My first thoughts: "Who is this guy?", and, "I didn’t know Pittsburgh had a pro football team."
You see, I only read the sports page for the local high school sports news.
Growing up in a small town 50 miles south of Pittsburgh, the only action you get is watching high school sports.
As a child, I could never understand why my father and uncles would monopolize the TV on Thanksgiving and New Years’ to watch someone running up and down the field with a ball until…
January, 1965, watching football on TV, I saw a man pacing the sideline. He was kind of chunky with glasses and a hat. I liked his smile. I liked the camera watching his every move. He led the team to another World Championship.
That man was Vince Lombardi, and his team was the Green Bay Packers.
I began to see what my dad and uncles saw in this game.
I became a Packer fan until 1969, when Lombardi announced his retirement, then decided to take the head coaching job with the Washington Redskins.
I didn’t want to be a Redskin fan, but I did like the Minnesota Vikings and the Purple People Eaters. Eller, Marshall, Larson and Page—cool names, incredible playmakers.
In January1970, I received my acceptance letter to college in Pittsburgh. I was a die-hard Pittsburgh Pirates fan. I had been a fan since the 1960 World Series.
But reading the paper about the hiring of Chuck Noll, who later drafted some unknown guy by the name of Joe Greene from Texas, I figured I might as well learn a little more about these Steelers.
To my horror, I discovered this team finished 1-13. Man, I thought, these guys suck.
While attending school, I would read mostly about the Steelers or listen to them on the radio.
In those days, most of the games were broadcast on the radio. Few were on TV. There was the rule that home games had to be sold out to be broadcast on TV. The games didn’t sell.
One of the reasons I was interested in following the Steelers was that they drafted Terry Hanratty. I watched his career at Notre Dame. I thought he would be the quarterback that could turn this team around.
You know—Heisman Trophy candidate, local boy makes good.
Then in 1970, Noll drafted this country bumpkin named Terry Bradshaw. The "Blonde Bomber," as he was affectionately known to the “Chief” Art Rooney Sr.
Bradshaw use to make me cringe every time his number was called. He was always good for an interception. Man he sucked. Why wouldn’t Noll keep Hanratty out on the field instead?
Although I kept up with the Steelers, I was more faithful to the Vikings. They were the better team, I thought, and their defense was stifling.
Then one day, before I went home for the Christmas holidays, a friend of mine called me about acquiring tickets to a football game at Three Rivers Stadium.
I had been to the stadium for baseball games, but never for a football game.
Excited, I said yes but was surprised that she would be willing to go, as I never knew she liked football. She said she didn’t, but it was a great place to meet guys.
There we were in the upper level (somewhere in the 300s) watching the Steelers and Oakland Raiders in the divisional playoffs.
No one could believe the Steelers could get this far. They were the fifth-oldest franchise in the NFL, originally named the Pittsburgh Pirates, and made the playoffs once, in 1947.
They were losers before and losers afterwards.
And here they were in a divisional playoff against the vaunted, nasty playing Oakland Raiders coached by John Madden and owned by Al Davis.
With a 1:17 left to go quarterback Ken Stabler scored a touchdown on a 30-yard run putting Oakland in the lead 7-6. The Steelers had scored two field goals all day.
With 22 seconds remaining, fourth and 10 on the Steeler 40, my girlfriend and I decided to leave.
It was cold, and I believe it rained that day.
What was the use in staying? The Raiders defense had held the offense to field goals. The Steelers were way out of field goal range but decided to go for the 4th and 10.
We proceeded to go up the steps to the exit, when………
We heard people cheering. I turned around and there were people on the field, acting crazy.
There were so many people you could barely see the Steeler uniforms let alone the Steelers themselves. Most of the people bunched up in the end zone.
Some guy almost ran past us when I screamed to him “what happened?”
"Steelers Won," he screamed. “Franco Harris took it in for a touchdown”.
“What?” I said.
My girlfriend and I looked at the scoreboard and the score was 13-7 Steelers. We couldn’t believe it. The worse part of this story is we didn’t see it, either.
The greatest play ever and we were there to witness it and didn’t.
I saw the highlights on the news that night.
I learned one thing from that game that holds true even today. I never leave until the Fat Lady Sings.
From that day, I was indoctrinated as a Steeler fan and never turned back.
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