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.

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RIP Coach Noll

RIP Coach Noll

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SUPER BOWL X CHAMPIONS 1975 PITTSBURGH STEELERS

At what point do you begin to erase an earlier label that was given to you as a player?  Can you totally overcome a negative stigma associated with that label?  At what point does a team peak with its full talent on display??superbowlx

Just think that only a year and a half earlier, the Steelers were 3-1-1 at midseason, and mired in a quarterback controversy between “Jefferson St” Joe Gilliam and Terry Bradshaw. Pittsburgh won with defense and a running attack in spite of the quarterback. After alternating between the ineffective Gilliam and Bradshaw, Noll finally gave the nod to Bradshaw.

Many speculated Pittsburgh wasn’t ready for a black quarterback. Did you know the 1974 Steelers were the only Super Bowl champion that completed less than 50% of their passes?? Gilliam went 4-1-1 in his starts completing 45.3% of his passes (96 of 212) for 1,242 yards 4TDs and 8 interceptions. Bradshaw finished completing 45.3% of his throws (67 of 148) for 785 yards 7 TDs with 8 interceptions. Terry, having gone 5-2, was sacked more and threw interceptions at a higher rate than Gilliam. So he really never beat him out.

superbowlxblack2After an upset victory in Super Bowl IX established them as league champion, the confident Steelers rolled through the next year with Terry Bradshaw at the helm. The Steelers were led by their famous front four known as the “Steel Curtain”, their powerful running game, and Bradshaw received some credit for being the quarterback of the champs.  Yet the respect afforded the Steelers QB was begrudging and not to the level of previous winners like Unitas, Staubach, Greise, Dawson, Starr, or even Fran Tarkenton who hadn’t won one yet appeared in Super Bowls twice.

The 1975 season began with a first time champion who was one of the youngest teams in football.  They were just developing as a team having come through the ’74 season with 8 rookies on the roster.  They hadn’t hit their peak as a team. Even Bradshaw was just shaking off the bad play that had him labeled as “Lil Abner” and a “dumb” quarterback.

He hadn’t lived up to his billing as the number 1 player in the 1970 draft until now, but with a pair of second year receivers in Swann and Stallworth, they were developing to complement the running game.  The strength of this team was its defense and running game.  Franco Harris again rushed for 1000 yards and the Steelers went 12-2 in the regular season. The Steelers were beginning to become bigger than life with Joe Greene, LC Greenwood, Ernie Holmes, Jack Lambert and company.

The patch worn by each team in Super Bowl X.

The patch worn by each team in Super Bowl X.

Bradshaw had improved as a quarterback in 1975 as he emerged as a leader. He completed 57.7% (165 of 286) for 2,055 yards 18 TDs to just 9 picks. Yet his moment finally came in a Super Bowl performance that put him on the level of the quarterbacks who were treated with more acclaim. His stats were good but it was the way he stood strong in the pocket to deliver the game clinching 64 yard touchdown to Lynn Swann while being knocked out.

You could see he knew was going to get clocked as he side stepped Cowboy linebacker DD Lewis and gathered himself to throw deep. Much like present Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is thought of now. He was carried to his first Super Bowl by his teammates. In his second, he validated himself among the great quarterbacks by making the play to win the game.

super-bowl-logo-1975Super Bowl X validated the career of Terry Bradshaw and he didn’t have to look over his shoulder the rest of his career. Two more championship triumphs were to follow and this ring commemorated the Steelers becoming a dynasty. Bradshaw would go on to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, however the contributions of “Jefferson St” Joe Gilliam shouldn’t be forgotten.

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This article is dedicated in the memory of Joe Giliam.