25th Anniversary of 1st Super Bowl
By: BOB LABRIOLA
On the day in 1969 when Chuck Noll was introduced as the
newest coach of Art Rooney's Steelers, he faced a room of skeptics who had
heard it all before. Here was a 37-year-old Baltimore Colts assistant,
fresh from Super Bowl III where he had been on the wrong side of the
biggest upset in NFL history, and he was talking about reviving the
league's most moribund franchise.
Through 36 seasons, the Steelers had failed to capture even a
division championship, so why do you, Mr. Noll, believe you can win in
Pittsburgh when so many have failed?
Noll was matter-of-fact. Losing has nothing to do with geography. That attitude was relayed to the players, and the Steelers embarked
on a rebuilding program that was different because of the singleness of
purpose of the man at the helm. Shortly into what would become a Hall of
Fame coaching career, Chuck Boll revealed his attitude and charted the
course by repeatedly uttering three words that came to embody a franchise
and the city it represented.
Through 36 seasons, the Steelers had failed to capture even a division championship, so why do you, Mr. Noll, believe you can win in Pittsburgh when so many have failed?
Noll was matter-of-fact. Losing has nothing to do with geography.
That attitude was relayed to the players, and the Steelers embarked on a rebuilding program that was different because of the singleness of purpose of the man at the helm. Shortly into what would become a Hall of Fame coaching career, Chuck Boll revealed his attitude and charted the course by repeatedly uttering three words that came to embody a franchise and the city it represented.
we want Bradshaw, throughout a game in which Gilliam was 8-for-31 with two interceptions, Steelers fans drew a biting rebuke from Noll following this bitter defeat against an intense rival. We played in Oakland today, said Noll. During the week following that loss, Noll also said, We have to run the football more and better than we have, and that signaled the beginning of the end of an offensive emphasis that contradicted the personality of this particular Steelers team. With this renewed emphasis came the reality of an ankle injury to Harris that would sideline him for the next two games. But Preston Pearson rushed for 117 yards in a key win over Houston, and the defense took care of business the next week in Kansas City. Harris returned when the Browns visited Three Rivers Stadium, and he rushed for 81 yards in that win, followed by 141 in a TKO of Atlanta the next week, and the Steelers were 5-1-1 at the midway point of the season. There were plenty of positives, including a defense that was averaging four sacks a game and was among the league leaders in takeaways, but the quarterbacks were erratic, and the fans grew more impatient with every incomplete pass. We didn't get a great deal of help (from the fans), said Noll after one win in Pittsburgh. We're better off playing on the road, I think. Noll pulled Gilliam and replaced him with Bradshaw against the Falcons, and after that game he explained himself this way: All decisions are tough. Decisions have to be made, and I make them here. The second half of the season began with the defense pitching a shutout over the Eagles, but the giddiness that accompanied a win in which Philadelphia crossed midfield just once disintegrated the next week in Cincinnati. The Steelers were 6-2-1 after being victimized by Ken Anderson's 20-for-22, 227-yard performance, and the Bengals closed the gap in the AFC Central Division to 1/2-game. With a critical game in Cleveland the following week, Noll was secretive about his starting quarterback, and then he shocked everyone by naming Hanratty the day before the game. I'll be OK as soon as I learn where to put my hands for the snap, cracked Hanratty. Meanwhile, Bradshaw seethed, Maybe I let the air out of Chuck's tires. But despite the sniping and the fact Hanratty completed just 2-of-15 with three interceptions, the defense was at its marauding best to help the Steelers to 7-2-1 and their first win in Cleveland since 1974, 26-16. Four sacks, six takeaways, one of which was a Joe Greene fumble recovery/lateral to J.T. Thomas, who ran for the deciding touchdown, were the difference. Noll's surprise move to Hanratty, coupled with the performance, led to some grumbling and questioning of the ongoing indecision. The potential for a divided locker room was very real, but Greene stepped up, spoke up and delivered the message that put the matter to rest. I don't care whose ego gets punctured as long as we win, said Greene. Every man in this room has an opinion on who should start (at quarterback), but we don't matter. The man who did matter Noll went back to Bradshaw, but the offensive emphasis now was on Harris, who had been joined in the lineup by blocking back Rocky Bleier. There would be just one more bump in the road, and it came one week after they defeated the Saints in New Orleans and then predicted a January return to that city for Super Bowl IX. Oilers coach Sid Gillman and his players heard the boast and came to Pittsburgh and hung a 13-10 loss on the 8-3-1 Steelers on a cold, windy day made even worse by sleet that turned to several inches of snow. You didn't hear anything about the Super Bowl from this locker room, Gillman sneered. You heard that talk from the other place. The Steelers would right themselves during the regular season's final two weeks to finish 10-3-1 and claim the second division title in franchise history. It was time for the playoffs and a first-round date with Buffalo and O.J. Simpson at Three Rivers Stadium. One season after Simpson rushed for 2,003 yards, the Steelers defense limited him to 49 on 15 carries on the way to a dominating 32-14 win. Pittsburgh rushed for 235 yards, had 29 first downs and scored 26 points in the second quarter. Nevertheless, the focus was on Oakland's dramatic 28-26 win over Miami in the other AFC playoff game in which the Raiders scored 14 points in the final five minutes. The two best teams in football played today, said Dolphins guard Larry Little. Added Raiders Coach John Madden, When the best plays the best, anything can happen. A couple of time zones away, Noll was livid. He gathered his team on the Tuesday before the AFC Championship Game and delivered a succinct message. (Noll) had his teeth bared, remembered linebacker Andy Russell. He told us, `Well, they're not the best. And neither one of them is going to be in the Super Bowl. The best team is in this locker room. Suitably inspired, the Steelers went to Oakland and, according to Madden, They beat our butts. Harris rushed for 111 yards; Bleier added 98; and the defense allowed the Raiders 29 yards on the ground while intercepting three of Ken Stabler's passes. It added up to a 24-13 win and a trip to the Super Bowl. I guess I've got the same feeling that George Halas and Paul Brown and all the other winners had when they were on top, Art Rooney Sr. said after the game. The Super Bowl itself was an extension of the Steelers' season to that point. The defense dominated. Harris was a runaway locomotive. Jack Lambert and Russell both were knocked out of the game by halftime, but Ed Bradley and Loren Toews filled in admirably. Dwight White crawled out of a hospital bed and played as though his body wasn't riddled with pneumonia. Gilliam suggested the play that resulted in the game-clinching touchdown pass from Bradshaw to Larry Brown. Whatever it takes. Chuck told us that championship teams don't run smooth, that it's rocky, said Greene. After the Houston game, some truths came out. I wouldn't, don't want to, discuss them. But we own it now, and it's going to make us want to come back here.I wasn't prepared to lose.