Thursday, January 27, 2011

Super Bowl Moment VIII: Stallworth's late score becomes another brick in the wall for the Steeler dynasty...

SI has shown marginal improvements in their headlines since 1980.

The not-so-brief disclaimer: this isn’t a list that’s ranked in any order other than chronological…so don’t judge too much. It’s Super Bowl moment number 8 on the list of the top 25. Because of my birthday, the weekend shenanigans and the simple fact that I never totally do things the way I plan them, I’ve been falling a little of the pace of my original promise of 25 top Super Bowl moments in 25 days. No worries though, I fully intend on catching up (though I’ve decided against outsourcing some of them to writers abroad as part of Obama’s incessant demand to ‘win the future’.)

By 1979, the Pittsburgh Steelers had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were the team of the decade. They had won three Super Bowls since 1974 and had defeated their decade rival, the Dallas Cowboys, decisively in Super Bowls X and XIII.

Trying to win their fourth proved more difficult than any of the previous ones, if for no other reason than the injury toll that cropped up. The other reason was that the league was changing, whether Pittsburgh was ready or not.

The new rules, designed to open up the passing game, had been instituted the previous off-season and while Terry Bradshaw and John Stallworth might have been happy, these changes took out a piece of the Steel Curtain.

Part of the Steelers strategy in their early addition of the Cover-2 defense was to manhandle receivers all the way down the field, making them regret their decision to even think about running a route (much less catching an actual pass).

Yet the Steel Curtain wasn’t one-dimensional and talented cornerbacks Mel Blount and J.T. Thomas overcame the new changes without the catastrophic consequences that some had predicted.

Super Bowl XIV

Advancing once again to the Super Bowl, the veteran Steelers faced the Los Angeles Rams. L.A. were newcomers to football’s biggest stage and had avenged the previous year’s shutout loss the Cowboys by denying Tom Landry’s team in a game that “America’s Team” had seen as a formality in the NFC Championship.

And though the Steelers were the consummate champions, the Rams took a 13-10 lead at the half and led in fourth quarter, 19-16. Having knocked star receiver/acrobat Lynn Swann out of the game with an injury, L.A. (playing on their home field in Pasadena) looked like they might pull off the upset.

But while Swann may have been injured, Pittsburgh’s less heralded All-Pro wideout, John Stallworth, was not.

60 Slot Hook and Go

At their own 27 yard line and facing a crucial 3rd and 8, the play call came in. It was 60 Slot Hook and Go, a play Stallworth remembered hadn’t worked nearly every time it had been used previously.

Faking a handoff, Terry Bradshaw hung a pass in the air that at first seemed destined to overshoot it’s intended target and land incomplete.

“My initial thought, and this is exactly what I thought, I said ‘damn it Bradshaw, you’ve overthrown me” said Stallworth. “And (I) really just turned away from the ball and just started to run.”

The long-striding Alabamian was up to the task. As immortal NFL films announcer John Facenda had noted earlier in the decade, “locals say John Stallworth is like a combination of sipping whiskey and white lightning—smooth, with a strong finishing kick.”

And that finishing kick allowed him to get under the ball and away from the Rams secondary, hauling in a game-changing 73-yard touchdown that gave Pittsburgh the lead for good. When the final gun sounded, they stood on top yet again, 31-19.

The End of Football’s Second Great Dynasty

It was the last shining moment for the Steelers of that era. Their once healthy dynasty would slowly whither in the coming years as retiring legends simply couldn’t be replaced (how exactly could someone ever replace Mean Joe Greene?)

On that night though, Stallworth and the Steel city could celebrate once again. They were the first team to ever win four Super Bowls and set the foundation for a hallowed franchise whose success continues to this day.

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