Monday, February 1, 2010

Super Bowl Countdown #5 - Super Bowl X - Steelers 21, Cowboys 17

Over the next five 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 present to you, #5...

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll, a four-time Super Bowl winner, would tell his players to be 'tomorrow people'. What he meant was if his players were satisfied with what they were doing now or what they did yesterday, then they would fail.

“There are two categories for Super Bowl participants that nobody remembers,” said Steelers Defensive End Dwight White in the Super Bowl 10 America’s Game documentary. “One, the team that lost the game; and two, the team that only won one.”

After the Steelers won their second Super Bowl, defeating the Dallas Cowboys in Miami on January 18, 1976 in Super Bowl 10, the victory cemented them as a team not just for their day, but a team for the ages.

For the first time in Super Bowl history, the two teams playing in the game were Super Bowl Champions. The Steelers, who were the defending champions, and the Cowboys, winners of Super Bowl 6. Up to that point, the pageantry of the game exceeded the game itself; on this January afternoon, though, before more than 80,000 people, the game lived up to its billing as being ‘Super’.

The 12-2 Steelers got to Miami by defeating the Oakland Raiders 16-10, who many thought were the second best team in the NFL that year. The game was known for how the tarp over the field split in the middle of the night, allowing the water to run onto the field and freeze in the excessively cold temperatures. The ice limited the Raiders' outside passing game; Raiders players and coaches to this day believe the Steelers froze the field intentionally.

Also, Steelers receiver Lynn Swann had suffered a concussion after getting hit hard by George Atkinson, which was legal at the time. Swann was doubtful for the Super Bowl after spending three nights in the hospital.

Dallas’ NFC championship game was less dramatic with a 37-7 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, but that game was preceded by the original “Hail Mary" pass, when Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach hit Drew Pearson with a 50-yard touchdown pass to beat the Minnesota Vikings as time expired, 17-14.

The Steelers were favored by seven points but the Cowboys started quickly with an opening kickoff reverse to starting uutside linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson. Steelers Kicker Roy Gerela stopped Henderson at the Pittsburgh 44-yard line following the 48-yard return, but paid a heavy price by bruising his ribs on the tackle. Gerela was shaky all game after the injury; he missed two out of four field goals in the game.

Steelers' defensive lineman L.C. Greenwood sacked Staubach on Dallas’ first play, which caused a fumble, but was recovered by the Cowboys. The Cowboys then punted to the Steelers who sent out the punting unit after gaining only one first down.

However, Steelers punter Bobby Walden dropped the snap, giving Dallas excellent field position at the Steelers’ 29. On the next play, Staubach hit Pearson on a crossing route for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The touchdown was the only first-quarter touchdown the Steelers’ great 'Steel Curtain' defense gave up all season.

Prior to Super Bowl 10, Swann was not confident he would be able to play in the game; shaky practices resulted in many drop passes. Swann’s ultimate decision to play came after reading an article in a newspaper where Dallas starting safety Cliff Harris was asked about Swann’s health.

“I’m not going to hurt anyone intentionally,” Harris said. “But getting hit again while he’s running a pass route must be in the back of Swann’s mind.”

“That ticked me off,” Swann said in the America’s Game documentary. “Nobody can tell me I can’t play this game. And so I took the challenge. The most important thing to me when I stepped onto the field was to make the first catch. I had to make that catch. I don’t care where the ball was, I had to catch it.”

On the Steelers' fifth play of the drive following the Dallas touchdown, Swann made his presence known with a leaping circus catch on the sideline for a 32-yard gain.

“That sideline catch, I’m looking at it going ‘how did he do that?’" said Steelers Safety Mike Wagner in America’s Game.

Later in the drive on third and one from the Dallas seven, the Steelers implemented a three tight-end formation, from which they always ran. The Steelers, though, crossed up the Cowboys with a play-action fake and a Terry Bradshaw touchdown pass to Randy Grossman gave them a 7-7 tie.

Staubach led the Cowboys back down the field on their ensuing possession to a field goal and a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter.

The Steelers responded on their next drive but they came up empty after Cliff Harris broke up a fourth down pass to Franco Harris in Dallas territory.

Later in the quarter, Staubach drove the Cowboys to the Steelers' 20-yard line. Dallas was looking for a chance to take a commanding lead but the Steel Curtain made an enormous stand on the next three plays, pushing the Cowboys 25 yards back with two sacks, one by Greenwood and the other by Dwight White.

Staubach was harassed all day as the Steel Curtain accumulated a Super Bowl record* seven sacks. Greenwood had a tremendous game with a Super Bowl record* four sacks, but his day has gone unrecognized since the NFL did not officially record sacks until 1982. The Steelers' ability to hold the Cowboys on numerous drives kept them in the game.

After the Dallas punt, the Steelers began their drive at the six-yard line with 3:47 left in the half. On the drive, Bradshaw completed another pass to Swann for a 53-yard game. Swann’s leaping catch has been burned into history as one of the greatest catches of all-time. Swann and Dallas cornerback Mark Washington leaped for ball and tipped it into the air. With both players falling to the ground, Swann maintained enough control to gather the ball in for the reception.

The Steelers, however, missed a chance to tie the score as Gerela missed a 36-yard field goal with 22 seconds left before halftime. The first half ended with Dallas leading 10-7.

Early in the third quarter, the Steelers defense came up big again when defensive back J.T. Thomas intercepted Staubach and returned the pick 35 yards to the Dallas 25-yard line.

Once again, Dallas relegated Pittsburgh to another Gerela field goal attempted, which resulted in yet another Gerela miss. After the kick sailed wide, Dallas safety Cliff Harris 'congratulated' Gerela on the miss and was subsequently thrown to the ground by Steelers' middle linebacker Jack Lambert.

Many have argued over the years that this was the turning point in Super Bowl 10.

“I thought that was right on time and I’m glad (Jack) Lambert did that,” White said in America’s Game.

“I think the message sent was thunderous,” Wagner said. “No one is going to intimidate any of the Pittsburgh Steelers… And I don’t know what Cliff (Harris) was thinking.”

“Two mistakes; one pregame and one during the game (by Cliff Harris),” Swann said.

Lambert’s energy ultimately fueled the Steelers all day long. He spent much of the day in the backfield shutting down the Cowboys' cutback running game with 14 tackles.

After a scoreless third quarter, the Steel Curtain forced the Cowboys to punt deep in their own territory early in the fourth quarter. Noll called an all-out punt block and his call resulted in a blocked punt by running back Reggie Harrison for a safety, cutting the Dallas lead to 10-9.

The Steelers received the free kick and returned it into Dallas territory. Gerela came through this time making a 36-yard field goal, which gave the Steelers a 12-10 lead.

On the first play of Dallas’ next drive, the Cowboys ran the same play they ran for their first quarter touchdown, a crossing pattern to Pearson. Steelers safety Mike Wagner, knew the play was coming in the first quarter but hesitated allowing Pearson to come free across the field and score the touchdown.

“As I went to the sideline, I said ‘oh shoot, that was the play, screwed up,’” Wagner said. “‘If they do this again, I’m not going to hesitate, I’m going to go.’”

“They get in this formation, they start running these motions and I said ‘damn it, here is the play,’” Wagner said. “So I start running and sure enough Roger (Staubach) didn’t even look.”

Wagner cut in front of Pearson and made the interception. The Steelers were held out of the end zone but Gerela increased the Steelers’ lead another three points, to 15-10.

The Steelers regained possession on their 30-yard line with 4:25 left in the game. After two plays, the Steelers faced a third and four and were looking at potentially giving the ball back to Dallas.

The Cowboys came with an all-out blitz but Bradshaw stood his ground and threw deep to Swann who beat Washington for a 64-yard touchdown and a 21-10 lead with 3:02 remaining in the game. Bradshaw’s perfect pass was even more remarkable due to the fact that the hit he received after the throw knocked him out of the game with a concussion.

Swann, who was later named MVP of Super Bowl 10, finished the day with four catches and 161 yards. He was the first wide receiver to be named MVP in the Super Bowl.

Dallas drove 80 yards for a touchdown after the Swann touchdown to cut the lead to 21-17. Dallas tried unsuccessfully to recover and onside kick. Dallas stopped Pittsburgh from getting a first down on four plays, giving the ball back to Dallas with 1:22 left.

Noll had chosen to go for it on fourth and nine from Dallas 39 due to the team's struggling kicking game, which included a missed extra, two missed field goals, a dropped snap on a punt and two nearly blocked punts.

Dallas moved the ball to the Steelers 38-yard line, but three Hail Mary attempts by Staubach failed and the Steelers won their second consecutive Super Bowl when time expired following the third unsuccessful Hail Mary attempt.

Many media outlets rank Super Bowl 13, which saw the Steelers beat the Cowboys 35-31, better than Super Bowl 10. We do not agree with that assessment because Pittsburgh led Dallas by 18 points in Super Bowl 13 in the fourth quarter. Two late meaningless Dallas touchdowns cut the lead to four but that game was very much over by the early part of the fourth quarter. Super Bowl 10, on the other hand, was a tightly contested game with many memorable plays throughout the game, which also saw the Cowboys with a legitimate shot to score the winning touchdown on the final drive.

*Because of the fact mentioned above about the NFL not keeping sacks as an official statistic until 1982, none of these are officially records, but if they had kept those statistics in 1975, they would be records.

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