A Pittsburgh Steelers History Lesson: A Decade of Defensive Domination

TJ JenkinsAnalyst INovember 6, 2009

PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 07:  Former members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, L.C. Greenwood (L), Mel Blount, and 'Mean' Joe Greene (R) before a game against the Houston Texans on September 7, 2008 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Today we shall embark on the second leg of the journey that is tracing the Pittsburgh Steelers' history book. Hang on for the ride, because we’re in the 1970s now.

In 1969, the Steelers hired a former Cleveland Browns players as their head coach. That player? Chuck Noll, who played for the Browns from 1953-1959. Before accepting the head coaching position in Pittsburgh (a job that Joe Paterno turned down) Noll was an assistant coach for both the San Diego Chargers and the Baltimore Colts.

While with the Colts, Noll was the defensive coordinator and set an NFL record for points allowed (144), the Colts went 13-1 that season, beating the Cleveland Browns to win the NFL Championship but lost Super Bowl III to the New York Jets.

In his first year with the Steelers, Noll won only one game, against the Detroit Lions. Though he did select Joe Greene with the fourth pick in the 1969 NFL Draft prior to the season.

Prior to the 1970 NFL Draft, the Steelers won a coin toss between them and the Chicago Bears for the first overall pick (both teams were 1-13, with the Bears win coming against the Steelers.). With that pick, the Steelers selected Louisiana Tech star quarterback Terry Bradshaw.

In 1970, the Steelers, Browns and Colts joined the American Football Conference (AFC) to join with the former members of the American Football League (AFL) due to the 1970 merger.

The Steelers home games were now played exclusively in Three Rivers Stadium. Also in 1970, Myron Cope stepped into the broadcast booth for the first of 35 years of service to the team in a radio capacity.

Terry Bradshaw was now the team’s starting quarterback, though for the next two years, the Steelers would not taste success. Neither year saw the team posting a winning record, but the Steelers were rebuilding for greatness drafting Jack Ham in the 1971 NFL Draft.

In 1972, the Steelers used a draft pick on Franco Harris, who rushed for over 1,000 yards as a rookie running back for the Steelers. Along with those yards, he managed to find the end zone 11 times while helping the team post an 11-3 record, which was first in the AFC Central division. This season would mark the first since 1947 that the team had seen the playoffs.

The very first playoff game at Three Rivers Stadium proved to be one that would go into the NFL history books. Maybe you’ve heard of it? The Immaculate Reception happened at Three Rivers during a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders.

The Steelers were trailing the Raiders 13-6 and a fourth-down pass attempt by Bradshaw had seemingly resulted in an incompletion after Jack Tatum batted it away. But Harris scooped it up near his shoes and took it in for the winning score.

The next week, the Steelers would not be so lucky, facing the undefeated Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship game. The Dolphins went on to finish that season 17-0. A perfect record.

The Steelers had lost, but they were slowly becoming an NFL dynasty.

The very next season, the team started 8-1 but hit a losing streak and ended up losing to the Raiders in the playoffs.

Then came 1974: A year which all Steelers fans should familiarize themselves with.

The epicenter of the dynasty was selected in the 1974 NFL Draft, including Mike Webster, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Jack Lambert.

Place that with other Steelers talent acquired from past drafts like Mel Blount, Ham, Bradshaw, Harris, and Greene, and you’ve got a winning squad. And winning is what they did best.

Bradshaw actually lost the starting quarterback job for awhile to Joe Gilliam but came back to take it over once more, leading the team to a 10-3-1 record and first place in the division. On the other side of the ball, Joe Greene won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

The Buffalo Bills and the Raiders once more were defeated by the Steelers in the playoffs on their way to the first Super Bowl appearance for the team.

Super Bowl IX, in New Orleans, LA against the Minnesota Vikings. The final score was 16-6 in a complete defensive struggle, with the Steelers' defense scoring a touchdown and getting a safety on Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton.

In 1975, the team was even better than before, Harris was second in the NFL in rushing behind Buffalo’s OJ Simpson, Swann hauled in 11 touchdowns  and Blount was the AFC Defensive Player Of The Year.

Before Super Bowl IX, the Steelers had endured more than 40 years of futile attempts to win an NFL Championship but they’d find themselves repeating the feat from 1974 as they faced the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl X.

A 64-yard touchdown pass from Bradshaw to Swann put the Steelers in the lead, even though the Cowboys matched the touchdown. Roger Staubach threw an interception to seal the deal for the Steel City as they went on to win 21-7.

Prior to the Raiders game in the playoffs, another legend was born in the Steel City. Radio announcer Myron Cope came up with the Terrible Towel, a uniting factor among the fans of the Steelers known as Steeler Nation.

Many of players did not like the idea of the towel gimmick as they were in concurrence with Cope’s original thoughts that they were not a "gimmick team." The towel, however, caught on with both the players and the fans and has become just as much a part of the franchise as its storied history.

1975 would not see Super Bowl success, but it wasn’t a failure of a season either. Though the team would eventually lose to the Raiders in the playoffs, Jack Lambert was the AFC Defensive Player of the Year. That marked the third year in a row that a Steelers player won that honor.

In 1977, Bradshaw threw more interceptions than touchdowns. The most surprising thing was that the defense, who had been dubbed the Steel Curtain, gave up twice as many points as they had the previous season. The Steelers still made the playoffs after posting a 9-5 record but lost to the Denver Broncos.

In 1978, the Steelers got in trouble. They were caught wearing shoulder pads during a training camp session and would end up losing a draft pick in the 1979 NFL Draft because of it. The team didn’t seem to mind as they absolutely rolled through the season and playoffs including racking the Broncos and Houston Oilers by a combined point total of 67-15 in the playoffs.

The team would again find themselves in the Super Bowl. This time, Super Bowl XIII, they would once again face the Dallas Cowboys.

This game would go down in history as one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time, with both teams playing their hearts out. Bradshaw would throw four touchdowns and the Steelers would score 14 points in a span of 19 seconds but allowed the Cowboys to counter with two scores of their own.

With 22 seconds remaining, the Steelers recovered an onside kick to preserve the 35-31 win.

The end of the dynasty and the end of the decade would coincide. 1979 was a season in which Stallworth posted over 1,000 receiving yards and Bradshaw threw 26 touchdown passes en route to Super Bowl XIV.

The fourth Super Bowl for the team would be against the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams forced Bradshaw into mistakes in the form of three interceptions. He did however rebound with a long touchdown to both Swann and Stallworth. The Steelers would win this game 31-19.

The Steelers had won four Super Bowls in the 1970’s after not even appearing in a single one for the years prior to 1974. They were benefited greatly by the drafting success of Noll and his staff.

Noll won more Super Bowls than any other coach, with his last one coming against the Rams of Los Angeles in Super Bowl XIII.

Would the Steelers success continue into the 1980s? Guess you’re going to have to stick around for part three of the installment.


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