STEELERS HOST THE CHIEFS

With the Chiefs at 2-6, the Steelers game against Kansas could be considered an easy one, but Coach Noll wasn’t as certain as the fans were. “Their defense is playing very well,” observed Noll. “Last week we played the second best defense in the AFC and this week we are playing the third.”

“They’ve given up a lot of points,” Coach Noll added, “but not many yards. People who have done things on them have done them on big plays. Maybe it’s because they are not used to seeing wide open plays.”

The Chiefs Winged-T offense is almost exclusively a power running offense with an extra back in the backfield whose primary purpose is to throw a block. The Chiefs philosophy is to keep the defense on the bench watching the offense run play after running play.

“We’ll try to hold the ball offensively,” said Noll before adding, “Somebody said a long time ago that is the best defense, but our main objective is scoring points. That’s the biggest stat you can have going for you.”

The Steelers defense will probably be missing Mel Blount, who is suffering from a shoulder injury. His replacement is rookie Larry Anderson who had been mainly seen on kickoff returns.

1978 Game 9: The (7-1) Pittsburgh Steelers vs the (2-6) Kansas City Chiefs

Terry Bradshaw threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage, giving the Chiefs a short field of eleven yards, but the Steelers defense held them to a 25-yard field goal.

After a holding penalty, the Steelers began their drive from their 13 and Bradshaw moved the chains 27 yards with a pass to Lynn Swann and then used Rocky Belier and Franco Harris on the ground before Harris punched it over from the one. Jack Ham's interception on the Steelers one stopped the Chiefs from adding to their score.

In the second quarter, the Steelers extended their lead with another touchdown run from Harris, this one from 11 yards and then a 23-yard touchdown catch from John Stallworth gave Pittsburgh a 20-3 advantage at the half after Roy Gerela’s point after attempt hit the right upright. Bradshaw took a lick on the last touchdown drive that rendered his right arm useless.

Apart, from Bradshaw’s injury, the Steelers were coasting and looking good to overcome the 14 points Las Vegas spotted them, the Chiefs struck back quickly and twice at the beginning of the second half. Kansas changed their tactics to attack the left side where rookie Larry Anderson was standing in for Mel Blount and it worked.

Bradshaw came onto the field for the third quarter, but when he underthrew a pass to an open Swann that was intercepted, Mike Kruczek replaced him. With the pendulum swinging towards the Chiefs, Noll made another change bringing on Mel Blount.

The Steelers defense stiffened and Ron Johnson pulled in an interception before Donnie Shell scooped up a fumble and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown at the end of the third quarter.

One play after the two minute warning, the Chiefs moved to within three points and went for an onside kick aimed at Jack Ham. “You see eleven guys coming at you and it’s no fun being on the onside kick team,” ventured Ham. The ball bounced off his leg before Ham gathered it in and the Steelers edged a 27-24 victory.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 27 vs the Kansas City Chiefs 24
Three Rivers Stadium October 29 1978; 48,185


Albert M. Herrmann captures Jack Ham's first quarter interception

Passing: Bradshaw 7-13-1TD-2INT-109, Kruczek 1-2-0-0-10
Livingston 15-28-2INT-148

Rushing: Harris 25-90-2TD, Thornton 4-9, Bleier 9-23, Bradshaw 1-6

Receiving: Swann 5-80, Stallworth 1-23-1TD, Grossman 1-10, Bleier 1-6

“Good football teams win games like this,” commented Joe Greene. “It was a tough one, but I never doubted we’d win it.”

“We were mentally and physically tired,” Terry Bradshaw said referring to the short week after playing on Monday.

“Larry (Anderson) played a good game,” complimented Mel Blount. “But, he’s young and he was in a lot of traffic out there. I know what it mean to be a young cornerback in this business. I know how tough it is. I thought I could make some contribution to the game.”

“We were fortunate to get out of that game alive,” offered Coach Noll. “They are a young football team that I think has a good future in front of it. We were fortunate enough to come up with some big plays to win the game.”

COACH NOLL'S STATE OF THE UNION MESSAGE

At his weekly press conference, Chuck Noll admitted, “You’re not going to be on top every time you go out there. If you could always go out and give a peak performance, nobody could beat most of the tennis players in this room.” When the tennis players amongst the reporters stopped giggling, Coach Noll spent some time giving a State of the (8-1) Steelers report, which proved to be encouraging for the fans.

“As long as we’re winning, we’re not much concerned,” the coach observed when questioned about the ability of the previous opponents, Houston and Kansas, to run the ball against the Steelers.

The Steelers defense had not allowed 300 yards of offense to any of their first six opponents but had not improved over the last three games although previous stats would indicate an improvement as the season progressed.

DONNIE SHELL

The Steelers next opponents, the New Orleans Saints, would most likely pick up where Houston and Kansas left off, and direct their offense against Pittsburgh on the ground. In week 7 against San Francisco, New Orleans attempted only four passes but ran the ball 55 times as they rolled over the 49ers.

The Saints quarterback Archie Manning is the number one passer in the NFC so if their ground game falters, they can easily turn to the air and Donnie Shell will have a busy day. Shell and fellow safety Mike Wagner were having solid seasons. Wagner is second in Steelers tackles with Shell fourth. Shell had recovered a fumble in the team’s last three games and his six points in the Kansas game was the difference between winning and losing.

The Steelers secondary coach Woody Widenhofer acknowledged, “Donnie has been playing exceptionally well. He always was excellent supporting the run and now he’s adapting to the man-to-man techniques. He has the ability to become an All-Pro. I wouldn’t trade him for any defensive back in the league. All season he’s been very consistent.”

Praise indeed. Shell admitted the All-Pro talk was flattering before saying, “I don’t have my sights set on that.  I only want to keep winning, to help the team in whatever way.”

Born in South Carolina, Shell received a scholarship to South Carolina State, half for football and half for baseball. Shell was the center-fielder on a successful baseball team that sent two players to the majors. “There are times I think I should have stayed in baseball,” he admitted before adding, “I think I could have made it in the majors.”

Shell was overlooked in the 1974 draft, but the Steelers scout Bill Nunn signed him as a free agent. When the player strike kept the rookies in camp longer than usual, Coach Noll had more time to evaluate Shell’s ability and he made the roster. After three years on special teams, he found himself playing strong safety last season after Wagner suffered a neck injury and finished as the defensive backs leading tackler.

STEELERS ENJOYING THEIR WINNING STATUS

The last time the Steelers went 8-1 was 1975 when they were tied with the Cincinnati Bengals while Houston were just a game behind at 7-2. That season the Steelers won the division after the penultimate game when they beat the Bengals. That season and the previous one were the only times the Steelers have not had to wait until the final game to clinch the division.

This season is something else. With seven games remaining, the Steelers are cruising and the concern is complacency although Coach Noll will ensure the team stay focused. “Relax?” the Coach asks. “In this league? This year?”

Noll suggested the close game with the Chiefs gave the team something to work on. “It was a warner,” he said before adding, “I hope we learned that you don’t relax with any kind of lead, in a game or in a season.
You have to be able to meet all obstacles if you are going to be a champion. We met it and overcame it. Whoever it was that said, ‘Don’t relax’ was giving a pretty good message.”

Joe Greene is certain the team will stay the course.  “We do have it rather nice in the sense we’re not playing with someone breathing down our necks,” Greene said. “We played well to get it like this. We’ll have to continue to play well to keep it that way.”

Acknowledging the Steelers had played good football when they had their backs against the wall, he didn’t seem to think that their current success would bother them. “It’s a good position to be in,” he said. “It’ll test the quality and the character of the people on this team.”           

With only one 100-yard game on the season, Franco Harris was third in the AFC rushing standings behind Delvin Williams and Earl Campbell while needing just 30 yards to become the seventh player to rush for 7,000 yards. Harris will join Jimmy Brown and O.J. Simpson as the only players to do it in seven years.

MEL BLOUNT EXPECTING TO START AGAINST THE SAINTS

Mel Blount media photo“If we play New Orleans the way we played Kansas City, we’re going to have a lot of embarrassed ball players around here,” offered Mel Blount on the Steelers prospects when they host the Saints in their next game. “I think any time a team comes back and holds your offense the way the Chiefs did, it’s time to look at yourselves, including the coaches.”

Pittsburgh’s veteran cornerback was suffering from a partially separated right shoulder that limited his availability in the Chiefs game and was conscious the team had to get their act together. “We were lucky in a lot of ways, but I think it is a situation we learn from.”

Blount was expected to be back at right corner, where Larry Anderson had his problems defending the run against the Saints, but Blunt was keen not to criticise the rookie. “I think Larry did a real good job. Larry was playing on all the special teams and running back kicks. There was a lot of pressure on him. I think there was just too much for him to do.”

The week leading up to the Houston game when the Steelers suffered their first loss on the season, Blunt’s arm had been a sling, but he played in severe pain. “I’m not really sure if I helped the team or hurt them in the Houston game,” before admitting, “If anything, I probably hurt them.”

Although officially listed as probable to play, Blount was expecting to start. “It’s playable. It’s a lot better. I’d say it’s about 85 percent healed.”

1978 Game 10: The (8-1) Pittsburgh Steelers vs the (5-4) New Orleans Saints

Both defenses were on top in the first half. The Steelers took a three-point lead in the first quarter with Roy Gerela’s 27-yard field goal while their defense excelled. Jack Lambert intercepted a pass on the Steelers 16 and Joe Greene recovered an Archie Manning fumble caused by a hit by Loren Toews. Those two turnovers prevented the Steelers from falling further behind after a touchdown run of five yards from Saints Tony Galbreath that put the Saints 7-3 in front.

On the Steelers first possession of the second half, Terry Bradshaw led his team on a drive of 77 yards that included a 22-yard leaping catch by Lynn Swann on a fourth down and four yards play. Swann followed up with a touchdown pass of 6 yards.

The Steelers extended their lead with a 21-yard field goal after the Saints had missed one from 51 yards, but New Orleans were never out of it and took a 14-13 advantage at the beginning of the final period.

Larry Anderson return the ensuing kickoff 54 yards to set the Steelers up for a 31-yard field goal attempt that hit the right upright. The Saints followed up with a field goal miss from 50 yards that gave the Steelers a series that began on their own 34. Rocky Bleier finished the drive with a 24-yard touchdown completion that gave Pittsburgh the 20-14 victory moving them to 9-1.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 20 vs the New Orleans Saints 14
Three Rivers Stadium November 5 1978; 48,525

Passing: Bradshaw 16-23-2TD-1INT-200
Manning 22-32-1TD-1INT-344

Rushing: Bleier 17-84, Harris 15-57, Bradshaw 2-4

Receiving: Grossman 3-44, Swann 3-40-1TD, Stallworth 3-33, Bleier 3-46-1TD, Harris 4-37

Franco Harris surpassed 7,000 rushing yards joining Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson as the only NFL players to rush for over 7,000 in their first seven season.

At 32 years young, Rocky Bleier put in a good day at the office with 84 yards for an average of 4.9 with Joe Greene acknowledging, “Rocky had a tremendous game before he made the game winning touchdown.”

Bleier’s touchdown catch was the first of his career. “I can’t remember when I had so much fun out there,” he told reporters. “It was a good, hard-running offense. It was something we needed to pick ourselves up after the last two weeks.”

AFC Central
Houston Oilers 14 Cleveland 10
San Diego 22 Cincinnati 13

Pittsburgh 9-1
Houston 6-4
Cleveland 5-5
Cincinnati 1-9

Pittsburgh press photo of Rocky Bleier
Donald A. Stetzer's photo of Rocky Bleier on his way to 84 yards rushing

LOS ANGELES RAMS NEXT FOR THE STEELERS

“It’ll be a great test for us,” admitted the Los Angeles Rams’ general manager Don Klosterman as he looked ahead to the visit of the Steelers to the Rams.  “They are the best team in football,” he added. “There’s no doubt about it. The Steelers are a very productive team. They are very well coached. They have a lot of talent and they have a lot of ways to score.”

Klosterman refused to admit the Steelers had declined from their Super Bowl winning years. “Anyone who thinks that doesn’t know the personnel of the Steelers.”

The forthcoming game was a 71,414 sell out and Klosterman said, “It’s a chance to show people we can play against the best. When we’re confronted we a fine team, we usually play well. We play a little better when we are challenged.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted the Steelers were underdogs and the game should pit strength against strength before the newspaper highlighted both the Steelers offense and the Rams defense have been superb while the Rams offense and the Steelers defense have had problems.

TOP RANKED TERRY BRADSHAW

Terry Bradshaw media photoSteelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw was leading the NFL with a rating of 96.2 and 18 touchdown passes and was also instrumental in making Lynn Swann the league’s most productive receiver with 46 catches. Bradshaw has passed more than 2,000 yards with nine interceptions, half the total he had this time last year.

“I don’t know what being the league’s top-rated quarterback is going to prove,” he told the Pittsburgh Press, “but I happy just as long as I’ve got the TD passes going and the average-per-attempt is up there pretty high (it leads the NFL at 8.52).”

Having thrown for over 200 yards in seven of the Steelers ten games Bradshaw admitted, “I feel like I’m more aggressive out there now. I’m really not throwing the ball deep at all. Most of them have been relatively short. I think going to the tight end has helped. Our tight ends have caught 34 passes this year which is a lot for us.”

Under the Steelers former defensive coordinator Bud Carson, the Rams are yielding just 110 yards passing and 107 yards rushing per game. “I know Bud Carson and I know his strategy,” said Bradshaw. “Plus, we have so many different passing formations now that it’s going to be hard for anybody to put the finger on it.”

Bradshaw noted that despite the team’s record, Steelers fans are not entirely happy. “They expect us to shut everybody out and score 40 points a game,” he said before adding, “I wish out fans would be more vocal. Take for instance the Colts fans. When you play in Baltimore, you can’t even hear yourself think.”

“Everyone I meet on the street, they ask me, 'What is the spread this week?' Or 'why didn’t we beat the spread?' I guess the old cliché about ‘winning is everything’ isn’t true here.”

1978 Game 11: The (9-1) Pittsburgh Steelers at the (8-2) Los Angeles Rams

Both defense dominated this game and by stopping the Steelers time after time, the Rams defense set up their offense in favourable field position again and again. The Rams were anchored by linebacker Jim Youngblood and made the Steelers offense look inept. Terry Bradshaw threw interceptions on Pittsburgh’s first two possessions and it was only the Steelers defense that kept the team in the game.

The first half was scoreless after both teams missed field goals, Frank Corral was wide right on a 25-yard attempt and Roy Gerela experiencing his usual problems kicking on grass, was wide left from 31 yards.

Not until the first drive of the third quarter did the Steelers move the chains proficiently when they went 70 yards with eight plays that finished with a leaping Lynn Swann who hauled in Bradshaw’s 14-yard touchdown pass.

The next six times the Steelers had possession, they failed to make a first down as the Rams defense controlled the flow of the game allowing their offense to strike. Gifted good field position because of the Steelers failure to move the chains, the Rams were successful with a field goal from 37 yards and then finished a drive of 56 yards with a touchdown pass of 10 yards to Willie Miller to take a 10-7 win.

The Rams 313 yards of offense ensured the victory over the Steelers who managed only 174.

Jack Ham image by Bill Varle
Jack Ham sacks Rams QB in the rain - photo by Bill Varle

The Pittsburgh Steelers 7 at the Los Angeles Rams 10
Los Angeles Coliseum November 12 1978; 63,089

Passing: Bradshaw 11-25-1TD-2INT-125
Haden 13-26-1TD-0INT-132

Rushing: Harris 22-50, Bleier 2-7, Bradshaw 1-2

Receiving: Stallworth 2-44,Grossman 4-44, Swann 3-25-1TD, Bell 2-12

“I expected a low scoring game because I knew Pittsburgh were tough defensively,” said the Rams coach Ray Malavasi before adding, “and I didn’t think our defense would give up any points.”

“Let’s see,” said Joe Greene. “That’s three times we’ve played LA in my ten years in the league and three times we’ve lost. Boy, I thought this was going to be a fun game.”

“A loss is a loss is a loss, as some sage once said,” offered Coach Noll. “As fas as we’re concerned, the test is how we’ll come out next week against Cincinnati.”

AFC Central
Denver 19 Cleveland 7
Houston 26 New England 23
Oakland 34 Cincinnati 21

Pittsburgh 9-2
Houston 7-4
Cleveland 5-6
Cincinnati 1-10

BRADSHAW REACTS TO CONSTANT BLITZ BY FICKLE FANS
by Glenn Sheeley from the Pittsburgh Press

More so than any other Steeler and more so than most quarterbacks, Terry Bradshaw falls in and out of disfavour with the fans.

Around town you don’t hear people knocking Franco Harris, ineffective in the Steelers loss to Los Angeles last Sunday night. You don’t hear them knocking Chuck Noll, who might have been wise to run more straight ahead plays and less cutbacks in the Coliseum mud.

You hear them knocking Bradshaw of course. He still has the top quarterback statistics in the NFL, but Steeler fans turn quicker than most.

Three days after the loss, Bradshaw was sitting in the kitchen of the Steelers offices eating a bowl of chilli after practice in a cold rain. It might be the only place around town where he is safe without food tasters.

More than anyone else, he knows the Bradshaw haters are out in full force this week.

“They’re always out,” Bradshaw says, crumbling a cracker in the chilli. “I get this stuff even when we are winning. Why are you just noticing it?”

“They ought to be out,” he continued. “I played a bad game. But if they’re after me, just think what Kenny Stabler and some of those other guys are going through. When you play poorly, you expect people to say bad things about you. A quarterback plays poorly, they all want his head.”

“They say, ‘He can’t complete the post, he can’t hit the screen, he can’t hit the man deep.’ But the next week when you win, they say, ‘Okay, he’s our guy.’”

Although Bradshaw understands the fickle quality of the fans, he never says all the criticism and the nature of it is fair. Certain Players can say it doesn’t hurt and are believed. Bradshaw is not that convincing.

“Those people that are knocking me and the ones that will be praising me tomorrow,” he says. “They’re not the real Terry Bradshaw fans. I’ve got people that are critics that are just waiting for me to make a mistake so they can nail me.”

At the LA airport Sunday night as the Steelers were ready to board the plane home, a well-dressed, middle-aged man approached Bradshaw. Sometime the Steelers quarterback is amazed by the fans’ fearlessness.

“The guy said to me, ‘Terry, I still love you, but boy, were you sorry.’ The guy was wearing a nice suit and looked like he was making $200,000 a year.”

Standing next to Bradshaw was a fellow from Cincinnati who was simply amazed by the comment. “He said, ‘Why do you put up with that?’” Bradshaw relates. “I told him, ‘Man, I’ve gotten it all. I’ve had people shoot me the bird, call me every name in the book. I don’t like being called a dummy, but I’m used to it.”

Bradshaw took another spoonful of chilli and decided he was sounding too irritated for a guy who wasn’t bothered by it all. “Hey, I like this city,” he decides to say. “I like these people here.”

Just then, Moon Mullins overhears Bradshaw’s comments as he walks through the kitchen. “Hey, don’t kiss their butts,” Mullins says. “They’re all crap. Yeah, you can quote me on that.”

Bradshaw smiled, delighted he was receiving support from one of his linemen.

When the subject changed to how Bradshaw might recapture the praise of the fans this week, he indicated that the Cincinnati Bengals, although 1-10, must be properly respected Sunday at Three Rivers. “All the teams we play are dangerous now because we have to win them all to get to the playoffs,” Bradshaw noted. “It’s not whether we can afford to lose another one. I just don’t want to.”

Bradshaw’s fans might be more dangerous than the Bengals.

DIVISION RIVALS BENGALS NEXT

Writing the day in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette before the Cincinnati Bengals came to Pittsburgh, Vito Stellino suggested the Bengals usually marched into Three Rivers Stadium with all the energy of a guy blindfolded before a firing squad.

Pittsburgh overwhelmed their division rivals 28-3 in Cincinnati earlier in the season and Stellino suggested the Steelers created a brief illusion they were as good as they were in their super (Bowl) days. That illusion died in the muddy trenches in Los Angeles last Sunday when it became obvious the Steelers can no longer expect to be a dominant team. They are just one of several Super Bowl contenders and they will have to fight for their lives in the playoffs.

Their determination to bounce back from last week’s loss may help them rise above the inevitable let down. They’ve got one more thing going for them. They always beat losing teams.

CINCINNATI - THE WORSE TEAM IN THE NFL?

“It hasn’t really dawned on me that we are the worst team in professional football,” commented Cincinnati’s cornerback Ken Riley on his team’s 1-10 record. “I guess when the season is over I’ll probably sit back and it will hit me like a rock.”

Ten-year veteran Riley added, “As long as I can remember, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have always been battling right down to the wire. It’s a very unusual situation in that we are definitely out of it.

At the beginning of the year, everybody had high hopes just like everybody else. The only thing we have now is pride and respectability. We want to just go out and try not to be humiliated on the football field.

The only thing we can do now is be the spoiler. As far as Pittsburgh is concerned, I really think they have the division wrapped up. But Cleveland and Houston are still trying to stay in there at least for a wild card.

They knocked us out last year. It would be really nice to do the same thing to them this year.”

RANDY REUTERSHAN SERIOUSLY INJURED

Former University of Pittsburgh player now on special teams with the Steelers, Randy Reutershan was seriously injured in a car accident.

1978 Game 12: The (9-2) Pittsburgh Steelers vs the (1-10) Cincinnati Bengals

Coach Noll rested Dwight White and Loren Toews to get them over “the hump of nagging injuries,” with the view for them to be ready for the bigger tests ahead. The defense rose to the challenge, but the Steelers offense again struggled to move the chains with Terry Bradhsaw giving up four interceptions.

With both defenses controlling the line of scrimmaghe, it was Cincinnati who struck first in the first quarter with a 29-yard field goal.

Early in the second quarter, Pittsburgh managed their only significant drive when they went 64 yards in 12 plays with John Stallworth contributing two 21-yard catches before Rocky Bleier burst over from the one-yard line.

The Bengals replied with a field goal from 48 yards to complete the scoring.

Ken Anderson helped the Steelers take the 7-6 victory with two fumbles (to Mel Blount) and fumbling twice. Gary Dunn and Mike Wagner made critical plays in the fourth quarter to stop the Bengals. Dunn stopped Cincinnati’s Pete Johnson on a third and one at the Steelers 35 and Wagner blitzed Anderson inside the last two minutes knocking the ball out of his hand for Jack Ham to recover.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 7 vs the Cincinnati Bengals 6
Three Rivers Stadium November 19 1978; 47,578


Albert M. Herrmann Jr. captures Rocky Bleier touchdown plunge

Passing: Bradshaw 12-30-0TD-4INT-117
Anderson 14-29-0TD-2INT-164

Rushing: Harris 22-64, Bleier 9-10-1TD, Moser 1-0, Thornton 1-(-1), Bradshaw 1-(-3)

Receiving: Grossman 6-66, Stallworth 3-52, Bleier 2-1, Harris 1-(-1)

“I played absolutely horrible,” offered Terry Bradshaw. “It’s the worst feeling in the world. It’s embarrassing.”

“It felt like I was hit by a truck,” is how Ken Anderson described his hit by Mike Wagner that caused a fumble.

“There’s no question about it. We’ve got to go back to the training camp kind of things and work on fundamentals,” noted Coach Noll.

AFC Central
Cleveland 45 Baltimore 24
Miami Dolphins 30 Houston Oilers 35

COACH NOLL RETURNS TO BASICS

“We’re going back to training camp,” Coach Noll told reporters at his weekly press conference. While some of his offensive linemen can’t accept how bad things were against the lowly Bengals, the coach refused to call the timing of such a slump “disastrous.”

“No, not really,” he suggested. “This can and does happen several times a year. What you are talking about is one-on-one stuff, concentrating on sustaining the blocks, staying low. You’ve got to get back to basics. That’s the part that makes it go.”

The Pittsburgh Post noted that Terry Bradshaw is struggling with the passing game while the Steelers ground game fizzles. “Perhaps, just perhaps,” Noll said, there may have been too much emphasis on pass blocking before.” In recent weeks, some of the Steeler linemen have implied exactly that.

“What you have to do is not just rely on one thing,” Noll said. “You can’t just throw or run on every down or people will start loading up on you. That’s what helped our passing game early. Everybody was stacking up against the run.”

FRANCO PAYS UP

Frano Harris media photoFranco Harris had a keen interest in the Pitt-Penn State game with his brother Pete lining up as a defensive back for the Nittany Lions. Former Lion, Harris had given a 10-point handicap to teammates Tony Dungy and Donnie Shell and with Penn winning 17-10 had to pay up.

“Franco said Penn State was gonna blow them out,” Dungy said. “Said he was gonna wear a tuxedo at the best restaurant in San Francisco. He’s the one that brought it up… I would have settled for the ‘chicken shack.’”

Turning to their Monday Night game at San Francisco and the coaches’ philosophy of going back to basics, Harris said, “Right now it’s too early for me to tell. Sometimes it’s hard to say exactly what makes it go. But one thing that’s definite is that we need an improvement on it.”

Harris thought the best way to re-establish the running game Monday night might be to stick with it, regardless of whether it bogs down occasionally. “I like the simple and basic things. Just take it to them.”

Rocky Bleier, who had carried only eleven times in the past two games thought Noll’s back to fundamentals plan seemed to have been a moderate practice success. “It’s just been too many breakdowns,” Bleier suggested. “Mental and physical. A missed block here, a missed block there. A halfback misses on a certain play and all of a sudden it’s second and long.”

By going back to basics, Bleier says the Steelers are ideally creating a practice atmosphere which will carry over into the San Francisco game and then the game against their Houston rivals.

REUTERSHAN SHOWS IMPROVEMENT

Randy Reutershan was taken off the critical as his condition improved at Mercy hospital. He had been unconscious since suffering a head injury in a car accident.

Former Colts Ray Oldham was added to the Steelers roster to replace Reutershan. Oldham was drafted in 1973 by the Colts and had been let go with the player admitting that everything had gone wrong in Baltimore.

BRADSHAW LOOKS FOR ANSWERS
Glenn Sheeley Pittsburgh Press

The average fan is not aware of how many times Terry Bradshaw has audibled plays for touchdown passes, or on how many occasions the Steelers quarterback has played with injuries which would sideline others.

All things considered there are people close to the situation who suggest Bradshaw’s confidence dipped sharply in recent weeks as the Steelers offense floundered. The suggestion is that Bradshaw is, well, losing it in the huddle. There is indecision, something than can destroy an offense. There is a tendency to ditch the game plan unnecessarily.

Even Bradshaw admits, “I don’t think I’ve concentrated well. I think that’s obvious by the results. My mind has to start zeroing in on one thing.”

While Bradshaw is playing with a sore elbow and wincing occasionally from stomach muscles which were pulled earlier in the season and recently aggravated, zeroing in on the proper goal should be no problem in the Steelers nationally televised game tonight with the San Francisco 49ers in Candlestick Park.

Tony Bennett might have left his heart in this city by the bay, but the Steelers tonight will attempt to leave their offensive doldrums here. If the Steelers have serious playoff thoughts, what they need tonight is nothing less than a blowout against the 1-11 49ers.

If Bradshaw can pick apart San Francisco’s usually porous defense as expertly as general manager Joe Thomas picked apart the entire franchise, the Steelers might be in the proper frame of mind for Sunday’s clash at Houston.

It is surely the most trying time for Bradshaw, who seemed headed for an unbelievable season and then slipped. His four interceptions last week and seven in the last two games have dropped him behind Miami’s Bob Griese for the AFC quarterback lead.

Concentration was the part of Chuck Noll’s “fundamentals” which Bradshaw emphasised this past week. “I’m more conscious of the fact that I’m trying to concentrate, if you know what I’m saying,” acknowledged Bradshaw. “I’ve got my eyes downfield, I’m trying not to press. I’m trying not to make something happen , but to let it happen.”

Bradshaw doesn’t mind sharing the blame, but he stresses that it has been a team effort. He implies that he’s not the only one who hasn’t been concentrating. “In a long season like this, it’s like going to work,” Bradshaw suggests. “And there are some days when you just don’t want to go to work.”

1978 Game 13: The (10-2) Pittsburgh Steelers at the (1-11) San Francisco 49ers

Terry Bradshaw AP photoIn a game that saw the Steelers penalised 13 times and committing 4 turnovers, they still managed to find some offense while the defense played their part in the Steelers win.

The first play from scrimmage saw Scott Bull overthrow his intended receiver and the ball fall to Ron Johnson. Roy Gerela kicked a 42-yard field goal after the San Francisco defense held Terry Bradshaw threw an interception on the Steelers next possession, but manage to put that behind him throwing two touchdown pass in the second quarter.

The first one of 22 yards to Lynn Swann finished a drive of 80 yards and was followed by moving the chains 66 yards and Swann hauling in a 25-yard touchdown catch to give Pittsburgh a 17-0 lead at half time. The Steelers overwhelmed their opponents 249-91 yards in the first two quarters.

A Rocky Bleier fumble in the third period on the Steelers five-yard gave San Francisco their only scoring opportunity which they took advantage of to reduce their deficit, but the Steelers were not finished.

In the fourth quarter, Bleier fumbled again, but the Steelers defense came through with another interception and 51 yards later, John Stallworth went in with a 11-yard touchdown completion to give the Steelers a 24-7 victory.

Franco Harris spent the second half on the bench with a pinched nerve

The Pittsburgh Steelers 24 at the San Francisco 49ers 7
Candlestick Park November 27 1978; 51,657

Passing: Bradshaw 13-21-3TD-1INT-195
Bull 10-18-0TD-5INT-113

Rushing: Harris 12-61, Moser 15-63, Bleier 13-58, Thornton 7-24, Bradshaw 6-6

Receiving: Swann 8-134-2TD, Stallworth 2-26-1TD, Grossman 2-24, Harris 1-11

Terry Bradshaw’s three touchdown passes set a new record for the franchise with 22 on the season while Lynn Swann equalled a career high 11 touchdowns for the season.

“I was satisfied to a point,“ said Terry Bradshaw. “In the first half I was awfully proud of the team, but in the second half we were doing things we wanted to do, but we were messing up, going offsides because I was trying to check off the defense. I think we should have scored at least a couple of more touchdowns.”

“I wanted to see improvement,” added Bradshaw. “I think the running game was better. We were blowing some people off the ball.”

“It wasn’t a preparation for Houston,” acknowledged Coach Noll. “We’re going to begin preparing for Houston on Wednesday.”

AFC Central
Houston 17 Cincinnati 10
Cleveland 30 Los Angeles 19

Pittsburgh Steelers 11-2
Houston Oilers 9-4
Cleveland Browns 7-6
Cincinnati Bengals 1-12

BONANZA TO FOLLOW GUNSMOKE IN HOUSTON?
by Glenn Sheeley

What we have here is your old-fashioned shootout. It just so happens it will take place in the Astrodome, which is in Houston.

Under the old system of 14 games, the regular season would be ending after the Steelers next game when they take their two-game lead into Houston. But with 16 games, there is still time for things to get interesting.

As it is, perhaps the season is just beginning for the Steelers who are 11-2, but long for a victory over a playoff contender.

Not only will Sunday’s game against the Oilers reveal whether the Steelers will become the division champions – they can clinch that with a win and lead by three games with only two to play – it might indicate how far they will go in the playoffs. Or, as Jack Lambert said after he was asked if he was satisfied with the Steelers performance in the win over San Francisco, “I think we’ll find out this week. I’m sure if we go down there and blow Houston out, we’re know where we want to be.”

Chances are the Steelers won’t blow the Oilers out. Chances are both teams will score points and it will go down to the final moments in the Astrodome where the Steelers clinched a division title in 1976. If both teams play as they can, it’s going to be 24-21 or something similar and the game will be more physical than the one Pete Rozelle is planning for Miami in January.

The strategy is simple. The Steelers must stop Earl Campbell and the Oilers must stop Franco Harris. Campbell won the first round in the Oilers previous 24-17 Monday Night win.

There are strong indications the Steelers will be as fired up as the Oilers. “I think a lot of us are concerned about the division title and homefield advantage,” said Jack Lambert. “I just don’t think that setting a goal for us to get into the playoffs is enough.

That was our goal last year and that’s about all we did. We got in and we got out real quick. We’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen again this year.”

BRADSHAW EXCITED WHILE THE OILERS COACH SHOWS SURPRISE

“We’re going in on a positive note,” suggested Terry Bradshaw. “The guys are excited. I’m excited. It makes a lot of difference. If we had played poorly against the 49ers the way we did against Cincinnati, it would have been different.

The Oilers coach Bum Phillips was surprised his team was favoured by two points. “You’ve got to be kidding,” he said, “Joe Greene must have gotten them to put that in the paper. Oh my. They’re the better team. Terry, Lynn and John are better and everybody else is as good or better.”

Acknowledging that the Oilers won the first game in Pittsburgh, Phillips said, “I think we are like Pittsburgh in a way. Our 22 is like their 22, but their overall depth is ahead of us.”

Recognising that the game was the most important game he’s coached, Phillips admitted, “This is a real test because it means so much to both teams. The first time it meant a lot more for us to win than it did for them to lose.

THE 1978 BATTLE IN THE AFC CENTRAL

The last time Pittsburgh and Houston met, the Steelers were unbeaten while the Oilers were struggling on 4-3. By the time the Monday night game was over, the Oilers were 5-3 and the Steelers had lost their first game.

“My general impression,” Coach Noll acknowledged after the game, “is they ran the ball on us and defended us pretty well. We get down there and couldn’t put points on the board. That was the game in a nutshell.”

Leading up to the crucial game, the Steelers were quietly building to a peak. “There’s excitement and there’s excitement,” said Joe Greene. “You can’t fabricate it, but it’s there. We’re professionals and we play every game the best we can, but we haven’t had a situation like this at any time this year. You get more excited about one like this. The rest of the team feels that way I think. You get high on the game.”

Greene is confident the Steelers can recapture the spirit of their championship years. “It’d always good to know you can do it,” he said.

The Houston, quarterback Dan Pastorini admitted, “It was tough last and it’s going to be tougher this time.” Even though the Oilers had left Pittsburgh with the win last time, Pastorini accepted, “When you beat them before, it’s sort of like you’re shaking a stick at a lion in a cage.”

Having already clinched a playoff berth, the Steelers were seeking their sixth division championship in seven years that will ensure homefield advantage in the playoffs. Houston would put some pressure on Pittsburgh with a win.

1978 Game 14: The (11-2) Pittsburgh Steelers at the (9-4) Houston Oilers

Franco HarrisIn a bruising divisional battle played in an unseasonal cold condition, the Steelers found the knock out punch to take the AFC Central title. Initially, the Steelers game plan to stop Houston’s Earl Campbell wasn’t proving effective as he rushed for 41 yards in the first quarter.

A Jack Lambert interception led to Roy Gerela’s 41-yard field goal at the end of the first quarter, but it was a Donnie Shell hit that drove Campbell onto his back that may have made the biggest impact on the game. The Oilers star running back left the game and did not return.

A Terry Bradshaw fumble late in the second quarter recovered by Houston on Pittsburgh’s 15-yard line led to a 17-yard field game to take the game into the second half on a 3-3 tie.

The Steelers edged ahead late in the third quarter after Shell recovered an Oilers fumble. A 31-yard cutback run by Franco Harris gave the Steelers a first down on the Oilers four . To the dismay of Steelers fans, Harris and Bleier were replaced by rookie Rick Moser and backup Sid Thornton. After three downs, the ball was on the Oilers one and Coach Noll let Gerela kick the field goal to give the Steelers a three-point lead.

Not until the Steelers last possession in the final period did Pittsburgh get the touchdown to make the victory safe. Bradshaw finally move the chains with completed passes and the drive of 80 yards finished with John Stallworth’s 5-yard touchdown completion.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 13 at the Houston Oilers 3
Astrodome December 3, 1978; 54,261

Passing: Bradshaw 11-24-1TD-1INT-97
Pastorini 10-27-0TD-3INT-91

Rushing: Harris 27-102, Bleier 13-66, Thornton 4-12, Bradshaw 3-(-3), Moser 1-0

Receiving: Stallworth 2-39-1TD, Grossman 4-36, Harris 4-36, Smith 1-2

Franco Harris joined Jim Brown as the only other runner in the NFL to rush over 1000 yards in a season six times.

The Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams also won their division titles. The Rams joined the Browns and the Cowboys as the only teams with six consecutive divisional titles.

“I’ve been hit harder,” Campbell admitted after the game, “But I made a twist and Shell fell on top of my ribs. I like to play against Pittsburgh. They played clean. They’re good guys.”

“No, ain’t no way I won the game for us,” Donnie Shell said downplaying his timely hit. “It was a team effort out there today.”

When a reporter pointed out to Coach Noll that his defense has historically been superb in games with playoff hopes and playoff cash on the line, Noll replied, “The challenge was there to excite them. It was a test of wills. It was not a place for the faint hearted.”

“I don’t see why we can’t go all the way if we stay healthy,” Jack Lambert said. “The division title and the home field advantage is nice, but what we have to do is get back to that Super Bowl.”

“I’ve never played as tough a game against a team I respected more,” said Terry Bradshaw. “I’ve played tough games that were full of fights, arguments and cheap shots, like against Dallas or Cleveland.”

“We didn’t have enough Band-Aids,” suggested Houston’s coach Bum Phillips. “I told you it would be that kind of game. In my thirty one years of coaching I’ve never seen a game that was hammer and tong like this one.”

AFC Central
Cincinnati 37 Atlanta 7
Seattle 47 Cleveland 24

Pittsburgh 12-2
Houston 9-5
Cleveland 7-7
Cincinnati 2-12

HOLMES SIGNS WITH PATRIOTS

Former Steeler Ernie Holmes signed as a free agent with the New England Patriots to replace Greg Boyd who was placed on the injured reserve list. Traded to Tampa at the beginning of preseason, the Buccaneers released him at the end of training camp.

FALLOUT FROM THE TOUGH BATTLE IN THE ASTRODOME

“World War III,” Houston’s trainer called the game and it appeared the Steelers were merely battered while the Oilers playoff aspirations were sorely in tatters. Told the Steelers had lost two defensive regulars for at least Saturday’s game in Pittsburgh against Baltimore, a Houston official sneered, “Hell, that’s minor and they don’t have to win anything.”

The Oilers need a win from their last two games to guarantee a wildcard spot while a Steelers win in one of their last two will assure them of homefield throughout the playoffs. The damage to the Steelers from what Chuck Noll called, “at least the second hardest hitting game I’ve ever seen” was minimal compared to what Houston suffered.

Loren Toews will miss at least weeks with a fractured left ankle. Mike Wagner will be sidelined for about ten days with a bruised knee and will be replaced by Tony Dungy, leaving former Colt Ray Oldham as the only backup safety man.

STEELERS TAKING COLTS SERIOUSLY

With the division title comfortably clinched, the Steelers could be forgiven for taking their last two regular season games lightly. The Steelers could rest players as they did in 1975 against Los Angeles when Bradshaw only played half the game and they flooded the game with subs. They lost 10-7.

“I want to win the rest of the game,” offered Terry Bradshaw. “I don’t want a vacation. I’m prepared to play. We can’t let up and get complacent or lose our intensity.”

The Colts will be without their starting quarterback Bert Jones.

Last season, Tony Dungy made his debut at quarterback for the Steelers against Baltimore when the starters went down. Although he figures as the Steelers fifth defensive back, Dungy was expecting to start against the Colts with Mike Wagner out injured.

“I haven’t played under normal circumstances in a long time,” acknowledged Dungy. On third down, when I usually come in, I’m pretty sure it will be a pass. I haven’t really played enough to develop my own kind of style. It will be a good experience for me.

Everybody wants to start. Guys that say that it doesn’t matter are kidding themselves. I’m just fortunate that I’ve been able to come in occasionally and make some big plays.”

1978 Game 15: The (12-2) Pittsburgh Steelers vs the (5-9) Baltimore Colts

Terry Bradshaw had previously turned in some poor performances, but on a frigid, snow-covered field, with the snow falling, he threw with precision to keep the fans warm and ensure the Steelers continued their winning ways

Randy Grossman AP photoThe Steelers dominated from their second possession when Bradshaw’s 31-yard looped pass found John Stallworth for a touchdown. Stallworth later left the game with a stomach virus. Lynn Swann pulled in a 62-yard pass but took a shot to the head on the play and was forced to leave the game.

Franco Harris joined in with two scores in the second quarter with touchdown runs of 3 and 2 yards to give Pittsburgh a 21-0 lead. The second one was the result of Bill Troup fumble that set the Steelers the ball on their opponents 2.

The Colts last series of the first half saw them move the chains 41 yards, finishing with a 5-yard touchdown catch as the halftime score reflected the Steelers supremacy with a 21-7 lead.

In the third quarter, a Bradshaw handoff to Harris fell loose and Baltimore’s Don Luce picked it up and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown. The point after attempt went wide left.

The ensuing kickoff was returned 57 yards by Larry Anderson to set up another Steelers score. Three plays later, Bradshaw found Larry Grossman (picture left) with a 12-yard touchdown pass.

With the Steelers two star receivers out of the game, Bradshaw turned to second year veteran Jim Smith with a touchdown pass of 29 yards for the final score that saw the Steelers triumph 35-13.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 35 vs the Baltimore Colts 13
Three Rivers Stadium December 9, 1978; 41,957

The Steelers gained 373 yards of total offense while the Colts were kept to 129. Each of the Steelers four receivers gained more yards than the Colts netted in the air for the day. 29 yards.

Passing: Bradshaw 11-18-3TD-2INT-240, Kruczek 1-3-7
Troup 8-18-1TD-1INT-62

Rushing: Bleier 13-48, Harris 17-52-2TD, Bradshaw 3-15, Moser 8-15, Deloplaine 6-9

Receiving: Stallworth 1-31-1TD, Smith 2-36-1TD,Swann 3-87, Bleier 1-32, Thornton 1-24, Grossman 2-17, Bell 2-20

“The team’s playing well, really well,” said Terry Bradshaw. “I’m excited about it. It’s great. It’s nice to know we’ve got all our playoff games at home.”

“I’m more pumped up this year than last season because we’ve got the best record. Last year, we kind of backed in. This is a real good feeling.”

“I have a good feeling about this team,” admitted Joe Greene.

"SUPER" FEELING AGAIN
by Skip Wachter (UPI)

There’s something about these Pittsburgh Steelers, something they’ve lacked going into the playoffs the last three years. They’re confident. They believe in themselves. They smile a lot.

They’re feeling “super” again.

The Steelers have needed other teams’ help to make the playoffs the last three seasons, but this year they’ve done it all themselves. They’re 13-2 now, tops in the NFL and believing this is the season they’ll regain the Super Bowl championships they won in 1975 and ’76.

Second year safety Tony Dungy feels it’s all coming together for the Steelers now, mainly because the off-field problems that have distracted them since their last NFL title are gone.

“These are a lot of the same guys as last year, but this year the same guys are making the big plays,” he said. “We’ve had everybody at practice, we had everybody in training camp. We’re a lot closer to each other because of it. We’re pulling for each other. We believe in ourselves. We can do it.”

TERRY BRADSHAW STEELERS MVP

The Steelers players voted Terry Bradshaw, who has thrown a league high 26 touchdown passes, the team’s MVP for the second straight year. Recognising the award, Bradshaw said, “This is a real honour for me. I never thought I’d get it. Once in my career is enough. That’s reward enough just to get it once. I was satisfied, even if I had never won it again.

The greatest honour any player can receive is when the guys he’s with day after day look at him and say, ‘You’re our Most Valuable Player,’” acknowledged Bradshaw.

“You could give this award to anybody you want on this team and they’d deserve it,” Bradshaw added. “They’re all MVPs.”

STEELERS TRAVEL TO MILE HIGH FOR SEASON FINALE

“There’s a little revenge on our minds,” Jack Lambert stated before adding, “They took it away from us last year.” Lambert was referring to the previous season’s playoff loss to Denver.

Although the result wouldn’t affect the Steelers homefield advantage in the post season, Joe Greene admitted, “We want to kick Denver’s rear. We are going out to try to win the game.”

Greene drew a $5,000 fine as a result of his punch into the midsection of Denver guard Paul Howard during the game. Greene’s punch was born out of frustration from being held and the officials not calling it.

“We are a team of confidence right now,” Greene said. “To win you have to believe in yourself. And we do believe.”

“We don’t just owe them one. We owe them two,” said Rocky Bleier as he recalled another loss to Denver during the regular season. “So we’re going out there with the intention of winning the game, keeping our edge and hopefully not getting anybody hurt.”

TEN STEELERS NAMED TO 1978 AFC PRO BOWL

Lynn Swann, Mike Webster and Terry Bradshaw on offense with Joe Greene, Jack Ham, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount and Donnie Shell on defense were named to the Pro Bowl with Franco Harris as a reserve.

The 40-man team, with 20 offensive players, 17 defensive players and 3 specialists, were chosen in a ballot of the fourteen AFC coaches and the NFL Players Association members of each team.

Houston’s Eric Campbell was the only rookie chosen for the AFC team.

STEELERS HEAD TO DENVER

The Steelers have never won in Denver and have only beaten the Broncos once in seven meetings.  In a meaningless end of regular season game, there is still pride at stake for the teams.

“Anyone who thinks this won’t be a heck of a football game is crazy,”” said Denver Coach Red Miller. “I know our team has a lot of pride and we would obviously like to keep our momentum going into the playoffs. I’m sure Coach Noll and his team feel exactly the same way.”

Jack Lambert admitted Denver’s Craig Morton was one of the few quarterbacks he likes because the Bronco’s signal caller behaves himself. “Yeah, I kinda like Morton,” offered Lambert. “I think he’s an over achiever and I think he’d admit that there are a lot of quarterbacks with more talent in the league, but I think he’s done a pretty good job in Denver.”

Under the new playoff format, division champions will have a bye the first week of the post-season while a wild-card game is played. With a two-week layoff, Rocky Bleier acknowledged, “That’s a factor we haven’t had before. We don’t want to go into a slump just before the playoffs.”

“We’re treating it like an important game,” Jack Ham said.

1978 Game 16: The (13-2) Pittsburgh Steelers at the (10-5) Denver Broncos

Terry Bradshaw Albert Herrman imageThe Steelers defense dominated the first quarter, holding the Broncos to zero first downs. Terry Bradshaw played a big part in this season finale, twice hitting John Stallworth during a 10-play, 52-yard drive. On a third and ten for 17 yards from the Steelers 48, Bradshaw read the blitz and hit Stallworth cutting over the middle for 17 yards to the Denver 35.

After a seven-yard pass to Franco Harris on second down, Bradshaw found Stallworth cutting from right to left for 20 yards and a first down on the 10. Harris finally went in from the one with 38 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

In the following quarter Bradshaw continued to enjoy himself while the Steelers defense was assaulting Craig Morton. On the Broncos’ second possession, Morton was sacked by Jack Ham and L.C. Greenwood. Roy Gerela missed a 42-yard field goal on the Steelers next series, but when a hit from Donnie Shell saw Morton fumble and Tony Dungy recover, the Steelers took advantage of the turnover.

Two plays later the Steelers extended their lead. From the Broncos’ 43, Bradshaw found Stallworth for an 18-yard game. On the next down, Bradshaw rolled left and spotted Stallworth in the left corner of the end zone. Stallworth leapt between two defensive players and pulled in a 25-yard touchdown catch.

Before the half was over, Bradshaw established a new franchise record. Directing the Steelers from their 42, he moved the chains on a superb 27-yard run by Sidney Thornton who broke several tackles to the Denver 26.

On a third-and-eight from the 10, Bradshaw found Jim Smith with a touchdown pass to increase the Steelers lead to 21-0 while setting a team record of 207 completions in a season.

Mike Kruczek took over for Bradshaw and Norris Weese for Craig Morton in the second half. While Kruczek struggled, Weese found the endzone on Denver’s second series as some of the Steelers defensive starters were rested.

In the final period, the Broncos increased the pressure with a 45-yard field goal followed by a 30-yard pass that drew Denver within four points.

A dramatic final play was set up when the Broncos took over at their own 20. Weese fired a 30-yard pass to Haven Moses at the fifty followed by a throwaway pass to stop the clock. A pass interference penalty on safety Ray Oldham put the ball on the one-yard line, but a huge defensive play by Jack Lambert and Joe Greene stopped the Broncos short to give the Steelers a 21-17 victory.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 21 at the Denver Broncos 17
Mile High Stadium December 16, 1978; 74,1044

Passing: Bradshaw 10-14-2TD-0INT-131, Kruczek 3-5-0-2INT-29
Weese 12-17-2TD-0INT-228, Morton 3-9-0TD-1INT- 46

Rushing: Thornton 5-32, Moser 10-34, Bleier 6-11, Harris 12-21-1TD, Deloplaine 2-6, Kruczek 3-12

Receiving: Stallworth 4-79-1TD, Smith 2-31-1TD, Grossman 1-21, Thornton 1-9, Swann 1-5, Bleier 2-9, Harris 1-7, Moser 1-(-1),

“Gosh Dawg,” Bradshaw admitted after the game. “Can you believe I didn’t throw any interceptions out here in this thin air?”

With the possibility of the two teams meeting again in the playoffs, Coach Noll confessed, “I’d like to meet them again in two weeks. That would be fine.”

“Let’s face it,” said Jack Lambert, “when it got down to those last few seconds nobody on the team wanted to lose.”

END OF REGULAR SEASON REVIEW

Coach Noll reflecting on the difference between limping into the postseason as they had in 1977 and having the best record in the NFL this season. “It was much more fun this year,” he smiled.

Asked to elaborate on his definition of fun, Coach Noll added, “Fourteen wins, for one thing. That’s fun. That’s good enough for me. That’s all the fun I need. It usually speaks loudly enough.”

“I think the football teams played very consistently, as consistently as you can expect a team to play.” The coach acknowledged the team would be disappointed if they didn’t make progress in the playoffs. “We’ll try to achieve our goal.”

With the wildcard game due to be played at the weekend, the coach admitted, without much conviction. “It doesn’t really matter. Just so we play somebody. I’m getting edgy already. Just so I know who it is.”

The Steelers finished the regular season allowing the fewest points in the NFL (195), first in total AFC defense (allowing 260.5 yards) and first against the run (110.9 yards). Terry Bradshaw was top with 28 touchdowns.

1978 NFL STANDINGS

          AFC
          NFC
Central Division
Pittsburgh 14-2
Houston 10-6 *
Cleveland 8-8
Cincinnati 4-12
Central Division
Minnesota 8-7-1
Green Bay 8-7-1
Detroit 7-9
Chicago 7-9
Tampa 5-1
 
East Division
New England 11-4
Miami 10-5 *
N.Y. Jets 8-8
Buffalo 5-11
Baltimore 5-11
East Division
Dallas 12-4
Philadelphia 9-7 *
Washington 8-8
N.Y. Giants 6-10
St. Louis 6-10
 
West Division
Denver 10-6
Dan Diego 9-7
Seattle 9-7
Oakland 9-7
Kansas City 4-12
West Division
Los Angeles 12-4
Atlanta 9-7 *
New Orleans 7-9
San Francisco 2-14

All the divisions winners plus those with the best record (indicated above with *) entered the playoffs.

Wildcard games
Philadelphia at Atlanta
Houston at Miami

STEELERS TO FACE BRONCOS IN PLAYOFFS

The Steelers concerns about facing the Dolphins in the first round of the playoffs disappeared when Houston upset Miami with a 17-9 win. The result meant the Denver Broncos would be the visitors to Three Rivers Stadium.

On that matchup, Jack Lambert suggested, “If our offense moves the ball on them, our defense won’t have anything to worry about. We think we’re the best team. The team has the kind of confidence it had when we won the Super Bowls.

Joe Greene was more pragmatic believing the Steelers can’t afford to think it would be easy to stop Denver’s Craig Morton. The quarterback completed only three of his nine passes for 45 yards in the first half against the Steelers in the regular season before he was substituted.

“I like Morton as a quarterback,” acknowledged Greene. “Morton is what makes them go. He’s a smart quarterback back there. He’s not that mobile and he runs kind of funny, but he buys himself a lot of time. He doesn’t just drop back, he runs a lot of play action passes. He’s got confidence in his line.”

KICK RETURN BOOST FOR DENVER’S GAME

The Broncos kept pro football’s leading kick returner Rick Upchurch back when Denver played Pittsburgh in the season finale. Coach Red Miller didn’t want to risk Upchurch getting an injury in a game with nothing at stake.

Upchurch led the league in punt returns with a 13.7 average from 36 punts for 493 yards with one 75-yard touchdown. Upchurch is an essential part in gaining good field position for the offense.

The Steelers drafted Craig Colquitt in the third round to help their kicking game. “I’m very conscious that he’s the best,” admitted Colquitt on the danger Upchurch presents. “I’ll concentrate all week on kicking 40 yards downfield to the sideline. I’m not going to kick to him.”

Colquitt wasn’t thinking like a rookie going into the playoffs. “I think I’ve come along a lot. I think I’ve been a lot better the last few weeks. I’ve improved my mental outlook. I feel like I can go out into the playoffs and feel like a veteran. I’m a lot more relaxed and that’s absolutely necessary.

You can’t go out there with the adrenalin flowing.”

STEELERS FAVOURED BY SEVEN

The Broncos had won two straight division titles and had gone to Super Bowl XII in January, but they always had something to prove. Although the Steelers had won the meaningless game at the end of the season, the Broncos had taken the honours in Pittsburgh and in the previous divisional playoff game.

Looking at the difference between last year’s team and this year’s, Terry Bradshaw offered, “Last year, we weren’t together as a team. We had problems. This year, we’ve always felt we’re gonna win. It’s a good feeling. But it hasn’t been easy.”

Bradshaw will lead his team out for the thirteenth time in a playoff game and has an 8-4 record in the games played. His record at home was 4-1, with the one loss to Miami when he was knocked out for more than two quarters.

The Broncos were going into the game as seven-point underdogs.

FANS QUEUE FOR TICKETS

Fans queued for up to twenty-four hours to purchase tickets for the playoff game. “The only way I got myself up for this,” said one fan, “was to do a little speed. After that, it was partying all night.” Tickets were $12.25 for the Denver game.

STEELERS TO HOST THE BRONCOS

The Denver Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers both yearn for a return to the Super Bowl, but the season ends here Saturday for one of them.

“What you did before doesn’t count. What counts is now,” acknowledged Coach Noll.

“Things kind of melt into the background when the ball’s kicked off,” said Denver Coach Robert “Red” Miller. “You have the build-up and hoopla. But, it’s all settled on the field.”

Last season, the Broncos earned their first playoff berth in eighteen years, beat Pittsburgh in the first round and eventually ran out of Orange Crush against Dallas in the Super Bowl. This season, Denver won its second straight AFC West title. Their 10-6 record included dumping Oakland twice and disputing the notion that the Broncos were one-year wonders.

“I would think that ‘fluke’ stuff from last year would be over by now. I mean, are we an established power or aren’t we?” questioned Denver guard Tom Glassic.

Last season, the Steelers laboured through contract squabbles and injuries and were beaten 34-21 in Denver. This season brought harmony and homefield advantage in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh is 4-1 in playoff games at Three Rivers Stadium and 53-12 in regular season games at home over the past nine years.

Pittsburgh yielded the fewest points in the NFL in regular season with 195. Denver allowed the second fewest with 198.

“Both teams are good defensively,” said Coach Miller. “They’re pretty close. But we aren’t as strong, nearly as strong offensively as their club.”

Each player on both teams will receive $5,000 for playing in the game. The winners will receive $9,000 for playing in the AFC title game and there will be a $18,000 cheque for each Super Bowl winner.

“I think whoever wins this game will show up three weeks later in the Super Bowl,” observed Denver linebacker Tom Jackson. The player also suggested the game wouldn’t follow the script of the last regular season clash.

Terry Bradshaw hit 10 of 14 passes in the first half. “There wasn’t a lot at stake and we didn’t play with much intensity,” added Jackson. “That won’t happen again.”

The above article was reprinted from the Public Opinion Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

FRANCO HARRIS PEAKS IN THE PLAYOFFS

When the Steelers make the playoffs, Franco Harris hits top form. In eleven playoffs games, he has been the leading rusher for both teams ten times.

The running back became an integral part of Coach Noll’s team when Harris was drafted in 1972. The team has made the playoffs every year Harris has been on the team.

“We’re going for a third Super Bowl,” Harris said. “That’s never been done before. There’s nothing routine about that. I’d like to have us do it.”


Blanket protecting Three Rivers Stadium from the snow.

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