this bravura performance in the 1st half.

Up 21-14, the Steel Curtain started to crack as Staubach started to move the ball in the 3rd quarter. Right when they were going to tie the game at 21, Jackie Smith dropped a sure touchdown on a 3rd down forcing them to settle for a field goal and a 21-17 deficit. Dallas, demoralized by the turn of events lost momentum for most of the second half.

After the most questionable pass interference in NFL history put the Steelers on the Cowboys 22, Franco scored on this trap to make it 28-17. We were getting late in the 4th quarter also.

Following an accidental squib kick, DT Randy White mishandled the football and fumbled as he was hit by Tony Dungy. Now the Steelers were poised for the kill at the Dallas 18 yard line.

It was not all over… Although the Steelers led 35-17 with a little more than  6 minutes left in the game, Staubach’s championship mettle shone through. The crack in the Steel Curtain became s fissure as the Cowboys scored twice from 90 and 48 yards out respectively. Yet Pittsburgh held on to win 35-31 and unseated the Cowboys as champions.

super-bowl-logo-1978Super Bowl XIII was a celebration with the two best teams facing off in the big game.  Rarely does that happen. Great games like that to climax the season leave you wanting more but you have to wait until next season to get that fix. To think the NFL’s #2 (Cowboys) and #3 (Steelers) ranked defenses were shredded by 35 and 31 points respectively. No one saw that coming.

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Bradshaw was the runaway MVP as he passed for a Super Bowl records for yardage (318) and touchdown passes (4). Much like Ben Roethlisberger today, it was the defense and the running game that carried the QB to his first Super Bowl win. Terry had a good game in his second, Super Bowl X, but it was this one that validated his career and sent him to the Hall of Fame.

It’s impossible to see this championship ring and not think of the Super Bowl game first.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

RIP Coach Noll

RIP Coach Noll

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Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History: Honorable Mention

When Malcolm Smith crossed the goal line to put Seattle up 22-0 in last February’s Super Bowl, pundits were already arguing where they ranked among the NFL’s greatest defenses. Here at Taylor Blitz Times we wanted to let some time pass before we waxed too philosophical about their exploits. As the keeper of the flame, it’s up to The Chancellor of Football to accurately place each great defense. We will do this in 3 parts.

Smith's 69 yard interception in Super Bowl XLVIII ended the competitive phase of the game.

Smith’s 69 yard interception in Super Bowl XLVIII ended the competitive phase of the game and trumpeted the question: Where would you rank Seattle’s defense with  the all-time greats??

One of the criteria for greatest ever defenses you have to ask is: How dominant were they at their peak? They had to bring the lumber over an entire season. These defenses had to be stout with a performance that stands the test of time in remembrance. Without further adieu we have to get on with the Honorable Mention. Those right outside the top ten.

1977 Denver Broncos – The original Orange Crush defense that led the Broncos to Super Bowl XII and Denver’s first ever winning season. This was the first great full time 3-4 defense that yielded only 148 points (10.6 pts / game) and just 18 touchdowns for the season. Holding 7 of their opponents to 10 points or less.

Even with an offense that turned it over 8 times, the still held Dallas to 27 points in Super Bowl XII.

Even with an offense that turned it over 8 times, the still held Dallas to 27 points in Super Bowl XII.

Led by Randy Gradishar, ESPN’s Tom Jackson, and the late Lyle Alzado this defense had an unheard of 4 All Pros concentrated on this defense and 5 Pro Bowlers. This not ready for primetime group came out of nowhere and swallowed the Steelers and Raiders in the playoffs before falling to Dallas in New Orleans in Super Bowl XII. This group swarmed like bees and ushered in the era where 3-4 defenses took over the NFL.

1978 Pittsburgh Steelers – In the first year in which the NFL moved to a 16 game schedule, this group set the new record with fewest points allowed in a season with 195. Powered by the Steel Curtain, they held 8 of 16 opponents to 10 or fewer points. This group did more blitzing than in years past to get to the quarterback. They did have 5 Pro Bowl defenders and 1 All Pro in Jack Ham, but there were stronger incarnations of the Steeler defense.

A fact that gets lost is going into Super Bowl XIII, the consensus was Pittsburgh force vs the finesse Cowboys. Yet it was Dallas whose defense was ranked #2 and Pittsburgh’s #3, For the season they yielded 260.5 yards per game, unofficially had 52 sacks and 27 interceptions which ranked 7th. They peaked in the playoffs holding both Denver and Houston to 10 points and 5 points respectively. Yet gave up some serious candy to the Dallas offense (320 yards & 31 points)

1968 Baltimore Colts – The team that is best known for coming up short in Super Bowl III against the AFL’s New York Jets. In The Chancellor of Football’s estimation, this was the best team that Don Shula ever coached and one of his defensive assistants was the late Chuck Noll. This defense held 10 of 14 regular season opponents to 10 or fewer points. At one point late in the season, they gave up 1 touchdown over 25 quarters including a string of 16 straight quarters w/out a touchdown allowed.

md-darkroom-hutchins-curtisThe Colts of ’68 shut out 3 regular season opponents and the fourth was against the Browns who gave the 13-1 team their only loss. That drubbing was avenged 34-0 in the NFL Championship Game. They even set the record with only 144 points allowed. Between 1967 & 1968 their record was 24-2-2. If only this team had won on January 12th 1969…..but….

2000 Tennessee Titans – Lost in the delirium over the great 2000 Ravens defense, is the fact they finished #2 to the Titans that year in rankings. Jeff Fisher’s bunch only allowed 238.9 yards per game and held 6 opponents to 10 points or less over the campaign.

Second year DE Jevon Kearse led the team with 11.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. Samri Rolle had 7 interceptions he returned for 140 yards and a touchdown. SS Blaine Bishop had 84 tackles to go with 2.5 sacks but 0 interceptions. All three were Pro Bowlers but only Samari was an All Pro Player. One issue is they didn’t force enough turnovers (29) and they finished just +1 in turnover ratio. These are poor marks considering they only saw 1 Pro Bowl quarterback the entire season. Yet they were #1 against the pass (151 yds /gm) and #3 against the run (86 yds /gm).

1987 San Francisco 49ers – One of the last teams to finish with the NFL’s #1 offense and defense happened with this group in 1987. They were gaining momentum allowing only 1 touchdown in the final 16 quarters of the season and none in the final 12 as the playoffs beckoned. They held 5 opponents to 10 or fewer points including two shutouts in their final three games. One of which was a 41-0 hammering of the NFC Central Champion Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. 

Led by All Pro and Pro Bowler Ronnie Lott (5 ints) this group was #1 against the pass (165 yds /gm) while only yielding 273 yards for the game. What makes this more remarkable are 3 games were played with replacement players due to the strike. Had the season been 16 games instead of 15 and no strike, these numbers could have been even better. They were also #5 against the run (107.4 yds / gm) thanks to All Pro and Pro Bowl Nose Tackle Michael Carter.

Jim Burt knocking Joe Montana out with a concussion in their 49-3 rout in the '86 playoffs.

Jim Burt knocking Joe Montana out with a concussion in their 49-3 rout in the ’86 playoffs.

1986 New York Giants – A romanticized defense that knocked 5 quarterbacks out on their way to the Super Bowl XXI championship. Yet they were #2 in 1986 and allowed 39 more yards per game than the #1 Chicago Bears with 297.3 yards per game. Second biggest discrepancy between #1 and #2 since 1970.

Led by League MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Lawrence Taylor’s 20 sacks, New York held 5 teams to 10 points or fewer during the regular season. They held their 2 NFC playoff opponents to 3 & 0 points respectively. There were 4 Pro Bowl defenders on this defense in LB Harry Carson, NT Jim Burt, DE Leonard Marshall, and the aforementioned LT.

2008 Pittsburgh Steelers – Close but no cigar. This team finished with the #1 ranking allowing just 237.2 yards per game. They held 8 opponents to 10 or fewer points yet gave up 223 for the season. One mark against them is they only faced 2 Pro Bowl QBs and lost both games. Losing 24-20 to Peyton’s Colts and 21-14 against Eli’s Giants. This was also the year they beat the Patriots 33-10 with Matt Cassel at QB not an injured Tom Brady. Big difference. This group had 51 sacks but only 20 interceptions. The last time we saw them, Kurt Warner passed for 377 yards, 2nd highest in Super Bowl history, and needed Big Ben to bail them out with a game winning pass with :32 left.

This group did have NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison and Pro Bowl SS Troy Palamalu who would win the award 2 years later. Harrison had 16 sacks with 7 forced fumbles. James Farrior (122 tackles) was the 3rd and final Pro Bowler on a talented roster which included LaMarr Woodley (11 sacks).  They were a world champion but this group didn’t perform high enough against the best competition. The top ten is a Sugar Ray Leonard’s list, the honorable mention is where Thomas Hearns resides.

Dwight Smith capped off Super Bowl XXXVII with 2 defensive touchdowns. Should have been the MVP.

Dwight Smith capped off Super Bowl XXXVII with 2 defensive touchdowns. Should have been the MVP.

2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The final team to miss the call to the top ten was the 2002 Buccaneers. The undisputed #1 defense that year. However playing in the new NFC South they feasted on patsies. On 3 occasions they took on top 10 offenses and they lost two of those games to Philadelphia (10th) and Pittsburgh (5th).

This team yielded 252.8 yards per game had 43 sacks and 31 interceptions which ranked 6th and 1st respectively. This team only gave up 196 points while holding 9 regular season opponents to 10 or fewer points. However a closer look reveals they came against offenses ranked 26th, 18th, 14th, 23rd, 31st, 31st, 12th, 14th, and 29th. Chris Redman (who??) quarterbacked the Ravens who was the first in this group. While NFL journeyman Jim Miller led the Bears in the last game.

This team fielded 5 Pro Bowl players in NFL Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles, Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice (15.5 sacks), and S John Lynch. This group scored on defense. Brooks tied the NFL record with 4 defensive touchdowns and CB Dwight Smith set a Super Bowl record with 2 interception returns for touchdowns. Their numbers and performance should get them in until you look at the competition. Someone reading this is going to describe how they throttled the #1 Raider offense in the Super Bowl. Yet how much do you attribute to Monte Kiffin’s defense or Jon Gruden knowing the Raider offense and personnel??

Thanks for reading and now its time for the top 10.

NFL Bracketology: 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers v. 1981 Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals coach Forrest Gregg led the Bengals past the rival Steelers and into Super Bowl XVI.

Alright, raise your hand if you know who was responsible for halting one of the most revered dynasties in NFL history?? It was the Cincinnati Bengals THAT ENDED THE STEELERS DYNASTY!

In 1979, the final season the Steelers won a Super Bowl, they lost to an 0-6 Bengals team 34-10. Then in 1980 the Bengals SWEPT the Steelers who went 9-7 allowing the Browns to win the AFC Central 11-5 ending the Steelers dynasty. Then for good measure, in 1981 the Bengals SWEPT the Steelers again to hammer the last nails in Pittsburgh’s dynasty coffin enroute to their Super Bowl XVI appearance. The Bengals beat the Steelers 5 out of 6 times and you’re asking why would they belong here?

Terry Bradshaw drops back during the first half of Super Bowl XIII.

That being said, the ’81 Bengals would have lost in a competitive game to the ’78 Steelers who were at the height of their power (offense, defense & experience). As a defense they peaked in 1976 but once the offensive rules were liberated, Terry Bradshaw came into his own as an elite passer and threw for 28 TDs in 1978.

The defense didn’t have to be as good as 1976 because the offense, still with 1,000 yard rusher Franco Harris, was the most complete in the NFL. Still they only allowed 195 points for the season (Denver was second with 198) and this team roared to a 14-2 record. Their dynasty apex (ed) somewhere during the 3rd quarter of Super Bowl XIII against the Dallas Cowboys.

In that game we watched Roger Staubach, after the Jackie Smith TD pass drop, start hitting receiver after receiver bringing Dallas back from a 35-17 deficit to within 35-31. Thank God Rocky Blier recovered that onside kick. The Steeler defense was running on fumes by the end of the game and it carried over into 1979 and especially in the 1979 playoffs. They were never as strong as this 1978 team.

The Cincinnati Bengals were built to compete with the Pittsburgh Steelers and were strong on the line of scrimmage. Pete Johnson and Charles Alexander would be able to run but not with as much success as Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Steve Furness and John Banaszak would bend but not break.

Also in 1978 and 1979 the Steelers had to blitz more to get pressure on the quarterback.Look at the Super Bowl XIII and XIV highlights and you’ll see it. How do we know this? In Super Bowl XIII against Dallas, the Steelers blitzed with an 8 man front that Staubach burned for a 39 yard TD to Tony Hill to tie the game at 7-7.

Bengal QB Ken Anderson would have success throwing intermediate passes which are effective against this blitz. You forget that Bill Walsh and the west coast offense is really Paul Brown’s offense as it was taught to Walsh in Cincinnati.

You also forget that Ken Anderson had been a league passing champion in the mid 1970s and led Cincy to the playoffs in ’73 and ’74. So the Bengals had some success and would have been able to get deep at least twice in this game with lanky rookie Cris Collinsworth.

The difference is that LB Reggie Williams, DE Eddie Edwards, DE Ross Browner, and LBs Glen Cameron and Bo Harris were physical and emotional players but couldn’t make enough big plays against the 1978 Steelers and would lose. 34-18. Against the ’78 Steelers they wouldn’t win but I already showed you how they owned the Steelers after that…so don’t doubt their being mentioned in this tournament.