Super Bowl XIII
Bradshaw's arm spells w-i-n
By BOB LABRIOLA
The early part of the decade had produced the heavyweight championship boxing match everyone wanted to see when it paired Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali in Madison Square Garden on March 18, 1971. At the Orange Bowl on Jan. 21, 1979, the NFL was doing the same thing with its matchup in Super Bowl XIII.
The Steelers were headed to their third Super Bowl in five seasons, and Dallas was headed to its fourth trying to defend the championship it won the previous season 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. Both franchises believed they were the best in the NFL, and this matchup allowed it to be settled on the field.
There were a couple of weeks of hype to really rev the engine, and in Pittsburgh, Lambert was one of the first to weigh in with an opinion. "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.
"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 Bradshaw, who craved recognition as a great player and who had a history of playing better when he was enjoying himself.
Bob Adams, a tight end who would be waived before the start of the 1972 season, had said about Bradshaw: "Watching Terry Bradshaw play quarterback is like watching a rose bloom in slow motion." In 1978, the rose had bloomed.
With Noll being the first coach to take liberal advantage of the new rules liberalizing pass blocking and restricting contact with receivers beyond 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, Bradshaw passed for 2,915 yards with 28 touchdowns as the play-caller for an offense that scored 356 points.
He was voted MVP of the league, but his 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 theme Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson chose from the moment the matchup was official. This was the Super Bowl where Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson uttered his infamous "Bradshaw is so stupid he couldn't spell c-a-t if you spotted him the 'c' and the 'a'" line was born. While Henderson was working on Bradshaw, other Cowboys players promised this outcome would be different than Super Bowl X because that Dallas team was loaded with inexperienced players.
"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 … about how good they are 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 enjoy this game because it ends all the talk."
But there were as lot of guys 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. There are just some people you can't stand."
Groused Lambert about Henderson's "Hollywood" persona, "Even a chimpanzee can get attention down here." And then 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. His fumble was returned 37 yards by Mike Hegman in the second quarter to give the Cowboys a 14-7 lead. Lynn Swann and John Stallworth each had a 100-yard receiving day, and the Steelers put the game away with a 14-point blitz within a minute midway through the fourth quarter. Dallas scored twice in the final 2:27 to make it close, 35-31.
"Our game plan was to pass," said Swann. "We were going to attack the 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."
But what was truly special was Bradshaw's command of the game he called all of his own plays while Roger Staubach executed what was sent in from the sideline and a prime example was his play-calling on the first of those two critical fourth quarter touchdowns.
On third-and-4 from the Dallas 17-yard line, the Steelers were flagged for delay of game just before the snap, but Henderson took advantage of the situation 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 his parting shot: "Go ask Henderson how smart he thinks I am now."
The Steelers' performance in the playoffs was representative of their performance throughout the season. They played three games 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.
Afterward it was vintage Noll, refusing to appear impressed, when he said during his postgame remarks that the Steelers hadn't "peaked" yet. Cracked Ham, "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 called on Bennie Barnes that was a big play on the touchdown drive that gave the Steelers a 28-17 lead.
"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.