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Steelers Film Room Throwback Thursday: 70's Steelers vs. 80's 49ers

We revisit ESPN's Millennium Bowl tournament by looking back to the championship round, when the 1970's Pittsburgh Steelers would face the 1980's San Francisco 49ers.

Last week we brought you a look back at ESPN's Millennium Bowl tournament with the semi-finals between two of the most recognized dynasties in the history of the NFL with the 1970's Pittsburgh Steelers beating the 1990's Dallas Cowboys.

This week we look at the championship round between the 1970's Pittsburgh Steelers and the 1980's San Francisco 49ers.

For those who might not be familiar with the Millennium Bowl, ESPN had created a short series back in 1999 where it edited film from different eras of the NFL to simulate matchups between the greatest NFL dynasties of the Super Bowl era. Chosen were the 1960's Packers, the 1970's Steelers, the 1980's 49ers and the 1990's Cowboys. Each team was comprised of the best players available in their prime throughout their designated decade, meaning that if a player who was amazing in the earlier part of that decade was paired with another player that was in their prime later in the decade, the team would get both players in their best.

The Steelers advanced from Lynn Swann's touchdown as time expired in regulation while the 49ers edged the Packers with an overtime touchdown caught by John Taylor.

The championship round was planned to have to the first half hosted in San Francisco's Candlestick Park and the second half hosted in Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium. The two legendary sites were home to some of the greatest plays in NFL history.

49ers offense vs. Steelers defense

Steelers offense vs. 49ers defense

San Francisco however opened up the game fast and dominated the first half. By halftime, Chuck Noll and his Steelers were down 20-7 and seemed unable to stop the passing attack of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and John Taylor.

The third quarter would show the Steelers' defense slowing down the 49ers, but not enough to stop them from adding eight points to their lead making it 28-7 going into the fourth quarter. But then the Steelers' defense looked to its hall of fame roster to at least make it a football game.

Mel Blount returns interception of Joe Montana for a touchdown

And it's a touchdown! For a second straight game in this tournament, cornerback Mel Blount returns a turnover for a touchdown. The 49ers' hall of fame quarterback, Joe Montana, finally broke under the pressure of the Steel Curtain defensive line and threw an ill-advised pass which Blount was able to return and make the score 14-28 with the 49ers still in the lead.

The defense strikes again

As if the stadium used a renegade feature (though this defense pre-dates the use of the current Steelers' tradition) the defense gets Pittsburgh going with another defensive touchdown. This time it was cornerback Ron Johnson who scooped up a fumble from Roger Craig and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown with just over three minutes to play. Pittsburgh had cut the lead to seven, but had to get the ball back again in order to tie it up.

With Montana realizing the Steelers' defense was on the prowl for turnovers, he tried his best to run the clock until he was forced into a key third down situation.

Jack Lambert to the rescue

Montana had led the 49ers to midfield and been able to drain the clock to just over a minute left in the game, but faced a crucial 3rd and 9. Knowing that a first down could win the game, Montana challenges the Steelers' defense with a pass that would be intercepted by the Steelers' legend, Jack Lambert. Lambert jumped the comeback route and was able to return the ball to the 49ers 22 yard line, giving Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers' offense a chance to tie the game.

Bradshaw to Swann ties the game

With less than a minute to play, Bradshaw dropped back behind perfect protection from Mike Webster and the Steelers' offensive line and had enough time to fire a strike to Lynn Swann whom had beat his man on a corner route. The game would be tied with under a minute left, but that was more than enough time for Joe Montana.

49ers take 31-28 lead with five seconds left

True to the form of Montana, he finds his man in Jerry Rice on a deep post pattern that beat cornerback J.T. Thomas and had the 49ers at the 15 yard line. Having no timeouts, 49ers head coach Bill Walsh sends out his special teams and they rush to kick a field goal that is easily made and leave five seconds on the clock.

The 49ers make the smart decision to squib the kickoff so that Lynn Swann could do no damage and force the Steelers' offense to travel the length of the field in one play that had to be a touchdown for Pittsburgh to win.

With one last chance, Terry Bradshaw took the field with the Steelers' offense hoping for a miracle.

The last play

AND THE BALL IS CAUGHT OUT OF THE AIR! On a pass that gets tipped twice by the 49ers' defense, Franco Harris makes the legendary Immaculate Reception again by scooping the ball at the 49ers 35 yard line and running it all the way to the end zone for a touchdown! Harris did it again with the deliverance of yet another magical play to win the game and the Millennium Bowl!


The Matchup of the Millennium is over and the debate of who was the greatest team of all time ends as the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970's win in stunning fashion over the 1980's 49ers!

When it comes to determining the greatest teams of all time, the Steelers of the 1970's command the respect of every reasonable football fan that knows that era of the NFL. In similar shows that applied the same concept as ESPN did here, the 70's Steelers were able to win both the NFL's Dream Bowl and the NFL's Dream Bowl II.

With technology always improving, it will be interesting to see ESPN, NFL Network or some other sports network to come up with their own rendition of matchups of legendary teams in different eras. But until then, we can enjoy the Steelers winning all these other ones.