Pittsburgh - In the mid- and late-1970s, the Steelers and their AFC Central-rival Houston Oilers met so many times for the Division crown it prompted former Oilers coach Bum Phillips to coin his phrase about the door to the Super Bowl going through Pittsburgh.
Needless to say, Phillips and the Oilers had little luck and success in Pittsburgh, including a game that Steelers fans voted as the sixth-greatest game in Three Rivers Stadium history as part of the Last Season at Three Rivers celebration: the 1979 AFC Championship game, which actually was played Jan. 6, 1980 and won by the Steelers, 27-13.
The sixth-greatest play was Jack Lambert's forced fumble against Cincinnati's Boobie Clark that was returned for a touchdown in a Dec. 13, 1975 game that clinched the Steelers' third AFC Central title in four years.
In the end, though, the Steelers captured their fourth AFC Championship in six years in a hard-fought, physical game that was much closer than the final score indicated and typified the rivalry that existed between the AFC Central rivals.
Even though the statistics favored the Steelers, their last touchdown came in the final minute, and the final score was their largest margin of the game. Terry Bradshaw continued his spectacular postseason play, converting 13-of-19 third-down opportunities, and the defense did not allow a touchdown, holding the Oilers to just 24 yards rushing and Earl Campbell to 15 yards on 17 attempts.
Houston scored first when Vernon Perry stopped a promising Steelers' drive with an interception, which he returned 75 yards. After the teams traded field goals on back-to-back possessions, Bradshaw guided the Steelers to touchdowns on their next two chances, which gave the Steelers a lead they never surrendered. Although, it was seriously threatened late in the third quarter when the officials ruled Mike Renfro did not have possession on what appeared to be a game-tying touchdown pass. The Oilers settled for a field goal, which the Steelers soon matched.
A fumble led to Pittsburgh's last score. Bradshaw's two touchdown passes gave him a postseason career total of 26, an NFL record, and increased his yardage record to 3,199. Franco Harris was the leading rusher for the 13th time in 16 postseason games and increased his rushing yardage to 1,442, another NFL mark. The win was the Steelers 16th straight at home and seventh playoff win in a row at Three Rivers.
But his instincts and football awareness were exceptional as well, and he often found himself on the receiving end of opponent turnovers.
The play that was selected by Steelers fans as the sixth-greatest play in Three Rivers Stadium as part of the Steelers year-long Last Season at Three Rivers Stadium celebration, demonstrated a little of both Lambert's intelligence and brawn in a Dec. 13, 1975 game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
To Set the Scene: With the Steelers leading the Cincinnati Bengals, 7-0, in the first quarter of a key AFC Central game and the Bengals threatening, Cincinnati running back Boobie Clark was running left at his own 48-yard line where he ran into an awaiting Lambert.
Lambert stopped Clark, who was a big, punishing runner, in the Bengals' backfield with a hard hit forcing Clark to fumble. Lambert then retrieved the ball and raced 21 yards before pitching the ball to J.T. Thomas who rambled the remaining 21 yards for a Steelers touchdown.
The touchdown gave the Steelers a 14-0 lead and set the tone for a decisive 35-14 Steelers' victory, clinching the Steelers' third AFC Central title in four years.
Game Notes: Each home game there will be honorary game captains, who played for the Steelers during their 31 seasons at Three Rivers. This week's captains are: defensive end Dwight White (1971-80), cornerback Dwayne Woodruff (1979-85, 87-90) and wide receiver Lynn Swann (1974-82).