1979 Game 1: The Pittsburgh Steelers at the New England Patriots

AP image of Matt Bahr celebratingAfter the Steelers lost Joe Greene to a sprained knee he injured in warmups, the Patriots began the game resolutely. Rookie Allan Clark returned the kickoff 37 yards, before quarterback Steve Grogan steered the Patriots to the opening score. Russ Francis finished the drive with a 4-yard touchdown completion.

The Steelers struggled to move the chains until the end of the first quarter. Terry Bradshaw’s passes of 13 yards to John Stallworth, 19 yards to Lynn Swann and 12 yards to Randy Grossman helped move the ball to their opponents’ four-yard line for a first down. Sidney Thornton ran it in from 2 yards on the third down for the touchdown. Matt Bahr missed the extra point wide right.

A New England 31-yard field goal from John Smith extended their lead before a Franco Harris fumble gifted the Patriots the ball on the Steelers’ 34. The Steelers defense and the clock ensured that the Patriots were kept to a 32-yard field goal as New England led 13-6 at the half.

Bahr missed a 43-yard field goal attempt at the beginning of the second half and the signs were there of a Steelers failure as the third quarter remained scoreless.

In the final period of regulation time, a poor New England punt gave Pittsburgh a short field of 34 yards. Bradshaw passed to Stallworth for 13 yards before faking a trap play to Harris. Thornton went off right tackle in a pretence to be blocking for a runner but continued into the end zone where, unmarked, he hauled in a 21-yard touchdown pass. Bahr’s good extra point tied the game that went into overtime.

The Patriots received the ball first in overtime, but the Steelers defense held them before taking over on their own 31. Thornton and Harris chewed up the yards to present Bahr with the opportunity to redeem himself.

The Patriots attempted to freeze Bahr with a timeout. “No one’s ever done that to me before,” Bahr said. “I could hear the noise, but it just gave me a little more time.” It was time well spent. After missing the potentially game winning extra point and field goal, his 41-yard field goal travelled through the middle of the posts.

The Steelers had picked themselves up and shown they were indeed the S-t-e-e-l-e-r-s.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 16 at the New England Patriots 13
Foxboro September 3, 1979; 60,978

Passing: Bradshaw 15-26-1TD-0INT-221
Grogan 11-33-1TD-2INT-123

Rushing: Harris 26-74, Thornton 12-44-1TD

Receiving: Stallworth 5-95, Cunningham 2-40, Thornton 3-41, Swann 1-19, Harris 3-14, Grossman 1-12,

“The game was ours for the asking,” said Patriots All-Pro guard John Hannah. “We just didn’t take it. The game should have been ours, but every time we did something big, we got penalised.” An illegal motion penalty wiped out a 39-yard pass that would have given New England a first down on Pittsburgh’s 5-yard line.

“We should have won that game,” said Patriots safety Tim Fox. “We won it five times … and lost it six times.”

“So much went wrong and we had so many built in excuses for losing the game,” said Jack Lambert. “But we kept our poise and our patience. No one tried to be an individual hero. We played as a team. We have confidence in our backup people and they showed why

“If I had centred the ball right, Matt might not have missed those other kicks,” Mike Webster offered. “I snapped them off to the wrong side and Craig (Colquitt) had to reach to his right and then bring the ball back and he wasn’t able to spot the ball just where Matt wants it. That’s why he pushed them off to the side. The kicker gets too much blame.”

Bradshaw Born to Lead the Team to Greatness

Off their first performance of the 1979 season, the Steelers left little doubt that they would be a contender again. Just as they have been since 1972, the year Terry Bradshaw began to master the technique of spiralling a football into the arms of a receiver.

The big, likeable raw-boned quarterback from Louisiana certainly impressed the faithful of the New England Patriots. He convinced them that as long as he is around to fling a football, the Steelers will indeed be in the thick of the NFL.

The consensus of the disappointed Beantown fans, as they trooped disconsolately from Schaefer Stadium, out into the black night of New England’s never-never land was that Bradshaw was a man who would lead any team – yes, even the Patriots – into a Super Bowl.

Terry is that kind of football player. He is a born leader in the mould of Norm Van Brocklin or a Bobby Layne, with the additional advantage of a rifle arm that javelins passes downfield with the flick of a wrist.

And the Patriots fans saw first-hand just what makes Bradshaw the remarkable football player that he is. They saw it in the manner in which he came back after taking a dreadful beating in the closing minutes of regulation time, to direct the Steelers to their game winning field goal with the unruffled calm of a riverboat gambler.

They saw a man who had outgrown panic.

Imagine the setting.

As the game ticks down, tied 13-13 in the last wo minutes, the Steelers have the ball, third and 13 at their own 28. Zip, Bradshaw hits John Stallworth with a sideline pass to the Steelers’ 45, a first down under pressure.

Then the Pats, their vision of sudden-death overtime evaporating, primed themselves for a last desperate gasp for life.

Mel Lunsford, a fine defensive end, zeroed in on Bradshaw, sacking him five yards behind the line of scrimmage. On second down, linebacker Rod Shoate pierced through to twist Bradshaw rudely to the turf, ten yards farther downfield. On third down, so intense was the surge of the desperate Patriots that it forced Bradshaw to try under-handing a pass to a receiver who was cutting back toward him.

Illegal grounding, the officials ruled. It was enough to rattle an ordinary quarterback. But to Bradshaw it was a lesson.

When the Steelers got the ball again, a moment or so into overtime, the square-jawed, sharp-shooter from the Louisiana cane fields reacted as only an experienced old hand would be expected to react.

He taunted the Patriots’ pass rush, blunting it. He alternated his running backs, Franco Harris and Sid Thornton for 20 yards in two plays into “plus territory,” that swath of real estate that sits on the payoff side of midfield.

Then he sent Franco slithering through the heart of the Patriots line for six yards, and then 11 and another first down, 32 yards from the New England goal line.

Even when a handoff to the dependable Harris failed to gain, Bradshaw didn’t lose his aplomb. He softly dumped a screen pass off to Thornton, who was stopped four yards short of the sticks. Even with third and four and the game in the balance, Bradshaw never lost the patience which, more and more, is characterising his bold and purposeful approach to football.

Again, he called Thornton into the middle, rather than risk a loss that might have taken the Steelers out of the game-winning field goal range. In a situation where other quarterbacks may have opted for the glory of prolonging a game-winning drive, the humble Steeler passer turned the spotlight over to his runners.

That Matt Bahr ended the long drawn-out game with a 41-yard shot that split the uprights was of no consequence to Bradshaw. The important thing is that the Steelers had won and Bradshaw, never one to put too much heed into self-aggrandisement, had rallied quickly from the brink of humiliation and frustration.

He rallied as quickly and as completely as he did because Bradshaw, at 31, is indeed football’s premier quarterback.

In that seven minute stretch of a toughly-fought agonising football game, the bible-reading young man had captured the respect of an entire nation.

Move aside Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman. Make way on your pedestals for another who belongs up there with you.

Pat Livingston September 5, 1979 Pittsburgh Press

Home Opener Has Kolb Ready for Oilers

Jon Kolb Upper Deck imageThere was a special significance to the Steelers 16-13 overtime victory at New England. It was felt throughout the team, from President Dan Rooney down through the ranks.

Veteran Jon Kolb, who usually keeps his thoughts to himself, was so emotionally moved by it that he wants to share his response, and he hopes there will be a carryover to tomorrow’s big test with the Houston Oilers at Three Rivers.

“We’re a pretty quiet group,” said Kolb, “but that was the most noise I’ve heard in years in our locker room after a game – even the Super Bowl. The guys were really happy with how we pulled that one out.

We had our backs to the wall from the beginning in that ball game. From the time we left Pittsburgh, things started going wrong for us. We were short handed because of a series of injuries and we were going up against a good team that had a lot of emotion going for it.”

The Steelers did not play a pretty game, but they got out of New England with a victory on rookie Matt Bahr’s 41-yard field goal after being behind 13-6 at halftime.

“The thing that was most satisfying was that it seemed like we were getting stronger,” said Kolb, “and they were regressing. In the fifth quarter (that’s how he put it) there was a definite let up by the guys who were playing us.”

Kolb’s observation is one that is shared by offensive line coach Rollie Dotsch. “It’s something you can see and feel from the sidelines,” said Dotsch. “We had nine guys hurting out of 15. That leaves you with 38 players, except for using some guys in special situations. They were throwing fresh people at us, but our guys hung tough.”

Rooney remarked how well some of the fill-ins had performed, citing Steve Courson, Sidney Thornton and Ted Petersen on the offensive unit. “I expect a good tough game with Houston too,” said Rooney.

Some people in the Steelers organisation had been honest before the opener and expressed concern with how some of the young and really untested players would perform. Kolb contends that he and some of the older offensive linemen held no such fears for Courson and Petersen, who were filling in respectively for Gerry Mullins and Larry Brown.

“You could ask Sam Davis or Larry Brown and they will say the same thing,” said Kolb. “We thought those guys would come through all along. We know them and what they are all about. We’re always together and we work out all year long. We have confidence in each of them.”

Jim O’Brien Pittsburgh Press Sept 7 1979

Earl Campbell vs Franco Harris

In the 1978 season, rookie Earl Campbell had eight games when he rushed for over 100 yards. In Houston’s season opener last week against Washington, he rushed for 166 yards.

Campbell has played three games against the Steelers and has yet to have one with 100 yards on them. Pittsburgh’s home opener will see two of the leagues top three rushers compete against each other when Franco Harris shares the spotlight with Campbell.

“We are definitely different style runners,” said Harris. “With the Houston team, he’s the halfback, but he runs more like a fullback. I’m supposed to be the fullback with the Steelers, but a lot of the times I try to be a halfback.”

On the Oilers, Harris was prepared to acknowledge, “They’re really tough. They’re very physical people. Now, on top of that, they really have a winning attitude. They want to be Super Bowl champs.”

The Steelers go into the game as six-point favourites despite their injury woes.

1979 game 2: The (1-0) Pittsburgh Steelers vs the (1-0) Houston Oilers

The Steelers defense completely dominated a contest between two teams that were recognised as contenders for the AFC championship. Halfway through the first quarter, Sidney Thornton finished a penalty littered drive with his 1-yard touchdown burst.

Matt Bahr added a field goal from 45 yards to extend the Steelers lead to 10-0 at halftime.

A short 45-yard field in the third quarter provided the Steelers with a scoring opportunity they took full advantage of. Terry Bradshaw found Lynn Swann for 15 yards before on a third and four he hit Greg Hawthorne for a first down on Houston’s 16. The five-play drive finished with Thornton’s 16-yard touchdown catch.

Jim Smith photo from the Pittsburgh PressOn the Oilers’ next drive, quarterback Dan Pastorini dropped back to pass. The ball was tipped by Loren Toews before the players collided. The ball fluttered into the arms of John Banaszak who returned it to Houston’s 8.

The Steelers were again in excellent field position while the Oilers turnover saw the loss of Pastorini with an injured arm. Hawthorne went off tackle for a touchdown run of 8 yards and with Bahr’s extra point, Pittsburgh advanced to 24-0.

The Steelers defensive dominance continued into the fourth period. On his play on defense, Dennis “Dirt” Winston crashed into Oilers receiver Mike Renfro who had just pulled in a completion. Renfro coughed the ball up and Donnie Shell recovered. Bradshaw’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Jim Smith (picture left) increased Pittsburgh’s superiority to 31-0.

On Houston’s play from scrimmage, Winston intercepted a Gifford Neilson pass and returned it 41 yards to complete the Steelers scoring. As the game was reaching a conclusion, the Oilers drove 71 yards with 18 plays and Guildo Merkens scored on a 9-yard touchdown pass.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 38 vs the Houston Oilers 7
Three Rivers Stadium September 9, 1979; 49,792

Passing: Bradshaw 12-29-2TD-2INT-198
Pastorini 4-16-0TD-3INT-16, Nielsen 4-11-1TD-2INT- 41

Rushing: Harris 14-42, Thornton 7-20-1TD, Bleier 2-14, Hawthorne, 3-9-1TD, Bradshaw 3-(-3)

Receiving: Swann 5-95, Stallworth 1-20, Jim Smith 1-18-1TD, Thornton 1-16-1TD, Harris 1-18, Grossman 1-14, Bleier 1-9, Hawthorne 1-8

The Oilers were held to 124 net yards of offense. Dan Pastorini completed just 4 of his 16 passes for a misery 16 yards with three interceptions. Earl Campbell lost the running-back battle with his worse stats as a pro with 38 yards on 16 carries.

“We were ready to play on Friday,” offered Steve Furness with a smile. “The coaches had to tone us down a bit. We remembered that Earl Campbell had ripped us up pretty good last year.”

“We’re well prepared and I’m going to have fun and enjoy it to the utmost,” said John Banaszak. “To me, it’s still a kid’s game.”

Defensively, we’ve played some great games over the years,” said Jack Lambert. “This is one of the better ones.”

“Too darn good,” acknowledged Houston’s coach Bum Phillips. “They were just too darned good for us today.”

Coach Noll reminds reporters the season is 16 games long

At his weekly press conference after the win over Houston, Coach Noll still had his feet firmly on the ground. “You can read whatever you want to into that game,” Coach Noll remarked, “but it’s just one sixteenth of the season. We’ve got to do that every week. That’s the test, not one or two games. The measure is the 16-game season.”

With injuries to Jack Ham, Steve Furness, L.C. Greenwood, Sam Davis, J.T. Thomas, Dwight Wight, Theo Bell and Loren Toews, the coach had good reason to be uneasy. He cast any concerns aside in his usual phlegmatic manner. “You have to have people come off the bench and perform. You’re going to have injuries although they usually come later.”

Reflecting on his team’s two victories against good opponents, Coach Noll said, “I think we’ve got a stable, veteran team. I think they react well. Our defense did a hell of a job. Offensively, there’s room for improvement. We have to eliminate the mistakes, mental errors for the most part.”

Looking ahead to the Steelers next game in St. Louis, Noll acknowledged the Rams were an exceptional offensive team. The Cardinals rookie running back Ottis Anderson had opened the season with back to back 100-yard games, totally 304 yards in all. Coach Noll admitted the Cardinals represented a real test for the Steelers defense.

Anderson had the opportunity of earning a place in the NFL record books as no rookie had rushed for 100 yards in the first three games of a season.

Steelers assistant head coach George Perles noted Anderson was a combination of Walter Payton and Tony Dorsett. “He’s not a fluke,” Perles said. “He’s going to be one of the premier runners in the league. He doesn’t have Earl Campbell’s strength, but he’s a slasher who has good balance and is hard to knock off his feet.

Steelers Seem United on Contract Line

The Steelers seem to be avoiding one of the pitfalls that can unhinge a Super Bowl team.

It is not unheard of for Super Bowl victories to be translated into player-contract hassles, but the Steelers seem to be doing as well in the signing league as they are in the won-lost standings.
Although the final results aren’t in yet, it appears the Steelers won’t have a single player play out his option this year.

The Steelers don’t generally make official announcements of veteran player signings, but it has been learned that John Stallworth recently signed a three-years contract and Steve Furness agreed to a pact for two years.

Both are reportedly in the six-figure category, which should give the Steelers at least 14 players making $100,000 (equivalent to $355,331 today) or more.

“I always think our payroll is the highest,” Dan Rooney said. “But the league doesn’t break it down that way so we don’t really know.” The league reported in the 1978 salary survey that 1,485 players (including players on injured reserve) were paid an average of $62,585 last years, but it doesn’t break it down club by club.

According to the survey, Franco Harris was the highest paid Steeler at $250,000, Jack Lambert at $200,000, Terry Bradshaw just below $200,000, Joe Greene at $174,000, Lynn Swann at $162,000 and Jack Ham at sixth with $160,000.

Bradshaw and Ham are starting new contracts this year which move them over $200,000 while Swann’s contract expires at the end of the year and he should also move above $200,000.

All the Steelers players also earned $32,000 playoff money last year.

Vito Stellino
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette September 14, 1979

Rocky Bleier adds realism to the Steelers unbeaten start

“We certainly don’t feel we can cancel the rest of the season,” Rocky Bleier confessed. We know what it takes to win. This team doesn’t have an overconfident attitude. We’ve been through so many experiences. We’ve been overconfident. We’ve been up. We’ve been down. We’ve had days when the defense was hot and the offense was cold. We’ve had days when the defense was cold and the offense was hot.

We’ve been lucky. We’ve had games involving big officials’ calls. We’ve experienced it all,” and Bleier believes the team has learned a lot of lessons from the experiences.  He’s thinks the team’s depth contributes to their success.

“In the past, some of the individuals may not have been pushed by other people,” he added. “Now, there’s pressure on almost everybody. It doesn’t allow you to be flat.”

In rookie running backs Ottis Jerome Anderson and Theotis Brown, the St. Louis Cardinals have two game breakers that could trouble the Steelers defense. Anderson rushed for a league high 193 yards against the Dallas Cowboys in the season opener and put up 111 yards in the Cardinals next game.

The Cardinals coach, Bud Wilkinson, noted Anderson was big, strong and fast. “He’s a player with fine potential,” acknowledged Wilkinson before adding, “I think it’s a bit premature to say he’s an all-time great back. He’s only had two games.”

Anderson In Steel Curtain’s Sight

When the Pittsburgh Steelers set their sights on something, they generally hit the bull’s eye. Take Earl Campbell for instance, if you can find him in one piece.

He was last week’s target – a moving target no less – and the Steelers shackled him with 38 yards rushing. The week before, the objective was Steve Grogan (five sacks, two interceptions and only 11 completions.)

Through their seven successive playoff seasons and three successful Super Bowls, these guys have reduced football to fundamentals. They find the weapon that can hurt them most and then eliminate it. Military minds call this search-and-destroy.

So, what do Chuck Noll’s men have on the agenda for Sunday’s 3 pm showdown with the Big Red?

“It will be a real challenge for us to slow down Ottis Anderson,” said Coach Noll, lining up #32 in the cross hairs. “We had great respect for him coming out of the draft and we still do. Even more so.”

It is virtue of Anderson’s outstanding start to the season that the Cardinals are rated only six-point underdogs. He has taken a load off quarterback Jim Hart. He has perplexed defense. Strong enough to go up the middle and quick enough to turn the corner, he has presented a new dimension to each opponent’s dilemma.

The Steelers are eminently aware. “I saw Ottis play in college,” said Jack Ham, “and I know he’s a great back. Obviously, he’s started off to a super year. You have to be very conscious of a player with that kind of ability who can break a play at any time.”

You realise you’ve got to gang tackle him. You’ve got to get a lot of people around the football.”

The Steelers have no shortage of gang-tackle personnel. Linebackers Ham and Jack Lambert are as talented as any twosome in the game. Defensive linemen Joe Greene and John Banaszak are grizzled and gruesome. The cornerbacks are good, and the safeties may be even better.

Steel Curtain? Steel Wall. They’ve permitted an average of only 184 total yards per game. Only 2.5 yards per rushing carry. Opponents completed a combined 31.7 percent of their passes.

Tom Barnidge St. Louis Post Dispatch

1979 game 3: The (2-0) Pittsburgh Steelers at the (1-1) St. Louis Cardinals

In front of their partisan fans, the Cardinals were fired up for this game against the champions while the Steelers initially floundered letting their opponents control the first exchanges.

The Cardinals scored early following a five-play drive 70-yard drive that finished with a run of 12 yards from Ottis Anderson. Steve Little missed wide left the extra point. On the Steelers first drive, Franco Harris fumble to gift the Cardinals superb field position on Pittsburgh’s 32. The Steelers defense did their job and forced the Cardinals to attempt a 43-yard field goal that Mike Wood missed

The Steelers then presented St. Louis with another turnover. John Stallworth fumbled, and the Cardinals recovered on Pittsburgh’s 18. The Steelers defense again held St. Louis to a field goal. As the Cardinals played musical chairs with their kickers, this time Steve Little was on target with his 22-yard attempt.

On the Steelers ensuing series, Terry Bradshaw connected with Stallworth for an 18-yard touchdown completion to bring the Steelers back within two points.

As the Steelers continued to turn the ball over, the Cardinals forged ahead taking full advantage of the giveaways. In the second quarter, a Ken Stones interception gave the Cardinals a short field. Theotis Brown finished their drive with a 1-yard plunge while Little was wide right with the conversion to give St. Louis a 15-7 lead at halftime.

Rocky Bleier gaining yards Albert M Herrmann-JrBradshaw left the field with an ankle injury late in the second quarter, but returned for the second half when Carl Allen picked him off to set the Cardinals up on the Steelers 11. The Steelers defense held firm again and kept their opponents to a 24-yard field goal from Wood. Cardinals’ Willard Harrell returned a punt 68 yards to the Steelers 13. Pittsburgh’s solid defense ensured the result was another field goal, this one from 27 yards.

Entering the final quarter down 21-7, the Steelers began to show the gilt side of their offense. Rocky Bleier (picture right) was thrown into the affray while Harris was on the sideline with his knee in ice. Greg Hawthorne and Bleier shared the plays to move the chains downfield for Bleier to end the 80-yard drive with his 4-yard touchdown run.

As the Steelers began to fight back, Jim Smith returned a punt 38 yards to set them up on the Cardinals’ 38. Bleier and Hawthorne again moved the ball before Bernie Cunningham caught a 5-yard touchdown pass. Matt Bahr’s extra point saw the game tied 21-21 with seven minutes left.

With five minutes remaining, Steelers Jimmy Smith fumbled a punt and he and Cardinal linebacker Johnny Barefield jostled to gain possession. Smith, who had previously been guilty of mishandling two kickoff catches, fell on the ball to give Pittsburgh one final chance in regulation.

A 28-yard pass to Rocky Bleier moved the chains before Bleier and Hawthorne on the ground gave Matt Bahr the opportunity to kick a 20-yard field goal to win the game with just 13 seconds left.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 24 at the St Louis Cardinals 21
Civic Center Busch Memorial Stadium September 16, 1979; 50,416

Passing: Bradshaw 14-31-2TD-2INT-205, Kruczek 3-4-0TD-0INT-36
Hart 12-24-0TD-0INT-132

Rushing: Bleier 13-73-1TD, Hawthorne 9-34, Harris 13-29, Thornton 7-28

Receiving: Stallworth 6-80-1TD, Cunningham 5-72-1TD, Swann 2-37, Bleier 2-44, Hawthorne 2-9

“We didn’t underrate Rocky Bleier,” said Cardinals safety Ken Stone. “We were looking out for him. It’s just that Pittsburgh’s got so many players you have to be looking out for.

“It’s something we get from Coach Noll,” admitted Rocky Bleier. “We just won’t be broken. “The Cardinals just came out for blood and in the first half they had a taste of ours,” Bleier added. “But not in the second half. I feel that our experiences in great seasons, rebuilding seasons, playoffs and Super Bowls is one of our greatest strengths.”

“It would have been easy for anybody to quit,” said Terry Bradshaw. “We had two big games, we were tired, we had a lot of injuries and we were going against an immortal coach. But this team has character. This team has pride.”

“Hell, no,” replied Joe Greene when asked if the team had suffered a let-down. “We weren’t flat. We were playing a good football team. It took us a while to get adjusted.”

“Maybe it was a let-down for the coaches,” suggested Coach Noll to the same question. “They had a bad game.”

“I guess we weren’t on top of our game,” added Noll. “But this was the kind of game that you have to win if you want to be champions.”

AFC Central
Cleveland 20 Baltimore 10
New England 20 Cincinnati 14
Houston 20 Kansas 6

Pittsburgh 3-0
Cleveland 3-0
Houston 2-1
Cincinnati 0-3

Franco slowing down?

Franco Harris left the Cardinals game early with a bruised ankle after carrying 13 times for 29 yards for an average of 2.2 yards. At Coach Noll’s weekly press conference he was asked, “Have you noticed Franco slowing down?” “No, we haven’t noticed him slowing down,” replied the coach before quietly adding, “however, that hasn’t been the old Franco.”

Rocky Bleier gained 73 yards on the same number of carries and Coach Noll explained, “In the second half, we were just able to block a little better. Thom Dornbrook came in for us (on the offensive line). Steve Courson had been playing with a bad leg.

“We hadn’t been blocking very well,” clarified the coach. “And we were just beginning to get the feel of St. Louis, a team we hadn’t played much. Our guys got to know the people they were playing against.

Also, St. Louis went on the offensive with its defense, blitzing on first down a lot, trying to force a situation in which the Steelers would have to pass into six defensive backs. So, they were back there with six defensive backs, looking for the long stuff. That’s why we were content to grind it out.”

Injuries were another contributory factor Noll added forcing constant lineup changes.

With the injury status of Harris unknown, coach Noll acknowledged, “I have no idea what we’re going to do Sunday (against Baltimore). It depends on how badly Franco is hurt. If he can’t play, we’re probably go with Rocky at fullback and Sidney Thornton at halfback. They’ve played both positions in practice. Most of our backs can play both positions.”

Rookie Greg Hawthorne was the exception. Hawthorne was still trying to learn to play halfback after missing most of training camp. “He’s making progress,” Noll said. “He’s in the learning stage, but he has shown he has ability.”

J.T. Thomas: Another Steeler Comeback

J.T. Thomas media photoThe comeback is now complete for J.T. Thomas. He has finally scaled a slippery slope.

Ron Johnson is sidelined indefinitely with a badly pulled hamstring, so Thomas will return to his familiar position at left cornerback. “I’m backup to three positions in the secondary. I knew I would play sometime,” Thomas says. “I am the backup cornerback, the backup strong safety and I’m the extra safety. It’s been a long comeback though.”

The return by Thomas was remarkable because his problem had been internal. The cause was a blood disorder, Boeck’s sarcoid, which had been bothering him since he joined the Steelers. For four years, he fought doctors’ orders to sit out a season. Thomas took the required medication but in 1977 he found it tough going with the physical side of playing cornerback.

His decision to sit out the 1978 season would now stand him in good stead to continue his pro football career. “A lot of people think when a player sits out that he doesn’t work out,” Thomas clarified. “But I worked out alone. I stayed in shape and in the off-season I worked harder. For six months I worked out two times a day. I ran three or four miles in the morning and lifted weights. And I played some hoops in the afternoon.”

When Thomas arrived in camp, he had to compete against Johnson who earned the AFC defensive rookie-of-the-year honor the previous year. Johnson was rooting for Thomas in camp. “He is part of out team,” explained Johnson.

Thomas is now the Steelers defensive utilityman. “I had to learn the safety positions,” said Thomas. “It was the first time I opened a playbook in six years. Safeties are like the quarterbacks of the defense. They have to watch for the run. They have to watch the quarterback. They are in the middle of the field.

But a cornerback is more isolated on the corners of the field and doesn’t get that overall view. All I needed was to use my physical abilities. I didn’t have to know what the safety was doing all the time. Now I have to know what’s going on.

Rocky Not Ready To Be Counted Out

Maybe they will call it Rocky III.

It is a made for TV movie about Steelers Rocky Bleier, a Notre Dame, Vietnam and Super Bowl hero that is finally in the works after too many years of red tape and one setback after another.

It is the saga of a young man who made it from living in a building over his dad’s bar in Appleton, Wisconsin to a $400,000 mansion in Fox Chapel. Doing many miraculous things between his days under the Golden Dome, the Super Dome and the golden sun that burned down upon the rice paddies of southeast Asia.

With the recent success of movies reflecting on Vietnam and pro football, a show that concerns itself with both just has to be a sure-fire success. Before the film is in the can however, Bleier is busy writing a sequel. Maybe they will call it Rocky IV. In other words, Bleier wants everybody to know his career is not yet a closed book.

Wait until you see the next chapter.

Rocky Bleier NFL imageEver since Bleier’s autobiography, “Fighting Back,” came off the presses several years back, there has been talk about a movie to be made about his blood and guts tale, one that has real appeal to an America that has suddenly run short on heroes.

Two weeks ago, in the 38-7 victory over the Houston Oilers at the Three Rivers Stadium, Bleier made his debut at running back this season and was warmly received by the fans. He played well. There were observers on the sidelines noting the activity there to get ideas for the movie that’s being made about Bleier by Mary Tyler Moore productions.

Producer Maurice W Gable, from Upper St. Clair, was there along with screenwriter Jerry McNeely. Gable has invested a considerable sum to get the Bleier movie out of the blocks, and personally wrote several manuscripts which he has turned over to McNeely.
And now Bleier is adding to the story.

Last Sunday in St. Louis, Bleier was the biggest of several Steelers heroes in a come-from-behind 24-21 conquest of the Cardinals. If Franco Harris had not been hurt, some suggest the Steelers would not have won the game.

Harris was having a difficult day. An ankle injury forced the Steelers to turn to Bleier as well as rookie Greg Hawthorne. They did what had to be done to put the game out of the loss column.

Bleier ran with his usual abandon and afterwards was even told he had made two cuts while running with the ball in the second half. “Is that right?” replied Rocky, quicker than anyone to bring himself down to size, “That’s a new record for me.”

The second oldest running back in the NFL, the 33-year old Bleier had seen little action since recovering from a knee injury which side-lined him for the entire pre-season of this, his eleventh season with the Steelers.

Against the Cardinals, he gained 33 yards rushing on the Steelers second touchdown drive and then accounted for 12 yards rushing and 16 receiving on the touchdown march that tied the game.

On the drive that led to the winning field goal, the big play was a Terry Bradshaw to Bleier pass for 28 yards in addition to his 17 yards on the ground.

“Where were you guys when I was down, and I needed you?” Bleier asked reporters who surrounded him after the game, Bleier was smiling when he said it, but he had indeed felt abandoned during his period of inactivity.

Hollywood will have to wait on Rocky. He’s not finished running or writing.

Jim O'Brien
Pittsburgh Press September 22 1979

Baltimore Colts

The Steelers next game in the 1979 season was against the Baltimore Colts who were currently providing the NFL with a sideshow.

Colts defensive end John Dutton was in dispute with his team and refuses to play for them while they refuse to trade him. What started as a salary dispute had thrown the spotlight on player movement within the NFL and would put the subject at the top of the players and owners next contract negotiations.

After their weekend loss to Cleveland, Colts owner Robert Irsay gave his kicker Toni Linhart a $10,000 bonus for “trying” after he missed three field goals from 32, 18 and 28 yards that would have taken the game into overtime. Cleveland triumphed 13-10. “Guess Irsay bet on the Browns,” cracked one wise guy.

Four days later, Colts coach Ted Marchibroda cut Linhart.

To add to the disruption, Baltimore’s wide receiver Glenn Doughty was complaining about not having enough passes thrown his way. After the Cleveland game, he refused to board the team plane. Teammate tight end Mack Alston supported Doughty, “I think Glenn has a right to be angry. We can’t get anything going just playing one side of the field. This is a team game and we have to use everybody.”

In his eighth year with the Colts, Doughty had only caught two passes in the first three games. The player missed a day of practice. After he returned, Coach Marchibroda said he considered the case closed.”

There were also questions surrounding Colts quarterback Bert Jones and an injured shoulder. “I’d like to find out where the injury is,” questioned Irsay. “In his mind or in his head… I mean in his shoulder, ha ha.”

A Steelers win will set a team record of twelve consecutive victories and meant they were favoured by two touchdowns.

“We can’t go out and play a poor game and win like the Steelers can,” admitted Baltimore’s Coach Ted Marchibroda beforethe game. “We have to play at our peak, hit on all eight cylinders. Until we can win games by the score of three-nothing or seven-nothing, we can’t be classed with the Steelers.”

1979 game 4: The (3-0) Pittsburgh Steelers vs the (0-3) Baltimore Colts

Franco Harris snapped a streak of playing in 70 games and joined L.C. Greenwood, Ron Johnson, Steve Furness, Dwight White and Theo Bell on the injured list as the Steelers took on the Colts in the sunshine of Three Rivers Stadium.

An early errant pass from Terry Bradshaw bounced off the hands of Lynn Swann and was intercepted to give Baltimore the ball on Pittsburgh’s 39. Following two first downs, the Colts were then held to a 27-yard field goal to edge 3-0 ahead.

Bradshaw soon put the turnover behind him. A 12-yard pass to Swann, followed by a screen pass to Sidney Thornton for 21 yards was crowned with a 47-yard bomb to John Stallworth for the touchdown. Bradshaw had covered eighty yards in three plays to get the fans in Three Rivers Stadium on their feet.

The Colts replied with a touchdown drive of their own. Moving the ball 68 yards in eight plays, Baltimore completed the series with Greg Landry’s 38-yard touchdown run.
The teams exchanged possessions in the second quarter until the Matt Bahr kicked a 25-yard field goal to tie the game 10-10 as the teams left for the locker room.

Their spirited play saw the Steelers suffer more injuries, Steve Courson came in for Moon Mullins only for Courson’s knee to play up when he was replaced Sam Davis. Swann went off with a pulled muscle and Bradshaw was the recipient of a hard hit in the third period that saw him sidelined for two plays.

On his return, Bradshaw threw an interception leading to a Baltimore 24-yard field goal and a 13-10 advantage. At the beginning of the final quarter, Rocky Bleier was hit as he took a handoff and fumbled. The Steelers held their opponents and took over on their own 16 with just under nine minutes remaining.

Pittsburgh needed a long drive and Bradshaw ensured they gained it. Thornton ran for 17 yards; Greg Hawthorne caught a 5-yard pass before a run of 19 yards for a first down on the Colts’ 43. On a third and three, Bradshaw threw an 8-yard pass to Bleier for another first down. The series finished with Bradshaw’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Bennie Cunningham for the Steelers to regain the lead they kept.

Bradshaw had again brought his team back from the brink with a 17-13 victory that set a team record of 12 straight wins.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 17 vs the Baltimore Colts 13
Three Rivers Stadium September 23, 1979; 49,483

Passing: Bradshaw 19-29-2TD-2INT-249, Kruczek 0-1-0TD-0INT-5
Landry 17-34-1TD-2INT-195

Rushing: Thornton 13-129, Bleier 10-14, Hawthorne 2-16, Bradshaw 1-(-2)

Receiving: Stallworth 4-83-1TD, Cunningham 3-68-1TD, Swann 1-12, Thornton 3-33, Bleier 6-41, Grossman 1-7, Hawthorne 1-5

Although the Steelers had trouble running the ball in the absence of Harris, Colts Coach Ted Marchibroda acknowledged, “In the final analysis, the running game beat us. We had our chances, but we didn’t take advantage of it.”

After the come behind victory, Bennie Cunningham joked, “We’re giving the fans their money’s worth. We’re keeping them in the stands and we’re selling more hot dogs. We’re hurting because of injuries, but I think we can continue to overcome them.”

AFC Central

Houston 30 Cincinnati 27
Dallas 7 Cleveland 26

Pittsburgh 4-0
Cleveland 4-0
Houston 3-1
Cincinnati 0-4

Gatorade to blame for Steelers injuries?

Coach Noll likes to find reasons and explanations for the problems that beset him.
It disturbs the orderly mind of the Steelers coach to think he can be at the mercy of the vagaries of fate. He likes to think he can “do something” about problems.

That is why it is not surprising the Steelers coach is going to try to “do something” about the Steelers injury rate.
And thereby hangs an interesting tale.

It unfolded during his weekly meeting with the members of the media. Noll was kind of vague about some of the details, but he said it all started when he got some “misinformation.” At any rate, as it was pieced together, this appears to be the story:

When J.V. Cain of the St. Louis Cardinals dropped dead on the practice field on July 22, there was some kind of report that Cain might have had too much potassium in his system.

The Steelers responded by cutting down on the commercial preparation (Gatorade) which includes potassium and salts in favour of just plain water.

As it turned out, the Steelers were acting on what Noll calls “misinformation.” Cain actually died of a rare heart condition that he had from birth according to the pathologist’s report. The report said Cain’s problem was “strictly congenital.”

Meanwhile, the Steelers have been suffering from what Noll says is an “inordinate amount of hamstring pulls.”

The latest victims were Lynn Swann and Moon Mullins on Sunday against Baltimore. Sam Davis, Theo Bell and Larry Douglas, who is now on the injured-reserve list, were among the victims.

Noll now wonders if it is a coincidence that this all happened after the change to water at the practice sessions. He’s wondering if the pulls might be coming from a problem with the electrolyte balance because of a lack of potassium and salts in his athletes’ systems. So, he’s going back to using Gatorade at practice this week.

Noll admits it might not make any difference one way or the other, but he at least has the satisfaction of trying something.

Vito Stellino
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette September 25

Franco Under the Spotlight

For almost five years, from the midway point of the 1974 season through last year, there were no changes. The running backs were Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. They were a lot more solid than the U.S. dollar.

It could be argued they were the most successful duo in the game’s history. The Steelers played 12 playoff games during the last five years. They won 10 of them including three Super Bowls. Neither Harris nor Bleier played in one of the two they lost. Theirs is an enviable record.

Yet, time passes quickly in pro football. It passes even faster for running backs. When Bleier was injured in training camp this year, he lost his starting job to Sidney Thornton.

Now, it is Harris who is coming back from an injury. He’ll return to the starting lineup, but not on the same basis he left.

Dick Hoak, the Steelers running back coach, revealed a change in policy yesterday as the coaches prepared for the return of all the players after they had two days off to rest their injuries.

No longer do the Steelers have just two backs. Now they have four – Harris, Thornton, Bleier and Greg Hawthorne.

Franco Harris media photo

If Harris recovers from his ankle injury, he’ll start with Thornton Sunday in Philadelphia. But no longer are the starting backs sure they’ll go all the way. Hoak says he won’t hesitate to switch backs if the starters aren’t going well. He wants to go with the backs who have a “hot hand.”

“If we’re having trouble getting started and we’re not moving the football or if somebody’s having a bad day, I might have to put someone else in to see if we can get some kind of spark,” Hoak said.

Harris could have played last week, but he was only 70 percent and Hoak said it wasn’t fair to put him in under those conditions. Hoak knows the fans are down on Harris who is off to one of his traditional slow starts. He wants Harris to be 100 percent before he puts him back out there.

Harris has just a 2.7 yards per carry average in 53 rushes while Thornton is averaging 5.7 in 39 carries, Hawthorne 4.2 in 14 carries and Bleier 4.0 in 25 carries.

“The fans are after him (Harris) right now,” Hoak said. “They’re saying he’s lost a step and this and that. But I’ve seen him go through this before.”

That brings up the obvious question. Does Hoak think he has lost a step?

Hoak dodged the question just a bit. “I can’t tell,” he said. “I don’t know if he’s lost a step. It usually takes Franco a while to get rolling. He’s been off to bad starts before. I’m not ready to say he’s lost a step. We’ll have to see how it comes out.

He’s had stretches like this for four or five games before. It’s almost like he just doesn’t have his timing. He has to have more work.”

One thing is obvious. For the first time since his rookie year, Harris will have to prove himself when he returns to the lineup. The burden will be on him.

Harris does have one problem because the Steelers have changed their attack. They no longer depend on the running game the way they did in the past.

“To be really effective, he has to carry the ball 25 to 28 times a game,” Hoak said. “There’s so many times when he doesn’t make anything and then he breaks a big play.”

That’s the Franco the Steelers will be looking for Sunday – the Franco who virtually carried the team at times in the last seven years.

If they don’t find that Franco, it is obvious they will be willing to spell him. That could mark something of a passing of an era.

One way or another, it is obvious the spotlight will be on Harris when he returns to the lineup.

Vito Stellino
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette September 26

Webster Center of Attraction

Mike Webster is the lone offensive lineman pictured in the Steelers present day display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

Below a picture showing Coach Chuck Noll and club owner Art Rooney receiving their unprecedented third Super Bowl trophy from NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, the “Key Men of the Offense” are shown.

They include quarterback Terry Bradshaw, running back Franco Harris, center Mike Webster and “The Incomparable Pass-Catching Duo” of John Stallworth and Lynn Swann. Then there are those who “Make the Pittsburgh Defense Universally Feared,” and they include linebackers Jack Lambert and Jack Ham and tackle Joe Greene.

Webster is not only an all-pro, but he is the only starter on the Steelers offensive line who hasn’t been sidelined this season. He hasn’t missed a game in six seasons – 76 straight games to rank him as the club leader in that category – and will be a key man in the game against the Steelers next opponents, the Philadelphia Eagles.

The fact that Webster will be in the middle is of vital concern because the injured Bill Bergey, the Eagles missile linebacker, won’t play.

The Eagles employ a 3-4 defense, so Webster will be more concerned about the nose guard over him than Bergey’s replacement. Terry Tautolo, who was credited with seven tackles and three assists in last Sunday’s 17-13 victory over the New York Giants.

The Steelers beat the Colts by the same score that day and Webster made an eye-catching block to gain some attention for a change. It came on Sidney Thornton’s 75-yard run, the fifth longest run from scrimmage in Steelers history. The play called for Webster to block the middle linebacker, but Thornton went the other way, so Webster went looking for someone else to level. He found somebody – strong safety Bruce Laird – near the right sideline and took him out of Thornton’s way.

While he enjoyed the extra attention last Sunday, he said, “It was just one block, but it was the kind that sticks out. Everybody else sees it. Too bad it wasn’t on Monday Night Football. But it was no big deal. I just fell into it. Sidney made a great cut  and helped me.”

Guard Moon Mullins, who missed the second game of the season, has been scratched from the lineup for the Eagles game. Earlier he had an injured elbow. Now he has a hamstring pull, the same injury which will keep Lynn Swann and Jim Smith, and most likely, Ron Johnson out of tomorrow’s game.

So Steve Courson and Sam Davis, who’ve both had their shares of hurts, will flank Webster.

“Steve wasn’t feeling to well last week and his knees were bothering him,” Webster said. “We were trying to let Thom Dornbrook play, but when Moon pulled a hamstring early in the game, Courson had to stay. We had no choice. But Sam is getting better and everybody is getting better. I’m getting used to having different guys on the offensive line.”

This may be one of the reasons the running game has not been up to Steeler standards. Webster admits as much.

“It’s frustrating,” he said, “especially early in the game when you don’t do that well. Things take awhile to develop. We’re learned in the last four games to be patient. Our defenses enable us to do it. The defense keeps us close in every game. Good things have happened to us in the end.”

1979 Game 5: The (4-0) Pittsburgh Steelers at the (3-1) Philadelphia Eagles

Hoping to increase their record of twelve wins on the bounce, the Steelers continued their 1979 performances of struggling for three quarters before attempting to escape with a win in the final period. The game plan failed when the Steelers moved the ball three times inside the Philadelphia’s 15-yard line in the last fifteen minutes but could only manage to score seven points.

Defenses controlled the early exchanges and gave the Steelers the first opportunity in the second quarter when Jack Ham intercepted a Ron Jaworski pass and returned it to the Eagles 47. In the melee that followed the turnover, Larry Brown was ejected for punching Claude Humphrey.

Sidney Thornton began the Steelers possession with a run of 15 yards and completed it with a 7-yd touchdown run to give Pittsburgh the lead.

Philadelphia replied on their next series when they moved the chains 80 yards and finished on a third down from the one with a touchdown from Leroy Harris.

As the game entered the third quarter tied 7-7, the Eagles began to take control. Philadelphia’s Tony Franklin edged the Eagles in front with a 48-yard field goal. The Steelers began to hand the initiative to their opponents with four turnovers in their next four possessions. Thornton fumbled, Terry Bradshaw threw two interceptions and Franco Harris fumbled.

The Eagles seized on one of the Bradshaw interceptions which they returned to the Steelers 2-yard line. Wilbert Montgomery burst through on second down for a 1-yard touchdown to extend Philadelphia’s lead to 17-7.

Albert M Herrimann Jr photo of Harris fumble
Pittsburgh Press photo of Franco Harris fumble by Albert M Herrimann Jr

As the Steelers fought to close the gap in the final quarter, Harris fumbled on the one-yard line at the end of a drive that would have been the catalyst for a Pittsburgh fight back.

After the misfortune, the Steelers then found their passing game. Bradshaw found John Stallworth for 19 yards, Rocky Bleier for 11 yards and then Stallworth again for 20 yards. His 37-yard pass into the end zone was acrobatically caught over the shoulder by Stallworth and the Steelers fight back had begun, but with just 1:12 remaining.

The Steelers attempted an onside kick to keep possession and keep the momentum going. They thought they had succeeded when Matt Bahr recovered, but the officials ruled illegal touching and the comeback kings saw that crown slip.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 14 at the Philadelphia Eagles 17      
Veterans Stadium September 30, 1979; 70,352

Passing: Bradshaw 12-26-1TD-2INT-176
Jaworski 11-20-0TD-2INT-158

Rushing: Thornton 16-88-1TD, Harris 11-44, Bleier 1-1, Hawthorne 1-6

Receiving: Stallworth 5-102-1TD, Cunningham 1-19, Bell 2-30, Grossman 2-9, Bleier 2-16

“For whatever reason,” offered Coach Noll, we’re not at the top of our game.” On the onside kick, Noll said, “It was a lousy call. They blew it. The kick (the way Matt Bahr hovered over it for it to go 10 yards) surprised the Eagles and it surprised the officials. There were too many surprises.”

Terry Bradshaw who threw two interceptions acknowledged, “It was one of my annual disaster games that I have two or three times a year. I’m good at it.”

On his fumble Franco Harris suggested, “I think I could have been in, but I fumbled the ball. I don’t really know how I lost it, but there’s no excuse for that. It was a big play and it cost us.”

“I think our secondary did a helluva job,” said Eagles defensive end Claude Humphrey. “We weren’t getting that much pressure on Bradshaw. We were more concerned about keeping him in the pocket. We didn’t want him running out of there and throwing those 60-yard touchdown passes. He’s dangerous when he’s running around out there.”

On the Steelers? “They’re just another football team,” Humphrey concluded .

With their defeat the Steelers failed to extend their record of twelve straight wins.

AFC Central
Houston 31 Cleveland 10
Dallas 38 Cincinnati 13

Pittsburgh 4-1
Cleveland 4-1
Houston 4-1
Cincinnati 0-5

Afew days later, the NFL issued a statement that the officials were right to rule that Matt Bahr touched his onside kick. "Art McNally (director of officials) feels the NFL Films' footage claerly shows that Bahr touched the ball before it went ten yards and the call was correct."

The Blue Collar Bowl

The Turnpike Rivalry would be renewed when the Steelers travel to Cleveland for their next game. When asked what his first thoughts were when he played in Cleveland, Terry Bradshaw replied, “Cold, damp days.”

Strange things happen to the Steelers in Cleveland. The Browns’ Turkey Jones almost broke Bradshaw’s neck in 1976 when spiking him to the ground. Mike Wagner did break his neck there in 1977, Joe Greene was ejected in 1975 and Jack Lambert was thrown out in 1978.

“It’s not my favourite place,” admitted Bradshaw. “It’s a tough crowd and a lousy field.”

With both teams on 4-1 along with the Houston Oilers who were favoured to win their game against St. Louis, the loser would slip into third place in the division. Although the Steelers are favoured to leave Cleveland with a win, Bradshaw was cautious.

“We’ve been coasting,” Bradshaw told the Pittsburgh Press. “It’s about time we got our offense in high gear. We haven’t been blending and mixing it right. We’ve got to get hot.”

Bennie Cunningham was expected to play a big part. The Steelers veteran tight end appears to have put his knee injury behind him and was flourishing. His 5 catches for 72 yards and a touchdown in St. Louis had confirm it.

“St. Louis had a lot to do with how I feel now,” acknowledged Cunningham. “I’ve got my knee and confidence back. I caught five passes there and took some good licks. I’m still trying to get every yard I can. I knock a few tacklers off and sometimes they knock each other off.

With each pass I catch and run with I’m that much more confident. I feel it more and more.”

With the absence of Lynn Swann due to injury, it was a bonus for the Steelers to have Cunningham back and contributing. “Lynn plays a big part in our offense,” said Cunningham. “He makes their defense key on him. But I feel we can overcome it.

The biggest thing hurting us now is injuries. But we have to get over those injuries. Everyone else has to raise the level of their play, that’s all. We’re not looking for excuses,  just victories.”

The Browns quarterback Brian Sipe was keen to face the Steelers, “I’m anxious to play the Steelers because I think it is our time. I think it is our year.”       

Jack Lambert had visited Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium as a fan when he was younger. “They were my team,” relates Lambert, “but I haven’t been real popular there. I got in a fight last year and got thrown out of the game. I had some things to say to them because of the way their offensive line plays and the way their guys hold.

I get fired up when I play them. Until we play them, they always look great. They start off well and it all comes down to a game with us. We beat them and they end up 8-8.”

After the Steelers defeat in Philadelphia, most of the Steelers were saying that maybe they learned something from the loss that would help them in the future.

Lambert was the lone dissenter. “I don’t know if any good comes from losing,” he revealed. “We’d have been up for Cleveland anyhow, but this just makes it that much more important.”

Pittsburgh Press photo
Terry Bradshaw upended by Turkey Jones in Cleveland 1976

1979 Game 6: The (4-1) Pittsburgh Steelers at the (4-1) Cleveland Browns

Two of the three teams at the top of their division fought out a high scoring battle in the mud of Cleveland Stadium. Playing on grass for the first time since the season opened, the Steelers found their feet to give notice they were back in business as Franco Harris gained 153 yards on the ground.

The first play from scrimmage set the tone for the opening fifteen minutes of football as the Steelers rolled over the Browns. Sidney Thornton ran 24 yards to start a drive that finished with Bennie Cunningham’s 7-yard touchdown catch.

On their next possession, Terry Bradshaw began with a 37-yard pass to John Stallworth and followed it with a 11-yard pass to Thornton who ended the drive with a touchdown completion of 10 yards.

After the Browns missed a 23-yard field goal attempt, the Steelers took over on their own 20. On a third and one, Franco Harris burst right off tackle and his run of 71 yards for a score extended the Steelers lead to 21 points after Matt Bahr’s conversion.

Franco Harris 2nd touchdown run Albert M Herrmann Jr
Franco Harris on his way for his second touchdown

With the game entering the second quarter for the ensuing kickoff, Browns rookie Dino Hall fumble to gift the Steelers the ball on the 12. After a loss of two yards, Jim Smith caught a 14-yard touchdown pass before Bahr missed the conversion as the Steelers stretched their lead to 27 points.

The Browns missed another opportunity to reduce the deficit when fullback Mike Pruitt let a touchdown pass slip through his fingers only to see saw Donnie Shell pluck it out of the air for an interception. Cleveland eventually got on the scoreboard when Brian Sipe found Reggie Rucker with a 32-yard touchdown pass.

Pittsburgh Press photo of Rocky Bleier's touchdown runIn front of their home crowd and desperately needing to close a twenty-point gap, the Browns gambled on a fourth and seven. Lined up in punt formation, punter Johnny Evans took to the air and found Ricky Feacher for 14 yards and a first down. Four plays later, Sipe found Ozzie Newsome with an 18-yard touchdown pass.

With less than two minutes remaining in the half, Bradshaw guided the Steelers in position for Bahr to kick a 42-yard field goal. After an explosive 30 minutes that saw 44 points scored, the players and fans needed a break to catch their breath.

In the third quarter, the teams exchanged scores. Harris ran over right guard for 25 yards for a touchdown. Playing catchup, Sipe was forced to go to the air and passed on six of seven plays moving the chains to the Steelers 14 before his touchdown pass to Calvin Hill finished the drive.

The Steelers increased their advantage at the beginning of the final quarter when Rocky Bleier (picture left) broke a third and one for 70 yards and went all the way for the touchdown.

On Pittsburgh’s next possession, Greg Hawthorne fumbled to present the Browns with the ball on the Steelers 30. Sipe took one play to find Dave Logan in the end zone.

Sixteen points behind, the Browns needed to be bold and attacked with an onside kick that they recovered. Sipes again took to the air using Logan as the target. A one-handed 13-yard touchdown catch by Logan followed completions of 24 and 18 yards. The Browns were on fire with six minutes remaining and the Dawg Pound baying for blood. It needed a cool head to put out the flames.

It required Bradshaw to take command and that he certainly did. He converted three third downs to keep the chains moving. He handed off to Harris, who ran seven yards on a third and six, passed 16 yards to Stallworth on third and seven and passed for 15 to Cunningham on third and four.

Bradshaw moved the offense from the six-yard line into the Browns end zone. A 15-play, eight-minute drive finished with Thornton’s 1-yard touchdown run to give the Steelers a 51-35 victory and send Browns fans home.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 51 at the Cleveland Browns 35         
Municipal Stadium October 7, 1979; 81,260

Passing: Bradshaw 12-21-3TD-0INT-161
Sipe 22-41-5TD-3INT-351

Rushing: Harris 19-153-2TD, Thornton 18-98-1TD, Bleier 4-81-1TD, Hawthorne 4-29

Receiving: Stallworth 4-96, Cunningham 4-29-1TD, Jim Smith 2-17-1TD, Thornton 1-10-1TD, Bleier 1-9,

The Steelers set a team record with 361 yards rushing with Coach Noll noting, “This is the best we’ve run the ball in a long time.”

Brian Sipe tied a Browns record with 5 touchdowns. The Browns also set records with nine kickoff returns and 172 yards of kickoff returns by Dino Hall. On his fumbled kick catch, Hall acknowledged, “I’ve never misjudged a ball like that. It hit me in the facemask and bounced off. I’ve got to get better. I can’t let that happen again.”

“Welcome to the AFL,” joked Coach Noll who had been an assistant coach with the San Diego Chargers at the beginning of the sixties when high scoring games were commonplace.

Browns coach Sam Rutigliano quipped, “We won the toss, didn’t we? If you had told me we would have scored 35 points against Pittsburgh, I would have bet the ranch that we’d come out a winner.”

On the final drive, Terry Bradshaw said, “I was just hoping and praying we could pull it off. It’s the drive we needed to make. It’s the kind of drive a championship team has to make if it’s going to make the playoffs.”

“I really believe Pittsburgh is the class of the NFL,” offered Browns quarterback Brian Sipe. “They have so many ways to beat you. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t beatable. They can be beaten just like anybody else. We fell short this time, but we won’t the next time.”

AFC Central
St. Louis 24 Houston 17
Kansas 10 Cincinnati 7

Pittsburgh 5-1
Cleveland 4-2
Houston 4-2
Cincinnati 0-6

Elsewhere in the NFL

Ex-Steeler Roy Gerela helped his new team the San Diego Chargers to a 7-0 loss against the Broncos. Gerela missed four field goal attempts including two from 23 yards.

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