Hello, sports fans, and welcome to another edition of yesterday’s sports on the sports history network. Super Bowl 10, a match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys, will go down in NFL history as one of the best Super Bowls ever.
This may be considered a bold statement, considering this year we will watch Super Bowl 55, in a season with many challenges on and off the field. Let the following podcast episode and blog below will help you make your decision if you think it should be put in the halls of legendary status of Super Bowls.
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Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond. He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area. He is also an author of No Nonsense, Old School Weight Training.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers joined the NFL in 1933. From 1933 to 1971, the team had just eight winning seasons and never played in a championship game. That all changed in 1972 when the Steelers reached the AFC Championship. They lost that game by four points to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Miami Dolphins. The Steelers were back in the playoffs again the following season–this time, losing to the Oakland Raiders.
But the Steelers were loaded with talent, and it was just a matter of time before they would make it to the Super Bowl. They did just that the following season. They not only made it, but they won it– giving the team its first World Championship in its forty-two-year history.
The goal now was to defend their title. The opponent: the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys joined the league in 1960 as an expansion team and struggled at the start with five losing seasons in a row. In 1965, the team showed promise, going 7–7. Then, Dallas reached the NFL Championship in 1966 and 1967, losing both times to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.
The next two seasons ended the same way–with playoff losses to the Cleveland Browns. Then, in 1970, the Cowboys finally reached the Super Bowl–only to lose it to the Baltimore Colts in heartbreaking fashion on a last-second field goal. But they came back, winning the Super Bowl the following season with a convincing 24–3 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
In 1972 and 1973, Dallas reached the NFC Championship but lost both times. The team finished a disappointing 8–6 in 1974 and missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
Going into the 1975 season, many players were on the downside of their careers. Several players retired, while others were traded. 1975 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But Dallas sprung a surprise: this would be a Super Bowl year.
On January 18, 1976, the defending Super Bowl Champion Steelers faced the underdog Cowboys at the Orange Bowl in Miami.
First Half of the Game
Dallas won the coin toss and elected to receive. Former Steelers player Preston Pearson caught the kickoff at the three-yard line. But instead of running with the ball, he handed it off to rookie linebacker Thomas Henderson on a reverse.
Henderson ran the ball to Pittsburgh’s 44-yard line before being knocked out of bounds by kicker Roy Gerela.
But the Cowboys’ first possession did not go well. QB Roger Staubach faked a handoff to Preston Pearson, but that fake did not fool defensive end, LC Greenwood. Left unblocked, Greenwood was on Staubach immediately, forcing a fumble. Dallas recovered but lost three yards.
The next two plays resulted in a two-yard run and an incomplete pass. Dallas punted, and Pittsburgh took possession at their 17. The Steelers came out running. Franco Harris gained eight yards, followed by a seven-yard run by Rocky Bleier. Two more runs by Harris gave the Steelers a third and one. Another run by Harris gained nothing, and the Steelers punted.
Pittsburgh punter Bobby Walden fumbled the snap, and a swarm of Cowboys players tackled him. Dallas had possession on the Steelers 29 yard line, and the Cowboys didn’t wait to take advantage. A Staubach pass to Drew Pearson resulted in a touchdown. The extra point was good. Just like that, the underdog Cowboys had a 7–0 lead.
Dallas kicked off, and the Steelers took possession at their 32. A run by Franco gained 8 yards. On second down, Bleier got another yard, and then Harris plowed for six more and a first down. On the Steelers ninth running play in a row, Bleier gained another four yards.
Then on second and six, Terry Bradshaw finally threw his first pass. Receiver Lynn Swann made a spectacular sideline catch for a 32-yard gain. Two more running plays gained nine yards–Bleier ran for five, and Harris got four. On third and one from the seven, the Steelers caught the Cowboys defense off-guard with an unexpected pass. Tight end Randy Grossman caught it for Pittsburgh’s first score. The extra point tied the game at seven.
After the kickoff, the Cowboys took over at their 35. Robert Newhouse ran for seven, and Doug Dennison gained another 5. A pass to tight end Jean Fuggettt went for 9 yards, and then a draw play to Newhouse gained 16. Another draw play to Newhouse got 5, while Dennison gained another 4.
It appeared that the Cowboys had the “Steel Curtain” defense on the ropes, but a third-and-one run by Newhouse came up inches short of the first down.
An ordinarily conservative Tom Landry decided to go for it, and Doug Dennison got just enough for the first down, but the next two runs gained only two yards. The first quarter ended with the score tied 7–7.
On third and nine, the Cowboys had a false start. It was the first penalty of the game. After seven runs in a row, Dallas passed, but the pass fell incomplete. The Cowboys settled for a field goal and a 10–7 lead.
Dallas kicked off, and Pittsburgh took over at their 32. Bradshaw passed on first down, but the ball fell incomplete after he took a big hit from Ed “Too Tall” Jones. Three runs then netted 24 yards: Bleier got 6, Bradshaw ran for 8, and Harris gained 10.
But surprisingly, instead of continuing to run, the Steelers tried a lateral to receiver John Stallworth. That play lost four yards. Bradshaw recovered, hitting Stallworth with a 13-yard pass reception to make it 3rd and one. When Dallas stopped Harris for no gain, the Steelers decided to go for it on 4th down, but Franco dropped a pass while being hit by Cliff Harris.
Dallas took over at their 36. A run and a pass completion gained eight yards, but a 3rd down pass was incomplete. Dallas punted, and Pittsburgh took possession on their 22.
An incomplete pass and a sack followed a three-yard run. It was clear now that the defenses were beginning to take control of this game.
A fair catch by Golden Richards gave Dallas the ball at their 48. A pass to Preston Pearson put the ball at the Steelers 42, just shy of a first down. A bad exchange resulted in a fumble, but the Cowboys recovered. Preston Pearson then caught a third-down pass giving Dallas a first down at the Steelers 37. The next two plays resulted in a short run and an incompletion. But a third-down reception by reserve running back Charles Young gave the Cowboys a first down on the 21.
It looked like Dallas was in a position to get at least a field goal, but The Steel Curtain rose to the occasion. A pitchout to Newhouse lost three, and two passing attempts resulted in two sacks. Dallas had to punt.
A good punt by Mitch Hoopes put the Steelers at their six. After two runs gained just four yards, Bradshaw threw a long pass to Lynn Swann, who made his second spectacular catch of the game, giving the Steelers the ball at the Cowboys 37.
After a first-down pass fell incomplete, Bleier ran for seven, and Harris got three and a first down.
Bradshaw then completed a 7-yard pass, eluding a fierce pass rush by the Dallas D. But the next two plays gained just one yard, and Pittsburgh set up for a 36-yard field goal and the tie. The usually reliable Roy Gerela was off target. Dallas took possession but only had enough time for a five yd run by Newhouse before the half ended with the Cowboys holding a 10–7 lead.
The Second Half
Pittsburgh took the second-half kickoff at their 25-yard line. Two runs by Harris lost yardage, and a third-down pass was incomplete. The Steelers had to punt, and Dallas took possession at their 42. Two runs gained only three yards. Then, on third-and-seven, Pittsburgh defensive back, J.T. Thomas intercepted a Roger Staubach pass and returned it to the Dallas 25-yard line.
Three straight runs by Franco Harris gained enough for a first down, but a run by Bradshaw lost two yards, and two pass attempts fell incomplete. The Steelers lined up for a 33-yard field goal, but Roy Gerela missed again. Gerela had bruised his ribs while forcing Thomas Henderson out of bounds on the opening kick, and it was apparent the hit was affecting his kicking.
Dallas took over at their 20. A run by Preston Pearson gained nine yards, and then Robert Newhouse ran for two and a first down. Two more runs by Newhouse gained five yards and, on third-and-five, Staubach dropped back to pass, but was forced out of the pocket by a Pittsburgh blitz. He came up about a half-a-yard short of the first down marker.
The Cowboys punted, and the Steelers took possession at their 24. Harris gained three, and a pass to Swann got 12 more. Two more runs gained eight yds, but a third-down pass was incomplete. It was an all-out defensive battle with heavy-hitting on both sides. Pittsburgh punted, and Dallas took possession at their 19.
Three straight runs gave the Cowboys enough for a first down. A two-yard run and an eight-yard pass gave them another first down. But on the next play, a clipping penalty nullified a four-yard run by Staubach, and it put Dallas back to their 26-yard line with 25 yards to go.
Staubach ran for six yards, and a handoff to Newhouse gained two more. On third down, Preston Pearson caught a 15-yard pass, but it wasn’t enough for a first down. That play marked the end of the third quarter.
Into The 4th Quarter
It would be easy to say that the Cowboys offense was getting too conservative and sitting on their lead, but that statement underestimates the impact of the Steelers’ defense. Staubach’s passing game was getting stifled by a heavy pass rush and strong secondary defense.
To open the fourth, Dave Brown fielded the punt and then fumbled. Had Dallas been able to recover, the Cowboys would have had the ball at the Steelers 17-yard line. It’s all speculation, of course, but a Dallas TD would have given them a ten-point lead, and, the way the Cowboys defense was playing, that might have been enough to win. Instead, Pittsburgh kept the ball and went to the air quickly.
Bradshaw hit Franco for a 26-yard gain and a first down. An incompletion and a two-yard run made it third-and-eight. Bradshaw dropped back to pass, but rookie reserve linebacker Randy White dropped him for a 15-yard loss.
After a booming 57 yard punt by Bobby Walden, the Cowboys started at their 18 but went nowhere. Things got worse when Reggie Harrison blocked the punt with the ball going out of the end zone for a safety. With two more points, the Steelers were now only a point behind.
A good return put the Steelers at the Cowboys 45 yard line. Five runs in a row gave Pittsburgh a third-and-one at the Dallas 20-yard line. The Cowboys’ defense rose to the occasion and stopped Harris for no gain. Fans wondered if the Steelers might go for it on fourth down. Instead, Chuck Noll sent in Gerela, who had already missed two field goals from about the same distance.
But Gerela came through this time. With just 8:54 left in the game, the favored Steelers took the lead for the first time, 12–10.
In what could have been a disastrous play, Preston Pearson fumbled the kickoff but then recovered at his 15. On first down, Staubach threw to Drew Pearson using the same pattern used in the first quarter to score a TD. But this time, safety Mike Wagner read the play and intercepted. He returned it to the Cowboys six-yard line.
Staubach later said: “It was our bread and butter play all season long. It was the first time it didn’t work.”
The Dallas D dug in, and after three runs gained only four yards, Gerela came through again, making the score 15–10.
Dallas took possession at their 24. Newhouse gained four yds on a screen pass, but the next play resulted in a nine-yard loss as the Steel Curtain D once again sacked Staubach. An eight-yard pass to Charles Young was not nearly enough for a first down, and Dallas punted again.
Pittsburgh took possession at their 30. Two short runs left the Steelers with a third-and-five, and, with only a five-point lead, the Steelers needed a first down to run down the clock. Instead, they gambled by throwing deep. The Cowboys gambled, too, by blitzing.
The Steelers’ gamble paid off–a 64-yard touchdown to Lynn Swann, who was later named the game’s MVP. With a missed extra point, the lead grew to 21–10.
Dallas took over at their own 20. Forced into passing, Staubach first hit Charles Young, and then he hit Drew Pearson for a 30-yard gain. On the next play, Staubach was sacked (the Steelers seventh sack of the game).
With time ticking away, Dallas had it’s back against the wall, but Staubach came through when he hit backup receiver Percy Howard on a 33-yard TD, making the score 21–17.
With just 1:48 left in the game, Dallas tried an onside kick, but Pittsburgh recovered.
The Steelers needed to run out the clock, but Dallas had wisely saved all three of their timeouts. Bradshaw wasn’t at the controls at that point, having taken a vicious hit from Cowboys’ lineman Larry Cole on the TD pass to Swann. Out with a concussion, backup QB Terry Hanratty came into the game.
After three straight runs resulted in no gain, Pittsburgh faced a fourth-and-ten situation. Noll decided to gamble again, and he went for it on fourth down.
It seemed like a risky move, but it was the right call. A 50 plus-yard FG was well out of range for the injured Gerala. A punt could be dangerous.
They already had one mishap on a punt and several others that were almost blocked. And even though Noll knew it was highly unlikely that his team would make the first down, he was confident that his defense could hold the Cowboys.
A first down didn’t come (a handoff to Bleier gained only two yards), and Dallas took over at their 38 with 1:22 left in the game. But they had used up all of their timeouts.
Another fierce pass rush forced Staubach to run, but instead of running to the sidelines, he ran straight ahead, gaining ten yards.
A completion to Preston Pearson put the ball at the Pittsburgh 37. But like Staubach on the last play, he ran straight ahead instead of getting out of bounds to stop the clock. The two plays had gained 23 yds but had used up an entire minute, leaving them with only 20 seconds left.
A third low snap in a row left Staubach scrambling for the ball, and his pass fell incomplete. With only 12 seconds left, Staubach threw a Hail Mary pass to Howard in the end zone. The ball hit him in the helmet and fell to the ground. Replays showed that had Howard positioned himself just a little bit farther back, he might have caught the ball for a Dallas victory.
Undaunted, Staubach threw another Hail Mary pass, but this time Glen Edwards intercepted, and Super Bowl X was over.
It was a Super Bowl to remember. The two teams would meet again three years later to wage another epic battle. The Steelers would win again, this time 35–31.
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