With less than two weeks to go before the kickoff of the 2010 NFL regular season, let's continue on with maryrose's outstanding countdown of the Top 12 greatest non-Super Bowl wins in the illustrious history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many thanks to him for all these fine contributions. And of course, if you enjoy his writing and are not yet aware of his recent book project, be sure to check out From Black To Gold: The Pittsburgh Steelers, available for purchase now. - Michael Bean -
This series will highlight my Top 12 Greatest Wins in Pittsburgh Steelers' history. I do not include Super Bowls, as they would eat up half the series! Please keep in mind that these wins are not necessarily the most important wins. If that were the case, then only the deepest playoff wins would be recounted. Sometimes "importance" is a factor, but not always. Sometimes the underdog factor comes into play and sometimes the comeback factor is the reason for a game being selected where it is. Sometimes it is just the way the game unfolded. In any case, this is just one person's opinion, so there is no right and wrong, just fun. Enjoy.
When the 1974 playoffs rolled around, people were not talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers. They were talking about the Miami Dolphins, two-time defending Super Bowl Champions, and the Oakland Raiders, whose 12-2 record was the best in the AFC. On the weekend the Raiders edged the Dolphins in a thriller, 28-26, very few paid any attention to Pittsburgh's 32-14 drubbing of the Buffalo Bills. The exuberant Raiders' coach John Madden declared that the real Super Bowl was the Oakland-Miami game, featuring the NFL's two greatest teams. Even Sports Illustrated got into the act, referring to the game as "Super Bowl 8 and a Half."
Chuck Noll was livid. He was normally not inclined to give many locker room pep talks. He believed over time they lost their effectiveness. Noll made an exception after the Raiders thought they had just passed their biggest test. The coach gathered his players and seething through clenched teeth, told them, "They haven't seen the best team in the league yet, because the best team in the league is sitting right here in this room."
Throughout the week, Noll continued to focus on Oakland's arrogance in order to send a message to his players. At a press conference, he brought the subject up again, even more miffed at now the Raiders and Sports Illustrated. "We always enjoy our games with Oakland because it's a test. From what I understand, they're the self-proclaimed best, but they have the playoff system to determine that, I guess."
The players fed off Noll's defiance all week during practice. They were highly motivated, yet all business. Noll's biggest challenge was to temper the players' fire so that they peaked on Sunday and not Wednesday. The coaching staff was determined to put together a game plan that would allow the Steelers to run against Oakland. On Sunday, December 29 the Steelers were the visiting team and the underdogs, but they were ready.
The first half was a smash-mouth defensive battle. Neither team could penetrate the other, a far cry from the two Divisional games a week earlier. The teams could only exchange field goals in the first half. Oakland landed the first real blow in the third quarter on a 38-yard scoring strike from Ken Stabler to Cliff Branch. Mel Blount may have been a future Hall of Famer, but he was not having a good game against Branch. Bud Carson, Steelers' defensive coordinator, took Blount out of the game in what was later downplayed as "giving him a breather."
Pittsburgh took the ensuing kickoff and marched 61 yards for the tying score. The work that the offensive staff put in earlier in the week started paying off. Pittsburgh's bread and butter was trap block running. The coaches figured out that their trap blocking would work effectively whenever the Raiders were in certain defensive alignments, especially as the game and players wore down. Steelers' quarterback Terry Bradshaw called audibles the entire second half, switching to trap blocks that beat the Raiders down. One such audible was the final eight-yard run by Franco Harris to tie the score, 10-10.
Now in the fourth quarter, the biggest play of the game occurred with the Steelers on defense. Pittsburgh's cerebral All Pro linebacker Jack Ham stepped in front of a Stabler pass and returned the interception 24 yards to the Oakland nine-yard line. Bradshaw found Lynn Swann in the end zone and with the Raiders barely seeing the ball on offense, the Steelers turned a seven-point deficit into a seven-point lead, 17-10.
The ageless George Blanda brought the Raiders a little closer with a field goal, but two things were clearly evident, both in Pittsburgh's favor. The first was that the Raiders could not run the ball. They finished with just 29 yards rushing on 21 carries. This, of course, took away Oakland's effectiveness in the passing game. The second was that the Steelers indeed could run. Their trap game worked to perfection. Harris rushed for 111 yards and Rocky Bleier added 98 for a tandem total of 209. This rushing discrepancy between the two teams was the difference in the ballgame. Pounding out the game, Franco scored again from 21 yards out and it was all she wrote, 24-13. The Steelers scored 21 of those points in the fourth period. The Raiders may have won Super Bowl 8 and a half, but they never made it to Super Bowl 9.
With this victory, Pittsburgh became the only road team to win in the playoffs that year. More importantly, the Steelers finally reached a pinnacle that eluded them for 40 years - playing for a championship. Three times prior they had been in the NFL's de facto Final Four, but never had they been to the final game. This win over Oakland was the launching pad for a dynasty yet to be equaled - four Super Bowl Championships in six years, the first of which would take place a week later against the Minnesota Vikings.
#12 - Steelers 20 - 49ers 17 (1984)
#11 - Steelers 20 - Colts 16 (1995)
#10 - Steelers 23 - Browns 7 (1964)
#9 - Steelers 24 - Broncos 17 (1984)
#8 - Steelers 26 - Oilers 23 OT (1989)
#7 - Steelers 29 - Browns 9 (1994)
#6 - Steelers 23 - Ravens 13 (2008)
#5 - Steelers 63 - Giants 7 (1952)
#4 - Steelers 36 - Browns 33 (2002)