Two days beforePittsburgh routed the Miami Dolphins, Lynn Swann was asked why the Steelersalways seem to perform so superbly in playoff games. "I just think thisteam has pressure ballplayers," Swann said. "There's something aboutthe character of most of our guys that makes them get up even more for a biggame. In a playoff game, that's where you find emotional intensity—and werespond to that."
Memorable big-gameheroics have been provided by Franco Harris, the NFL's alltime leadingground-gainer in postseason play; by Terry Bradshaw, the MVP of Super BowlXIII; and by Swann himself, the MVP of Super Bowl X. But while the big namesperformed creditably, as usual, on Sunday at Three Rivers Stadium, it was theunsung members of the Pittsburgh offensive line who got most of the raves.
"Our offensiveline manhandled Miami's three-man line," said Bradshaw. He had particularpraise for 6'5", 244-pound Left Tackle Ted Petersen, who started for ailingAll-Pro Jon Kolb, and 6'1", 260-pound Right Guard Steve Courson, who filledin through much of the day for nine-year veteran Gerry Mullins.
Petersen andCourson opened holes for Harris and Sidney Thornton by bowling over Dolphinlinemen or blocking down on the linebackers, and they pass-protected soferociously that Bradshaw could have relaced the ball while observing hisreceivers run their routes.
January 7, 1980
Petersen andCourson dominated the scrimmage-line as Pittsburgh scored a touchdown the firstthree times it had the ball. The Steelers had a 20-0 lead after 14:09, and thateliminated the biggest worry for Mean Joe Greene and the other members of thedefense.
"The big keyto this game is we got to stop [Larry] Csonka and their running game,"Greene had said. "We think Csonka is the catalyst. He gets them fired upand makes things work. If we stop Csonka, we stop their running game, and thenwe force them into passing situations we can control."
Forced intoplaying catch-up after Thornton had scored on a one-yard smash and Bradshaw hadconnected on touchdown passes to John Stallworth and Swann, the Dolphins werenever able to use Csonka or any other running back effectively. Miami, whichhas lost its last three playoff games, finished with a miserable 25 yards on 22rushes, 18 of those yards coming in the fourth quarter, and on the short end ofa 34-14 score.
By winning, theSteelers qualified for their sixth AFC championship game in the last eightyears; they have won three of their five title games, including last year's34-5 romp over the Oilers. Also, the Miami triumph was the Steelers' ninthwithout a loss this season at Three Rivers Stadium, where they have won 23 oftheir last 24 games and 68 of 81 overall. And, yes, the Steelers will be athome when they play Houston for the AFC title and a trip to Pasadena for SuperBowl XIV.
Against Miami, theperformances of Petersen and Courson were matched on the Steeler defensive unitby Free Safety J. T. Thomas and Linebacker Dirt Winston, who filled in for MikeWagner and Jack Ham, respectively, with no falloff in efficiency. It may be tooearly to hail the Steelers as certain champions of Super Bowl XIV, but CoachChuck Noll certainly has no dearth of talent.
Having lost Ham(ankle, out until next season), Kolb (shoulder) and Wagner (hamstring) beforethe game, and Swann (hamstring) before the half, Pittsburgh played most of theway without the four All-Pros. Yet the Steelers won with ease. Bradshawcompleted 21 of 31 passes for 230 yards and the two touchdowns. Stall-worth,Bradshaw's primary target this season, caught six passes for 86 yards, and his17-yard touchdown reception was something special.
Taking Bradshaw'spass at the six, directly in front of the goalpost, Stallworth broke quickly tohis left, beat four tacklers, then stiff-armed Linebacker Earnest Rhone andtiptoed just inside the sideline for the last few yards.
Harris finished asthe leading rusher for the 12th time in his 15 postseason games, getting 83yards and scoring on a five-yard smash in the final quarter. "Houston'sgame at San Diego yesterday showed us a lot of class," said Harris."The Oilers were hurt and had some of their great players out, so they hadto suck it up and get the job done. We feel we're that same kind ofteam."
In the first fivegames of the season, when the Steelers were trying to overcome a succession ofinjuries to their offensive linemen, and Petersen and Courson had yet to reachthe performance level they achieved against Miami, Harris rushed for only 189yards. But as skeptics began to murmur that maybe age had caught up with the29-year-old Harris, he finished the year with 1,186 yards and moved up to No. 4on the alltime NFL rushing list.
"I think whatmakes Franco run is personal pride," said Rocky Bleier, who also scored atouchdown against Miami. "He feels badly if he has a bad game, and thosestories at the start of the year—that he was washed up—they got to him, youknow."
Or as Lynn Swannmight have put it, "Franco responded."
As usual, the restof the Steelers did likewise, and when that happens, any upset virus goingaround takes a terrible toweling.