Steelers first to 3 trophies

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Another in a series of stories chronicling the 52 playoff games in Steelers history.**

In the early part of the decade, the sport of boxing had presented the heavyweight championship match everyone wanted to see when it paired Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali in Madison Square Garden on March 18, 1971. At the other end of the decade, on Jan. 21, 1979, at the Orange Bowl, the NFL was doing the same thing with a couple of its heavyweights in Super Bowl XIII.

Steelers-Cowboys.

The Steelers were at their third Super Bowl in five seasons, and Dallas was headed to its fourth trying to defend the championship it won the previous year against Denver. The winner of Super Bowl XIII would make NFL history as the first team to win three Lombardi trophies, and the game itself was a rematch of Super Bowl X, which at the time was considered one of the more compelling to that point. Each franchise believed it was the best in the NFL, and putting the teams together when both were at a peak allowed it to be settled on the field.

There were a couple of weeks of hype to really rev the engine, and in Pittsburgh, Jack Lambert was one of the first to weigh in with an opinion. Lambert, as you recall, had been in the eye of the storm in Super Bowl X by tossing Cliff Harris to the turf. "I think we're the best team in football. The difference is that we have the confidence back."

One of the things that made Noll so successful in Super Bowls was the way in which he approached the hype. While so many coaches gritted their teeth at everything they viewed as a distraction, Noll believed the Super Bowl was to be enjoyed. Noll's preference was to treat his players like adults and professionals, and the Steelers of the late 1970s were a collection of both.

"It's a fun week," said Noll, who always installed his game plan before the team left for the site of the game. "No other week in the season is like it. We don't view this as a distraction. The distractions keep you from being there. Now you're there. We have some guys who want some exposure, and they should enjoy it."

One of the guys Noll was talking about was quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who craved acceptance by the fans and the media, and over the course of his career he had shown a tendency to play better when he was enjoying himself. Bob Adams was a tight end on some of Noll's first teams, and he had said back in 1972 that "watching Terry Bradshaw play quarterback is like watching a rose bloom in slow motion." In 1978, the rose was in full bloom.

With Noll being the first coach to understand the ramifications of the new rules liberalizing pass blocking and restricting contact with receivers beyond 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, the Steelers offense became a consistent big-play threat. Yes, the Steelers still ran the football – starters Franco Harris (310) and Rocky Bleier (165) accounted for the bulk of the team's 641 rushing attempts that ranked third in the NFL – but Bradshaw passed for 2,915 yards with 28 touchdowns and led the NFL in yards-per-attempt as the play-caller for an offense that scored 356 points.

He was voted MVP of the league, but Bradshaw's insecurity still was very real. "I'm not the best. I'm somewhere near the top, maybe in the top 10. I doubt that I'll ever be able to look in the mirror and say, 'I'm the best quarterback in pro football.' Maybe it's because of my personality, but I don't think I'll ever get the recognition from the media. They make excuses for the other guys. Me, I lose, I go back to being a dummy."

That was the scab Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson chose to pick from the moment the Steelers-Cowboys matchup was official. This was the Super Bowl where Henderson uttered his infamous barb: "Bradshaw is so stupid he couldn't spell c-a-t if you spotted him the 'c' and the 'a'." While Henderson was working on Bradshaw, other Cowboys players promised this outcome would be different than Super Bowl X, because that 1976 Dallas team had been loaded with inexperienced players who shrunk from the Steelers' intensity as the game progressed.

"Some of the Cowboys seem to think they were a young ballclub then," said Joe Greene. "They're publicizing the fact they had 14 rookies, but they didn't play except on special teams. I wish I had the courage to talk like that. There's been a lot of talk about the rookies they had (in 1976) … and about how good their organization is in all areas – scouting, drafting, coaching, management. They are good, but our ballclub is in the same class. We don't say we're the best. We do whatever is necessary to get the job done.

"I'm gonna enjoy this game because it ends all the talk."

This being a Super Bowl, though, there happened to be a lot of guys on site with media credentials who were determined to make the talk last throughout the entire week of hyping the event, and they had a willing accomplice in Henderson.

"They're almost illegal," said Henderson about the Steelers defense. "It's amazing the way they beat up on Golden Richards in the first Super Bowl we played them. They didn't get any penalties in the game … I just couldn't understand that. They're intimidators, but our defense isn't going to intimidate them, we're just going to put it to 'em. We're gonna whip their butts."

And then Henderson trained his mouth on one guy: "(I don't like) Lambert. It's just some of the things he does. Sometimes he plays good, but he even started a fight with Preston Pearson, his ex-teammate, in Super Bowl X. I saw it. It's the people who talk (who bother me). There are just some people you can't stand."

Never one to back down, Lambert mocked Henderson's "Hollywood" persona. "Even a chimpanzee can get attention down here." And then later, Lambert added, "I've always thought it was just some kind of an act with him."

The game was a classic, and Bradshaw was at the center of it all. He passed for 317 yards on just 17 completions, and four went for touchdowns – 28 yards to John Stallworth, then a 75-yard catch-and-run by Stallworth, then a nifty acrobatic 7-yard catch by Bleier, and then an 18-yard dagger to Lynn Swann in the fourth quarter that came just 19 seconds after Harris had ripped off a 22-yard touchdown run. Everything about Bradshaw's day seemed to be spectacular, in one way or another. After his first touchdown pass to Stallworth, Bradshaw had the ball ripped from his arms by Mike Hegman and returned 37 yard for the touchdown that gave the Cowboys a 14-7 lead. But then on the next possession, Bradshaw hooked up with Stallworth on that electric 75 yard play that re-tied the score.

Swann and Stallworth both posted 100-yard receiving days, and the Steelers put the game away with a 14-point blitz, where Bradshaw again was spectacular. Chuck Noll allowed his quarterbacks to call their own plays, and Bradshaw had surprised the Cowboys defense by going with a trap-play to Harris instead of a pass on a third down for the first of those two touchdowns, and then he had gone right for the end zone on the play immediately after the Steelers had recovered a fumble on a kickoff.

"Our game plan was to pass," said Swann. "We were going to attack their corners. We wanted to force them to cover a receiver one-on-one. That's when Terry Bradshaw became so important. He had to read their defense and pick out that one man who was being covered by one man. His play selection was great."

What was truly special was Bradshaw's command of the game – he is the only quarterback in NFL history who won four Super Bowls and called his own plays – and a prime example of his game-brains was the play-calling on the first of those two critical fourth quarter touchdowns, the run by Harris.

On third-and-4 from the Dallas 17-yard line, the Steelers were flagged for delay of game just before the snap, and Henderson took advantage of the ensuing confusion to take a free shot at Bradshaw. Harris was livid, and Bradshaw noticed. He called a tackle-trap on third-and-9 with the Cowboys blitzing in anticipation of a pass. Harris exploded for the 22 yards and the touchdown.

"I know I'm playing better than I ever did before, but I don't know why," said Bradshaw after the game. "I can't put my finger on it. This has been my luckiest year, I know that. Lynn Swann and those guys are scoring touchdowns with passes that shouldn't even be caught. They help a guy's confidence."

Then came a parting shot: "Go ask Henderson how smart he thinks I am now."

The Steelers' performance in the 1978 playoffs turned out to be representative of their performance throughout a regular season in which they finished 14-2. They played three games in the postseason and scored more than 30 points in each; Bradshaw passed for eight touchdowns and had a rating of 104.1; the offense scored 13 touchdowns; and the defense recorded 16 sacks and forced 14 turnovers.

In the one final postgame media crush, it was classic Noll. Refusing to appear impressed in the face of all the adulation being heaped upon the Steelers for becoming the first to win three Super Bowls, Noll said that the team hadn't "peaked yet." When that comment was relayed to the locker room, Jack Ham cracked, "I thought we were coming in for practice on Tuesday."

But once the team returned to Pittsburgh, Noll reflected on what was accomplished. "In every area, this football team has proved itself. Our victory was manifested through action, not words. A lot of people think they can win football games through legislation. The rules changes helped us offensively, and defensively we got ball reaction in the secondary."

In Dallas, when the Cowboys got home, there was a lot of complaining about a pass interference penalty on Bennie Barnes that was a big play on the touchdown drive that gave the Steelers a 28-17 lead. The Cowboys also liked to point to the bad luck they suffered when tight end Jackie Smith had dropped a pass in the end zone that could have tied the score at 21-21, but the penalty was Landry's favorite.

"When you have an alley-oop pass and the guy jumps all over you, it's hard to call interference," said Landry about the penalty. "It looked like both went for the ball and collided. Obviously, it was it was the key play. A close game became lopsided quickly. I'd say it was the ballgame for Pittsburgh."

The whining irked Noll because it implied his team's victory somehow was tainted, and he eventually responded. When the Steelers were presented with their rings for winning Super Bowl XIII, Noll complimented the design and then added, "And if you push this little button on the side, you can hear Landry bitching."

Steelers

7

14

0

14

35

Cowboys

7

7

3

14

31

TEAM

QTR

PLAY

Pit

1

Stallworth 28 pass from Bradshaw (Gerela kick)

Dal

1

Hill 39 pass from Staubach (Septien kick)

Dal

2

Hegman 37 fumble recovery (Septien kick)

Pit

2

Stallworth 75 pass from Bradshaw (Gerela kick)

Pit

2

Bleier 7 pass from Bradshaw (Gerela kick)

Dal

3

Septien 27 FG

Pit

4

Harris 22 run (Gerela kick)

Pit

4

Swann 18 pass from Bradshaw (Gerela kick)

Dal

4

DuPree 7 pass from Staubach (Septien kick)

Dal

4

Johnson 4 pass from Staubach (Septien kick)

TEAM STATISTICS

Pit

Dal

First Downs

19

20

Third Downs

9-15 (60%)

9-16 (56%)

Total Net Yds

357

317

Plays-Avg

58-6.2

67-4.7

Rushing Yds

66

141

Att-Avg

24-2.8

32-4.4

Passing Yds

291

176

Att/Comp/Int

30-17-1

30-17-1

Punts-Avg

3-43.0

5-39.6

Penalties-Yds

5-35

9-89

Fumbles-Lost

2-2

3-2

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