The Super Bowl is just 39 days away. Let’s look at the Super Bowl from 39 years ago to honor this not that significant occasion!
Miami’s Orange Bowl hosted Super Bowl XIII on January 21, 1979. The game pitted the NFC champion Dallas Cowboys against the Pittsburgh Steelers of the American Football Conference. The public looked forward to this match up with keen anticipation. These were not just the best teams in football, but the two most popular teams. Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Tom Landry, and “Mean” Joe Greene were as famous as President Carter in 1979.
Both teams had been there before. In fact, the winner would become the first three-time champion. It was 1978 when Dallas was first called, “America’s Team.” But, there were far more Steelers’ fans in attendance at Super Bowl XIII.
The Cowboys won Super Bowl XII behind the brilliance of Tony Dorsett, an innovative offense and a top-notch pass rush. During the first half of the season, the Cowboys were inconsistent. They battled with the Rams for top seed in the NFC playoffs. Dallas got hot late in the season to the tune of six straight wins.
There were five playoff teams per conference for the first time in 1978. Thus, Dallas hosted the Wild-Card winning Falcons in the divisional round. Atlanta led by defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville came to play. Their famed “Gritz Blitz” defense hounded Staubach in the first half. The clubs went to the break with Atlanta leading, 20-13. The Cowboys came back with 14 unanswered in the 2nd half due to picking off Steve Bartkowski three times.
The Cowboys next would play at the LA Coliseum against the Rams. The game was scoreless until the closing seconds of the third quarter. Then, Doomsday took over. The Rams turned the ball over 5 times in the second half leading to 28 Cowboys’ points. The last points were scored by Hollywood Henderson on an interception return.
Pittsburgh came into Super Bowl XIII with a 14-2 regular season record. While their earlier championship teams thrived due to their running game and Steel Curtain defense, the ’78 squad was about the passing attack. Bradshaw with his rifle could hit Lynn Swann and John Stallworth from any spot on the field. This wide open aerial attack made the Steelers’ brand as exciting as the Cowboys.
In the playoffs, Pittsburgh played a dominant second half against Denver and tremendous first half against Houston. In the AFC championship game, they stifled Earl Campbell and the Oilers in the cold, wet conditions of Three Rivers Stadium. It was on to beautiful Miami and a date with Dallas.
The Cowboys received the ball first. Dorsett sprung three chunk plays on the opening possession. The drive stalled when Dallas tried an ill-fated reverse. Drew Pearson’s fumble led to a Steelers’ scoring drive on an incredible pass from Bradshaw to Stallworth.
The Steelers sacked Staubach twice in the 1st quarter, but Dallas responded with two takeaways. On the final play of the first quarter, Staubach found a wide-open Tony Hill for the tying TD.
Just two minutes later and the Steelers turned the ball for a third straight possession. Mike Hegman robbed Bradshaw of the ball and scored. It took just three plays for Pittsburgh to respond. On a simple slant, Stallworth made the reception, made a move and a made a 75-yard score.
This first half could not have been any more exciting. Big play after big play! Mel Blount intercepted Staubach late in the first half leading to an acrobatic score by Rocky Bleier and a 7-point halftime lead for Pittsburgh.
Dallas dominated the third quarter, but could not punch it in the end zone. Veteran tight end Jackie Smith dropped a pass that would have tied the score. Verne Lundquist uttered, “Bless his heart, he’s got to be the sickest man in America.” It was a cruel turning point for the Cowboys.
The Steelers took over from there. They got a controversial PI, a run up the middle by Harris when the referee wiped out a would-be tackler and a fumble by Randy White on a squib kickoff. All those shenanigans led to gorgeous catch by Lynn Swann for a touchdown and a seemingly insurmountable 35-17 lead.
Dallas was relentless in their come back efforts registering two late scores. But, their last onside kick was secured by the Steelers with 22 seconds left. Pittsburgh prevailed 35-31 in a fantastic game.
The Steelers would be back to repeat as champions in 1979. The Cowboys would knock at the door for the next four seasons, but knock get back to the Super Bowl until the 1990’s. Tom Landry’s team participated in 5 of the first thirteen Super Bowls and had nothing to be ashamed of. However, the Steelers of the ‘70’s were a cut above. They were the team of the decade.
Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills