Three plays and 11 seconds later, the Cowboys were all but vanquished; the Super Bowl all but decided.
NFL Network replayed the original NBC broadcast of the first-ever rematch in Super Bowl history between the Steelers and Cowboys yesterday as part of its "Dynasty Week".
The game had it all: Hall-of-Fame talent, two of the best coaches of their generation, controversial story lines, big plays on both offense and defense, heartbreak, high scoring and a dramatic comeback.
Thirteen Hall-of-Famers played in the game, still an NFL record. Chuck Noll, the only coach to win four Super Bowls, faced Tom Landry, the first coach to lead a team to five Super Bowls. Cowboys linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson said before the game that Terry Bradshaw couldn't spell cat if he spotted him the c and the t. Bradshaw went on to throw for a then Super Bowl record 318 yards and four touchdowns. "Ask him if he can spell 'MVP'," Bradshaw said afterwards.
Pittsburgh was ahead 21-17 with the ball on their own 44 late in the fourth quarter. Dallas had trimmed the deficit to just four points in the third quarter but nearly tied it when Hall-of-Fame tight end Jackie Smith dropped a sure touchdown pass from quarterback Roger Staubach in the end zone. The drop prompted Dallas play-by-play man Verne Lunquist to say, "Bless his heart, he's got to be the sickest man in America."
After a controversial pass interference call on defensive back Benny Barnes moved the ball deep into Dallas territory (both Barnes and Lynn Swann tripped when in pursuit of Bradshaw's deep pass down the near sideline), Pittsburgh had the ball on the Dallas 17 a few plays later. That's when the madness ensued.
Just after Bradshaw dropped back to pass on a third and four on the Dallas 22, the referees blew the play dead for delay of game. Henderson-who later claimed he didn't hear the whistles-threw Bradshaw to the turf. This drew the ire of Franco Harris, who exchanged words with Hollywood after the play.
While accounts of what happened next differ between Bradshaw and Harris (Bradshaw claims Harris demanded the ball in the huddle, Franco said it was just simply a great play call), No.32's number was called just seconds later. Harris stormed past the Dallas defense to the end zone and into the end zone on a perfectly executed trap play.
The ensuing play couldn't have worked out better for Pittsburgh. Roy Gerella slipped on the kickoff, and the ball went to Dallas defensive linemen Randy White. Playing with a cast on his left hand, White was probably the last player Landry wanted to see returning a kickoff. White fumbled the ball before Tony Dungy (yes, that Tony Dungy) even touched him. A melee for the ball ensued that ended with Dirt Winston-who wasn't even in the pile when the scrum began-came out of the pile of players with the ball.
Just as the bewildered Dallas defense trotted back onto the field, they walked back off. Bradshaw wasted no time to convert the turnover into good fortune, throwing an 18-yard bullet to Swann in the back of the end zone with 6:51 left. The Steelers had scored two touchdowns in 11 seconds and led 35-17. While seemingly the entire Steelers team celebrated in the end zone following Swann's score, the dazed and confused Cowboys defense looked mentally and physically beaten.
That would be the final play from scrimmage for the Steelers with the exception of two knee downs at game's end. Dallas would fight back and score two touchdowns late before Rocky Bleier recovered an onside kick with 22 seconds left. In a game that decided the legacy of the two best teams of that generation, 11 seconds made the difference in making the Steelers the team of the decade.