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Time diminishes legitimacy of Steelers Super Bowl victories

Time heals all wounds, they say. But time also exposes new ones we never knew existed. Such is the case for the Steelers four Super Bowl victories of the 1970s. Were they legit? Thanks to modern technology and adequate rule changes, we can now see that they weren't.

Rod Hanna-USA TODAY Sports

There's no question the Steelers last two Super Bowl championships--a 21-10 victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL and a 27-23 win over the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII--were mired in a bit of controversy.

Obviously, when you reference Super Bowl XL, Seattle still protests Ben Roethlisberger's touchdown, the push-off on Darrell Jackson and the holding call on Sean Locklear.

And then, of course, there were the claims by the folks in Arizona regarding some calls that maybe shouldn't have gone the Steelers way in Super Bowl XLIII. This video showing the position of Santonio Holmes' toes as he was in the process of catching the game-winning touchdown pass is rather chilling and evidence I've never seen before.

Of course,  it's easier to strip away legitimacy from today's Super Bowl victories. With the ability to access the Internet and pin-point clear-cut evidence of wrong-doing (here's another video put together by a Cardinals fan, which further damages Pittsburgh's claim to a sixth Super Bowl), it makes things harder to dispute.

But in years gone by, when the Steelers won four Super Bowls in the darkness of the 1970s--long-before things such as technology and adequate rules could have prevented them--it was much harder. But while there's no disputing Pittsburgh's claim as the winningest Super Bowl organization, you could make a claim that every single one of their league championships is tarnished. Why? Let's examine them below.

Super Bowl IX: Steelers 16, Vikings 6

Yes, the Steelers won this game and thoroughly dominated Minnesota with a suffocating defense that limited the Vikings' offense to 119 total yards--including just 17 on the ground. But do you think that maybe Pittsburgh's defense was just a bit too suffocating? Here's a clip of the hit by safety Glen Edwards on Minnesota receiver John Gilliam that occurred near the end of the first half and led to an interception by Mel Blount. If you watched the clip, you know that the Vikings were driving and that the hit by Edwards happened near Pittsburgh's goal line. You also know that Gilliam was a defenseless receiver on the play, and Edwards laid a vicious hit on him which contacted his helmet. Under the rules of today, that's a 15-yard penalty, the Vikings have the ball first and goal and probably walk away from that drive with a touchdown.

And late in the game, with the Steelers driving for a game-clinching touchdown, tight end Larry Brown appeared to fumble while being taken to the ground on a pass from Terry Bradshaw. Initially, one official ruled a  fumble. However, a second official ran in and said Brown was down by contact. But was he? With the aid of today's video replay challenge system, the call probably would have gone Minnesota's way, and who knows?

Anyway, all things considered, it's easy to look at Pittsburgh's first championship with a skeptical eye.

Super Bowl X: Steelers 21, Cowboys 17

The Steelers did win their second-straight championship with a victory over Dallas in Super Bowl X in January of 1976. Hall of Fame receiver Lynn Swann, with his four catches for 161 yards and game-clinching score late in the fourth quarter, was the Super Bowl MVP. However, should Swann have been the game's MVP, and should Pittsburgh have repeated as the league's champion?

Here's a clip of Super Bowl X, which includes Swann's catches, two of which have been lauded for decades for their athleticism. However, were they legit? In the first quarter, Swann made a levitating leap near the sideline and came down with a 32-yard reception. But did he get both feet in-bounds? Did he maintain possession all the way through until the end of the play? And the second reception, the one where he bobbled the football before securing it; did he actually catch that pass or did it hit the turf of Miami's Orange Bowl? With the help of today's video replay challenge system, one or both of Swann's acrobatic receptions probably would have been overturned.

With that in-mind, it's hard not to look at the Steelers' second Super Bowl trophy and feel like maybe a heist had been committed, some four decades ago.

Super Bowl XIII: Steelers 35, Cowboys 31

It is true that the Steelers won their then record third Super Bowl with this thrilling victory over Dallas in January of 1979, again in Miami's Orange Bowl. But all things considered--Jackie Smith's dropped touchdown pass, Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters deciding to switch safety assignments right before Franco Harris's fourth-quarter touchdown, and Randy White's fumbling of a squib kickoff because he was forced to place the football in the hand that had a cast on it--the game could have (and possibly should have) gone the Cowboys' way, and they may have actually been the team of that decade (and maybe a team for all ages).

And what about John Stallworth's 28-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter that gave Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead? Sure it was a fine bit of athleticism by a future Hall of Famer, but even the NBC announcers made mention of the fact that Stallworth didn't get both feet in-bounds. Sure, he was pushed out by a Dallas defender before he could get his second foot down. And in those days, if an official felt that a  receiver would have gotten both feet down without being interfered with, it was considered a legal catch. However, today, with the help of a video replay challenge by the legendary Tom Landry, that call would have been overturned because a receiver MUST get both feet in-bounds in today's NFL, regardless of whether or not he's pushed out by a defender.

All things considered, it's hard not to look at Pittsburgh's third Lombardi and wonder if maybe it should be displayed in the Cowboys' showcase, instead.

Super Bowl XIV: Steelers 31, Rams 19

This was the team's fourth Super Bowl victory in just a six year-span, a win that would forever cement the Steelers as the greatest dynasty in NFL history. However, should Pittsburgh have even been in this game? If you'll remember, just two weeks earlier at old Three Rivers Stadium, there was a disputed call in Pittsburgh's AFC Championship game against the Oilers. Late in the third quarter, with Houston driving deep in Steelers territory, quarterback Dan Pastorini appeared to connect with receiver Mike Renfro for what would have been a game-tying touchdown. However, the officials huddled and decided that Renfro didn't have full possession of the ball as he went out of bounds. But if you watch the replay, Renfro clearly had two feet in bounds and full possession of the football. The Oilers should have been awarded a touchdown. And if they would have been, they would have gone on to win this game easily in the fourth quarter and would have met Los Angeles in Pasadena's Rose Bowl for the right to be called NFL champions. No, it wasn't the Steelers great defense that saved the day. And it wasn't an explosive offense. It was time. Had instant replay existed then, it would have changed the fortunes of two old AFC Central rivals.

So, while the Steelers did just enough to vanquish a game Rams squad, it's hard not to look at the highlights of Super Bowl XIV and feel as if an imposter was representing the AFC.

They say time heals all wounds. But, unfortunately, time also exposes wounds we never knew existed. Such is the case with the Steelers four Super Bowl victories of the 1970s, as they, along with their Super Bowl XL and XLIII victories, will forever be shrouded in controversy.