"This was the greatest game I ever played in."
Franco Harris' proclamation of Super Bowl XIII symolizes just how good the game was.
The Steelers, the team with the best record in 1978 and winners of two Super Bowls earlier in the decade, against the defending, two-time Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys.
Ten years after calling the greatest upset in football history, NBC broadcaster Curt Gowdy was back in the Orange Bowl, the same stadium where Broadway Joe engineered the Jets' shocking upset over the NFL's seemingly unbeatable Colts. He said in the pre game that Super Bowl XIII was, on paper, the best Super Bowl matchup ever, and he predicted that the actual game would follow suit.
Super Bowl XIII was a heavyweight battle that featured two Hall of Fame quarterbacks that had eight Super Bowl starts between them, two Hall of Fame running backs in Harris and the Cowboys' Tony Dorsett, as well as Hall of Fame head coaches in Dallas' Tom Landry and Pittsburgh's Chuck Noll. The game also featured game-breaking plays from other Hall of Famers, a controversial call, a scoring spree, a gallent comeback late and, finally, the coronation of a dynasty. It also included one of the most famous plays in Super Bowl history, a play that surely remains gutwrenching for Cowboys fans to relive today.
We'll get to all those moments, as well as plays 5, 4, and 3 of the Top-10 underrated Super Bowl plays by the '70s Steelers.
5) Super Bowl XIII: Stallworth strikes blow to Cowboys with momentum-turning touchdown in second quarter
In many ways, Super Bowl XIII was the coming out party for John Stallworth.
The Steelers fifth year receiver, Stallworth broke into the NFL the same year as his teammate, fellow wide receiver Lynn Swann. But while Swann was drafted in the first round of the 1974 draft out of USC (where Swann won a national champioship with the Trojans), Stallworth was picked without any fanfare out of tiny Alabama A&M. While many on the outside knew little of Stallworth's exploits, the Steelers and Bill Nunn, their sportswriter turned guro scout of predominately African American schools, knew they had found a hidden gem. The Steelers withheld film of Stallworth from other NFL teams that offseason, then held their breath as each team passed on Stallworth until Pittsburgh snatched him up in the fourth round.
It took Stallworth time to break into a lineup that included Swann as well as solid starters Frank Lewis and Ronny Shanklin. Eventually, Stallworth started making more and more plays that it became impossible for the Steelers to ignore, and eventually, broke the starting lineup opposite Swann.
Stallworth, Swann and Terry Bradshaw came together in 1978 and morphed the Steelers from a strong running team to a powerful passing team. Bradshaw threw a league-high 28 touchdown passes that season while winning the league MVP award, the last time a Steelers player has won that honor. But despite his ascention, Stallworth was still largely overlooked by the flashier Swann, who had already become a star after his MVP performance in Super Bowl X.
But there was no overlooking Stallworth in the first half of Super Bowl XIII. After scoring the game's first touchdown on a 28-yard touchdown pass catch between several defenders in the back of the end zone, Dallas took back momentum with a Staubach touchdown pass to Drew Pearson in a play that resmbeled the duo's first quarter score against the Steeler back in Super Bowl X. Dallas took the lead in the second quarter after Mike Hegman stripped Bradshaw of the football and returned it to the house for a 14-7 Cowboys lead. In an otherwide masterful game, Bradshaw had struggled during that sequence of the game, with two fumbles and an interception following his brilliance on the opening drive of the game.
The Steelers needed a spark upon taking over at their own 20 followig Hegman's score, and the quiet southern receiver answered the bell. After two runs by Franco gained five yards, Stallworth took a short pass from Bradshaw and turned it into a 75-yard toucdhown play that ended with Stallworth spiking the ball in frot of Dallas defensive backs Aaron Kyle and Cliff Harris. While Stallworth would not play in the second half due to injury, his momentum-turning touchdown along with his first quarter touchdown was the tonic the Steelers needed to get things going in Super Bowl XIII.
4) Super Bowl XIV: Blount's pick sets up Bleier's go-ahead touchdown before halftime
The Mel Blount Rule certinly didn't slow down the greatest cornerback of All-Time.
It was fitting that Blount made a big play in Super Bowl XIII after the League's Competition Committee-stongly influenced by Don Shula- made rules prior to th 1978 season limiting a defensive back's contact with receivers. The rule has always been synonomous with Blount, who showed that even rules created to slow him down would do little to slow him down.
With time running down in the first quarter, Roger Staubach and the Cowboys offense went to work. Three passes totaling 29 yards moved the ball into Pittsburgh terriory as Dallas looked to regain the led. But Blount picked off a Staubach's pass intended for Pearson and retured it 13 yards to Pittsburgh's 44. With good field position and with just enough time left in the first half, Bradshaw completd two passes to Swann that gained a total of 50 yards. After a nine yard run by Franco got the ball to within seven yards of the end zone, Bradshawn lofted a pass to Rocky Bleier who, bad knees and all, jumped to snag the ball out of the air to give Pittsburgh a 21-14 lead heading into halftime. While Rocky's touchdown catch graced the cover of Sports Illustrated the followig week, it was Blount's pick that set up the score while giving the Steelers momentum heading into halftime.
3) Super Bowl XIII: Controversial call, angry Franco dooms Dallas
As the Miami sky faded to black for the second half of Super Bowl XIII, so did the coplexion of the game.
And, following a dramatic drop and controversial call, Steelers fans were treated to 11 seconds of pure bliss.
After three punts to start the half, Staubach and the Cowboys finally put together a drive in hopes of tying the Super Bowl for a third time.
But on third and three from the Pittsburgh 10, Staubach's pass to tight end Jackie Smith was low and incomplete. It was a drop that led Cowboys' broadcaster Verne Lundquist to say: "Bless his heart, he's got to be the sickest man in America." After 16 years and nearly 500 catches, Smith dropped the biggest pass of his life. Dallas settled for a field goal while still trailing Pittsburgh 21-17 heading ito the final stanza.
After three punts in the third quater, Pittsburgh's offense woke up in the fourth. A third and long completion to tight end Randy Grossman folllowed by a 13-yard pass to Swann got the Steelers offense in gear in their first posesion of the fourth quarter. But these passes would quickly be forgotten after the call that still angers Dallas fans.
On second and five following Grossman's catch, Bradshaw threw deep down the near sideline for Swann. Swann and Dallas defensive back Benny Barnes tripped over each other while in pursuit of the ball, and the officials called pass interference on Barnes. With Landry and the Cowboys up in arms, the Steelers offense kept rolling, moving to the Cowboys 17-yard line.
It was at that time when Henderson, who challanged Bradshaw's intelligence before the game, threw Bradshaw down after a third down play was whistled dead for delay of game. Franco took issue with Henderson throwig down his quarterback and challenged Henderson on the field immediately following the play. Now here's where recounts of the play differ; while Franco denies doing so, Bradshaw said Franco demanded the ball on the following play, a third and nine from the Dallas 22. Regardless of why the play was called, Bradshaw called a trap for Franco, who blasted through the line and into the endzoe to give the Steelers a commanding 28-17 lead.
Dallas' demise continued from there, as a fumble on the ensuing kick led to an 18-yard touchdown pass from Bradshaw to Swann a mere 11 sconds after Franco's score. Swann's touchdown produced one of the most icnoic moments in Steelers history, with seemingly the entire team celebratig Swann's touchdown in the end zone. With the NBC end zone camera person in perfect position, Swann was hoisted up by Franco and company while holding up the "No.1 " sign for all to see. Seen on the outside of the celebration of Cowboys safety Carlie Waters, one of the best Cowboys during that era. With his hands on his hips and head down in dejection, Waters seemed to symbolize the 27 other teams in the NFL at that time, talented teams but teams that eventaully gave way to the power of the empire. Gowdy and his fellow bradcasters said nothing at this moment; the scene said it all.
Now ahead 35-17, the Steelers withstood the Staubach and the Cowboys' gallant comeback to previal, 35-31. This was the greatest of the Steelers Super Bowl championships, as the Steelers defeated the other great team of that era in a way that captured the imagination of sports fans for what great footbll looked like, and for what the sport of footbll could and would become.