Regardless of what happened in sports I was going to have powerful memories of 1972. During much of the late fall I was commuting from
Steelers football provided a welcome distraction from my family’s troubles. Nearly a year earlier my brother and I presented my father with a Christmas gift of Steelers season tickets. At the time the process simply required me to walk up to the Steelers ticket office at Three Rivers Stadium, peruse the seating chart of the stadium and make the purchase. 1971 would be the last time that such a thing was possible for Steelers fans. The one game I personally attended in ’72 was a big one; we were hosting the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings were one of the elite teams in the NFL. They dominated their division and would make four trips to the Super Bowl in an eight year span. Unfortunately, like the Buffalo Bills in the 1990s they lost in each of their championship appearances. Consequently, the lasting impression of their influence is not as great as other dominant teams of that time such as the Cowboys, Dolphins or Raiders. But they would serve as a huge test for an upstart
The game was a tense, defensive struggle that
I can’t imagine that any of you hasn’t seen what happened next. Running for his life, Bradshaw launches a pass to running back Frenchy Fuqua. The ball, Fuqua and Raiders safety Jack Tatum all arrive at the same spot at the same time. The ball flies out of view, game ov-… And then there’s Franco, who was last seen blocking for Bradshaw in the backfield, running toward the end zone with the ball. As he scored our reaction was a bit muted. To be sure, we were overjoyed, but also stunned and somewhat confused. You have to understand that nothing like that had ever happened before. Not only was it the greatest football moment of its type ever, but it occurred before anything that could have possibly rivaled it in the public imagination. This was before the Hail Mary pass; before Doug Flutie; before the Miracle at the Meadowlands; before this year’s
What a Christmas gift. For one afternoon, at least, the gloom had lifted. There were smiles that were not forced. There was something to look forward to. Next was the AFC Conference Championship. Was it possible that we could actually go to the Super Bowl? That night I returned to my apartment traveling through what was arguably the most dangerous neighborhood in
The following Sunday was New Years Eve. I looked forward to the day like few others in months. George Constantinidis and I had played together as walk-ons for
The game turned on a fake punt of all things. As the Steelers turned their backs on the Dolphins punter to set up a return, he simply followed them down field, undetected for an agonizingly long time. Miami would prevail 21-17 and would go on to make history two weeks later when they completed their undefeated season with a victory over the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl.
I didn’t like the result, of course, but it wasn’t that bad. Disappointed to be sure, but I wasn’t saddled with the curse of high expectations that makes falling short such an ordeal for fans in the present day. And besides, I had a train to catch. I remember as I walked to the North Philly train station that I was just grateful to have the opportunity to get away. At the time that part of
It started out as a great evening. George’s girlfriend surprised me by providing me with a date for the night. The four of us were having a great time party hopping. We were driving along
It didn’t register with the other three occupants of the car in the way that it impacted me. They were New Yorkers, this was
It wasn’t until I got the opportunity to compare notes with some of the folks in the BTSC community that were around at that time that many others had been just as devastated as I had been by Clemente’s death. For my generation of Pittsburghers and me in particular Clemente was a transcendent figure. Sometimes misunderstood and castigated by the local press, underexposed and undervalued in the national consciousness, those of us who had the privilege of watching him play day to day fell in love with his incredible talent and character. He was my first hero. Over the years he has become something of a cult figure in some quarters. Think of the reference to him in the movie
But more was happening beyond my personal feelings. The eight day period bracketed by the Steelers playoff victory over the Raiders at one end, and Clemente’s death at the other marked a change in the tone and landscape of the