The 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers Playoffs


The Colts led their division all season and finished 11-3 which is why they were hosting Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs. “They can beat the Steelers,” ex Steeler Terry Hanratty told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette before adding, “but I don’t think they will.”

“The Colts were my pick all along to win it because of their front four,” continued Hanratty. “They don’t get as much ink as the Steelers do, but they’re as good. The whole key for them defensively is that front four. They’re big, tough guys. Dallas rushes the passer as well, but is susceptible to the run. The Baltimore guys are super talents and the Steelers are going to have to run against them.

Their secondary is vulnerable, but you can’t just sit there and throw. You have to be able to run. We thought we could throw on them last year and we did. We’ll have to do it again this year.”

Hanratty believed that the Baltimore quarterback Bert Jones was crucial to a Colts victory. “He’s a Bradshaw, with a little more speed. “He’ll definitely try to go long to (wide receiver) Roger Carr. And with the Colts it’s not just a hook shot. They’ll go long consistently.”

After Oakland and New England had burned the Steelers with their tight ends, Hanratty also thought Baltimore’s Ray Chester would play a part in their game plan. “They’ll probably try to throw to Chester a lot.”

Hanratty considered Saturday’s game as the Steelers toughest. “New England and Oakland are inferior to the Colts, but I think the Steelers will win,” he concluded.

Jack Ham agreed with Hanratty on Baltimore’s quarterback, “Jones is the key to the whole thing. He’s got that rifle for an arm and he presents a lot of problems because he’s so mobile.”

Reflecting on the nine-game winning streak that propelled the Steelers into the playoffs, Ham added, “Everybody’s even. We just thank our lucky stars we’re in it, that we have somewhere to go this weekend.”

Terry Bradshaw’s record in playoff games was 7-2 while his opponent Jones only had the experience of losing to the Steelers in his only appearance in 1975. Steelers J.T. Thomas knocked Jones out of the game in the first quarter, although he did come back in the final period.

Still suffering with his wrist injury, Bradshaw was expected to run the ball more often than Jones.

The Colts successful season had been driven by Coach Ted Marchibroda, who after resigning returned to his duties when the owner promised to stop interfering. Jones was instrumental in uniting the players as they backed their coach. “The whole thing was a blessing in disguise,” Jones said. “It brought the whole organisation together.”

Tickets for the playoff game went on sale in Pittsburgh for $12.


The Post-Gazette noted that Chuck Noll was exceptional in holding the Steelers together in times of adversity describing the two time Super Bowl winning coach as a builder and a teacher.

When the team had slumped to 1-4 and were preparing to face the division leaders Cincinnati, Noll told his players, “Just go out there and have a lot of fun today. But when each player comes in after the game, he should be able to say to himself that he gave 100 percent. Don’t worry about anybody else. Just know that you’ve given 100 percent.


As with football in the current age, turnovers could win or lose a game in the seventies. With the Steelers heading to Baltimore to play the Colts in the playoffs, veteran sports writer Pat Livingston wrote in the Pittsburgh Press that in a game where mistakes loom as the paramount factor in the outcome, the edge favoured the Colts.

During the regular season, the Colts had fumbled 25 times as opposed as the Steelers 40. The Steelers also led in penalties, 111 as against the Colts 92. The journalist highlighted the third down efficiency of Colts with the Colts also ahead with a 54% conversion rate in contrast to the Steelers 40%.

After evaluating the teams, Livingston still picked the Steelers to progress due to the resolve and intensity they had built over their nine game winning streak although it he felt it wouldn’t be as easy as in previous years.


“We’ve had a championship week as far as practice goes,” Colts Coach Ted Marchibroda told reporters in the lead up to the game. “It’s been the best in my two years here. We’ve had more offense and more hitting and more fight in our practices.”

Marchibroda felt his team was more prepared than they were the previous year when they lost 10-21 to the Steelers and he also felt that home field advantage was a plus factor. The coach believed that the key for the Colts was stopping the Steelers running game.

Baltimore’s quarterback Bert Jones had a realistic attitude to the game believing his team was going to win. “I feel confident that we will play our game. We will score points and our defense will hold them. We have it to both run and throw. I’m both prepared and ready.”

1976 Playoff: The Pittsburgh Steelers (10-4) at the Baltimore Colts (11-3)

On the game’s opening drive, the Steelers tried something different. On a third and eight, John Stallworth came in for tight end Larry Brown, giving the Steelers three wide receivers and two running backs in spread formation.

The Colts double-covered Stallworth leaving safety Jackie Wallace isolated one-on-one with Frank Lewis. The mismatch was confirmed when Lewis streaked past the safety as Terry Bradshaw fired the perfect pass. With Roy Gerela, who was suffering with a gland ailment, missing the extra point, the Steelers took a 6-0 lead with less than two minutes played.

Mike Wagner’s interception on the Colts ensuing drive set Pittsburgh up for a 45-yard field goal. The Colts picked themselves up to march 69 yards for a score to reduce their deficit, but then the Steelers took over.

On the subsequent kickoff, rookie Theo Bell returned the kick 60 yards and six plays later Reggie Harrison carried it over from the one. Despite a Reggie Harrison fumble on the Colts’ two, the Steelers continued to pile on the pressure with Lynn Swann collecting a 29-yard touchdown pass on their next drive.

A Glen Edwards interception set up another field goal kick, this one from 25 yards that saw the Steelers lead 26-7 at halftime.

A scoreless third period was followed by two more Steeler touchdowns. Swann added an 11-yard touchdown catch and Harrison made up for his earlier fumble with a touchdown run of 10 yards. Baltimore split those two scores with a touchdown run of one yard that saw the Steelers win 40-14.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 40 at the Baltimore Colts 14
Memorial Stadium December 19th 1976; 60,020

Pittsburgh Press photo
Franco Harris scything through the Colts defense - photo from the Pittsburgh Press

Passing: Bradshaw 14-18-264-3TD-0INT

Rushing: Harris 18-132, Harrison 10-42-2TD, Fuqua 11-54, Bleier 1-(-1)

Receiving: Lewis 2-102-1TD, Swann 5-77-2TD, Fuqua 2-34, Bell 2-25, Harris 3-24, Harrison 4-37, Stallworth 1-8

The Steelers finished with 526 yards of offense, the highest total under Coach Noll while restricting the highest scoring offense in the NFL to 215 yards.

“It was obvious out there that we’re not yet a Super Bowl team,” offered Marchibroda. “Pittsburgh is.”

“I imagine it was the challenge that motivated us,” said guard Jim Clack. “I know it did me. There’s always something special about playing a great team.”

“The protection was outstanding,” Terry Bradshaw enthused about his offensive line. “526 yards? In a playoff game? That’s phenomenal” he continued. “They said this and that this week. We said very little and did a whole lot.”


The Patriots felt the officials won the other AFC playoff game for the Raiders. “We were cheated out the game,” Patriots defensive end Julius Adams said. “We had them beat and the officials started throwing flags for them and took control of the game away from us.”

Citing five penalties called against New England in Oakland’s winning touchdown drive, Patriots owner Billy Sullivan said, “It’s one thing to get beat; it’s another to get robbed. That’s the worst I’ve ever seen.


“This is the worst defeat I’ve ever played in,” offered Baltimore linebacker Stan White. “I feel thoroughly beaten.”

“I had no inkling it would be like this,” added wide receiver Glenn Doughty. “I thought it would be a dogfight, 21-17 or 17-10, decided by a break. But never a blowout.”

Coach Ted Marchibroda admitted his team was good, but not good enough. “We found out we’re not a Super Bowl team yet. We got beat by a better football team.”

Colts quarterback Bert Jones said he was so disgusted that he would promptly return to his home in Louisiana and hide.


Having strolled passed the Colts the Steelers now headed to Oakland to face their old adversaries the Raiders in the AFC Championship game. Bad blood still existed from the season opener after which Coach Noll accused his opponents of being thugs.

The most vivid infraction from the game was George Atkinson delivering a “karate chop” to the back of Lynn Swann’s helmet. Fifteen weeks later, the animosity from the game still existed through the courts and on the field.

In the other playoff game last weekend when the Raiders beat the Patriots, Atkinson broke the nose of tight end Russ Francis with a blow to the face. Coach Noll was trying to play down the bitterness that prevailed between the two teams, “We’re going to play football. We don’t want to fight George Atkinson.”

Raiders Coach Madden offered, “I think the whole thing has been blown out of proportion. We’ve kind of had to go all year with a cloud of controversy over our head. We probably have to go through it again.”

After the playoffs weekend, Atkinson was asked by an Oakland journalist what he thought of the Steelers victory over the Colts. “The Colts were intimidated,” he replied. “That won’t happen to us. We have a team that can’t be intimidated.”

Ernie Holmes media photoAsked about the Swann incident, Atkinson was curt with his response. “I don’t have anything to say about Swann.”

With the Steelers trying to make history with a third straight appearance in the Super Bowl, Jack Lambert predicted a typical Pittsburgh-Oakland game – a knock-‘em-down, drag-out affair.”

“We’re going to have the intensity of a charging rhino and a herd of tanks,” is how Ernie Holmes (picture left) saw the matchup. “I’m so pumped up about this already, I’m having a hard time low keying it just talking to you,” he told the Pittsburgh Press.

“It’s going to be a game between a super team and one with an offensive line and a couple of defensive backs,” Holmes added. “I’m ****** off with all this **** they’re talking out there. There’s no comparison between them and us.”

In the build up to the game, the major concern for the Steelers was the health of their running backs. Both Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier were listed as questionable with Noll confirming he didn’t know if they would play.


“The anticipation is unreal,” Dwight White said. “I’m ready to play the game, get it all settled. Enough has been said. We’re just hungry. But everybody knows we’re gonna kick their butts.”

Joe Greene announced, “It’s time to get this settled once and for all. The team’s not out here to play dirty football. We’re here to kick their butts.”

“Something IS gonna happen,” Coach Noll commented, “but we’re out here to play football. That’s what I told the squad. This is not a pugilistic situation. The meanest thing we could do to them is beat them.”

Oakland’s Coach John Madden believed it was going to be a physical game, “Every time the Steelers go out, they play physical.”

Coach Noll agreed, “I’m sure it will be physical, especially if all this pregame talk is any indication.”

Franco Harris (bruised ribs), Frenchy Fuqua (pulled muscle) and Rocky Bleier (sprained toe) were all walking wounded and if they participate, it would be limited, but Madden wasn’t haven’t any of it. “They’ll play,” Madden said. “With the Super Bowl at stake, they’ll be healthy.”

Coach Noll was hopeful the Steelers offensive line would aid Harrison to fill the gap with Franco’s absence. “We like to think a big part of our running game is our offensive line,” Noll predicted.


Lynn Swann media photo“They just don’t like Swann,” Al Davis the Raiders managing general offered. “It’s deep. I don’t know where it’s going, but they don’t like him. I don’t know why, but it’s an intense dislike.”

It wasn’t exactly news that hostility towards the Steeler player existed from Jack Tatum and George Atkinson who was in dispute with the team. But Davis suggested that even Skip Davis, who played with Swann at Southern California wasn’t exactly wild about his former teammate.

After suffering physically at the hands of the Raiders in the season opener, Swann singled out Thomas as the only player in the Raiders secondary who wasn’t guilty of foul play, but animosity was there. “Thomas is all fired up,” added Davis. “He just doesn’t like him. I don’t know why. Swann seems like a decent guy.”

If Swann wasn’t too high on the Raiders’ popularity list, Joe Green was even lower. Davis accused Greene of “infantile” remarks after Mean Joe went on record as saying he would play it any way that Atkinson wants to.

“Greene is trying to become the Muhammad Ali of pro football,” said Davis. “I’m sure we’ve got many players who are willing to meet Joe halfway and get it straightened out before the game.

When Greene made those statements, one of our new defensive linemen asked if he could challenge Greene before the game. We’ve got a lot of guys who could handle him. I’m not so sure Tatum couldn’t do it himself.”

Having inflamed the acrimony between the teams, Davis made his final point. “Ask Joe who he wants to fight?”


The banner in the Coliseum read, “Swann Season Opens Today,” suggesting the Championship game would be full of the anticipated aggression that had been building in the lead up to the kickoff.

1976 AFC Championship Game: The Pittsburgh Steelers at the Oakland Raiders

Without Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, the Steelers lacked any ground game and struggled to put their offense together, failing to make a first down until the halfway through the second quarter.

Turnovers were also absent, Jack Lambert just failing to recover an Oakland fumble in the opening exchanges. The Raiders were desperate to put the scourge that was the Steelers behind them and took full advantage of their opponents’ woes.

Oakland took the lead in the first quarter with a 39-field goal after a Bobby Walden punt was blocked. A Terry Bradshaw interception in the second quarter returned 25 yards by Willie Hall gifted the Raiders a further seven points and suddenly the struggling Steelers were 10 points behind.

When Bradshaw eventually found his feet, the Steelers game improved temporarily. He led Pittsburgh on 75-yard drive that Reggie Harrison completed with a touchdown run from three yards with Ray Mansfield kicking the extra point. That was as good as it would get for the besieged Steelers as the Raiders dominated the rest of the game.

With 25 seconds remaining in the half, on a third down Ken Stabler appeared to throw his pass out of bounds, but a late flag for holding on Steelers J.T. Thomas gave Oakland a first down on Pittsburgh’s four. Warren Bankston caught a touchdown pass to give his team a 17-7 halftime lead.

The Steelers’ offense continued to with no first downs on the first two possessions keeping the momentum with Oakland who added another touchdown with a 5-yard catch for Pete Banaszak.

The final period was scoreless enabling the Raiders to go to their second Super Bowl where they would beat the Minnesota Vikings 32-14.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 7 at the Oakland Raiders 24
Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum December 26th 1976; 53,739

Passing: Bradshaw 14-35-176-0TD-1INT
Stabler 10-16-88-2TD-0INT

Rushing: Harrison 11-44-1TD, Fuqua 8-24, Bradshaw 1-4, Cunningham 1-0

Receiving: Swann 3-58, Cunningham 4-36, Brown 1-32, Stallworth 1-18, Lewis 1-11, Fuqua 2-11, Harrison 2-10

Pittsburgh Press photo
Pittsburgh Press photo of Franco Harris wading through the mob of Oakland fans.

Coach Noll said it was his decision not to play Harris or Bleier and then went on to praise his team. “I’ll remember this team as long as I live,” the coach said. “They exemplified everything that’s good in football and it’s really a lousy end for this type of year… this type of team.

The stretch they put on. I can’t say enough about it and to have to end up like today, it tears you apart.”

 “I thought the one thing we needed to do was establish a running game,” commented Bleier, “and that’s awfully tough to do with a one back offense.”

Al Davis implied disbelief that Harris and Bleier didn’t play suggesting, “You can’t wait for a whole team to get well.”

Lynn Swann thought the game was one of the cleanest played between the two teams.

Of the Raiders, Joe Greene said, “They finally found out what it took to win a big one. They met the challenge. They won. No excuses at all. We’re a good team and we got beat by a good team. Somebody’s got to pick up the slack and nobody did.”

Greene confirmed what Coach Noll had said about the 1976 Steelers. “That’s what he told us,” he said. “That he was proud of this team. And he meant it.”


In the aftermath of the Steelers defeat in the AFC Championship game, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggested the line between the best team and the second best is too close. One must also be blessed with good fortune, the right bounces and old fashioned luck.

The Steelers were deprived of a running game with the absence of Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, but on the day the Raiders came up stronger and would meet the Vikings in Pasadena.

With the intense rivalry that existed between the teams, Raiders Coach Madden was going to enjoy the win. “Who ever thought we would be running the clock with a backup quarterback in the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a championship game,” he said. “I waited a while for this one.”


“I think it’s time,” Steelers 35-year old outside linebacker Andy Russell said. “I’ve played a long time and I’ve never dreaded it. It was great, even when we were losing those years. I see it somewhat as an umbilical cord. Every athlete is afraid to cut it. It’s a security thing. I know that may sound ridiculous because football is such a wild game.”

Russell played 168 straight games for the Steelers. The streak was in doubt when the Steelers played the Giants in October because he was suffering with a groin pull. Russell put himself on the field during an extra point. “I’ve never felt so absurd in my life,” he admitted.

As part of the Same Old Steelers era, Russell was became a factor in the team that went through a transformation into Champions. “I think the most exciting year was 1972 when we turned things around,” Russell reflected. “It was extraordinary. That year we missed the Super Bowl by four points, but we came a great team overnight.”

Russell obviously enjoyed the Super Bowl years, but it wasn’t all roses. “When those Super Bowls were over, I was ready for the hospital,” he confessed. “I was a basket case from the pressure and the physical part of it.”

The Rooney family was part of the reason Russell enjoyed his time with the Steelers. “People used to ask me, ‘How can you stand playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers?’ But the Rooneys have been great. I was more spirited here than I was in college. You’re closer to these people. They did things they never had to do.”

Media photo of Jack Ham and Jack Lambert and Andy Russell


The players may enjoy the off season, but for Dan Rooney, football goes on. The courts had ruled while the draft was illegal, it was a matter for collective bargaining. The players and owners needed to reach an accord and Rooney was hopeful this could be accomplished. “I think there’s a possibility of an agreement,” the Steelers president said. “I think the players think it’s time for one.”

If no draft took place and forced a bidding war over players, Pittsburgh was a small market area and could be at a disadvantage.  “I think there would be franchises in much worse shape than Pittsburgh,” Rooney said. “But we can’t compete financially with the Fords, Hunts and Murchinsons.”

On the loss in Oakland, Rooney acknowledged, “I was talking to the coaches today and one of them said, ‘how come it hurts so much more today than yesterday?’ There’s something really final about losing the championship game. It’s really, really difficult. We’ve lost games before, but losing this taught us a few lessons.”


Following a 1-4 start, the Steelers turned their season around winning the last nine games of the regular season. Lambert was at the core of a Steelers defense that in a stretch that saw five shutouts and just 28 points conceded.

After their fifth loss in five games at the start of the season, Lambert voiced, “I’ll tell you, when you lose, it doesn’t ruin your weekend. It ruins your whole week.” Mike Wagner suggested Lambert threatened to beat up every Steeler player if they didn’t start winning.

The Steelers picked up Lambert with only five seconds remaining of their allotted time in the ’74 draft. After being selected, he made it clear to the coaching staff that he wanted to start as a rookie.

Steelers linebacker coach Widenhofer remembered he asked a lot of questions and watched a lot of films. “It took everybody else only one training camp scrimmage to catch on to the fact he was something special,” said Widenhofer. “He gained everybody’s respect with his aggressive hitting and his dedication.”

Even the player who worn the title of “Mean” Joe Greene thought  Lambert was unique. “As soon as I met him and saw him play, I knew he was the kind of guy I wanted behind me if I ever got involved in an alley fight, “ said Greene.

“The dude is mean and he’s strong”, Greene added.” He’s the kind of man who deals by action, not words.He is so mean, he doesn’t even like himself”

Lambert started every game in his rookie season and earned a reputation as an aggressive hitter. In Super Bowl X, Lambert took exception to the Cowboys safety Cliff Harris disrespectfully patting Roy Gerela on his helmet and thanking the kicker for helping Dallas out after missing a field goal.

Lambert shoved Harris to the ground. “The Cowboys were intimidating us,” offered Lambert. “I couldn’t let that happen. There’s no way I ever want the Pittsburgh Steelers to be intimidated. When I think of the Steelers, I think of us as the intimidators and I had to do something to make sure people knew what we stood for – to make sure the Cowboys knew we can never be intimidated.”

After the run of wins and the eventual loss to the Raiders in the championship game, Lambert said, “I won’t get over it until next year. I didn’t know how to cope with it. I hate to lose.”

His epitaph should echo his thoughts on the game, “When I play football, I play it rough because, to me, that’s the way it should be done.”

Lambert was also second to the Colts’ Bert Jones in the balloting for  the league’s MVP award.


“This is second best (to the Super Bowl),” offered Coach Noll as he prepared his team for the Pro Bowl to be played in the Kingdome, Seattle. “You get to know some of the people and it’s helpful to compare your players with players in the game.”

Leading the NFC team was Chuck Knox, coach of the Los Angeles Rams. He suggested, “If we can’t be in the Super Bowl, this is the next best thing. I’d rather be second than 28th.” Voting for the participating players was done by the 14 coaches in each conference.

Four Steeler players helped the AFC to a 24-14 triumph. Mel Blount intercepted two passes while Jack Lambert, Mike Wagner and Glen Edwards added one each.

“It’s a good feeling,” said Blount who was named the MVP. “I hurt my ankle in the first day of practice and really had my mind on going home. I didn’t want to ruin my career in one game.”

Coach Noll thought the game was well-played. “It’s tough to get consistency and precision with so little preparation, but with so many big play guys, it makes it easier. “There was hard hitting on both sides and that was an indication that both sides wanted to win.”

Following on from the Raiders win in the Super Bowl, Coach Knox was asked if the two AFC wins over their NFC rivals confirmed the dominance of the AFC. “I don’t think so,” he replied. “One play here or there (in the Pro Bowl) would have turned it around. I think the game showed the teams are pretty well balanced.”


Terry Bradshaw media photoTerry Bradshaw’s singing career was due to take a boost as a special guest on a country and western bill at the Civic Arena at the end of January. The show was a late cancellation due to an impending snow storm that didn’t arrive.


Three years of negotiations had not provided a permanent agreement, but the owners and the Players Association (NFLPA) appeared ready to resolve their differences at the beginning of 1977.

NFLPA executive director Ed Garvey sounded optimistic when he told reporters, “This is probably the farthest along we have been at any point in three years. Both sides have agreed to focus on finding solutions to the most serious issues.”

There was urgency in producing a solution with question marks surrounding the draft due to take place in May. Garvey added, “The league is obviously worried about this year’s college seniors. The present draft has been ruled illegal and therefore the college players are free agents right now. But the league has prohibited any signings. The owners are concerned that an agent will hit them with a law suit.”

The league’s negotiator Terry Bledsoe also sounded hopeful. “I think both side realise the urgency of the situation and are approaching it in a constructive manner,” Bledsoe said. “I like to think we are making real progress,” he added.


At the annual Dapper Dan award ceremony in Pittsburgh, Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett from the University of Pittsburgh was honoured as the Outstanding Sports figure in 1976. He closed out his acceptance speech by making an offer to Art Rooney. “I’ve had four wonderful years here in Pittsburgh. Please Mr. Rooney, don’t let me go.”


Before his famous Coke commercial, Joe Greene was used by Ideal Toys to demonstrate the durability of one of its products, a toy truck. In the ad, Greene clobbers the toy as if it was an opposing quarterback, but he doesn’t dent it.

The company figures that consumers will buy the truck for their children reasoning that not even a hyperactive kid could do more damage to an object than Mean Joe. “We only use that advertisement in prime time,” said the company’s representative. “The National Association of Broadcasters prohibits us from showing it in the children’s programming hour.”


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cartoonJust over a year after being arrested in Amarillo for possession of cocaine, Holmes had the chance to defend himself in court. At his trial, three police officers testified they saw an unidentified man pass something to Holmes in the restroom of a motel. The officers had stopped to use the restroom by chance.

After three days, the jury took just over an hour to decide that Holmes was innocent. The inconsistent evidence of the police and their failure to apprehend the man who sold Holmes the drug influenced the jury’s decision to find him not guilty.

Chuck Noll, Dan Rooney and Andy Russell all testified they felt Holmes had a good reputation for telling the truth.

 “I’d like to give all my praises to Jesus Christ for standing and holding me strong,” Homes said after the verdict.


“Sometimes you play things so close to the vest, you can’t see your own cards,” Ed Garvey of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) observed. “So, we gave them a peek at our hand and they gave us a peek at theirs and it worked.”

Garvey, the executive director of the Association, walked out of a negotiation session, fuming that the owners had suddenly refused to discuss the major issues blocking a settlement and convinced no agreement was in sight.

Dan Rooney became the peacemaker when he called at the NFLPA’s headquarters to talk over the situation and convinced Garvey to continue the discussions. Rooney’s intervention saw the continuance of the talks where progress was finally made.

In mid-February an agreement was reached with the restoration of a modified draft and compensation system for free agents with the unions pledge to a no-strike arrangement and an end to costly litigation by the players.

Commissioner Rozelle’s right to set the compensation for a free agent was revised to a fixed set of draft choices in recompense depending on the salary of the player.

Draftees who couldn’t reach agreement with the teams that selected them were provided with alternate ways of continuing their careers in pro football.


Following the settlement made with the players, at a later owners meeting it was agreed to change the makeup of the season’s schedule. The teams would play 16 regular season games and 4 exhibition games after a 21-7 vote.

The owners agreed to expand the playoffs to ten teams with the addition of two wildcards.

In an attempt to balance the strength of the schedule, all first place team would place first and fourth place teams while the second place would play the third place. It was thought that second and third placed teams would be battling for a wildcard spot in the playoffs so they should play identical schedules.

In another move to consolidate teams, Tampa Bay was put in the NFC Central division and the Seattle Seahawks in the AFC West.

The draft was limited to 12 rounds with all non-selected players free to deal with a team of their choosing.


Looking back on the 1976 season, Chuck Noll felt that a string of non-disabling injuries the team suffered at the outset was a critical factor in the team’s slow start. “They were able to play with the injuries, but they lowered the efficiency and screwed up their concentration,” Noll told reporters. “They were just bad enough to be bothersome.”

“I don’t think it was complacency, “he said. “Everybody wanted to win as much as anybody. Everybody wants to be a psychologist. Looking at the films, we played good football at the start, but not in all departments.”


Brian Blankenship media guide photoHaving played for the Raiders and the Steelers during the ’76 season, Greg Blankenship had a unique insight on both teams. He was cut in the fifth week of the season and claimed by the Steelers who were looking for a 200-pound special teams player with a sub 4.9 speed in the 40.

“I weighed about 202 and in the freezing weather ran a 4.85 and they said okay,” said Blankenship. “When I go back, it’ll be a different story,” he added although there is no guarantee he will still be a Steeler when the new season begins.

Describing the greeting he received when he got to Pittsburgh, Blankenship said, “When I went in there and they introduced me, everybody started booing. Coach Noll said, ‘Aw come on guys, you’ll get to like him.’

On the Atkinson controversy, he offered, “They asked me about it when I got to Pittsburgh and I told them we used to practice the club (forearm blow). As soon as Atkinson got fined, we cut that out and didn’t do it any more. That’s what I told them. I wasn’t trying to hold anything back.”

On the use of the club, he added, “It depends how you use it. You can’t use it to go after a guy’s head or use it in the stomach. All through college I was taught to clothesline people. I mean not from behind you know. When they are looking at you, you try to use it to make them go out of their way. But the back of the head, that’s kind of cheap.”

Blankenship wasn’t bothered by the Atkinson club on Lynn Swann that began the provocation between the two teams. “I thought it was sort of funny then. Everybody was running the film back and forth and laughing. Sort of. But people get put in situations. It happens, part of the game. It’s been going on for years. Atkinson just got caught. He’s a good ball player. A nice guy.”

Blankenship didn’t feel the Steelers hated the Raiders. “The Steelers know that the Raiders aren’t all that bad. The media makes things twice as big as life. They instigate things. I don’t think there’s that much ill feeling between the players.”


After playing a minor part in the Buccaneers 0-14 season, former Steelers quarterback Terry Hanratty announced he was retiring. The 29-year old, eight-year veteran was retiring to pursue his business interests.


Maybe in light of the Raiders/Steelers controversy regarding George Atkinson’s forearm attack on Lynn Swann in the 1976 season opener, the NFL passed a new rule regarding what defensive backs can do to receivers.

The new measure allows defensive backs just one “jam or chuck” either three yards from the line of scrimmage or downfield. Previously, a defensive back could make contact with a receiver at the line of scrimmage and then again downfield.

A decision on strengthening the rule against deliberately hurting an opponent was postponed until the next meeting.  The owners did reach an agreement on instant replay deciding it was impractical.


At the end of April, Coach Noll returned to Oakland to give a deposition defending his position in the lawsuit that George Atkinson had filed against him, the Steelers and an Oakland Tribune writer.
Noll contended that he meant criminal only in the sense that Atkinson violated NFL rules.


Having won back to back Super Bowls, it would be perceived that Steeler players would be on top wages, but indications suggested that was not true. A close source to the team suggested these were the highest earners with their years in the league in brackets.

Joe Greene (9)……...  $160,000
Franco Harris (6)…… $135,000
Terry Bradshaw (6)… $120,000
Jack Ham (7)………..    $90,000
L.C. Greenwood (9)...    $80,000
Lynn Swann (4)……..     $70,000
Dwight White (7)……     $70,000
Jack Lambert (4)……     $70,000

1977 DRAFT

With Andy Russell retiring, there was a necessity for the Steelers to draft a linebacker. The Steelers philosophy was always promoted as selecting the best athlete available, but with a new for a linebacker, that viewpoint might be tweaked.

Players were graded with a 0.4 to 0.5 rating allocated to a top player, but a poor prospect would be tagged 2.5. Art Rooney Jr., head of the scouting department, explained the team’s thinking, “If the best linebacker available is 1.31 and the best player is 1.25 when we pick, it’s logical to go by position.”

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