Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Super Bowl Countdown #3 - Super Bowl XIV - Steelers 31, Rams 19

Over the next three days, Lattanzi Land is continuing a top ten countdown of the greatest Super Bowls of all time. This is a collaborative effort between myself and my good friend and football expert Dustin Holt. Every day, Monday through Friday, the next one will be put up, climaxing with #1 on Friday, February 5th. Some of these may surprise you, and some may make you ask what we are smoking. Enjoy, and any feedback can be made in the comment boxes or via email at joshua.lattanzi@gmail.com or dholt13@gmail.com - we move along to #3...

Under the glistening Southern California sun at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, two teams coming from completely opposite directions met in Super Bowl 14 and produced the most competitive Super Bowl ever - don't be fooled by the score in the title line.

On January 20, 1980, the American Football Conference champion, and the defending (3-time) Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers marched into the Rose Bowl with the best record in the NFL. The Steelers faced the Cinderella National Football Conference champion Los Angeles Rams who finished 9-7, which to this day is still the worst record of any Super Bowl participant (along with the 2008 Arizona Cardinals).

The Steelers defeated the Miami Dolphins and the Houston Oilers to reach Pasadena, where the underdog Rams upset the Dallas Cowboys (in Roger Staubach’s final game) in Dallas and then won in Tampa against the Buccaneers for a chance to play the Steelers in the Rose Bowl.

On defense, the Steelers were led by multiple Hall of Famers within the famed Steel Curtain. The Steelers also possessed the most exciting offense, featuring Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw at quarterback, Franco Harris at running back, and Lynn Swann and John Stallworth at wide receiver.

In contrast, the Rams featured an almost complete unknown, yet stout defense led by Jack Youngblood, Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds, and the star of the television show Hunter, Fred Dryer.

And yet, the offense was even more mysterious as backup quarterback Vince Ferragamo led the Rams through the playoffs to the NFC title. Ferragamo had replaced starter Pat Hayden when Hayden was injured midway through the season. Ferragamo finished with an impressive 4-1 record as a starter, but the Rams' success was in large part due to the strong running of Wendell Tyler and the Rams' run-oriented offense. Farragamo did not give his coaches much choice as he threw five touchdown passes and ten interceptions in those games in which he started.

At the time, a lot of people figured the Rams did not even deserve to take the same field as the Steelers. Sports Illustrated had called the NFC Title Game a game for losers and had suggested that Steelers' quarterback Terry Bradshaw throw left-handed and let the Rams use 12 men on the field...just to make it fair. On paper, it looked like a complete mismatch, to be sure, but there is something to the cliches': On any given Sunday and that's why they play the games.

The Rams received the ball first but were forced into a three-and-out by the Steelers' defense. Bradshaw then moved to Steelers on their first drive into scoring position after completing a 32-yard pass to Franco Harris. The Steelers put themselves on the scoreboard first with a 41-yard field goal by kicker Matt Bahr.

The Rams, however, would answer the Steeler score with one of their own. On the second play of the Rams ensuing possession, Tyler took a handoff 39 yards to the Steelers’ 14-yard line, which was the longest run given up by the Steelers all season. Six plays later, fullback Cullen Bryant plunged into the end zone from one-yard out to give the Rams a 7-3 lead.

The Steelers were not to be outdone by the Cinderella Rams as Steelers' kick returner Larry Anderson returned the kickoff 45 yards to his own 47-yard line. Bradshaw gathered his troops and marched them into enemy territory on a nine-play drive using several short bullet passes to avoid the Rams' blitz. On the final play of the march, Harris punched his way through the wall of the defensive line for a touchdown and a 10-7 led early in the second quarter.

The Steelers were the same tough Steelers but they soon learned the Rams were not the same old Rams. Through the season, the Rams were a running team, often unwilling to give up on the opportunity to gain yardage on the ground. But when their running game began to falter, the coaches threw caution to the wind and gambled on the raw passing skills of Ferragamo.

The Rams' gamble paid off massively as Ferragamo faced the charge of the Steel Curtain with poise and determination. Though he was sacked three times in the game, Ferragamo stood his ground and was able to continuously move the ball against the Steelers.

Twice in the second quarter, Ferragamo’s accurate passing led the Rams downfield but two potential touchdown passes slipped through the finger tips of his receivers. The drives, though, did lead to two field goals by Frank Corral and a 13-10 halftime lead for the Rams.

Bradshaw began the second half with the same curiously conservative approach he had used in the first half - nibbling at the Ram defense with safe short passes and short runs by his running backs. Then like a pool hall hustler, who had been trifling with his victim too long, Bradshaw suddenly showed his real game.

On the fifth play of Pittsburgh’s opening second half drive, Bradshaw launched a bomb to Lynn Swann for a leaping 47-yard touchdown between two defenders. This placed the Steelers back in the lead by the score of 17-13 with only about three minutes taken off to start the second half.

The Steelers' score was the kind of play that for many years was the dagger, but in a game that set the Super Bowl record with seven lead changes, the Rams did not back down.

On the third play of the Rams' next drive, Ferragamo fired a long pass to Billy Waddy for a 50-yard gain. Even before the Steelers could catch their breath, Ferragamo handed off to Lawrence McCutcheon on the next play and McCutcheon ran a halfback-option play and threw the ball to Rod Smith in the corner of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown. Usually, the element of surprise in a game like this is essential in trying to upset a team that is seen as having superior talent and ability. This touchdown was the sixth lead change of the game, giving the Rams a 19-17 lead (Corral missed the extra point).

The Steelers' next two possessions ended in the same manner with Bradshaw throwing interceptions in Los Angeles territory. Bradshaw, who also threw an interception in the first half, threw the first interception in the second half to Eddie Brown and the second to Rod Perry, which occurred in the red zone. The latter interception is precisely the type of play that can deflate even the best of teams, especially when a field goal could have given Pittsburgh the lead once again. Things got even worse for them as they lost wide receiver Lynn Swann to an injury. Thus, the Steelers' hope for a fourth Super Bowl title were dim as they were losing 19-17 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Great teams are not great all the time; they are just great when the have to be. With less than 12 minutes remaining in the game, the Steelers were facing a third and eight from their own 27-yard line. Bradshaw dropped back and threw a perfect deep pass to John Stallworth just over the out-stretched hand of Rod Perry for a 73-yard touchdown and the seventh lead change - a 24-19 lead.

The Rams and the Steelers exchanged punts on their next possession, respectively, and then the Rams started to mount one last drive. Ferragamo led them down the field mixing passes with Tyler runs. On third and 13 from the Pittsburgh 47-yard line, Ferragamo hit Waddy for a 15-yard completion and another first down at the Steelers 32-yard line, and the tension was growing with each passing second.

With the Rams on the verge of retaking the lead, Ferragamo made his only mistake of the game. Waddy broke free down the sideline but instead of hitting Waddy for an easy touchdown, Ferragamo did not see him and threw over the middle where Steeler linebacker Jack Lambert intercepted the pass with 5:24 remaining (shades of Super Bowl 3).

The Rams held their ground against the Steelers on the first two plays of the next possession, but on third and eight, Bradshaw and Stallworth burned the Rams once again with a 45-yard bomb in double coverage to the Los Angeles 22-yard line.

Five plays later, the Steelers put the game away with a one-yard touchdown run by Franco Harris, giving the Steelers a 31-19 lead.

Despite a great effort, the Rams fell short of reaching their goal, losing 31-19 to the Steelers. Bradshaw won the Super Bowl MVP with 309 yards passing and three touchdown passes. Stallworth finished with three catches, 121 yards and one touchdown.

This game is one of the most forgotten games in NFL history. Recently, the NFL Network ranked the top ten Super Bowls of all time and did not even include Super Bowl 14 on their top ten list. The game featured a still-standing Super Bowl record seven lead changes. Five times during the game, one team answered the other team’s score on their ensuing drive. Every score except the final one either tied or put one of the teams ahead.

If Ferragamo hits Billy Waddy for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, this Super Bowl could arguably be considered the greatest Super Bowl ever. But regardless of Ferragamo’s late interception, the game was phenomenally played throughout the game by both teams. For these reasons, we have it on the list, and we also considered Super Bowl 14 to be the most underrated Super Bowl of all time - for the reason mentioned above: no one remembers this one, and that is unfortunate and a shame.

Also of note is the fact that Super Bowl 14 was attended by a Super Bowl record 103,985 spectators in the Rose Bowl. We found it interesting as well that all three Super Bowl appearances by the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams made our Top 10 All-Time Greatest Super Bowl List.

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