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Steelers Championship Anniversary Flashback: Super Bowl X vs. the Cowboys

On the 45th Anniversary of Super Bowl X, BTSC looks back at the first “Battle with the Boys” in Miami

Super Bowl X - Dallas Cowboys v Pittsburgh Steelers

I once (actually many times) heard Huey Lewis croon, “So take me away, I don’t mind. But you better promise me, I’ll be back in time. Gotta get back in time.” Never wanting to disappoint one of my musical heroes, let’s fire up the Delorean and get back to January 18, 1976.

As we arrive, I have no bars on my phone. Wonder why? So I pick up a newspaper and see where full diplomatic relations were established between Bangladesh and Pakistan...five years after the Bangladesh Liberation War, Future President Jimmy Carter was a day away from winning the Iowa Caucus, Barry Manilow (like the year before) was top of the charts as “I Write The Songs” was Number One on the radio and Jack Nicholson and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was tops with movie goers.

Meanwhile in the world of sports, the football world was converging on Miami for the tenth edition of the best of the best facing off for football supremacy. Welcome to Super Bowl X between the Cowboys of Dallas and the defending crown winners, your Pittsburgh Steelers. Let’s get down to the field.

The excitement and hope of a repeat performance waned a bit immediately when the ball was kicked off. Former Steeler Preston Pearson fielded the ball and immediately handed it off to to the infamous antagonist of the Steelers, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson for a 52 yard return. Gerela saved the touchdown with a tackle inside Steeler territory that would haunt the Steelers the entire game after the kicker badly bruised his ribs on the play. Facing a strong wind, Vietnam Vet Roger Staubach went to the air to no avail. On the next play, L.C. Greenwood sacked the Cowboys quarterback thus forcing a fumble in which the Center, John Fitzgerald, recovered for Dallas. The NFC representative was forced to punt away.

Maybe because the mobile Terry Bradshaw had a taped knee, the Steelers came out working their ground game with their first opportunity on offense. They too could not muster a first down and Bobby Walden came on to boot it away. However, No. 39 (odd digits for a punter) mishandled the snap and Dallas swarmed to the football With Walden jumping on it. Walden, who was partly responsible for the Vikings only points a year before in Super Bowl IX, may be the most beleaguered player in Steeler SB history. Taking advantage of the mishap, Staubach immediately found Drew Pearson (Yes...the recent Hall of Fame-snubbed Drew Pearson) for 29 yards and the score. Dallas led the game 7-0 and it was mentioned by CBS broadcasters that the first offensive touchdown in all nine of the previous Super Bowls was scored by the winning team. It was also the only first quarter TD the vaunted Steel Curtain Defense allowed all season. Steeler fans globally became nervous as a piñata at a birthday party.

Super Bowl X - Cowboys v Steelers Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images

Bradshaw and Pittsburgh would answer on the next series though. After four straight running plays, Lynn Swann had his first acrobatic/tight rope grab of the game with a majestic play of 32 yards over DB Mark Washington to the Cowboys 16. On third-and-one on the Cowboys 7, the Steelers employed a two-tight end set that usually signals a run. Instead, Bradshaw and Guard Gerry “Moon”Mullins crossed up Tom Landry’s team and Randy Grossman caught a pass in the end zone to nod the score at 7.

Lynn Swann and Mark Washington Leaping for Football

The Cowboys would counter as well with a time-churning drive (6:12) that extend into the second quarter. The possession featured mostly runs with Robert Newhouse getting 30 of the 51 yards on the ground on five carries. It was inconceivable to see the Steelers run-on in such a manner. At the 19, Ernie Holmes ferociously rushed Staubach forcing him to hurry a throw. The pass was nearly intercepted for what very well could have been a pick-six by Steeler Team MVP Glen Edwards. Instead Toni Fritsch nailed a kick from 36 yards and the Cowboys retook the lead by a score of 10-7.

The broadcast team of Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier noted that the two contestants aren’t early-scoring teams, but maybe they would break records. The Steelers on the next possession looked to continue the streak of scoring with a heavy dose of runs by Bleier, Harris and Bradshaw combined with a leaping grab by John Stallworth, but Cliff Harris broke up a completion from No. 12 to Franco Harris on a fourth-and-one at the Dallas 36. If completed, it looked like Franco would have possibly have taken it to the house. But Dallas took over on downs instead. From there the scoring spree stalled as both defenses played all out with reckless abandon.

After both teams traded punts again, the Cowboys were poised to score again after starting at their own 48 and getting the ball down to the Pittsburgh 20. But the Steelers defense transformed into a steel trap and gobbled up the Dallas opportunity like a promiscuous cougar would a carafe of Chardonnay. L.C. dropped Staubach for a loss of 11 and Dwight white did the same on the very next play for another loss of 11 to force a punt. It was the second and third sack of the day for the vaunted Steeler defense.

The Steelers were driving again towards the end of the first half with 3:47 to play in the half and pinned back deep at the six yard line. On a third and six from their own 10, Bradshaw dropped back and unleashed a pass that would go down as one of the greatest in Super Bowl lore. It was the Lynn Swann circus catch where he famously leapt in blanket coverage by Mark Washington, tipped the ball in the air and hauled it in while falling to the Orange Bowl turf. The play covered 53 yards. A few plays later, Bradshaw was being harassed by the legendary Ed “Too Tall” Jones. No. 12’s spinning pirouette to avoid a sack was a beautiful sight as “The Blonde Bomber” completed a pass to TE Larry Brown. However, the Dallas defense stiffened and the Steelers were not able to score when the badly-bruised Gerela missed his first field goal attempt of the afternoon with :22 remaining in the half. At the break, the “Boys” led the defending champs 10-7 and the world enjoyed the melodic sounds of “Up With People” at intermission.

To start the final 30:00, the Steelers went three-and-out and Walden barely got his punt off and the Cowboys started again in great field position. On the Steelers’ radio broadcast, Jack Fleming stated the need for the Pittsburgh defense to force a turnover. After two running plays, Fleming got his wish when J.T. Thomas snagged a Jolly Roger pass at the 40 and raced 35 yards to the Dallas 25. The Steelers achieved a first down, but couldn’t get in the end zone. So on came the maligned Gerela again to try to tie the game, but he was again not well enough to convert the 33-yard attempt. But in failure came a crucial turning point. In a move that inspired the pen name of one BTSC’s finest, Cliff Harris Is Still A Punk, the (Hall of Fame) safety patted Gerela on the head like a teacher would their dumbest (but lovable) student and then thanked him for the help. This display of gratitude netted attitude and actually changed the game’s latitude. Jack Lambert, who took great exception to the act, threw Harris to the turf and admonished the punk safety. Lambert, would surely have been ejected in today’s NFL, but was not shown the gate in 1976. An angry linebacker got even nastier at that moment and his fellow defensemen did as well.

January 18, 1976: Super Bowl X - Dallas Cowboys v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

After that, Lambert started playing even more like a man possessed and forced a quick three-and-out. The Steelers ended up having to punt the ball away as well after another non-call of interference in favor of the Cowboys.

To start the fourth quarter, Mitch Hoops punted the orb away and Dave Brown had trouble reeling it in, but luckily J.T. Thomas was present to fall on it at the 17. On the next play, a scrambling Bradshaw found Franco Harris streaking down the sideline. It had appeared that the inspiration for the Italian Army would break off free for an 83-yard score, but he was deemed out of bounds at the 43. After a devastating 18-yard loss on a Randy White sack, the Steelers had to punt the ball away once more. Then the Steelers sacked Staubach again and America’s Team had to punt as well. With Hoops standing on the Dallas 1, Noll sent ten men after Hoops and Reggie “Boobie” Harrison blocked the ball through the end zone for a safety and the Cowboys only led by the score of 10-9 with 11:28 left to go in the game.

After Mike Collier (who I see often in my town) fielded the free kick and bolted 25-yards to the Dallas 45, the Steelers charged towards pay dirt and got as far as the 19 through effective runs, but they had to settle for a Gerela field goal (finally!) of 36 yards and their first lead of Super Bowl X. It was now 12-10 with 8:41 left.

Dallas’ attempt to storm back on the next possession was not to be. After surviving Preston Pearson’s fumble of the kickoff, the effort was quickly thwarted when Mike Wagner intercepted the white-clad No. 12 at the 24 and scurried all the way to the Dallas 7-yard line. In the Steelers’ booth, Myron declared that the Steelers wouldn’t settle for a field goal and that they needed the touchdown to put the game away. However Franco fumbled and recovered it inches from the end zone and the Steelers, not listening to Cope, took the three from Gerela’s toe. The score was now 15-10 in Pittsburgh’s favor.

After another Steeler sack, the Cowboys punted the leather back to the Steelers with 4:25 left in the contest. On third and four, Bradshaw dropped back to pass and unleashed a gorgeous bomb of 64 yards to Lynn Swann for a touchdown straight down the middles the field. On the play, No. 88 beat Mark Washington once more. While Swanny celebrated in the end zone, Bradshaw never got to join in on the hoopla due to getting obliterated by a Larry Cole shot to the head. Out with a concussion, TB12 didn’t learn about his heroics and good fortunes until he was in the locker room. Gerela, in true fashion, hooked the extra point off the left upright. It was now 21-10 with 3:02 left.

Super Bowl X - Dallas Cowboys v Pittsburgh Steelers

But Dallas wasn’t ready to hang up their silver helmets just yet. Despite a sixth Steeler sack, Staubach needed only five plays and 1:14 to score a touchdown. The Dallas QB found Percy Howard for a 34-yard score to cut the Steeler lead to four. The catch by Howard, over Mel Blount, would end up being the only one ever in the player’s career.

With 1:48 left, all seemed lost for Dallas as Moon Mullins pulled in the onside kick. But Terry Hanratty and the Steelers couldn’t move the chains after starting on the Dallas 42. Using their timeouts, Dallas was expecting to get the ball back via a punt. However, remembering his team’s kicking woes all game, Chuck Noll didn’t want to risk the kick and the Steelers turned the ball over on downs. After only taking :26 seconds off of the clock, the Steelers decided to rely on their dynamic defense one more time. But the Steelers held. With :03 remaining, Staubach (much like in the NFC Championship) threw up a Hail Mary into the Touchdown Zone, but Edwards intercepted the ball and the Steelers realized victory for the second-straight Super Bowl.

Steeler fans rejoiced and were getting used to the euphoria of winning. The MVP Award went to Lynn Swann for is four-catch and 161-yard performance. The honor could have gone to Jack Lambert with his 14 tackles and his standing up for Gerela to turn the momentum needle towards the Steelers. Another who was dominant was L.C. Greenwood and his four sacks of Staubach on the afternoon. The Steelers were back-to-back victors and the players were known as heroes in their adopted city.

As for me, I was a young lad of four. But I remembered the hoopla surrounding the game as we went to my grandparent’s house for a party. I’ve seen pictures of me decked out in black-and-gold and was starting to realize that a special sentiment was brewing in the Steel City for football and the men who played it.