In the run up to this years’ championship I thought it might be fun to do a series on the decade anniversaries of the big game.
As the NFL is celebrating a 100 seasons I was tempted to do the same here. However for a lot of modern NFL fans, it feels like the game’s history starts with the, (retrospectively named), first Super Bowl. Not many will mention the undefeated APFA 1920 winners the Akron Pros.
So, we’ll stick to the Super Bowl era then. We initially traveled back 50 years to 1970 & Super Bowl IV. Now it is time to move on 10 years.
For the NFL the 1980’s started with a championship game witnessed by 103,985 fans at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. There they witnessed the Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC) defeat the Los Angeles Rams (NFC) by a score of 31-19.
The run up to the game
The 1979 season was the NFL’s 60th anniversary and the 20th anniversary of the AFL. Since the AFL-NFL merger the two leagues had definitely morphed into having a single identity.
As ever player safety and opening up the game were areas the league was focused on. To that end, the zone in which crackback blocks were prohibited was extended from 3 yards on either side of the line of scrimmage to 5.
Further, players could not use their helmets to butt, spear, or ram an opponent. Any player using the crown or the top of his helmet unnecessarily was to be called for unnecessary roughness.
A lot of this drive to open the game would see the NFL shift more and more towards the passing game.
The Steelers had been a dominant team throughout the 1970s’ having already won 3 Super Bowls in the last 6 years. This was their eighth consecutive playoff appearance. Over that period they were an eye popping 88-27-1.
The Rams had also been one of the better teams of the decade without having previously reached the Super Bowl. They had however taken their 7th consecutive NFC West title going 75-26-1 over that span.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were the defending champions and took their sixth consecutive AFC central title into these playoffs following a 12-4 year.
However they entered the playoffs seeded second having lost to the 12-4 San Diego Chargers during the regular season.
Pittsburgh dispatched the Miami Dolphins 34-14 in a Divisional Round game before facing the Houston Oilers in the AFC title game. Houston were there by virtue of upsetting the Chargers and now the AFC central rivals had a season decider as they had gone 1-1 during the regular season.
The Steelers won that game 27-13 whilst holding the Oilers to just 24 yards on the ground! That included holding the great Earl Campbell to 15 yards on 17 rushing attempts.
In the NFC, the Rams had taken their 7th consecutive West Division title. However, they were only 9-7 and were the lowest ranked division winner as a 3 seed.
They beat both the top seeds, firstly knocking off the top seeded Cowboys in the Divisional round 21-19.
Following their win in Texas, the Rams moved on to the 2nd seed Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. They won 9-0 in a game in which the Buccaneers only had 177 total offensive yards, including 92 rushing yards and 85 passing yards.
He spent 23 seasons as a head Coach in the NFL, picking up 9 Division titles and 4 Super Bowl wins. He finished with a 209-156-1 regular season & 16-8 post-season record.
These days the man prowling the other sideline is a little less well known. Ray Malavasi had gone 4-8 in Denver in the AFL in 1966. After that he had spent time in the CFL & NFL as a co-ordinator for a variety of organizations before the Rams hired him as an assistant coach in 1973.
Malavasi became Head Coach in 1978 leading the Rams to a 12-4 season and falling one game shy of the Super Bowl. Three successful years leading the Rams from 1978-1980 & going 32-16 was followed by a dip from 1981-2.
His all-time 40-33 NFL coaching record pales next to that of Noll but on this day his team was competitive.
The Game Itself: Super Bowl XIV
The Rams were going into this one as heavy underdogs. One of their biggest stories going into the game was that LB Jack Youngblood had broken his fibula against the Cowboys. The thing that made it a bigger story was that he went on to play against Tampa Bay & would play again this day against Pittsburgh.
For the Steelers this was a chance to put an exclamation on their dominance of the mid to late 1970’s. A fourth championship in six years would make their ascendancy during the decade unarguable.
There was a sense of ‘what if?’ about this one as the underdog Rams led 19-17 going into the fourth quarter. The last period however, like the decade, belonged to the men from Three Rivers.
Things looked to be going to script early as the Steel Curtain D held LA to a 3 and out and the Steelers marched to a Field Goal and 3-0 lead.
Just a few minutes into the second quarter Franco Harris plunged in for his own 1 yard TD to restore Pittsburgh’s lead. However the underdog Rams held the Steelers for the rest of the half and tacked on two Field Goals to lead 13-10 at Half-Time.
The third quarter followed the pattern of the rest of the game as the Steelers took the lead only for the Rams to take it back again.
The Rams didn’t fold however. They came back with a big play of their own and then some razzle dazzle to take the lead back.
The Rams missed the extra point but took a surprising 19-17 lead into the final stanza.
The defining play/moment of the game came in the fourth quarter as wide receiver John Stallworth, looking back over his head for a lofted Terry Bradshaw pass, caught it in stride and ran into the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown. That’s the play you’ll see the still of in the Super Bowl history books.
The Steelers led 24-19 and the Rams drove to the Steelers 32 yard line with just under 6 minutes to go. At that point Ferragmo was picked off by Jack Lambert.
A crucial third down conversion let the Steelers extend the following drive, capped by another Harris 1 yard plunge.
Pittsburgh won 31-19 and Terry Bradshaw was named MVP after going 14 of 29 for 309 yards with 2 TDs and 3 picks.
The Rams had fought the ‘team of the decade’ all the way & you had to feel for them. Especially Ferragmo who had a great game directing the O – but his one pick was a game swinger.
Hall of Fame Players
Super Bowl XIV was littered with future Hall of Fame members. Most of them donning the black and gold of the Steelers.
What came next
Neither team would return to the biggest stage the following year. The Rams went 11-5 and were dumped out of the playoffs 34-13 by Dallas.
For Steelers fans it was a strange year as they saw their all-conquering team go 9-7 and fail to make the playoffs.
As a lot of their Hall of Fame starters retired the Steelers would have mixed fortunes throughout the 1980’s.
The Steelers returned to prominence however in the 1990’s. Under the guidance of head Coach Bill Cowher they went 149-90-1 in the regular season from 1992-2006.
That included 2 Super Bowl appearances and a win in Super Bowl XL.
Reflecting the stability of the organization they have only had one other coach since Cowher. Mike Tomlin took the helm in 2007 and has gone 125-66-1 since then.
That includes 2 Super Bowl appearances and a win in Super Bowl XLIII.
The Rams in the decade following this game on the other hand were competitive without taking the final step. The closest they came was in 1989 but they were comprehensively beaten 30-3 by a great San Francisco team.
The Rams spent 21 seasons in St Louis between 1995 and 2015, making 2 Super Bowl appearances and winning it all in 1999.
They returned to Los Angeles in 2016.
Neither team made the playoffs this past season. However fans of both will have reason for optimism.
Pittsburgh meanwhile have gone 30-17-1 over the same period but have missed the playoffs the past 2 seasons.
Both sets of fans will be hoping to see their team back on the biggest stage sooner rather than later.
Banner Image: Franco Harris was held to only 46 yards on 20 carries, but he scored 2 touchdowns. Image from abcNews