ANDY RUSSELL’S LOVE AFFAIR WITH HEMINGWAY
When Andy Russell was a star player at the University of Missouri, he was asked by the school paper reporter who his idol was. “Ernest Hemingway,” Russell replied instantly. “Who does he play for?” was the reporter’s response.
The intensity of Russell’s love affair with Hemingway is only surpassed by his love for football. “I started reading Hemingway back in high school, then I did a term paper on him in college,” said the Steelers veteran.
“I went back to the school’s microfilm of the Kansas City Star and read a lot of the stories he did when he was a reporter there. It was fascinating. The man said more in less words and did it more vividly than anybody I’ve ever read.
He wrote with such simplicity. He rewrote the last paragraph of Farewell to Arms something like twenty five times. He used nothing but simple, everyday words, but he was fanatical about their order and preciseness.
I had always wanted to meet him. I wanted to pick his brain, see what made him tick, to drink with him, to talk to him or fight with him. Whatever.”
STEELERS NEXT OPPONENTS – THE REVITALISED OILERS
Turning to Pittsburgh’s next game, Russell observed about Houston, “They don’t make the mistakes they used to and they put a lot more pressure on the defense with their offense because of it. They have the running backs (rookie Don Hardeman and Ronnie Coleman) to possess the ball for long stretches. Then, they get you to overplay the run and they kill you with a pass to ken Burrough or Billy Johnson.
They are playing with a lot more confidence and their offensive line has solidified. Their tight end, Mack Alston, has become an excellent blocker. A lot of things make them better, but I am not looking at them any differently than I used to because they have always been a very tough team for us to beat.”
1975 game 8: The Pittsburgh Steelers (6-1) vs the Houston Oilers (6-1)
The game started slowly, but eventually Glen Edwards gave the Steelers the edge when he returned a punt to the Oilers’ 20. This provided the opportunity for Roy Gerela to kick a 22-yard field goal.
Late in the first quarter, Jack Ham jabbed the ball out of a Houston receiver’s arms and Mike Wagner recovered at the Steeler 47. On the Steelers’ next series, Terry Bradshaw’s eight-yard touchdown pass to Lynn Swann extended Pittsburgh’s lead to 10-0.
Midway through the second period, a fumbled punt return from Swann led to a Houston touchdown. Pittsburgh’s next 12-play series saw Bradshaw recover the points with his touchdown pass to Larry Brown of eight yards.
In the third quarter, Pittsburgh took a nap on defense and offense. The Oilers kicked a 48-yard field goal after the Steelers gave away a personal foul after Dwight White knocked the Houston quarterback senseless.
This was followed in the final quarter by Mel Blount being penalised for pass interference in the end zone and Houston draw level 17-17.
The Steelers managed only 62 yards of offense while they dozed in the second half, but just before the two minute warning, they came alive. Bradshaw led his team on a 78-yard drive
Combining runs with passes, including one fumbled by Brown that fell into Swann’s arms, Bradshaw was steering his team to an attempt at a game-winning field goal. When he spotted a wide open Stallworth, the option became a 21-yard touchdown pass that gave the victory to the Steelers.
The Pittsburgh Steelers 24 vs the Houston Oilers 17
Three Rivers Stadium, November 8th 1975; 49,460
Passing: Bradshaw 17-28-219-3TDs
Rushing: Harris 19-38, Bleier 13-52, Lewis 1-24, Swann 1-12, Bradshaw 3-16, Fuqua 3-12
Receiving: L. Brown 7-93, Fuqua 1-21, Stallworth 1-21, Swann 4-60,Bleier 2-13, Harris 2-11
“The kicking game,” enthused coach Noll after awarding a game ball to kicker Bobby Walden and John Banaszak, the rookie who had filled in superbly for the injured L.C. Greenwood.
The Oilers’ deadliest weapon was their punt returner Billy Johnson. Bobby Walden punted six times for the Steelers. Four went out of bounds and could not be returned while Johnson finished with just 11 return yards.
“It was an average afternoon,” drawled Walden. “The high snaps threw my timing off, but I’m satisfied. The main thing was keeping it away from Johnson.
The Oilers coach, Bum Phillips, on the Steelers final drive, “I just didn’t believe they could go 80 yards in two minutes.
TERRY BRADSHAW GETTING BETTER
“Part of being a championship team is being tough in the fourth period,” declared Chuck Noll at his weekly press conference. “That’s when games are decided. It was one of the better games Terry has played,” reflecting on the weekend’s win over Houston.
After Houston scored with 2:08 left in the fourth quarter, Terry Bradshaw led his team 78 yards in just six plays in an outstanding display that brought comparisons to Bobby Layne.
Noll is familiar with Layne’s exploits. The coach was a rookie with Cleveland in 1953 when Lou Groza kicked a field goal with 4:10 left in the championship game to put Cleveland 16-10 in front. Layne conjured up a touchdown drive of 80 yards in two minutes to give the Lions victory.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette observed that if Bradshaw keeps doing those kinds of things the way he did Sunday, the Steelers were going to be on top for some time. They concluded it was obvious he was getting better all the time.
STEELERS TO FACE THE CHIEFS
As the Steelers approached their next game against Kansas, their injury list just kept growing. Rocky Bleier (pulled hamstring), Dave Reavis (sprained ankle), L.C. Greenwood (ankle), Joe Greene (pulled groin muscle) and Frank Lewis (ribs) were all suffering.
The positive for Dwight White meant he would probably be given an opportunity to show his skills.
Three former Steelers would be playing against their old team. Barry Pearson (wide receiver), Walter White (tight end) and Tom Keating (tackle) were all let go by Noll as he built Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl winning team.
For Pearson, it was the most important game of the year. “I played with them, still have friends on the team,” he said. “You play against your old team, you want to do well.”
The Chiefs, coming off a 34-31 upset win against the Cowboys, also had injury challenges of their own
1975 game 9: The Pittsburgh Steelers (7-1) vs the Kansas City Chiefs (4-4)
With both teams struggling with injuries, they stumbled through the first quarter without any danger of either team scoring. With Greenwood and Greene playing hurt, the Steelers’ defense was fortified by substitutes Dwight White and Steve Furness.
With no effective Steelers’ offense, their defense strived to keep them in the game. When the Chiefs finally succeeded with a 32-yard field goal, it gave a kick-start to a Steelers offense that had not left their half of the field for nearly thirty minutes.
As the half drew to an end, Lynn Swann broke straight down the field, cut towards the center on a post pattern and caught Bradshaw’s pass with ease and showed the Steelers were finally playing football. The 42-yard touchdown reception gave the Steelers a 7-3 lead.
Pittsburgh’s momentum continued at the start of the second half as their first two possessions saw them increase their lead. Kansas attempted an onside kick to start the half and the Steelers began their first series from their 49. Franco Harris then fumbled before Frenchy Fuqua fumbled before John Stallworth fumbled.
The result of that drive was a Reggie Harrison 10-yard touchdown run that increased the Steelers’ lead. A 74-yard drive Steelers drive followed, completed by Bradshaw’s 21-yard touchdown pass to Stallworth.
Bradshaw utilised the check-with-me system on the drive. This meant the play is called when everyone arrives at the line of scrimmage providing Bradshaw the opportunity to weigh up his options when seeing what defense is put in front of him.
The Steelers completed the scoring in the final quarter as Harris ground out the yardage on a nine play 82-yard drive with Mike Collier running in from 21 yards to give the Steelers a 28-3 win.
The Pittsburgh Steelers 28 vs the Kansas City Chiefs 3
Three Rivers Stadium, November 16th 1975; 48,803
Passing: Bradshaw 16-24-204-2TD
Rushing: Harris 17-119, Fuqua 13-63, Harrison 5-29, Collier 3-26, Bradshaw 1-2
Receiving: Swann 3-57, Fuqua 2-36, L. Brown 2-24, Stallworth 2-21, Harris 6-61, Grossman 1-5
The Steelers original game plan was to possess the football and keep the defense off the field, but Furness quipped, “I didn’t think we’d ever get off the field.”
“We were flat,” confessed Bradshaw. “We just made careless mistakes. We were sloppy.”
“When a quarterback does that, it amazes me,” Steelers’ guard Jim Clack said in admiration for Bradshaw’s “check with me” play calling. “It shows he’s done an outstanding job watching a team on film all week. He could not have just come in there cold and called all the right plays.”
The Chiefs’ coach Paul Wiggin added, “Bradshaw’s growing into his job in a very good way. He’s reading defense better than I’ve ever seen him. He rarely makes a throwing error. We wanted to confuse him, but we obviously didn’t.”
The Steelers seven straight victories set a franchise record and in four of their eight wins on the season, they’ve held the opposition without a touchdown.
ANDY RUSSELL HAPPY TO BLITZ ALL DAY LONG
“We don’t blitz very often around here anymore,” reflected Andy Russell after his team had blitzed the Chiefs 28-3. “We used to blitz all the time. Though, of course, that was when we were an awful football team.”
“We blitzed more against the Chiefs than we have in a long, long time,” Russell observed. “We did it because we wanted to exert more pressure on the quarterback. We weren’t able to get enough pressure from our regular four-man rush because we had so many men hurt, so we blitzed.
We did it a lot when we used the three man line with the extra linebacker too. It paid off (with a season high six sacks). Personally, I love it. As an outside linebacker in our defensive scheme, I can’t be overly aggressive, but when we blitz…
We prefer not to take risks and blitzing is always a risk. So we don’t use it much. With our front four being so good, it’s definitely the best way for us to go.
We put more pressure on the passer than any other team I can think of and we can cover better because we don’t sacrifice anybody else to the pass rush. Sometimes though, you have to change things up and this was a good time for it because of the injuries.”
1975 game 10: The Pittsburgh Steelers (8-1) vs the Houston Oilers (7-2)
The game was scoreless for ten minutes before a high Houston snap launched the ball into their end zone where quarterback Dan Pastorini recovered before being tackled by Dwight White to give up the safety.
In the second quarter, Pastorini engineered a 13-play, 80-yard drive that eventually stalled, leading to a field goal of 27 yards to edge the Oilers 3-2 in front.
Three minutes later, the Steelers took the lead again. Combining their ground game with short passes, Bradshaw led his team on a 66-yard drive that finished with a Franco Harris touchdown run of four yards.
On the first down of the Oilers’ next series, J.T. Thomas intercepted and four Bradshaw completions later, the Steelers increased their lead with Swann’s 18-yard touchdown. Roy Gerela missed the extra point and the Steelers went into the locker room with a 15-3 lead.
The third quarter saw the Oilers continue to struggle against an outstanding Steeler defense. Houston was unable to produce one first down in the period while Pittsburgh went further ahead with a Gerela 30-yard field.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Steelers’ offense continued its fine run. Harris ran 31 yards in six plays in a 10-play drive completed by Frenchy Fuqua’s 13-yard romp over left guard.
Pastorini finally managed to give the Oilers their first first down of the second half before he threw a 59-yard bomb to Ken Burrough for a touchdown with the point after being missed.
Mel Blount’s eighth interception on the season and his 47-yard return set up the final Steelers’ final score with Harris taking it in from the 13.
In an all-round team performance, the Steelers began six of their 10 series beyond their own 40, three in Houston territory.
The Pittsburgh Steelers 32 at the Houston Oilers 9
Houston Astrodome, November 24th 1975; 49,947
Passing: Bradshaw 13-16-168-2TDs
Rushing: Harris 21-149, Bradshaw 5-26, Collier 4-19, Fuqua 13-32, Swann 1-2, Harrison 1-0
Receiving: Brown 1-25, Stallworth 1-25, Lewis 3-47, Swann 3-46, Fuqua 4-27, Harris 1-(-2)
On the Steelers’ defense, Andy Russell said, “We had a great defensive scheme. They’re a screen-pass team. We knew they’d rely on it. The whole thing is being in the right defense. You bless those coaches when they guess right.”
On the balance of the Steelers’ offense, Bradshaw said, “In a big game, I didn’t want to come out and run, run, run. Our last game with them, we ran, got the lead, sat on it, and were dead.”
Coach Noll doesn’t believe that games are won on emotion. The fans in Houston were up for this game, believing they were on the edge of greatness if they could defeat the Steelers.
“Emotions only go so far,” said Noll after the game. “I looked up at the stands in the fourth quarter and everybody had gone.
I can’t tell you how proud I am of our football team. You can’t win a game in tougher circumstances than this. Houston was a fired up, ferocious football team. And that crowd certainly helped.
The defense carried us through last year, no question. Now we’re getting more help from our offense.”
The victory was Noll's 52nd for Pittsburgh, making him the winningest Steelers coach.
STEELERS NEARING GREATNESS
After the Steelers had moved to 9-1, the November 26 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggested the team could be on the brink of greatness. The newspaper article even put forward the idea of a dynasty.
With six more regular season games to be played before they entered the playoffs, this was more than a journalistic reading of the crystal ball.
After a month in which the Steelers had seized control of the AFC Central division by beating Houston twice and Cincinnati in dramatic fashion, the Steelers were in their prime and it would be difficult to get any better.
“You’re trying to say we’ve arrived,” said coach Noll after viewing the films of the Houston victory. “But we’re still striving,” he added.
“The big challenge now to keep playing that well,” the coach admitted. Noll, not usually known for enthusiasm for the past as he looked forward to their next opponents, said their win over Houston was gained under tough circumstances.
“I can’t say enough for the team’s poise,” Noll praised. “We stepped into a hornet’s nest. They were really fired up. But we didn’t let that stuff affect us. A lesser team would have been affected.”
Having won 10 straight games on the road, Noll thought the Steelers were actually helped by facing a hostile crowd. “It’s a little more motivation, a little more incentive,” he offered. “My estimation is that we have great potential.”
NEW YORK JETS UP NEXT
Facing the 2-8 Jets, coach Noll was still apprehensive. He thought the Steelers faced a “scary set of circumstances” coming off a short week after playing Monday with the distraction of Thanksgiving, plus the Jets were due a decent game.
1975 game 11: The Pittsburgh Steelers (9-1) at the New York Jets (2-8)
Facing Broadway’s Joe Namath in the big Apple, the Steelers were dazzled by the bright lights and struggled in a windy Shea Stadium. Terry Bradshaw couldn’t connect with his first six passes as both offenses found it difficult to make progress.
At the end of a scoreless first quarter, Glen Edwards stepped in front of Jets’ Eddie Bell and picked off the pass intended for the New York receiver. Edwards’ 47-yard return set up Roy Gerela for a field goal of 26 yards to break the deadlock.
On the Jets next drive, Namath led his team to the Steelers’ 15. On third down, Namath attempted a pass into the left corner of the end zone, but Mel Blount (picture left) grabbed it as the Jets’ receiver slipped in the mud.
The interception enabled the Steelers to go 80 yards in six plays, finishing with a 44-yard touchdown pass to Franco Harris. It was Bradshaw’s first completion of the game and gave Pittsburgh a 10-0 lead they took into the locker room at the half.
Continuing their dominance into the third quarter, Bradshaw led his team on an 8-play drive of 51 yards that included five straight completions including his 8-yard touchdown pass to frank Lewis that finished the series.
Blount’s tenth interception of the season set the Steelers up for Roy Gerela’s 19-yard field goal to take the Steelers into the final period with a 20-0 lead.
The Jets added some respectability to the score with Namath’s touchdown pass of six yards that put their only points of the game on the board.
The Pittsburgh Steelers 20 at the New York Jets 7
Shea Stadium, November 31st 1975; 52,618
Passing: Bradshaw 9-22-120-2TD
Rushing: Harrison 12-67, Harris 14-61, Bradshaw 3-56, Fuqua 9-27, Collier 1-2
Receiving: Harris 3-59, Lewis 4-43, Swann 2-18
“We didn’t exactly have an emotional outburst,” admitted coach Noll with a smile. “We did what we had to do to win.”
“I’ve never been on a field with anything so expensive in my life,” quipped Dwight White about the $450,000 quarterback Joe Namath. Turning serious, White said, “I felt compassion for him. He couldn’t do anything right. I hate to see such a great player have such a bad game.”
“We were very loose, very relaxed and very confident,” explained Bradshaw. “We weren’t flat. That’s when you can’t do anything.” He did agree with Namath that the weather was a factor.
PITTSBURGH HOST BROWNS
In leading the Browns to back to back victories, completing 40 of 65 passes for 460 yards and three touchdowns, quarterback Mike Phipps had shown he could get the job done.
Having started the season with nine consecutive defeats and then those two wins, the Browns only had pride left to play for and next season to look forward to. “I think we’ve finally reached the point where I have confidence in me and the team has confidence in me,” offered Phipps. “The coaches now believe I can handle calling my own plays and I believe I can too.
I think earlier in the season one of our biggest problems was that too many people were trying to steer the ship. There’s no one here who can call a better game than me.”
The increased confidence the Browns were bringing to Three Rivers Stadium was matched by the Steelers need to gain home field advantage in the playoffs and the desire to match their series sweep of the previous year which was the first in the team history.
1975 game 12: The Pittsburgh Steelers (10-1) vs the Cleveland Browns (2-9)
In very cold conditions, Cleveland took a three-point lead within five minutes of kick-off when rookie Dave Brown fumbled a punt after taking a hit. Cleveland started their drive on the Steelers’ 18, but came up short and had to settle for a 26-yard field goal.
On the Steelers next series, Franco Harris pounded out 34 yards on 6 carries as Pittsburgh went 63 yards in 11 plays finishing with a 3-yard touchdown run from Harris.
The Steelers were given an opportunity to increase their lead when Mike Wagner recovered a Greg Pruitt fumble, but Roy Gerela’s 38-yard field goal hit the right upright before bouncing off the crossbar and tumbling back into the field of play.
The Browns chose the second quarter to burst into life and give the Steelers something to think about when they went to the locker room. Pruitt led the charge with runs of 18 and11 yards and scoring on a one-yard touchdown.
Mike Collier fumbled the ensuing kick-off and watched as Willie Miller scooped the ball up and went 17 yards for the touchdown that gave the Browns a 17-7 lead.
The struggling Bradshaw managed to connect four consecutive times on the Steelers’ final series of the half and on the last play, Gerela’s 32-yard field goal reduced Pittsburgh’s deficit.
Early in the third period, Brown was waiting to field a punt on the Steelers’ 43. His 48-yard return was the spark the Steelers needed to stamp their authority on the game and was atonement for his earlier fumble. Only the Cleveland kicker prevented a score with his tackle on the three. Three plays later and Bradshaw’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Lynn Swann began the Steelers’ fight back.
Mel Blount’s interception on the Browns’ next series continued the Steelers’ revival. His return of 14 yards gave Pittsburgh a first and ten on their opponents’ 18. After throwing two incompletions, Bradshaw found Swann in the end zone with a looping pass and the Steelers were now 24-17 in front.
Pittsburgh’s special teams played their part throughout the game with Bobby Walden’s punts being downed on Cleveland’s seven, four and three-yard line. In the final period, his punt downed on the two, saw the Steelers defense forcing the Browns to kick.
Starting from the Browns’ 35, Bradshaw threw to Randy Grossman for nine, Bleier ran for fourteen and Harris ran for eight yards and a touchdown, passing the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers 31 vs the Cleveland Browns 17
Three Rivers Stadium, December 7th 1975; 47,962
Passing: Bradshaw 11-25-135-2TD
Rushing: Harris 25-103, Bradshaw 3-30, Bleier 9-24, Harrison 1-2, Collier 1-1
Receiving: Lewis 1-20, Swann 5-67, Bleier 2-24, Grossman 1-9, Harris 2-15
“There was no emotional talk at half-time,” offered Harris. “We just told each other that if we did what we are supposed to be doing, we’d win. That makes it sound too simple, but really that’s all there was to it.”
Commenting on Bradshaw’s sad stats, coach Noll said, “We had a lot of people open in the first half, but we didn’t have enough time for Terry to get the ball there. Then, a couple of times we dropped passes in the clear. It was the same with field possession. We had the best of it most of the day, but in the first half we had almost nothing to show for it.”
Reflecting on the Steelers’ comeback, Noll said, “The thing we’ve been able to do is keep our poise, have a little faith. That’s one of the things necessary to a championship team.”
“The players are only as good as the coach,” added Joe Greene who didn’t play because of a pinched nerve. “I’ve become a real big fan of Chuck’s. Poise is a gradual thing. I don’t even think we had it last year during the playoffs.”
STEELERS AT HOME TO BENGALS
“They are unlike any other team,” Andy Russell offered about the Steelers’ next opponents and rivals for the division title. Expanding on the challenge posed by the Bengals, Russell added, “Paul Brown’s calling those plays and he doesn’t like to repeat things. That causes problems.”
“He’ll hurt you real bad with a play early in the game and you’ll be looking for it the rest of the game and he’ll never come back to it. But he’ll come back with a sister play that looks the same and beat you with that too.”
Coach Noll played seven years for Brown so knows that one of Brown’s trademarks is that he likes to change his game plan. “Paul always preached that he doesn’t want people to categorise him,” Noll said, but added, “You can categorise yourself that way too.”
Reflecting on the Steelers’ 30-24 win in Cincinnati, Bengals' linebacker Ron Pritchard said, “It was very discouraging. We had a 6-0 record and it had the makings of a good game. But it only lasted for a half. The biggest thing was that we could see our offense wasn’t generating anything. I didn’t think our offense could be shut down that way.”
If the Steelers repeat that victory, they will take the division title, but if the Bengals win, they will clinch a wild card berth and the division title will need another week to be decided.
1975 game 13: The Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1) vs the Cincinnati Bengals (10-2)
On a bright Saturday afternoon, with the AFC Central division title at stake, the Steelers put on an exhibition show against the pretenders to their throne.
Pittsburgh’s game plan was to go after Cincinnati’s rookie corner Marvin Cobb. On their first series, a Franco Harris run of 17 yards was complemented by Terry Bradshaw’s passes of 14, 12 and 3 yards to Lynn Swann, the latter providing a touchdown to put the Steelers ahead.
Less than six minutes later, a superb defensive play by Pittsburgh increased their lead. With Andy Russell tackling Bengals’ back Boobie Clark, Dwight White knocked the ball loose at the Cincinnati’s 42. Jack Lambert scooped up the loose ball, ran 21 yards before lateralling to J.T. Thomas who ran 21 yards more for the touchdown.
In the second quarter, after Cincinnati had missed a field goal, they put together an 11-play scoring drive of 77 yards that finished with Stan Fritts’ lunge from one yard.
Just before the interval, the Bengals pressed too hard and Ken Anderson’s pass, intended for tight end Bob Trumpy, was intercepted by Mike Wagner and returned 20 yards. This set up a 10-yard touchdown run from Harris to increase the Steelers’ lead.
Late in the third period, Cincinnati’s kicker shanked a punt and Pittsburgh took over on the 50. Seven plays later, Bradshaw took the ball in with his 9-yard touchdown run and the Steelers dominance was reflected in the 28-7 score line.
In the final quarter, Franco Harris contributed over half of the 65 yards of a Steelers’ series before taking the ball over from the two for the touchdown.
The Bengals completed the scoring with Anderson’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Curtis.
The Pittsburgh Steelers 35 vs the Cincinnati Bengals 14
Three Rivers Stadium, December 13th 1975; 48,889
Passing: Bradshaw 13-23-149-1TD
Rushing: Harris 20-118, Collier 2-16, Harrison 1-8, Bradshaw 3-18, Bleier 9-25, Fuqua 3-5
Receiving: Swann 5-69, L. Brown 1-20, Stallworth 3-57, Collier 1-7, Fuqua 1-2, Bleier 2-(-6)
Franco Harris recorded his fifth 100-yard plus game of the year and the 18th of his career. He also broke John Henry Johnson’s club record with his 28th rushing touchdown.
Harris commented on the lack of celebration in the locker room after the team had secured the division title. “Nobody in this room wants to stop here,” he offered. “It’s going to keep on growing. We’ll come in here Monday and everyone will get together and feel loose. But we’ll still be conscious of what we have to do. Nobody wants to end it here.”
Paul Brown enthused about the Steelers, “They’re a great team, you can’t give them anything. Without question, they are a superior football team.”
J.T. Thomas remarked about the Bengals, “They’re an awfully good football team and it’s hard to imagine us beating them twice. I just hope we don’t catch them in the playoffs because beating any team three times in a season is awfully hard.”
“We were just doing a good job,” coach Noll contributed. “Offensively… defensively. Especially defensively. Bud Carson’s done a good job with the secondary and that’s been a big part of it.”
Mel Blount was voted the team’s MVP for the season by his teammates
STEELERS FINAL REGULAR SEASON GAME
“It’s going to be a thrill in two ways,” said Steelers’ Gerry Mullins. “First of all, playing in the Coliseum before a crowd of 90,000 is going to bring back a lot of memories of my days at Southern Cal. And, of course, I’m going to finally go head to head with Merlin”
The Merlin that Mullins was enthusing about was Merlin Olsen, the veteran defensive tackle of fourteen years for the Rams. Playing against one of his childhood heroes would add a little extra zest to Mullins’ game as the Steelers travel to Los Angeles for their final regular season game.
“The game probably doesn’t mean as much to us as it does to the Rams,” Mullins (picture left) told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We would like to win because we like to do that every time we take the field but, given the choice of winning or coming home healthy for the playoffs, I think we’d rather be healthy.
For the Rams, a lot is at stake. The home field playoff advantage is very important to them because it might mean playing a title game in warm weather instead of the snow at Minnesota.”
When not lined up at right guard, Mullins can occasionally be found playing tight end. He moves to that position on third-down, short yardage situation and in goal line offense.
“It gives me a lift to go over there,” said Mullins, who has four touchdowns as the second tight end. “People know you’re there more quickly than they do if you are an offensive lineman. Besides, I still like to catch a pass once in a while.
I’ve caught almost as many passes playing as the second tight end here as I did as the starting tight end at USC. I only caught 15 passes in two years as a starter there. When they first started throwing to me here, it came as a surprise to the other teams. Now they watch me, but it’s a big kick going from pulling guard to prime receiver.”
In the Steelers scheme of rotating seven offensive linemen, Mullins plays the first three quarters at right guard, then gives way to starting left guard Jim Clack in the final period, leaving the bench only to play tight end.
1975 game 14: The Pittsburgh Steelers (12-1) at the Los Angeles Rams (11-2)
With the Rams showing the aggression required for the win they needed and coach Noll substituting his players at will, the Steelers’ eleven game winning streak looked like ending.
After both teams went three and out, a shanked punt by Bobby Walden gave Los Angeles the ball on Pittsburgh 48. The Rams failed to capitalise and it set the tone for the first three quarters of the season’s finale.
The Steelers kicked a 20-yard field goal at the end of the first quarter and the Rams hit back in the second period with one from 26 yards.
Backup quarterback Joe Gilliam was knocked out of the game twice by the relentless Rams’ pass rush and Terry Bradshaw, instead of being rested, found himself working hard to avoid the same fate.
Gilliam’s interception in the third quarter after he had led his team to the Rams’ 13 saw the pendulum swing towards the Rams. In the fourth quarter, the Rams’ reserve quarterback Ron Jaworski scored a touchdown with his five-yard run on a perfectly executed draw play.
The Pittsburgh Steelers 3 at the Los Angeles Rams 10
the Coliseum, December 21st 1975; 38,987
Passing: Gilliam 2-11-29, Bradshaw 3-10-28
Rushing: Harris 21-126, Collier 1-8, Bleier 7-31, Harrison 3-8, Bradshaw 1-2, Fuqua 1-2
Receiving: Grossman 3-49, Swann 1- 4, Harris 1-4
STEELERS SET RECORDS
The Steelers set records for the season with the most wins, touchdowns, first downs, points scored and points allowed.
Terry Bradshaw set a club record for completions with 57.7% and needs only two more touchdowns to become the franchise’s all-time leader, with Bobby Layne leading with 67.
Franco Harris gained 1,246 yards on 262 carries, moving him into second place on the team’s all-time rushing list behind John Henry Johnson. He also had 28 touchdowns.
Roy Gerela set a club record for field goals with 17 out of 21 for a 81% successful rate.
“Our pass-blocking wasn’t that good,” commented coach Noll after the game, “but I’m pretty sure their pass rush caused a lot of the problems. It was very impressive.
We were reminded that we don’t like the feeling that goes with losing. It hasn’t happened to us in a long time and maybe we needed a reminder.
We wanted to play a lot of people who don’t normally play much and we did. We wanted to come out of the game without serious injuries that might hurt us in the playoffs and we did.”
Dwight White added, “What this does is put everything back into perspective. Once in a while you need to relearn that fact that if you don’t play with 110% effort, you can lose to a good team. And in the playoffs, there won’t be anything but good teams.”
1975 AFC Central Division
Steelers 1975 playoffs>>>