"The 74 year old patriarch was a lovable loser no more."
NFL films broadcaster John Facenda was right when he said the following about Steelers owner Art Rooney.
The same could be said for his football team, as the Steelers were lovable losers no more.
Today marks 40 years since the Steelers won their first ever Super Bowl, a 16-6 win over the Minnesota Vikings in ancient Tulane Stadium. After 42 years, Pittsburgh won their first world championship, and have won five more in the 40 years following that watershed moment.
If you really want to see how much pro football has evolved over the last 40 years, turn on an old NBC copy of that Super Bowl. There were 78 rushing plays, while only 20 passes were completed that produced less than 200 yards. Watching that game is truly a portal to a different time, with the quarterbacks lining up behind center on each play while the receivers lined up in a three point stance.
It's fitting that the Steelers first Super Bowl victory was a defensive slug fest that ultimately was won because Pittsburgh won both battles at the line of scrimmage. It was classic Steelers football, as Pittsburgh amassed 249 rushing yards while allowing just 17 on 21 attempts. Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton completed just 11 of 26 passes for 102 yards while throwing three interceptions, while Franco Harris rushed for a then Super Bowl record 158 yards to win the game's MVP award.
While Franco's MVP award was deserving, you could have argued the award could have gone to Joe Greene or Dwight White. While Greene's highlights that afternoon included a fumble recovery and an interception, White recorded the first safety in Super Bowl history to give Pittsburgh a 2-0 halftime lead after spending the previous week in the hospital while battling pneumonia and losing 20 pounds.
After a key block by Gerry Mullins freed Franco for a third quarter touchdown to give Pittsburgh a 9-0 lead, the Vikings scored their only touchdown of the game when Terry Brown scored off a blocked punt late in the game. In a foreshadowing of Super Bowls to come, Terry Bradshaw responded by engineering a fourth quarter drive that culminated in his game-clinching touchdown pass to Larry Brown, cementing Pittsburgh's 16-6 victory. It was Bradshaw's first of eight fourth quarter scoring drives he led in Pittsburgh's four Super Bowl triumphs in the 1970s.
Five years after losing 13 straight games in his rookie season as coach, Chuck Noll had built through the draft while also relying on his unwavering confidence in himself and his plan, and now, while being hoisted up into the Louisiana sky by Franco and Mean Joe as the game clock expired, he had seen his plan reach fruition.
But perhaps the game's biggest highlight occurred in the locker room following the game. It was there where Art Rooney finally held the trophy signifying that his club was the finest in professional football. It was a scene that many Steelers said brought tears to their eyes, and it is a moment that lives on in Steelers lore.