The 1976 Steelers were believed by many to be the best team Pittsburgh ever put on the field. Few can argue with the absolute dominance they displayed over the final nine games of the season.
After stumbling out of the gate at 1-4 and losing Terry Bradshaw to a cheap shot from Cleveland's Joe "Turkey" Jones, the Steelers turned to their rushing attack and a ferocious defense to turn the season around.
They led the league by churning out 212 yards per game on the ground with both Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier going for more than 1,000 yards.
Over the remaining nine games, the defense shut out five opponents and allowed 28 points in the other four games combined. Opposing teams struggled to get first downs and sustaining drives was nearly impossible.
It was arguably the most dominant stretch of defense ever played by any team in NFL history.
The Steelers rolled into the playoffs on a nine-game winning streak and looking every bit unstoppable. Their opponents in the divisional playoff, the brash, young Baltimore Colts were not impressed.
The Colts maintained that the Steelers had not played anyone and certainly had not faced a team with an offense like their top-ranked unit.
After the carnage was over, the scoreboard read 40-14 Steelers.
The victory came at a heavy price. Both Harris and Bleier were lost to injuries. That left Pittsburgh with only one healthy running back for its showdown with the rugged Oakland Raiders.
Coach Chuck Noll and his staff were forced to install a whole new offense, a one-back attack featuring four receiver sets, for the AFC Championship Game and they would have one week to learn it.
Understandably, this put the Steelers at a huge disadvantage. Right from the start, the Steelers offense appeared out of sync, sometimes confused. The Raiders took full advantage and jumped to a 10-0 lead.
Terry Bradshaw played valiantly, and with some clutch third-down passing in the second quarter he lead the Steelers on a long touchdown drive that cut the deficit to 10-7.
But the Raiders were able to take advantage of a defensive holding penalty on the Steelers on what would have been a third down incompletion that set them up with a first down inside the Steelers' 5-yard line just before the half.
Ken Stabler's touchdown pass on the next play made the halftime score 17-7 instead of 13-7.
In the third quarter, the Steelers' offense continued to struggle and the vaunted Steel Curtain defense began to wear down from constantly being on the field.
Oakland's long touchdown drive against a tired Steelers defense made the score 24-7 and effectively put this game out of reach.
Afterwards, Joe Greene was adamant about the fact the Steelers would have won this game had they been at full strength. Jack Lambert wanted to play the Raiders again the following day.
These Steelers had three-peat written all over them. John Madden and company enjoyed their victory tremendously, as they should have.
But let's face it, the outcome of this game could have been far different.