The 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers Regular Season part II


The Chargers coach Tommy Prothro had been watching film of the Steelers in preparation for their matchup in Pittsburgh. “The last two weeks they’ve looked just like they did last year,” offered Prothro and he would know how good they were as his team were beaten 37-0 in last year’s season opener.

“All teams to play near their best have to be a little desperate,” Prothro acknowledged. “It just took the Steelers a while to get desperate.”

With the development of quarterback Dan Fouts and aided by offensive assistant coach Bill Walsh and ex-Bengals wide receiver Charlie Joiner, the Chargers had improved from their 2-12 record of 1975. The running of Rickey Young has also added an extra dimension to the Chargers offense.

Prothro won a Rose Bowl at UCLA with a successful onside kick in the first half, so the Steelers would have to watch out for trick plays.

Steelers were favoured by 10.

1976 week 8: The Pittsburgh Steelers (3-4) vs the San Diego Chargers (4-3)

Mike Kruczek started the game as Coach Noll wanted to ease Terry Bradshaw back in. The Steelers offense stumbled through three quarters despite the introduction of Bradshaw at the end of the second period.

Larry Brown recovered a San Diego fumbled punt attempt midway through the second quarter, enabling Roy Gerela to kick a 36-yard field goal that was the only score in fifty minutes of football.

It took a trick play to pull the Steelers and the game out of its lethargy.

Frank Lewis media photoLooking like a sandlot version of a flea-flicker, Frank Lewis (picture left) ran to his right on a reverse and was looking either to continue the run or pass to Ernie Pough. As Pough was covered and with the Chargers defense converging, Lewis spotted Bradshaw waving his arms so shot the ball laterally to his quarterback. Bradshaw ran a few yards and then fired it downfield to Randy Grossman who made a diving catch for a 19-yard gain.

That completion set the Steelers up on the Chargers 9 and two plays later, Bradshaw took the ball in from the one to inject some sparkle into the game and give Pittsburgh a 10-0 lead.

Five minutes later, the Steelers increased their lead when Bradshaw threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Pough that completed a drive of 64 yards.

The Chargers brought on Neal Jeffrey at quarterback and his misdirected lateral was scooped up by John Banaszak who ran the 27 yards to the end zone. The touchdown was called back as the defense is not allowed to advance the ball, but Frenchy Fuqua took it over on third down with a 3-yard run to complete the scoring while Gerela missed the extra point.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 23 vs the San Diego Chargers 0
Three Rivers Stadium October 31st 1976; 45,484

Passing: Kruczek 2-6-20-0-0; Bradshaw 9-19-104-1TD-1INT
Fouts 11-26-97-0TD-1INT

Rushing: Harrison 13-108, Bleier 17-69, Kruczek 4-17, Harris 11-32, Deloplaine 3-17, Fuqua 3-11-1TD, Bradshaw 1-1-1TD

Receiving: Pough 3-29-1TD, Grossman 2-29, Lewis 1-15, Harrison 2-19, Bleier 2-21, Harris 1-11

The Steelers trick play was put in the game plan because Coach Noll thought the Chargers didn’t penetrate well and “that gives you time to horse around.”

“Chuck’s such a basic football teacher, I can’t see how he’d be doing things like that,” observed L.C. Greenwood. “I didn’t think it would work. I didn’t even see it.” Shaking his head, Greenwood added, “I didn’t think Chuck would try it. I guess he fooled me too.”

“Until that play,” said the Chargers Coach Prothro, ”we were in the ball game. Could we have won it? I don’t know. But when it’s three points, anything can happen.”

Bradshaw admitted that he was scared about returning from injury, adding, “I didn’t realise how nervous I was. Chuck sensed it too.”

“The defense against the run was extra special,” commented Noll on the low 44 yards they gave up.

AFC Central
Cleveland 6 Cincinnati 21
Houston 14 Baltimore Colts 38

Cincinnati 6-2
Houston 4-4
Pittsburgh 4-4
Cleveland 4-4


Jack Ham media photoWoody Widenhofer, the Steelers linebacker coach, had a lot of respect for Jack Ham who played against San Diego with an ear infection and a groin injury.  “I was watching him because I was worried,” said Widenhofer, “but it didn’t seem to bother him.”

Despite his challenges, Ham made five tackles and had a pair of sacks. Just another day at the office for the reserved linebacker.

Ham’s modest style is in contrast to the emotional play of his teammate Jack Lambert who appears to play the game in a controlled frenzy, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette observed.

Widenhofer regarded the pair as very much alike despite their contrasting styles. “I’ll tell you one thing; Ham keeps it inside, but they have the same attitude and the same intensity,” he offered. “They’re very much alike. It’s just that Lambert lets it all hang out. But they’re both very competitive and they want to win bad.”

Widenhofer insists that Ham, like Lambert, is having the best season of his career. “You might notice a missed tackle more when we are losing, but they are both playing better this year than last year. It’s gotten to the point where they don’t even test Ham. He’s not even challenged.”

After a lacklustre start to their season, the Steelers have put together back-to-back shutouts and have not conceded a touchdown in 13 quarters. “People mention shutouts to me, but all we care about is winning,” said Ham. “We’ve gotten to the point where we can’t lose a game,” he added, a reference to their playoff hopes.

On the team’s improved performance, Ham observed, “We are not making as many mistakes. It’s hard to pinpoint why, but we were making mental mistakes and we pride ourselves on not making mistakes. But we weren’t playing that poorly at the start. We weren’t just making the big plays. But that didn’t mean we were playing bad football.

We’re playing well, but we’re not where we want to be. We’re going in the right direction, but we’re not there yet.”


Last season’s Steelers defensive player of the year Mel Blount worked for fellow Georgian, President-elect Jimmy Carter, during the election. “It was such an important election and we now know for a fact that the people of this country have enough foresight to see through the Republicans.

As a youngster in Georgia, Blount found some refuge on his father’s farm, but the treatment of blacks in the Deep South wasn’t something he missed. “I look back to when I was a kid and the doors were closed for a lot of opportunities for blacks,” he said. “You weren’t even able to go to a certain place, do certain things, go to a good restaurant. Jimmy Carter brought industry to Georgia too. He put blacks in political positions, cut down on expenditures.

I’m not saying Jimmy Carter is going to solve all our problems, but I think he’ll take the country in the right direction.”

1976 Game 9: The Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4) at the Kansas City Chiefs (3-5)

Jack Deloplaine media photoWhile the Steelers defense shut the door on the Chiefs, the Steelers offense began slowly before reaching a crescendo in the third period.

After Jack Lambert recovered a Chiefs fumble, Reggie Harrison’s 4-yard touchdown opened the scoring in with just 1:27 left in the first period. L.C. Greenwood blocked a 27-yard field goal attempt by Kansas in the second quarter while just before half time, Roy Gerela added a 28-yard field goal.

Midway through the third quarter, Mike Wagner’s interception in the end zone, not only prevented a Chiefs score, but it also sparked the Steelers into life. Bradshaw’s 50-yard completion to Ernie Pough enabled the Steelers drive to finish with a 25-yard touchdown run from Franco Harris.

Before time expired in the third period, Harris added another touchdown with a 5-yard run and Frank Lewis pulled in a 19-yard touchdown from Bradshaw.

Jack Deloplaine (picture right) added two touchdowns in the final period from 15 and then 7 yards as the Steelers reached complete domination on achieving their third straight shutout.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 45 at the Kansas City Chiefs 0
Arrowhead Stadium November 7th 1976; 71,516

Passing: Bradshaw 7-15-132-1TD-1INT, Kruczek 1-2-20-0-0
Livingston 11-25-198-0TD-4INT, Nott 4-10-46-0TD-0INT

Rushing: Harris 23-117-2TD, Bleier 15-102, Deloplaine 6-64-2TD, Fuqua 4-23, Harrison 6-24-1TD

Receiving: Pough 3-98, Cunningham 1-20, Lewis 1-19, Bleier 1-5, Fuqua 1-4, Brown 1-6

The Steelers five rushing touchdowns set a team record.

Going into the game, the Chiefs were number 2 in the AFC in total offense, but were held to 34 yards rushing, a regular season low under Coach Noll while they intercepted four passes, recovered two fumble and collected two sacks.

In the Chiefs’ worst ever defeat, the Steelers set a record of 13 quarters without allowing a score. The most points under Noll and not since 1952 when they beat the Giants 63-7 have they enjoyed such domination over their opponents.

The Steelers 330 yards rushing were the most since Noll took over and just 26 shy of the team’s all-time record of 356 set against the New York Bulldogs in 1946.

Ernie Holmes enthused, “Each time I’d get in on a play, I’d get the adrenaline pumping. I was overwhelmed with the idea of how we were handling the situation. It was fantastic.”

A stunned Chiefs Coach Paul Wiggins said, “I don’t think I’ll ever forget this game. There have been a lot of bad defeats in my career. I remembered getting clobbered in college. And I’ll remember this one. It’s a black mark.”

Chief’s guard Ed Budde observed, “They play pretty good football for a team that’s only 5-4. How much you want to get they end up 10-4?”

AFC Central
Cleveland 21 Houston 7
Cincinnati 20 Los Angeles Rams 12


With Cincinnati maintaining their momentum at the head of the division, the Steelers were hoping that Oakland would help their position in the AFC Central by beating the Bengals.

“I don’t think Oakland will beat Cincinnati,” offered Ernie Holmes. “I don’t think they want the challenge of our team. We’ve knocked them out of the playoffs three times. We’d pose a big threat in their eyes.”

Steve Furness added, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Oakland lost to Cincinnati so they won’t have to play us again.”

With five games left, the odds are stacked against the Steelers making the playoffs. “We could be in the same position Houston was last year,” commented L.C. Greenwood. “They won 10 games and didn’t get in. It’s a bad position we’re in, but if we had played like we could have or should have at the start of the season, it could have been different. But, that’s just another if.”

Adding realism to his teammates’ projections, Greenwood added, “We just have to win every week and what happens, happens.”

“I just feel Cincinnati is going to lose again before they play us,” Dwight White insisted. Why does he feel that way? “Because I want to feel that way,” he added with a grin.


Greg Blankenship media photoFree agent Greg Blankenship (picture left) was picked up by the Steelers after offensive tackle Gordon Gravelle was ruled out for the season with a chipped bone in his arm. Although Blankenship is a linebacker, he was chosen for his work on special teams.

Blankenship came out of California State, Hayward; a school that had never produce a pro football player and, unsurprisingly he wasn’t drafted or picked up as a free agent. He made it to the Raiders via his school’s track coach who was a friend of Oakland’s linebackers coach. After a try out, the Raiders signed him but during preseason he was waived and resigned several times.

Blankenship left his mark on the Steeler in the season opener in Oakland when the Raiders came from behind to take the win. It was Donnie Shell’s penalty at the end of the game for an alleged clip on Blankenship that turned the Steelers good field position into a bad one on the ensuing kickoff return and possibly contributed to the loss.

After four games for the Raiders, Blankenship was waived so he went back to school to pick up some more credits and to start job hunting. After Gravelle hurt his arm, the Steelers decided it was too late to bring in a lineman to teach him the system, so they moved Larry Brown into the reserve tackle position deciding to pick up a special teams player.

Blankenship had caught the Steelers eye, so the team scout Tim Rooney contacted him and three hours later he was on a plane to Pittsburgh. Because of what occurred after that Raiders game when Coach Noll highlighted what he perceived as their criminal element, the announcement of the signing caused one Pittsburgh reporter to crack that he could be classified as one of the criminals. “We’re going to rehabilitate him,” joked Artie Rooney.

After playing for the first time for the Steelers in their 45-0 win over Kansas, Coach Noll observed, “He did well for a guy who hadn’t been in contact for a while.” Explaining why the Steelers picked him up, “We had seen him on the films when we were preparing for Oakland.”


The Steelers have never beaten their next opponents the Dolphins and after the 1972 Immaculate Reception playoff victory, it was the unbeaten Dolphins that prevented the Steelers from progressing to the Super Bowl.  Miami won that and also the following year’s Super Bowl under the guidance of the coach who is considered to be the best in the game, Don Shula.

As the only coach to win 100 games in his first 10 seasons, the accolades that go his way and not undeserved. Shula’s wagon was rolling until the World Football League put a bump in the road and some of the best players fell off.

“Nothing was the same after that,” offered Shula. “It hit us more than other people because we were the attractive team at the time,” he added. 1974 was a year of turmoil for the Dolphins as they never knew which players were going jump ship. Shula managed to steer the Dolphins to an 11-3 season, but the team lost a 26-28 heartbreaker in the final minutes to Oakland that stopped them from going to a third straight Super Bowl.

The Dolphins ’76 season has seen them hit with nine knee operations causing Shula to describe it as a nightmare. “I’ve never been a guy to make excuses,” said Shula. “Some things you can’t control. It’s frustrating because we are playing with guys who weren’t in training camp. But a lot of good things have happened to me. It all evens out.”

At one point, their linebacker corps was almost wiped out and the team has lost a wide receiver in each of the last two weeks. The Dolphins are now down to just 13 starters with Super Bowl experience, but have rallied from a 2-4 start to have won their last three.

Pittsburgh are favoured by 11 points.

1976 Game 10: The Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4) vs the Miami Dolphins (5-4)

In a brutal defensive battle, the Super Bowl winners from the previous four years, gave the football fans in Three Rivers Stadium a display of defensive prowess.

Terry Bradshaw was injured in the first period. He took a hit from Miami’s Don Reese as he fired a pass. Mike Kruczek came on in relief again and in the second quarter led the Steelers on a 10-play drive of 86 yards that finished with a 21-yard touchdown run by Franco Harris.

Harris and Rocky Bleier rushed for 110 yards each tying an NFL record as the offensive line opened holes, but Pittsburgh still found it difficult to penetrate their opponents red zone.

In the third quarter, Miami kicked a 45-yard field goal that reduced the Steelers lead to 7-3 and snapped their shutout streak. The Steelers five sacks shored up their defense as neither team appeared to wane.

In the final period, on a third down with seven to go, Frank Lewis hauled in a 64-yard completion that took the Steelers to the Dolphins’ two to finally break Miami’s heart. Reggie Harrison drove it in from the one to complete Pittsburgh’s 14-3 win.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 14 vs the Miami Dolphins 3
Three Rivers Stadium November 14th 1976; 48,945

Passing: Bradshaw 0-2-0-0TD-0INT, Kruczek 4-6-102-0-0
Griese 9-21-144-0TD-0INT

Rushing: Harris 22-110-1TD, Bleier 20-110, Bradshaw 3-37, Harrison 1-1-1TD

Receiving: Lewis 2-75,Swann 1-20, Harris 1-26

Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier media photo

“When it was all over, Nick Buoniconti (Dolphins linebacker) came up to me and said, ‘you were the difference,’” Bleier commented. “It was a nice compliment. I guess he meant they didn’t expect the halfback to gain so many yards.”

“I felt we were in control the whole way,” observed Mike Webster on the excellent production from the offensive line. “It was just like the 1974 playoff game in Oakland. We hadn’t scored much, but it was just a matter of time.”

“Kruczek did what he’s been doing all year,” said Lewis. “He came in there and kept his poise and put it on the money. Like a quarterback should.”

AFC Central
Philadelphia 3 Cleveland 24
Houston 27 Cincinnati 31


After their streak of three straight shutouts was broken by the Dolphins, the question was being asked in Pittsburgh how could a defense give up 75 points in its first three games, but only concede just nine in its next five?

With four games remaining, the Steelers were second in the AFC for total defense and first in rushing defense. Andy Russell believed the defense was playing poorly when they were losing games. “I’ve never played defense when the coaches were so consistently putting you in the right places,” Russell offered. “If you end up in the wrong defense, you can be in a lost situation when you line up.

It’s a very complicated game, but we’ve been some different technical things that have been very effective. The coaches have been doing a phenomenal job.”

Early in the season, Mike Wagner suggested to the coaches that opponents had solved some of the subtleties of their defense and that could have encouraged the coaches to revise their system. “We’ve made some changes,” defensive coordinator Bud Carson confirmed.

“We’re just not having to face many short yardage plays like third and one,” he added. Carson believes that forcing the other team to pass when the Steelers are looking for the pass is part of their success.  The Steelers are not letting opponents run on them and that allows the Steelers to control the tempo of the game.

Jack Lambert summed it up in a sentence, “We’re just not making many mistakes and we’re making the big plays.”


After week five when the Cincinnati and Houston were both 4-1, most of the Oilers were rooting for the Steelers to beat the Bengals figuring if they then beat San Diego on the same day, they would move top. Houston assistant coach Richie Petitbon warned the players they might be pulling for the wrong team. “The king is still alive,” he warned. “You’ve got to bury the king first. That’s the important thing,” referring to the Steelers.

The king stayed alive by beating the Bengals, but the Oilers lost and both teams then headed in different directions. The only question left now for Houston is whether they wreck the Steelers playoffs hopes. With the next game at Three Rivers and a return matchup in the Astrodome for the season finale, Houston could control the Steelers destination.

1976 Game 11: The Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) vs the Houston Oilers (4-6)

In the snow flurries, except for their first drive the Steelers were not as dominant as they had been in previous games. The Steelers began by going 56 yards in eight plays and finishing with Rocky Bleier’s 10-yard touchdown run to take a lead they never relinquished.

Mike Kruczek threw an interception that stopped the Steelers next drive. Roy Gerela then added a 37-yard field goal to give Pittsburgh a 10-0 advantage although he also missed one from 36 yards.

The Oilers backup punter Skip Butler had an awful game averaging 27.7 yards with the punts that he got off, but the Steelers failed to make the most of the excellent field position he gave them. At the beginning of the second quarter, Loren Toews did block a punt that resulted in a safety.

Pittsburgh Press photo
Loren Toews in action blocking the punt.

Oilers John Hadl then burnt the Steelers with a 69-yard pass to Ken Burrough to break Pittsburgh’s streak of 23 quarters without giving up a touchdown as Houston reduced their deficit before the teams exchanged field goals that made it 15-10 to at halftime.

When Butler fumbled a snap in the third quarter, Jack Lambert snapped it up to set a Steelers record of six fumble recoveries on the season and the Steelers began to make progress. It took just three plays for Reggie Harrison, playing for the injured Franco Harris, to score the touchdown with a 1-yard run.

Despite their lead, the Steelers began to suffer discipline problems. Dwight Stone was penalised for roughing the passer and he argued with the official as he thought it was a cheap flag. Later, the official threatened to throw out Toews after he rushed the passer and there were other skirmishes between opposing players as the game became a bad tempered affair with Coach Noll also getting involved verbally with the officials.

Gerela added an 18-yard field goal before the game entered the final period. Harrison added another 1-yard touchdown and Houston completed the scoring with a field goal that gave the Steelers a 32-16 victory.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 32 vs the Houston Oilers 16
Three Rivers Stadium November 21st 1976; 47,947

Passing: Kruczek 8-13-132-0TD-1INT
Hadl 9-20-134-2TD-2INT

Rushing: Bleier 19-66-1TD, Harrison 15-44-2TD, Harris 10-37, Pough 1-6, Swann 1-2, Deloplaine 2-(-12)

Receiving: Brown 3-58, Bleier 3-56, Swann 1-14, Harris 1-4

AFC Central
Cleveland 24 Tampa Bay 7
Cincinnati 27 Kansas 24

Cincinnati 9-2
Pittsburgh 7-4
Cleveland 7-4
Houston 4-7

After the game, Andy Russell spoke about about their postseason hopes, “Sure we’re apprehensive. We know we’ve got to get help. We could find ourselves on the sofa watching the playoffs on TV and thinking we’re the best team. It’s a horrible situation.”


Rejecting the idea of focusing on defending the pass when they play the Bengals next, at his weekly press conference Coach Noll said, “Cincinnati can do both, run and pass. When they chose to run against Cleveland, they ran the ball well. They ran it well against Kansas City Sunday.”

Rocky Bleier media photoThere was still some doubt over Terry Bradshaw taking part in the important game, so Noll’s reflections on Mike Kruczek in the win over the Oilers took on extra importance. “Kruczek had a lot of poise,” he offered. “He was one of those fellows who made things go pretty well. He got sacked a couple of times, but I thought he stood in there and did a good job of finding his receivers.”

But Noll reminded reporters, “Terry’s our quarterback if he’s healthy.”

If Kruczek does start, it will be for the fifth time this season and in such an important game, it is easy to forget he is a rookie. “I’m just inwardly a confident kid,” Kruczek told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette without sounding brash. His first start was at Three Rivers Stadium when the Steelers knocked off the Bengals 23-6.

With Kruczek at the helm, the Steelers have kept their game-plan on the ground. “If I was playing, we’d be throwing a lot more,” observed Bradshaw. “But Mike has the option to audible against the Bengals and throw a few more passes,” Bradshaw added. “You’ve got to put the fear of the pass into teams.”

One reporter wondered what Noll thought of the popular conception of Bleier (picture left), that he’s a hard-nosed workhorse, a tough guy, who unfortunately has not been blessed with a lot of talent. Noll cringed before snapping, “That label didn’t come from us. Rocky’s a running number one back and he runs very well.”

The Steelers are leading the NFL in seven categories. Five on defense – fewest points, yards rushing, touchdowns, touchdowns rushing and percentage of passes completed.  On offense, they lead in yards rushing and touchdowns.


Facing the Steelers and the Raiders in their next two games, Cincinnati quarterback Ken Anderson forecast, “We are going to find out how good a football team we are in the next two week.” Reflecting on the Bengals four straight losses to the Steelers, Anderson was realistic, “It’s not any kind of jinx. It’s just a matter of playing an awfully good team.”

Cincinnati tight end Bob Trumpy didn’t agree. “We’re not afraid of Pittsburgh,” he snapped. “We’re absolutely going to win.” His teammate Bruce Coslet added, “We’re going to beat them.”

Defensive lineman Coy Bacon was quite frank, “The way people talk, we should be scared of Pittsburgh. Somebody in this organisation was saying this week how Pittsburgh is bad. Well, we’re bad. I don’t want to hear how bad Pittsburgh is. We have more talent than anybody in the league.”

Joe Greene offered a perspective from the Steelers, “Cincinnati still scares me. It’s not that I’m in awe of them, but they’ve got my respect.” Greene thought the Steelers recent successes against them will make the Bengals more determined. “They are human,” he added. “That’s got to stick in their craw.”

Anderson was realistic when he said, “It’s going to boil down in a question of which teams make the fewest mistakes,” while Trumpy noted,”You don’t beat the Steelers by stopping their offense. You beat them by beating their defense. You have to intimidate their defense the way it is accustomed to intimidating offenses.”

Greene described the rivalry by saying, “I know one thing for sure. They’re going to be coming after our butts and we’re going to be coming after theirs.”


The prospect of playing the division leaders with the door to the Super Bowl still open if the Steelers win gave Andy Russell added bounce. “I came back to play in games like this,” enthused the 12-year veteran Andy Russell, who had considered retiring in the offseason.

“This is what it’s all about,” Russell added. “I’m really psyched. It’s in the back of every player’s mind that each play can mean the Super Bowl. That’s pressure. It’s just like a playoff game.” Russell, who will be retiring at the end of the season, knows that if the Steelers don’t win this one, his career is over in two games.

1976 Game 12: The Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4) at the Cincinnati Bengals (9-2)

Played in a snow storm, both team struggled to get any offense going as they slipped and skated in the ice rink that was Riverfront Stadium. The conditions inhibited any pretext of exciting football as the Steelers attempted to increase their playoffs chances with a win.

Pittsburgh Press photoAs the first quarter came to an end, Chris Bahr kicked a 40-yard field goal to give the Bengals the lead, but further scoring opportunities were scarce as the teams tried to deal with the conditions.

Eventually, late in the third quarter, the Steelers defense gave their offense when Dwight White’s recovered a Bengals fumble, setting the Steelers up on their opponents 25. Lynn Swann caught a 14-yard pass to move the ball to the 11 before Rocky Bleier gained seven with around right end to set up a Franco Harris touchdown run of four yards.

The snow made kicking conditions difficult, but Roy Gerela kicked the point after to give the Steelers a lead of four points forcing the Bengals to go for a touchdown when they were on offense.

Playing cach up in a blizzard, the Bengals showed why they led the division as Ken Anderson fired a 54-yard bomb from his end zone that Isaac Curtis hauled in. The Steelers ensured that drive stalled, but Anderson hit Curtis again on their next series for a gain of 28 yards, followed by a 19-yard to Chip Myers to advance to the Steelers 24 with 1:29 remaining.

The Steelers defense rose to the occasion preventing Cincinnati from scoring to keep the Steelers playoff hopes alive.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 7 at the Cincinnati Bengals 3
Riverfront Stadium November 28th 1976; 55,142

Passing: Kruczek 10-15-163-0TD-1INT
Anderson 10-26-145-0TD-1INT

Rushing: Bleier 16-97, Harris 26-87-1TD, Kruczek 7-20

Receiving: Swann 5-95, Bleier 2-36, Lewis 2-27, Harris 1-5

AFC Central
Cleveland 17 Miami 13
Houston 23 Atlanta 14

Mike Kruczek won his fifth game for the Steelers controlling the game with his quarterback sneaks. “We worked on it, but not downfield,” Kruczek observed. It was a low-risk play in the bad conditions.

“Pittsburgh is a great football team,” said Bengals coach Bill Johnson. “But today there were two great football teams out there. I’m proud of the way our team played them.


Neil Graff media photo“They haven’t lost since I got here," said Neil Graff. "Maybe I’m the good luck charm." For five of the seven games since he was picked up by the Steelers, Graff was technically backup to Mike Kruczek.

The journeyman quarterback had been with Seattle, Minnesota and started two games for New England, but not taken a snap yet with the Steelers. During practice, Graff has done a lot of standing on the sideline watching Kruczek and Terry Bradshaw do most of the work. “You go over things in your mind, but it’s not like the physical work,” Graff observed.

Reflecting on his arrival in Pittsburgh, Graff added, “They crammed my mind with a lot of things. I had to learn basic things, like which way to turn or what the patterns were. The terminology was different.”

Having experienced the cram sessions, Graff is more aware then anyone that Kruczek’s outstanding performance with five wins from five starts, is nothing short of phenomenal. “I don’t think a lot of people realise how tough it is,” Graff said. “In a way, it’s the same situation as mine. Mike missed a lot of camp because of the College All-Star game.”

Looking ahead to the Steelers next game against Tampa, Graff saw the irony that Terry Hanratty, the quarterback he replaced, is starting for the Buccaneers.


The Steelers need to win their next two games, but also need Cincinnati to drop a game if they are to make the playoffs. With the Bengals travelling to play the Raiders on Monday Night football, there will be a lot of interest in Pittsburgh as to the outcome of the game.

The Steeler players were split on which team would triumph. “It’s a tossup with Oakland doing the tossing,” Dwight Wight said. “Losing ain’t a good habit to get into. Oakland wants to stay sharp. It’s a question of eat or be eaten.”

“I think Cincinnati is the better club,” said Jim Clack. “Oakland has had a lot of injuries to its defensive linemen. You need a good pass rush or Ken Anderson can pick you apart.”

Andy Russell said he wouldn’t be surprised if either team won by a big score, but adding, “I’ve got to go with Cincinnati. Cincinnati is number one in defense, its offense is almost as explosive as Oakland’s and it plays in a far tougher division.”

Rocky Bleier thought it depended on how Oakland wanted to play. “If both teams have equal motivation, I’d give Oakland the edge,” he added. “They’re more physical and they have the calibre of people to make the adjustments necessary to stop all of Cincinnati’s formations.”

Jon Kolb was apprehensive, simply keeping his mind on the Steelers final two games. “The worst thing I can think of would be Oakland to win and for us to lose one of our final two,” Kolb said. “Imagine what a calamity that would be.”


“Nobody in their right mind would want to play against us,” reflected Terry Bradshaw on the prospect of Terry Hanratty returning to Pittsburgh with the Buccaneers. Hanratty had been the backup to Steve Spurrier in Tampa before their coach decided to throw him into the deep end against the Steelers.

There was a lot of controversy regarding Coach John McKay’s opinions on his quarterbacks. ”From what I read in the papers, McKays’s been supporting Spurrier all year,” said Bradshaw. “Now, all of a sudden, after bad mouthing Terry, he chunks him in against us when we’re fighting for a division. He deserved a chance way before now. I don’t think it’s a safe thing.”

“I’m sure I’ll run into Jack Lambert here and there,” Hanratty joked. Lambert bore the brunt of many Hanratty pranks in the locker room, including placing cups of water on Lambert’s shoulder pad so that when he took them down from the locker, he received an early shower.

“I’ll be calling a blitz on every play,” Lambert kidded.

1976 Game 13: The Pittsburgh Steelers (8-4) vs the Tampa bay Buccaneers (0-12)

Jack Lambert photo from the Pittsburgh PressAs expected, the Steelers overwhelmed the Buccaneers who were winless in their first season in the NFL. Making his first start for his new team, Terry Hanratty probably wished he had stayed home.

On his first play, Hanratty completed his pass – for a one-yard loss. On his third play, his old teammates Joe Greene and Steve Furness made him feel welcome when they sacked him for a nine-yard loss.

A Buccaneers’ fumble on a punt set the Steelers up for their first score midway through the first quarter. Rocky Bleier’s 7-yard touchdown run gave the Steelers their first touchdown and in the second quarter ran in from the one-yard to add another.

When Tampa fumbled the ensuing kickoff to give the Steelers excellent field position again, Mike Kruczek added the Steelers third touchdown with his one-yard run. The Steelers took a 28-0 half-time lead with Bleier’s third touchdown run, this one from three yards.

Terry Bradshaw replaced Kruczek in the second half and found Lynn Swann with a 35-yard touchdown pass and then his 23-yard touchdown pass to the same player completed the scoring.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 42 vs the Tampa bay Buccaneers 0
Three Rivers Stadium December 5th 1976; 43,385

Passing: Kruczek 6-7-84-0TD-0INT, Bradshaw 6-8-79-2TD-0INT
Hanratty 1-4-(-1)-0TD-1INT, Spurrier 4-10-58-0TD-1INT

Rushing: Bleier 29-118-3TD, Harris 14-55, Harrison 8-29, Lewis 1-8, Pough 1-2,
Fuqua 1-2, Kruczek 1-1, Deloplaine 1-0

Receiving: Swann 5-92-2TD, Bleier 1-15, Brown 2-29, Lewis 1-9, Cunningham 2-15,
Deloplaine 1-3

“I can’t remember anything that went right,” Hanratty observed on a sad performance from the Buccaneers that even included a penalty for an illegal snap.

The 55 yards from Franco Harris meant he joined Jim Brown, Larry Brown and O.J. Simpson to gain 5,000 yards in their first five seasons.


Their old adversaries the Oakland Raiders turned over the Cincinnati Bengals 35-20 to give the Steelers the opportunity to win the division in the final game against the Oilers

Dwight White reminded reporters that he had predicted such a Steelers revival. “I told you right after we started picking it up again that you can put it down in the annals that Pittsburgh was giving the rest of the league a four game spot.”

“It was great entertainment,” said Ray Mansfield. “Johnny Madden’s a hero in Pittsburgh tonight.”

AFC Central
Pittsburgh 9-4
Cincinnati 9-4
Cleveland 9-4
Houston 5-8


At the presentation for the Steelers MVP award, Jack Lambert joked, “I know this will get in the papers, but I want to thank Pine (safety Glen Edwards) for getting out the black vote for me.


As the Steelers prepared for their final must win game of the 1976 season, the news emerged that Oakland safety George Atkinson was suing the Steelers, Chuck Noll and the Oakland Tribune for $3 million for comments made after the week one game about the play when Lynn Swann was injured.

The slander and libel action filed in Alameda County Superior Court, sought one million from each defendant.

After the September 12 game, Coach Noll had commented about “a criminal element” that played “with intent to maim.” The Tribune’s reporter Ed Levitt wrote in an article that “Atkinson could have killed Swann. He could be facing a murder rap.”


With Cincinnati’s defeat in Oakland, the Steelers were more appreciative of the Raiders capability. “They proved one thing to a lot of people,” offered Terry Bradshaw. “They’re not afraid of anybody.”

Joe Greene was even more enthused, “It improves your impression of Oakland. After the greased jerseys, after the deflated footballs, after all the **** made of this lawsuit; they came out and showed a bushel of class. I know it helped us out a helluva lot. It meant our whole season.

But I would have felt the same way even if it didn’t mean they were helping us. And I read it as an invitation. They were saying, ‘Hey Pittsburgh, we want your butt too.’”

“They want us,” said Dwight White. “”They didn’t want to win the whole thing and listen to people saying they copped out against Pittsburgh. But they laid down the gauntlet the way they played against Cincinnati. They called us out.”

“What a war that’d be,” Mike Webster prophesied .


“I wanted Pittsburgh to come down here and have to win,” said Houston Coach Bum Phillips of the Steelers next game. “It can sort of save the season for us,” Phillips continued. “If we beat them, we’ll know we beat them at their dead level best.

If they win, that’s fine. If they can’t beat us and prove they should be in the playoffs, then they don’t deserve it.

It would have been a shame if the Steelers didn’t have a chance to be in the playoffs because, if they’re not the best, they’re as good as any team in the NFL.”

Reflecting on the Steelers run of the eight straight victories the Steelers needed and won, Phillips added, “They had eight in a row where people could have decided it. And they didn’t. It just so happen that it’s come down to this game.”

After viewing films of the Steelers recent games, Phillips thought they looked like bears when they get out of the circus – they scatter everybody.


“The best defensive game I’ve ever seen a man play,” Art Rooney told the Pittsburgh Press. “Joe Greene against Houston in 1972. We won 9-3. I’ve never seen a lineman single handedly dominate a game like that.

“It was a desperate game,” Joe Greene observed. “You did what you had to do. You did what you could do. We were up against it.”

That victory in Houston was followed by a 24-2 win in San Diego to see the Steelers win their first division title in 39 years and meet the Raiders in the first round of the playoffs when the Immaculate Reception cemented its place in Steelers history.

1976 Game 14: The Pittsburgh Steelers (9-4) at the Houston Oilers (5-8)

Making his first start for five weeks Terry Bradshaw struggled in the opening exchanges, enough for Coach Noll to get Mike Kruczek to warm up in preparation to replace him. After a scoreless twenty five minutes the Steelers defense once again sparked the team out of its lethargy forcing a change of mind for Noll.

Joe Greene pressurised Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini into throwing an interception to Mel Blount that gave the Steelers the ball on Houston’s 13 so Noll left Bradshaw in.

After a stumbling play pushed the Steelers back to the 21, Bradshaw threw a pass to Lynn Swann who had run a perfect down and in pattern before grabbing the pass and side stepping the Oilers defenders for the score.

With their quarterback finding it tough going, the Steelers stayed with their ground game. Harris added an11-yard touchdown in the third quarter and Bradshaw took it in from the one in the final period.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 21 at the Houston Oilers 0
Houston Astrodome December 11th 1976; 44,743

Passing: Bradshaw 8-19-76-1TD-1INT
Pastorini 13-29-95-0TD-1INT

Rushing: Bleier 22-107, Harris 23-104-1TD, Bradshaw 4-35-1TD, Harrison 2-3, Fuqua 2-9

Receiving: Swann 2-34-1TD, Bleier 2-28, Harris 2-12, Brown 1-4, Stallworth 1-(-2)

Bradshaw confessed, “Today’s game was like the first preseason game for me. I threw the ball all right, but I had trouble reading defenses. Everything was fuzzy out there.”

Rocky Bleier gained his first 1,000-yard season while Franco Harris made his fourth.

Bleier told reporters he would wine and dine the offensive linemen and their wives for helping him get the thousand yards. “I promised them that,” he said before adding, “It feels very sweet. I’m very happy; a lot of people were pulling for it to happen.”

The Steelers gave up only two touchdowns in their final nine games and for the entire season tied a NFL record conceding 14. The 138 points allowed was the third lowest total for a season.

The Steelers tied a team record for fewest interceptions allowed (12) and set records for the most rushing attempts (653) and rushing yards (2,971).

As division champions, the Steelers would now travel to Baltimore and face the Colts and O.J. Simpson in the playoffs.

Looking towards the postseason, Noll said, “We’ve got a pretty good head of steam.” Referring to the team’s nine straight wins, he added, “We’ve been in the playoffs the last nine weeks. Everybody has that feeling now that you lose one and you’re out. We’ve had it for the past nine weeks. It’s become a way of life for us.”


The Pro Bowl to be played at the Seattle Kingdome will feature eight Steelers.

Franco Harris, LC Greenwood, Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, Glen Edwards and Mike Wagner.

1976 Steelers post season>>>

SteelersUK homepage>>>