Ironically, the Steelers 1979 playoff game against the Dolphins would be played out months later in a boxing ring.
In October of 1980, Muhammad Ali would fall mercilessly to Larry Holmes, officially marking the end of one of the greatest reigns in boxing history. Many had known for a while that Ali was not what he once was, but the loss to Holmes was the physical evidence everyone needed-Ali included-to see to really know that it was over.
Pittsburgh's 34-14 win showed just as much, and more. It showed that Miami, once the dominant team of the 1970s, had succumb to Father Time and were now a shell of what they were seven years earlier. It also showed that the Steelers, over the same course of time, had not only maintained their high level of play, but had elevated it to become a complete team in every phase of the word.
It was no secret that many teams disliked Miami during that era. In fact, if the Raiders disliked anyone else on the same level as the Steelers, it was the Dolphins. Miami ruled the AFC in the early '70s, winning three straight conference titles from 1971-73, becoming the first franchise to play in three straight Super Bowls. Miami beat all the other elite AFC teams in the process, going undefeated in 1972 and defeating the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the AFC title game on the strength of a fake punt late in the second half of Miami's 21-17 victory. The Dolphins won Super Bowl VII two weeks later and would win the following Super Bowl in January of '74.
Miami was in those days what the Patriots are now, a good but nauseating team that was constantly wooed by the national media. In short, the Dolphins were annoying, which led to many teams licking their chops at the prospect of knocking them off of their pedistool when Miami inevitably started their decline from the mountaintop.
The Raiders were the first team to land the first blow at Miami's bid at creating a dynasty in the 1970s, defeating them in the classic "Sea of Hands" game in the 1974 playoffs. The game opened the door for Pittsburgh's dynasty to begin the following week, as the Steelers 24-13 upset win Oakland led to their first Super Bowl victory. After three more seasons of failed attempts to get back to the Super Bowl, Dolphins coach Don Shula, who was also the head of the league's competition committee, helped to enforce the "Mel Blount Rule" and other rules that prohibited a defenses' effectiveness while giving offenses more advantages. Many felt like this was obviously a direct shot at the Steelers, who at the time had won two Super Bowls primarily on the strength of their dominant defense.
Needless to say, there was no shortage of motivation for the Steelers when Miami came to town on December 30th, 1979. After winning Super Bowl XIII a year earlier, Pittsburgh wanted to put the exclamation point on their dominance of the decade; what better way to do so than to dismantle the team that had previously tried in vain to achieve the same standard of excellence.
Just as a heavy favorite should, the Steelers flexed their muscles and went for the knockout early. They led 20-0 after one quarter, as Terry Bradshaw touchdown passes to John Stallworth and Lynn Swann followed a short range touchdown run by Sidney Thorton to kickoff the scoring. While Bob Griese's third quarter touchdown pass to Duriel Harris gave Miami a small glimmer of hope, that hope was quickly quashed when Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris responded with back-to-back touchdown runs.
Trailing 34-7 late, the Dolphins played on for pride, and salvaged some of it when Larry Csonka, the symbol of the Dolphins' glory years of the early '70s, scored from a yard out to make the final score a little more respectable. Nonetheless, the 34-14 final score proved convincing enough of what the Steelers were at that moment in time, and what the Dolphins wished they were. Pittsburgh showed balance on offense, with Bradshaw completing 21 passes for 230 yards and two scores while Thorton and Harris combined to rush for 135 yards on 33 carries. Not even Shula's altered rules could slow down Pittsburgh's defense on this day, as the Steel Curtain held the Dolphins to 249 total yards that included just 25 rushing yards on 22 carries.
While the vanquished Dolphins had played their last game in the 1970s, the Steelers went on to defeat Houston and then Los Angeles in the Super Bowl to cement their legacy as the greatest team of that era. While this win over Miami isn't remembered as much as other wins during that time, it was the perfect example of how powerful that Steelers team was, and how they were able to make once great teams look very mortal on their way to immortality.