1979 Steelers: Remembering the Glory of Super Bowls Past

Quick:  Name the year that the Pittsburgh Steelers played in the Super Bowl against a team from the NFC West that compiled a 9-7 record and featured two ex-Steelers assistant coaches who left Pittsburgh to coach out west.  If your answer was the 2008 season, you are correct.  If your answer was the 1979 season, you are also correct.

In the middle of the 1979 football season, the City of Pittsburgh was riding high.  The Steelers were defending NFL champions and winners of three titles in fives years.  In October,  the Pittsburgh Pirates were crowned champions of Major League Baseball.  The Pirates were led by their inspirational leader, Willie Stargell.  Using the theme from Sister Sledge's hit tune "We are Family," the Pirates overcame a 3-1 game deficit to win the 1979 World Series over Baltimore.

When the 1979 calendar year had come to an end, Sports Illustrated paid Pittsburgh a unique tribute by naming both Willie Stargell and Terry Bradshaw their Athletes-of-the-Year, crowning Pittsburgh as the true City of Champions.

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I was a graduate student at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana.  That was a whole new world for me down in the Bayou.  Steeler Nation takes pride in being everywhere, but down there in the heart of Cajun Country I found myself without company.  Thankfully the Steelers had established enough of a national reputation by then that I saw a decent number of games on television, but not all.

The Steelers had jumped out to a 4-0 record.  Adding to the previous season, and this includes tough playoff games, the Steelers had won 12 in a row.  They finished the regular season at 12-4.  In six of those games the opponents were held to a touchdown or less.  In the playoffs Pittsburgh routed Miami, 34-14 and then for the second consecutive season drilled Houston 27-13, in the AFC championship game.

The Super Bowl was in Pasadena on January 20.  The surprising Los Angeles Rams, with just a 9-7 regular-season record and an unproven quarterback in Vince Ferragamo, were the NFL representatives. 

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I was invited to several Super Bowl parties.  The people of Louisiana are very friendly.  They also know how to eat.  There were plenty of crawdads to be had plus and endless supply of gumbo and jambalaya.  Eating crawdads was a chore beyond my capabilities.  They looked like miniature crabs.  Your fingers had to move quickly and skillfully just to get a tiny piece of meat.  It wasn't worth it, especially for a novice lacking skill and patience.  Besides, the game was going to be an afterthought to all the feasting and fellowship. 

With a Super Bowl on the line, feasting and fellowship were the last things on my mind.  I wanted no distractions watching the game.  I gracefully declined all the friendly overtures.  I put on my Steelers' sweatshirt, bought a fifth of Cutty Sark and three lemons, and holed up in my dorm room.  There was work to be done.

Art Rooney presented the coin toss after being driven on the field in a 1933 Duesenberg.  The car was picked because 1933 was the year the team was founded.  History again presented itself when the Joe Greene Coca Cola commercial aired in the first quarter.  It is impossible to pinpoint the genesis of elite commercials unveiled during Super Bowls, but in my mind that was it.  A limping Joe Greene accepted a little boy's Coke and after chugging it tossed the kid his jersey.  It is still a classic on anyone's list who ranks such things.  It humanized "Mean Joe Greene."  The commercial won a Clio Award and was voted the best Super Bowl advertisement of all time.

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The Steelers themselves limped into the game, having lost Jack Ham and Mike Wagner, two All Pros, to injury.  After Matt Bahr's field goal put Pittsburgh ahead, the Rams wasted no time in marching downfield and taking the lead on Cullen Bryant's one-yard plunge.  Los Angeles led at the quarter, 7-3.

Larry Anderson, Pittsburgh's kick-return man, put on a sparkling performance with three returns of at least 37 yards.  The first one came after the Rams' first score.  The Steelers answered with a one-yard plunge of their own, from Franco Harris.  Frank Corral booted two field goals to give Los Angeles a 13010 lead at half.

Anderson inspired the Steelers again by taking the opening second-half kick 37 yards, setting up great field position.  Terry Bradshaw quickly hit Lynn Swann with a 47-yard touchdown pass in which Swann made one of his patented leaps to come down with the ball.  Los Angeles wasn't about to lay down.  A Ferragamo bomb to Billy Waddy set up a Lawrence McCutcheon halfback option pass to Ron Smith for a 24-yard score, giving the Rams back the lead 19-17.

The teams had played three quarters and the Steelers trailed after every one of them.  Adding to Pittsburgh's injury woes, Lynn Swann got knocked out of the game when upended after another leaping catch.  Early in the fourth quarter Bradshaw found his other Hall of Fame receiver, John Stallworth, on a 73-yard scoring strike.  Stallworth caught the ball over the wrong shoulder in one of Super Bowl history's most electrifying plays.  

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Pittsburgh took the lead, 24-19, but the Rams kept scrapping. Ferragamo threw deep down the middle and jack Lambert, unheralded for his ability to drop deep in coverage, picked off the pass.  Bradshaw went right to his meal ticket, Stallworth, who caught yet another long pass over the wrong shoulder.  This one covered 44 yards.  Five plays later Franco Harris bulled in from the one and the game was essentially over.  Pittsburgh 31, Los Angeles 19.

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Bradshaw was the game's MVP for the second consecutive year.  He threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns.  Pete Rozelle would hand the Lombardi Trophy to a humble Art Rooney for the fourth and final time. 

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