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Steelers Heroes of the Past: Terry, Franco and The Rock

A trio of offensive difference-makers earning a distinction none other have in the Super Bowl Era. That's the foundation of greatness for the Steelers in the 1970s.

Only one backfield in NFL history has won four Super Bowls together.

Quaterback Terry Bradshaw, fullback Franco Harris, and running back Rocky Bleier were essential pieces in each of the team's four Super Bowl victories in six seasons from 1974-79. While each player possessed their own unique talent, it's what they did for each other that helped make the Steelers the greatest team in the Super Bowl era.

While Bradshaw struggled early in his career to meet to meet the heavy expectations as a No.1 overall pick, Bleier was in the midst of his grueling rehabilitation after suffering a potential career ending leg injury in combat in Vietnam. He returned to the team in 1971 but played only sparingly over the next three seasons.

Harris had no such labors upon his arrival in the Steel City. He was an instant sensation, rushing for over 1,000 yards his rookie season and giving the team and city new life. One of the biggest supporters of Franco and his Italian Army was Bradshaw, who finally had a special back that could take the pressure off him and the passing game.

Already armed with a dominant defense, Pittsburgh won their first ever playoff game in 1972 on a play you may have heard about before.

"The Immaculate Reception" instantly made Franco a Pittsburgh icon forever. Bradshaw, despite piloting the Steelers to an 8-1 record the following season as a starter, still had his doubters.

One of those doubters was coach Chuck Noll, who benched Bradshaw in favor of Joe Gilliam at the start of 1974. After a season of playing musical chairs with his quaterbacks, Noll decided to stick with Bradshaw as the regular season drew to a close. He also made the emerging Bleier the team's starting running back, although Franco
would still receive the majority of the carries. Finally, the backfield that would win four of the next six Super Bowl was finally in place.

The trio would help Pittsburgh win their final two regular season games en route to a 10-3-1 record heading into the playoffs. After all three starred in their first playoff victory over Buffalo, the trio had one of their finest moments in the AFC Championship Game against Oakland. Franco and Bleier gashed the Raiders defense all afternoon, rushing for 111 and 98 yards, respectively. With the Raiders defense befuddled, Bradshaw took to the air and gave Pittsburgh their first lead with his touchdown pass to Lynn Swann early in the fourth quarter. Harris finally broke Oakland's spirit late in the game with 21-yard scoring jaunt in a 24-13 win.

While the "Immaculate Reception" was Franco's signature moment, Super Bowl IX was his encore. Led by textbook blocking by the offensive line led by Gerry Mullins, Ray Mansfield and Sam Davis, Harris galloped for 158 yards and a touchdown.

One of the game's greatest cut back runners, Harris rushed for 4.6 yards a clip against the Purple People Eaters. Bleier chipped in with 65 more yards that included a pivotal 18 yard run that helped set up Bradshaw's game winning touchdown strike to Larry Brown to secure the Steelers' 16-6 win. Bradshaw raised his arms to the heavens the second Brown caught the pass. He was finally vindicated after years of heavy criticism. It didn't matter to him that Harris was the star; he was a champion.

The Dallas Cowboys made sure that Super Bowl X would not be another highlight reel for Franco. The "Doomsday" defense made it their priority to contain Harris and force Bradshaw's arm to beat them.
Bradshaw did just that, using play action passes to keep the Cowboys at bay. He only completed nine passes but threw for two touchdowns while Franco and Rocky gained a hard earned 82 and 51 rushing yards, respectively.

The "Blonde Bomber" gave Pittsburgh an insurmountable lead when he threw the perfect pass to Swann late in the fourth quarter. Swann caught the 61-yard bomb in stride as the Steelers took a 21-10 lead. Bradshaw suffered a concussion on the play as Pittsburgh held on to win one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever, 21-17.

Much had changed when Pittsburgh met Dallas in Super Bowl XIII. The NFL had evolved into more of a passing league after Miami coach Don Shula lobbied for less restriction on wide receivers to the NFL's Competitions Committee. This led to the "Mel Blount Rule," which prohibited defensive backs contact with receivers after five yards.

The league also expanded the distance between the hash marks in an effort to increase offensive productivity.

Just two years earlier, Harris and Bleier became the second pair of teammates to each rush for over 1,000 yards in a season in 1976. Now, the onus of the offense would fall on Bradshaw. Now more seasoned at 30-years-old, Bradshaw showed everyone how much he had evolved as a top-flight quarterback. He threw for an NFL best 28 touchdown passes on his way to the league MVP award.

The trio's ability to work together to achieve success was on full display in Super Bowl XIII. After falling behind 14-7 early, Bradshaw threw his second touchdown pass to John Stallworth just seconds later to tie the score. After an interception by Blount stalled a Dallas drive (showing that the rule that bore his name did little to slow him
down), Bleier leaped into the air and snagged down Bradshaw's pass in the end zone to give Pittsburgh the lead for good as the first half neared to a close. The catch was forever immortalized on that week's cover of Sports Illustrated.

As they had three years earlier, the Cowboys made it their priority to bottle up Harris. But near the end of the game and his team needing him, No.32 stepped up.

Ahead 21-17, the Steelers had the ball deep in Dallas territory late in the fourth quarter. On third and short, the Steelers were called for a penalty, but not before gregarious Cowboys linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson threw Bradshaw to the ground after the officials killed the play. Henderson had been a verbal thorn in the Steelers
side all week, questioning Bradshaw's intelligence by saying he couldn't spell "cat" if he spotted Bradshaw the c and the t. Pittsburgh had kept quiet in response to Henderson's bravado. But now, Harris had had enough.

Upon seeing his quarterback on the ground, Harris stormed over to Henderson as the two exchanged verbal pleasantries. Bradshaw has stated in interviews over the years that Harris demanded the ball on the next play. Some quarterbacks called the offensive plays back then, and even though the Steelers were faced with a third and long situation, Bradshaw gave the ball to his workhorse.

Led by Bleier and a great block by lineman Ray Pinney, Franco stormed through the middle of the line and galloped into the end zone. Bradshaw, Bleier, and the rest of the Steelers were back in the end zone just 11 seconds later, as Bradshaw's fourth touchdown pass of the day-this one to Swann, was the exclamation on Pittsburgh's 35-31 win.

Bradshaw enjoyed his finest moment, throwing for over 300 yards for the first time in his career with 318 on 17 completions.

Already tabbed as the team of the decade, Pittsburgh looked to add to their legacy in Super Bowl XIV against the underdog Rams. But Pittsburgh had always had trouble with Los Angeles, losing to the Rams 10-7 in 1978. Franco's 1-yard touchdown gave Pittsburgh an early lead before falling behind 13-10 at intermission.

Things looked bleak for Pittsburgh as the third quarter drew to a close. Swann, who caught a 47-yard-touchdown earlier in the half, was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Harris and Bleier were bottled up on the ground, while Bradshaw had already thrown three interceptions. The Rams offense, starting backup Vince Ferragamo, was
not intimidated by the Steelers vaunted defense. A halfback pass from Lawrence McCutheon to Ron Smith gave Los Angeles a 19-17 lead heading into the final stanza.

Five years earlier, Bradshaw threw only nine passes in the Steelers Super Bowl victory over the Vikings. Now, with the Steelers in dire straits, Bradshaw seized the moment. Facing a third and long at his own 27, Bradshaw fired a bullet that Stallworth caught in stride for the go-ahead score (the catch was captured and put on the cover of Sports Illustrated as well).

After Jack Lambert short-circuited a Rams drive with an interception, Bradshaw again found Stallworth deep for 45 yards to the Los Angeles 22. As he had so many times before, Bradshaw called Harris' number to
secure the game and the championship. With Bleier in the backfield with him, Harris smashed trough the line for the game-clinching touchdown in Pittsburgh's 31-19 win.

Bradshaw, the quarterback that some thought would never realize his potential, won his fourth Super Bowl while winning a second Super Bowl MVP award. Bleier- the player that many thought would never play again after Vietnam- was a champion once again. Harris, who retired as the Steelers all-time leading rusher, still holds the Super Bowl record for career rushing yards.

Watch any sport station today on Super Bowl Sunday, and you'll see a bevy of highlights of past Super Bowls. You'll see Montana throwing to Rodger Craig, or Starr watching Jim Taylor execute the famed Packers Sweep, or Aikman celebrating an Emmitt Smith touchdown. While all of these players and Super Bowl moments are great, only one of those units won four Super Bowls together while making each other better in the process.