1975: TWO IN A ROW
After 40 years of futility, the Pittsburgh Steelers won their second consecutive Super Bowl in 1975. The Black & Gold were rarely challenged during the regular season, posting a 12-2 record, but the playoffs provided some anxious moments.
The Steelers had selected the cornerstone of their franchise in the person of Joe Greene in '69, along with L.C. Greenwood and Jon Kolb. "The Messiah," Terry Bradshaw, was chosen in '70, along with Ron Shanklin and Mel Blount. The 1971 draft yielded a bevy of Super Bowl starters, 7 in all. The "Missing Link," Franco Harris, fell to the Steelers in '72, and they also selected Gordon Gravelle and Joe Gilliam. The '73 draft brought J.T. Thomas and Loren Toews. And of course, the Steelers selected a quadruplet of Hall of Famers in 1974, the Draft of Drafts.
The ’75 draft class brought, frankly, nothing. The first round pick, Dave Brown, a defensive back out of Michigan, played little, and then in an oddity, was lost in the following season’s expansion draft to the Seattle Seahawks, and went on to a productive career. The 14th round pick, Mike Collier, a running back from Morgan State, was the Steelers leading kick returner, averaging 23.8 per, including a 94 yard return for a touchdown vs. the Packers. He rushed for 123 yards and 3 TDs in backup duty, and negatively contributed a fumbled punt in the AFCCG, though he did bring a punt back 43 yards. Collier didn’t make the team in ’76. Ken Phares, Roger Bernhardt, Gail Clark? Ever hear of them? Neither have I, and I was there, following this team closely. The 1975 draft class yielded a bunch of nobodies.
The Steelers did though, sign undrafted rookie free agent, John Banaszak, a defensive end from Eastern Michigan, who served 2 years in the Marine Corps prior to entering college. Banaszak, a native Clevelander and the product of a family of lifelong Browns fans, had his dad hang up on him when he told him of his free agent signing. "What am I going to say to your mother, and to your brothers and sisters," bellowed Dad, in disbelief that his boy had signed with the hated Steelers. Dad made the conversion to Black & Gold though. His boy, played a vital role as a back up, and later as a starter, and earned 3 Super Bowl rings.
The defending Super Bowl champions had now reached a point of stability where there was little movement in their depth chart from one season to another.
Unlike the offensive line of the present day Steelers, not mega-talented, but with a wide gulf between the starters, who play every play, and the reserves, who never leave the sideline for plays from scrimmage, the offensive line of the ‘70s Steelers was both talented and deep. Sam Davis, a former starter, rotated with Jim Clack and Gerry Mullins at the guard positions, and 2nd year center Mike Webster, rotated with Ray Mansfield.
Ron Shanklin was all done, injuries having taken their toll. He didn’t make the team in ’75, and played a handful of games with the Bears in ’76 prior to retiring.
On the defensive side, the most significant newcomer to playing time was undoubtedly tackle Steve Furness, who started a half-dozen games due to injuries to Joe Greene, started the Divisional Playoff, and was dominant in the Super Bowl, after Mean Joe realized that his own play was limited and directed the 4th year tackle to take his place.
The Steelers pre-season schedule began with the College All Star Game at Chicago’s Soldier Field, an annual tradition where the NFL champions typically rode roughshod over this collection of collegians coached by Ara Parseghian. The Steelers, though, struggled with the All-Stars, before winning, 21-14. Getting a bit ahead of myself, the Steelers were winning, 24-0, in the 1976 game, when thunderstorms forced the teams to evacuate the field. In their absence, the fans took to the field, tore down the goal post, and the game was not resumed. Actually, the College All-Star Game, as an annual event, was never resumed. In addition to the melee, an ongoing concern was that the delay in reporting to their respective NFL teams was hindering the development of the best incoming rookies. The College All-Star Game would be no more.
I was introduced to Pittsburgh Steelers football as a 10-year old, in 1965, and through the 1971 season, I watched every road game on TV, and in that era of home blackouts, managed to attend most home games. As luck would have it, as soon as the Steelers became a winning franchise, I shipped off to college in Iggles country, and my Steelers-watching was significantly reduced. Even receiving sufficient news about the games I had missed was challenging. Al Gore hadn’t yet invented the internet, ESPN hadn’t yet come into being, and there was no USA Today. Most weeks, I was reduced to a small blurb on Monday morning in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I would religiously watch Monday Night Football that night, hoping the Steelers were among those teams featured in the Halftime Highlights with Howard Cosell.
I was exiled to Central Pennsylvania for the ’72 through ’75 seasons. As previously noted, I saw nothing in ’72 until the Steelers late-season victory over the Browns, though I did manage to listen the preceding week to the home victory against the MinnieVikes, as I was preparing to return to school after the Thanksgiving Holiday. There were times, in the life of a college student, where I wasn’t as diligent as should have been the case in keeping up to speed with local TV listings, and in an “Oh, damn” moment, would catch a Steelers game in progress. The ’72 bloodbath at Houston was one of those in the “Oh damn" category.
I managed to see about half of the games in ’73, what with trips to Pittsburgh for my brother Ralphie’s wedding, other trips to see my orthopod about my damaged left knee, and the Steelers having been selected for 3 national telecasts. I saw about half of the ’74 games as well, being in attendance twice at Three Rivers, three national games (one of which I fell the fuck asleep during), and 3 different “Oh Damn” viewings.
In ’75, the defending Super Bowl champions were, surprisingly, not nationally televised very much. They made a Monday Night appearance (at Houston), and wrapped up the season with two Saturday games, broadcast nationally. In between, a late afternoon early season game was on, and having my own car by then, I didn’t leave to travel back to school after Thanksgiving until the Steelers game was over.
This is a very long way of saying that my memory is significantly stretched to remember many particulars about the 1975 regular season of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers started out strong, shutting out the Chargers in San Diego, 37-0. The next week though, again at home, the Buffalo Bills and O.J. exacted revenge for their playoff loss the previous December. With The Juice running for 227, including an 88 yard score, the Bills jumped out to a 23-0 lead, enroute to a 30-21 victory. Gilliam, once again relieved Bradshaw, whose 2nd quarter fumble was returned for a TD, while also throwing an interception. The Steelers would not lose again until the season’s final weekend.
The following week, Bradshaw started, built a 21-0 lead with 7 for 8 passing for 151 yards and a score, and Gilliam provided the relief before the game reached halftime. Joe Willie Gillie was 11 for 15, 221 yards, 2 scores as the Steelers routed the Browns in Cleveland, 42-6, generating 501 yards of total offense. The Steelers next beat Denver, in Pittsburgh, 20-9, as Bradshaw hit Swann for a pair of touchdowns. The Steelers then dispatched of the Bears in the friendly confines of Three Rivers, with a workmanlike, 34-6 victory.
The following week, in Milwaukee, the Packers were tied with the Steelers entering the 4th quarter, as the Steelers struggled without Franco. Rocky though, ran for 163 yards on 35 carries, rookie Mike Collier took a kickoff back for a TD, and Roy Gerela booted a 4th quarter FG for the 16-13 victory.
Franco was back the following week, running for 157 yards at Riverfront Stadium. The Steelers picked Ken Anderson 3 times, twice by Mike Wagner in the 4th quarter. The Steelers led 23-3 entering the final frame, but the Bengals rallied feverishly, closing to 30-24 when all was done. At mid-season the Steelers had won 6, with but a single loss.
The Steelers defeated the Oilers at Three Rivers, 24-17, as Bradshaw threw 3 TDs, then pounded the Chiefs 28-3 in Pittsburgh. Franco ran for 149 the following Monday night in the Astrodome as the Steelers took sole possession of first place by a 32-9 margin. Following Thanksgiving was a dull 20-7 win in New York against the Jets, followed by a 31-17 win over the Browns at Three Rivers.
The Steelers clinched the Central Division at Three Rivers against Cinci on a December Saturday by a score of 35-14. The Steelers lost to the Rams on a Saturday night in L.A. by a 10-3 score, as Franco ran for 126 yards. At 12-2, the Steelers had the Road to the Super Bowl going through Three Rivers.
Franco Harris set the Steelers single-season rushing record with 1,246 yards, 10 TDs, and a 4.8 yard average. Rocky rumbled for 528. Frenchy, in a backup role, put up 285 yards. For the first time, Lynn Swann led the team in receiving, grabbing 49 balls, for 11 TDs. John Stallworth made 20 catches for 4 touchdowns. Terry Bradshaw had his best season by far, finishing with a QB rating of 88.2, built on a TD: Interception ratio of 18:9. He completed 57.7% of his passes. Kicker Roy Gerela made 17 of 21 field goal attempts, and 44 of 46 extra points.
The defensive highlight was the play of cornerback Mel Bount, who intercepted 11 passes. As a team, the Steelers picked 27, to 12 for the opposition. The defense sent 8 players to the Pro Bowl; Greene, Greenwood, all three linebackers, Blount, and both safeties.
The playoffs awaited.
Three of my college associates planned to attend the Divisional Playoff against the Baltimore Colts. It was my job to get tickets, and there would be a public sale, at Three Rivers, at 10am, on the Wednesday before the Saturday game. I arrived at Three Rivers at 10pm the night before, partied most of the night, the line began to queue at 6am, and around 6:15, I had to pee. I have never in my life had to pee so badly, but I didn’t give up my place in line. I waited and waited, and waited some more, finally getting my 4 tickets around 10:45, whereupon I limped around 30 yards to the left, and peed like a racehorse against the stadium wall.
Then…two of the three LVCers got stranded in Vermont. I attended on Saturday with a grizzled wide receiver from Fairfax, Virginia named Sam Hussey (he regularly introduced himself as “Hussey, as in whore”), and gave the other pair of ducats to two dago friends from Swissvale. The Steelers would run 43 times and pass 13 in this game, and two of those throws were picked by the Colts. Franco ran for 153 yards though, and despite 3 lost fumbles, the Steelers who were tied at the half, and who led by 4 entering the final quarter, were leading 21-10, but with the Colts knocking on the door inside the Steelers 10. But then, Jack Ham sacked Bert Jones, Andy Russell picked up the ball, and rumbled 93 yards for the touchdown. It seriously took Captain Andy about 5 minutes to make that run. I know he took way longer than it did James Harrison to run 100 yards in the past Super Bowl. I think it was Dwight White who blocked the same Colts 3 separate times during the Russell return. Steelers won, 28-10, and would now have a Championship Game rematch with the Oakland Raiders, but in Pittsburgh this time.
On a cold, icy January Sunday, the Oakland Raiders were awful pissed off at the Pittsburgh Steelers, accusing the Steelers of improper care of the field, resulting in icing along the sidelines.
The game seemed like Immaculate Reception redux, with the only first half score being a Roy Gerela field goal. Neither team could muster much of a rushing attack. The Steelers managed to grind out 117 yards on 39 carries, a 3 yard average, while the Raiders gained 93 yards on 32 attempts, just under 3.
The game featured an exchange of turnovers, and brutal hitting. Lynn Swann was clobbered from behind by George Atkinson, and was carried from the field like a rag doll, by Joe Greene, having suffered a concussion. Terry Bradshaw threw 3 picks, and the Steelers lost all of their five fumbles. Ken Stabler was picked twice and the Raiders lost 3 fumbles, Jack Lambert making all 3 recoveries.
Gerela missed 44 & 48 yard field goal tries in the 3d quarter, but early in the 4th, Franco Harris swept left end from the Oakland 25, bounced off defensive back Neil Colize, from The Ohio State University, and galloped to the left corner of the south end zone. The Raiders, not efficient all day as Ken Stabler was 18 out of 42, moved smartly down the field, 60 yards in 6 plays, scoring on a pass to the Villanovan Mike Siani. The Steelers couldn’t move, but the Raiders fumbled it back to the Steelers on the Raider 25. From the 20, Bradshaw hit Stallworth in that same left corner of the end zone, Stallworth leaping over the same Neil Colzie, from the same The Ohio State University. Roy Gerela, he of the two missed field goals, missed an extra point.
As the Steelers were trying to exhaust the clock late, Franco fumbled, and many of us in the stands were surprised when the Raiders field goal team hustled onto the field with less than a minute remaining and George Blanda kicked a 41 yarder to cut the margin to 16-10. An onside kick ensued, the Steelers fumbled it, and the Raider recovered. On the game’s final play, Stabler threw long to Cliff Branch, who made the catch, but was tackled inbounds by Mel Blount, around the Steelers 10, as time expired. Steelers-16, Raiders-10. In a pool I had entered, I had predicted a 17-10 final. That SOB, Roy Gerela!
Unlike the massive celebration, replete with fireworks and song, that followed the final gun of this year’s AFCCG against Baltimore, there was little fanfare back then. No Lamar Hunt Trophy presentation on the field. The players ran into their respective locker rooms. We fans lifted our fat asses out of our cold seats and went home.
Pittsburgh’s going to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl X
Roy Gerela, having missed 4 field goals and 2 extra points over a 14 game regular season, would have the same number of misses in the AFCCG & Super Bowl. In each game, he missed a pair of field goals and an extra point, adding to his two missed field goals (one in SB IX) and two missed extra points in the previous year's post-season. I never disliked any Pittsburgh Steeler as much as I disliked Roy Gerela. He was okay up until this point, even leading the league in scoring once, but he absolutely could not be counted on to make a big kick. The most prominent memories of Gerela are twofold, and neither has anything to do with his making a kick.
There were Gerela’s Gorillas, whose purpose really was to influence the opponent kicker to miss, but their whammy seemed to extend to the home team as well. And then, in Super Bowl X, it was a Gerela miss that ignited the Pittsburgh Steelers, after which Cliff Harris patted him on the helmet, and was subsequently tossed on his ass by Jack Lambert, with their being no stopping the Black & Gold afterward.
My grudging respect though, for Gerela, comes from this game. Pre-game, Gerela’s practicing his field goals. For some reason, the net behind the goal posts, there to stop the balls from going into the stands, is down. Of course, no one in the stands is giving up the footballs. They’re all gone, and the kicker doesn’t feel as though he’s kicked enough. So….Gerela ambles into the stands, steps on a fan’s ankle, forcibly hauls another fan out of his 4th row seat, and takes the ball from him. Gerela gets pushed around by the fans, and is escorted back to the field by the Miami PD. “Our fans hit him harder than the Cowboys did,” said one Steeler. One of the fans reportedly sued.
Opening kickoff, Cowboys run a reverse to Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson. Gerela, who was actually a football player, a defensive back at New Mexico State, despite being Canadian, injured his ribs making the tackle. This is offered as the reason why he had such a tough time kicking in SB X.
Lynn Swann wasn’t sure he’d be able to play, and talked of retiring following being mugged by Oakland. Swann did play though. Did he ever play. He made 4 catches for 161 yards, three of them absolute beauties, all over poor Mark Washington, and was named the game's MVP.
Swannie rose into the air, hung there for an eternity to make his first catch for a 32 yard gain, leading to a Randy Grossman TD, thus producing a 7-7 first quarter tie. Near halftime, he got the Steelers out of a deep hole, by diving, getting his hands on a bomb, it popping back into the air, and then grabbing it. The Steelers drove deep into Dallas territory on this one, but Gerela missed a 30-some yarder just before the half, and trailed 10-7.
Despite harassing the hell out of Roger Staubach, sacking him about 10 times, four by L.C. Greenwood, but nobody was counting sacks back then, the Steelers still trailed 10-7 after 3 quarters, as the kicker missed another 30-something yard FG. It was then that Harris patted Gerela on the helmet. It was then that Lambert threw Harris to the ground. It was then that the official told Lambert he was out of the game. It was then that Lambert said to the official, “You can’t throw me out. This is the Super Bowl.” It was then that the official basically told Lambert to shut the f*** up, and go to the sideline.
Energized, the Steelers D continued to kick ass. Early in the 4th, Reggie Harrison’s big ass blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety, and on the subsequent possession, Gerela finally made a 36-yarder, and the Steelers were in front, 12-10. Dallas got the ball back, Mike Wagner intercepted on the first play, Gerela made another kick, this time an 18-yarder, and the Steelers extended their lead to 15-10. Late in the quarter, on 3rd down from his own 36, Bradshaw threw long to Swann, who made the catch going away. Bradshaw never saw it, hit helmet to helmet (legal in the day) by Larry Cole, he was knocked out. Gerela? Yes; he missed the extra point.
Dallas drove feverishly down the field, scoring on a 34-yarder from Staubach to Percy Howard to cut the lead to 21-17. It was the only NFL pass that Percy Howard, a college basketball player from Austin Peay, would ever catch. He had entered the game after Golden Richards, brutalized all game by Mel Blount, had left with a broken rib, not having caught a single ball. Howard immediately took to talking junk to Blount, who encouraged this nobody Dallas receiver to “go back to your huddle and tell Roger to throw you the ball.” Howard did exactly what he was told…touchdown!!
After recovering an onside kick, the Steelers, with Terry Hanratty, who hadn’t thrown a pass all year, at the helm, the Steelers faced a 4th & 9. Chuck Noll, in perhaps the most infamous call of his career, eschewed the punt as Bobby Walden had had trouble handling the snaps. Rocky Bleier went nowhere, and Dallas had the ball with a chance to win. On the game’s final play, from the Steelers 34, Staubach threw deep, having narrowly missed to Howard on the previous play. Wagner knocked it into the air short of the goal line, Edwards picked it off in the end zone, and the Pittsburgh Steelers had won their second straight Super Bowl, over the Dallas Cowgirls, by a score of 21-17.
Post-game, 255 pound Rayfield Wright “complained that the Steelers played like meanspirited bullies. One-hundred eighty-five pound Glen Edwards said, “I really hate Dallas. They try to fool folks, instead of outphysicaling them, the way football should be played.” Some things don't change.