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.

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SUPER BOWL IX CHAMPION 1974 PITTSBURGH STEELERS

The first NFL championship in 42 years where the game ball was given to Steeler patriarch, the late Art Rooney. It had been a long time coming for all the decades of despair this team had been through. From the war time merging with the Philadelphia Eagles to form the “Steagles”. To the failed ability to recognize quarterback talent by cutting future Hall of Famers Len Dawson and Johnny Unitas. Nothing good had happened for this organization for decades.

Enter Chuck Noll.

superbowlixNoll was hired to be the Head Coach after serving under Don Shula’s Baltimore Colts regime in 1969. His last game with the organization was the loss to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. By then Noll was defensive coordinator after serving for years as a defensive line coach, most notably with the early 60’s San Diego Chargers in the AFL.

They say the player is the father to the coach a man becomes and Noll had been a lineman in his playing days. So instead of building his team first with a quarterback or featured runner, he drafted defensive tackle Joe Greene. He would build his defensive masterpiece from the ground up. A point often forgotten is the selection of LC Greenwood in the 10th round that same year.

A closer look at the front of the ring.

A closer look at the front of the ring.

In 1970, quarterback Terry Bradshaw was selected as the #1 overall pick. They finally had their quarterback of the future but the chief building block was Noll’s defense and in particular his defensive line. Five years later they were the best in pro football and came to be known as “The Steel Curtain”

Of course the Steelers had the great class of 1974 to put the finishing touch on what would become a football dynasty. However a look back and you can truly see how Pittsburgh’s first NFL championship had AFL roots.

If the AFL hadn’t been around to offer Chuck Noll his first coaching job at the professional level in 1960, would he have been in place to take the Steelers job in 1969?? Also look at the make up of the Steeler team from a draft and racial standpoint. Mining talent from historically black colleges and smaller schools was an AFL trait, not an NFL one. What Noll did in Pittsburgh was recreate the San Diego defensive line of the early 1960s he wasn’t allowed to in Baltimore.Steel_Curtain_Time_Magazine

  • Joe Greene – North Texas St.
  • LC Greenwood – Arkansas AM & N
  • Ernie Holmes – Texas Southern
  • Dwight White – East Texas State

So think of Joe Greene as a latter day Earl Faison or Ernie Ladd who had come from Grambling. By the time we include the late quarterback “Jefferson Street” Joe Gilliam from Tennessee State, Mel Blount from Southern, and John Stallworth from Alabama A&M, this team resembles the 1965 San Diego Chargers or 1969 Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL more than it did the 1968 Baltimore Colts.

super-bowl-logo-1974Many former players have talked about the racial quota that existed in the NFL back when. Well along with Vince Lombardi and Hank Stram, Chuck Noll broke that system for good and let talent flourish. First the Steelers took $1 million to move in with the AFL teams to form the AFC in 1970 with the league merger. Than Chuck Noll built the best AFL team he could through the draft

In doing so he brought Pittsburgh a championship it so desperately sought. It would not be the last.

RIP Coach Noll

RIP Coach Noll

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This bauble was what each player and coach received after their 16-6 win vs the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX.

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.