Super Bowl 50 is almost here. Unfortunately the Pittsburgh Steelers are not playing Super Bowl 50, but as the great game reaches the half-century mark, Steelers Nation can take pride that regardless of whether Carolina or Denver triumphs, the Black and Gold own more Lombardi Trophies than any other franchise.
With that in mind, Steel Curtain Rising gives you the 8 Greatest Steelers Super Bowl Plays.
Super Bowl IX – Dwight White Spearheads Defensive Dominance
Sometimes plays symbolize an era, other times it is a player. When the two converge , something special happens. It is fitting then that the Pittsburgh Steelers defense would author the first score in their first Super Bowl.
- That only tells half the story.
Steel Curtain lineman Dwight White got pneumonia the week before Super Bowl IX. He’d lost 18 pounds in the hospital. Chuck Noll and George Perless told Steve Furness to get ready to play. The morning of the Super Bowl, White called Ralph Berlin, the Steelers head trainer, and begged him to pick him up, as White was determined to be introduced.
After talking with Steelers Dr. John Best, they relented, and when they saw White struggling to even put on his jersey, they figured he’d pass out in warm ups and let him play.
White started, and the Minnesota Vikings attacked him immediately. They handed off to Dave Osborn on three straight plays, and Osborn ran directly to White. The results:
- A loss, no gain, and a one-yard gain.
The game remained scoreless in the second quarter when the Vikings found themselves backed up against their own end zone. A bad snap left Fran Tarkenton scrambling for the ball. It rolled in the end zone. Tarkenton fell on it. Dwight White landed on him.
A safety might only be 2 points, but scoring one sends a message that a defense is imposing its will. The message of Dwight White’s safety in Super Bowl IX was loud and clear: The Steel Curtain had risen.
Super Bowl X – Lynn Swann Shines
Super Bowl X provides the perfect example of how numbers might not lie, but they often fail to paint an accurate picture. Compared to some of the receiving feats of the 1980’s, let alone to the numbers NFL wide receivers put up today, Lynn Swann’s receiving numbers appear rather pedestrian.
- Lynn Swann never caught more than 60 passes in a season and retired with 336 catches to his name
For years, naysayers like Peter King used those statics to block his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Super Bowl X reveals why the likes of King were so sorely mistaken. Lynn Swann’s stat line from Super Bowl X reads 4-161 and one TD. Not bad, but it suggests nothing spectacular. (Tweet w/ embedded video available as of 2/6/16):
#7 Lynn Swann in Super Bowl Xhttps://t.co/v0Hjtd2cJq
— Rick Green (@rickgreensports) February 9, 2015
But it was the quality of the catches that Swann made that earned him the Super Bowl MVP Award. His acrobatic catches were works of sheer beauty and displayed such grace that decades after he retired fans who weren’t even born when Swann was playing were still saying, “That was a Lynn Swann Catch.”
Super Bowl XIII – Rocky Bleier Overcomes the Odds
Wounded while serving his country, in Vietnam Rocky Bleier wasn’t even supposed to walk again, let alone play football. Yet Bleier defied the odds, not only making the game, but earning a starting spot.
Even then, Rocky was low man on the totem pole of a Super Bowl offense that featured no fewer than 5 Hall of Famers.
- But in Super Bowl XIII, Bleier proved he belonged.
26 seconds remained in the first half with the score tied at 14. Franco Harris had given the Steelers a 3rd and 1 at the Dallas Cowboys 7. Terry Bradshaw dropped back to pass and this is what happened (available as of 2/5/16 – watch it now before Roger Goodell’s YouTube police have it taken down):
Rocky Bleier would not be denied the touchdown, and added 7 points to the Steelers tally in a game they would ultimately win by 4….
Super Bowl XIV – Bradshaw, Stallworth & 60-Prevent-Slot-Hook-And-Go
History tends to paint the Super Steelers as an unstoppable juggernaut that authored an unbroken string of super-human plays en route to four Super Bowls in six years. The Steelers of the 70’s were good, but what made them great wasn’t their ability to blow everyone out of the water, but rather their ability to make plays when the game was on the line.
- No Super Bowl showcases that ability better than Super Bowl XIV vs. the LA Rams
The 4th quarter had begun, and the Steelers trailed the Los Angeles Rams 19-17. Lynn Swann was out of the game, as was Theo Bell, the Steelers 3rd receiver. Everyone on the Rams staff, most of all former Steelers defensive coordinator Bud Carson, knew Terry Bradshaw would try to get the ball to John Stallworth. And on third and 8 at the Pittsburgh 27, Chuck Noll ordered Bradshaw to do that.
The play was “60-Prevent-Slot-Hook-And-Go” and the Steelers had failed miserably executing the play in practice, and neither Bradshaw nor Stallworth thought the play would work. Chuck Noll knew better. (Available as of 2/4/16):
As Art Rooney Jr. observed in his book Ruanadh, this is the result when you when you pair a Hall of Fame quarterback, with a Hall of Fame Wide Receiver and a Hall of Fame Coach.
Super Bowl XXX – Steelers Surprise Onsides Kick
The Steelers opened the 4th quarter of Super Bowl XXX down 7-10. Nine plays into the game’s final period, a Norm Johnson field goal narrowed the Steelers deficit to 10. On the side lines, special teams coach Bobby April came up to Bill Cowher, next NFL Films captured Bill Cowher into his head set, “Chan? Chan, I’m going with the surprise on sides. I’m not leaving anything in the bag.”
- Norm Johnson executed the surprise on-sides kick perfectly, and Deon Figures recovered.
Neil O’Donnell led the Steelers down the field, and a Bam Morris touchdown made it 17-20 with the momentum decidedly in the Steelers favor… Of course, Steelers Nation would like to forget what happened after the Steelers defense forced a punt, but alas that too is part of history.
But so is Bill Cowher’s decision to call the surprise on sides. In terms of X’s and O’s, it may not have been the best play call in Steelers Super Bowl history, but it was certainly the boldest.
Super Bowl XL – Ike Taylor’s Interception
If Steelers Nation rightly remembers Bill Cowher’s first Super Bowl for its missed opportunities, it also must honor his final Super Bowl as the occasion where Cowher’s Steelers seized their own opportunities. The two scoring plays – Willie Parker’s 75 yard run and Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward stand out.
- But those touchdowns bookended an even bigger play that ensured their relevance.
The Steelers were leading 14-3 in the middle of the third quarter when a Ben Roethlisberger interception gave the Seattle Seahawks new life. The Seahawks scored a touchdown. Seattle began the fourth quarter by marching down to the Steelers 19 where they threatened to take the lead. On 3rd and 18 Matt Hasselbeck got greedy and tried to hit Darrell Jackson deep.
The knock on Ike Taylor was that he couldn’t hold on to the interceptions. In his entire career, he picked off NFL quarterbacks 17 times. But three of those came in the post season, and none was more important than his interception of Matt Hasselbeck.
The play grounded the Seahawks rally, and set up the Steelers insurance touchdown that secured One for the Thumb with the Steelers win in Super Bowl XL.
Super Bowl XLIII – James Harrison’s Pick Six
Super Bowl XLIII will forever be remember for Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes, the drive that preceded it, and Larry Fitzgerald’s touchdown that made such heroics necessary. Fair enough. Both Fitzgerald and Holmes touchdowns could easily make “Top 10 Super Bowl Touchdown lists.”
But it says here that James Harrison authored an even bigger touchdown (available as of 2/4/16):
Why does Steel Curtain Rising rank James Harrison’s touchdown higher than Holmes?
- Simply math settles the question.
Aside from James Harrison running the length of the field, the Cardinals were at least going to score 3 points on that drive. Looked at in that light, Harrison’s touchdown amounted to a 10 point swing in the Steelers favor in a game the Steelers won by four.
The play also revealed Silverback’s incredible discipline, instincts and sheer will power.
Super Bowl XLV – Alejandra’s Return to Health
Steel Curtain Rising missed Super Bowl XLV because it wasn’t shown in Porto Galinhas, Brazil. But by game time that was a secondary consideration. You can read the full story of the tremendous generosity of the staff at the Tabapitanga here, but in a nutshell, my wife suffered a herniated disc, experienced intense pain, and could barely walk. The trip back to Buenos Aires was a harrowing affair, and was followed by three trips to the ER and two hospitalizations.
- Fortunately, Alejandra made a complete recovery – or at least as close to a complete recovery as one can make from back injuries, and is doing extremely well.
I even forgot to record the game, and never saw Super Bowl XLV. Some things are not meant to be.
Sure, the Steelers loss disappointed, but my wife’s injury and recovery serves as a reminder that the outcome of a football game pales in comparison to what is really important in life, which is why it makes this list of the greatest Steelers Super Bowl plays.