"When you've got something to prove, there's nothing greater than a challenge."
This quote by Terry Bradshaw perfectly summed up Brad's performance in Super Bowl XIII.
The challenge was this: defeat the other great team of the 70s, the Dallas Cowboys, the defending Super Bowl champions armed with the feared Doomsday Defense. And if he won, Bradshaw and the Steelers would cement their legacy as the team of the decade, becoming the only franchise to win the Super Bowl three times. Bradshaw would also need to overcome harsh words uttered by a certain Cowboy that verbalized the worst stigmas that surrounded Bradshaw throughout his first 10 seasons, criticisms that challenged both his physical and mental abilities.
Suffice to say, Bradshaw passed each challenge with flying colors on January 21st, 1979, and with the success came a new legacy, for both Bradshaw, his team, and the Super Bowl.
A team that was built on defense and a strong running game, the Steelers used this formula to win their first two Super Bowls. In general, running and defense was mostly how it done in those days, as this was still years before Bill Walsh, Don Coryell and Joe Gibbs-run offenses revolutionized the game. A slow start to Bradshaw's career along with his laid back demeanor which meshed with his southern accent created a negative stigma that stuck with Bradshaw throughout most of his career.
But all of this changed in 1978. While Don Shula's (who was the head of the NFL's Competition Committee back then), rules favoring offenses looked to hinder the Steelers, it only made them stronger. Brasdhaw used the new rules to his advantage, and the Steelers opened up their offense. In his ninth season, 1978 was Bradshaw's finest, as he paced the NFL in touchdown passes en route to being named the league MVP. Pittsburgh won a franchise record 14 games and dismantled Denver and Houston on their way back to the Super Bowl after a two-year absence.
While Bradshaw opened the Super Bowl with a 28-yard touchdown pass to John Stallworth, challenges were soon to follow. Terry turned the ball over three times in the second quarter, one leading to a Cowboys' touchdown to give Dallas a 14-7 lead. But in a microcosm of his career, Bradshaw endured, overcame, and triumphed. He responded with a 75-yard touchdown pass to Stallworth on Pittsburgh's ensuing drive and, following a Mel Blount interception of Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, engineered a masterful scoring drive that gave the Steelers a 21-14 halftime lead. The drive, which culminated with Rocky Bleier's balletic seven-yard touchdown, gave Bradshaw three touchdown passes to tie Bart Starr for the most touchdown passes ever in a Super Bowl.
Fittingly, the second half of Super Bowl XIII would be played at night under the Orange Bowl lights, making it the first Super Bowl to be played at night. It was fitting because Bradshaw, who always seemed to play better with the lights shining the brightest, would now have his finest moment in the first prime time moment in Super Bowl history.
The team's signal caller as well as its quarterback, Bradshaw called a trap play that led to Franco Harris' 22-yard touchdown gallop to give Pittsburgh a 28-17 lead late in the fourth quarter. Just 11 seconds later following a recovered fumble by Dirt Winston, Bradshaw went for it all, lofting a perfect pass to Lynn Swann, who outreached two Cowboys defenders for the catch and a insurmountable 35-17 lead. The pass was Bradshaw's final pass of Super Bowl XIII, and it made him the first quarterback to pass for over 300 yards and four touchdowns in the Super Bowl. All told, Bradshaw threw for 318 yards, and even a gallant Cowboys comeback late couldn't erase what Bradshaw had done in Pittsburgh's 35-31 win.
Immediately after the game, NBC play-by-play man Curt Gowdy called it the best Super Bowl of all-time. Very few argued, as this Super Bowl broke the mold after many criticized the previous Super Bowls for failing to generate many points and drama. After 66 points were scored in a game that featured tremendous plays, drama, and a comeback bid late, the Super Bowl had finally lived up to its billing as the greatest spectacle in professional sports. If Super Bowl III was the true birth of the Super Bowl, Super Bowl XIII was its confirmation.
At the center of it all was Bradshaw, who had quarterbacked the Steelers into professional sports immortality, while also etching his place among the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.