The Seriously Great (Yet Strangely Underrated) 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers
mcmillenandwife
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#1
02-14-2021, 01:40 PM

[Image: lambert_green_buffalo79.jpg]

The Seriously Great (Yet Strangely Underrated) 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers

History has not given this team its due. Despite bringing home Pittsburgh's 4th Lombardi in 6 years in Super Bowl XIV (a feat which is still unmatched), the 1979 Steelers remain one of the most strangely underrated and underappreciated teams in NFL history.

Coming off a dominant '78 season culminating in their thrilling win over Dallas in Super Bowl XIII, they faced what at the time was the toughest schedule the league had ever seen. This was by design, by the way, courtesy of Pete Roselle, but that's a discussion for another time.

In addition to their grueling schedule, the Steelers faced three prime challenges in 1979: turnovers, injuries and age. But re-watching these games and examining the various ways they were able to overcome these obstacles, I believe a legitimate case can be made for the '79 squad as the most talented, explosive and dangerous team in Steelers history (and therefore, NFL history).

I know this conversation is usually reserved for the 1978, 1975 and 1976 Steelers teams. But hear me out.

Pittsburgh faced a slew of key injuries in 1979. But this team was LOADED with talent -- they were absolutely stacked -- and their depth was so great that they never missed a beat. In addition to fielding 10 future Hall of Fame players (plus a Hall of Fame coach, owner and President), Pittsburgh's bench was filled with high quality reserves.

Hall of Fame WR Lynn Swann was bothered by a hamstring and other nagging injuries starting in training camp. Enter Jim Smith, who like many Steeler backups, would've been full-time starter on most other NFL squads. When Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham had his season ended by a broken leg, no one really noticed thanks to the outstanding play of reserve LB's Robin Cole and Dirt Winston. And when Franco Harris got dinged, Sidney Thornton came off the bench to rumble for over 300 yds and 3 TDs in a 3-week span.

The Steelers also overcame their so-called age issues beautifully that year. Joe Green, for example, was supposedly well past his prime. Yet he DOMINATED the '79 AFC Championship game and was a primary reason Earl Campbell finished with just 17 yards on 15 carries.

This supremely talented team was statistically awesome as well. Pittsburgh finished #1 in total offense, #2 in total defense and was the #1 scoring team in the league. Although at times they were a turnover factory (a league-worst 52), they were so good in every other area that they overcame their mistakes to finish with the best record in the NFL.

The '79 team is also responsible for what in my opinion is one of the most dominating 4-game regular season stretches in NFL history. After a shocking 9-turnover defeat at the hands of the previously winless Bengals, the Steelers unleashed hell on the NFL (with apologies to Mike Tomlin), shellacking the 5-2 Broncos (42-7), 7-1 Cowboys (14-3), 6-3 Redskins (38-7) and finally the Marv Levy Chiefs (30-3), by a combined score of 124-20. I encourage you to watch these games and see if you agree.

During that 4-game stretch, the Steelers also put to bed endless Cowboys' whining and moaning about questionable calls, dropped balls and bad breaks costing them Super Bowl XIII. Pittsburgh dominates, outrushing Dallas 173-79 while the Steel Curtain simply throttles Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett, with L.C. Greenwood ultimately knocking Staubach out of the game and into retirement.

This season also features what I consider to be the most pivotal regular-season win in franchise history, the 33-30 overtime thriller vs. Cleveland in which Bradshaw and Sipe combine for over 700 yds though the air. The Steelers also amass over 600 yds of total offense in this game (to my knowledge, the only time this was done in the '70s, and one of only 5 times from 1970-1999). 

The standings coming into the game were Houston 10-3, Pittsburgh 9-3 and Cleveland 8-4. The Steelers were coming off a stunning turnover-filled defeat in San Diego and a Pittsburgh loss to Cleveland would've given Houston sole possession of first place in the AFC Central and left the Steelers in a tie for second with the Browns. Instead, the Steelers improve to 10-3 to remain atop the division, the Browns fall to 8-5 and are knocked from contention and the rest, as they say, is history.

There are some exciting, great-quality recordings here. Enjoy watching/reliving the season. It's filled with entertaining games and is perhaps my favorite season as a Steelers fan.

>> CLICK HERE to watch the 1979 Steelers Season <<

P.S. -- If you're looking for offensive fun, it's hard to beat the '79 game in Cleveland (51-35). 
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dbsfgyd1
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#2
02-14-2021, 02:21 PM

Great post. You make a very good case on just how good this team was. Being honest, I for one have always underrated this this team, discounting just how resilient they were. I don’t know of any Super Bowl winners that got by averaging over 3 turnovers a game for a season.

 Thanks for the invite to review this season.
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mcmillenandwife
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#3
02-17-2021, 02:58 AM

(02-14-2021, 02:21 PM)dbsfgyd1 Wrote: I don’t know of any Super Bowl winners that got by averaging over 3 turnovers a game for a season.

IKR? One of the crazier stats about Super Bowl XIV is that the Steelers had the ignoble honor of being #1 in the NFL for turnovers committed (52), and the LA Rams were #2 (49).

I doubt that statistical freak of nature will ever be repeated.  Laugh
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Chucktownsteeler
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#4
02-18-2021, 11:35 AM

It was the beginning of the for sure.


    Next - Minkah, #39!
  [Image: chucktown_sig_pic.jpg]
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RaynorShyne
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#5
02-22-2021, 12:56 AM

Got the entire team in my 1979 Topps Football Card Collection.  :-)  Was 12 years old that season and begged Mom for cards every time we went out.   Not that I have a little means, I'm going to re-collect them all as graded cards.   My favorite Steeler team of all time.
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dbsfgyd1
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#6
02-22-2021, 02:51 AM

Per you suggestion, I’ve been through most of this season and have enjoyed it much. Dang, I loved that trapping run game the used. I’d forgotten how much fun it was to watching some poor slob thinking he was going to make a big play only to get clobbered. Maybe I need some professional help....
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mcmillenandwife
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#7
02-22-2021, 03:34 AM

(02-22-2021, 02:51 AM)dbsfgyd1 Wrote: Per you suggestion, I’ve been through most of this season and have enjoyed it much. Dang, I loved that trapping run game the used. I’d forgotten how much fun it was to watching some poor slob thinking he was going to make a big play only to get clobbered. Maybe I need some professional help....

Be sure to check out the 2nd half of the St. Louis game. It's not a matchup that gets a lot of attention, but it's a testament to the greatness of Rocky Bleier and that incredible offensive line. 

When Franco goes down with an injury with the Steelers trailing 21-7, Bleier comes in and absolutely DOMINATES the final quarter and a half of this game. The Rock finishes with 73 yds rushing on 13 carries, scores a 4-yd TD and catches two crucial passes for 44 yds... all in the second half as the Steelers cram 17 points into the 4th quarter to win 24-21 on Bahr's FG with 0:13 left.

The depth of the '79 team was RIDICULOUS.  Thumbsup

>> 1979 Steelers 24 at Cardinals 21
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dbsfgyd1
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#8
02-22-2021, 12:08 PM

(02-22-2021, 03:34 AM)mcmillenandwife Wrote:
(02-22-2021, 02:51 AM)dbsfgyd1 Wrote: Per you suggestion, I’ve been through most of this season and have enjoyed it much. Dang, I loved that trapping run game the used. I’d forgotten how much fun it was to watching some poor slob thinking he was going to make a big play only to get clobbered. Maybe I need some professional help....

Be sure to check out the 2nd half of the St. Louis game. It's not a matchup that gets a lot of attention, but it's a testament to the greatness of Rocky Bleier and that incredible offensive line. 

When Franco goes down with an injury with the Steelers trailing 21-7, Bleier comes in and absolutely DOMINATES the final quarter and a half of this game. The Rock finishes with 73 yds rushing on 13 carries, scores a 4-yd TD and catches two crucial passes for 44 yds... all in the second half as the Steelers cram 17 points into the 4th quarter to win 24-21 on Bahr's FG with 0:13 left.

The depth of the '79 team was RIDICULOUS.  Thumbsup

Interesting game. Rookie Dornbrook coming in for injured Courson at LG hit som key blocks and more than held his own next to Peterson at LG who was filling for Kolb. I think Peterson pitched a second half shut out. As you said the Rock was solid. Hawthorne not so much. Totally miscast in this offense. Big fast and strong, but never did grasp the overall concept.

Also, Hats off to Wilkinson. He had those guys playing really well. A few up and comers on that team too, Anderson and Green.
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RaynorShyne
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#9
02-24-2021, 10:16 AM

(02-22-2021, 03:34 AM)mcmillenandwife Wrote: Be sure to check out the 2nd half of the St. Louis game. It's not a matchup that gets a lot of attention, but it's a testament to the greatness of Rocky Bleier and that incredible offensive line. 

When Franco goes down with an injury with the Steelers trailing 21-7, Bleier comes in and absolutely DOMINATES the final quarter and a half of this game. The Rock finishes with 73 yds rushing on 13 carries, scores a 4-yd TD and catches two crucial passes for 44 yds... all in the second half as the Steelers cram 17 points into the 4th quarter to win 24-21 on Bahr's FG with 0:13 left.

The depth of the '79 team was RIDICULOUS.  Thumbsup

Rock was ALWAYS sticking his maw into a linebacker or blitzing corner.   One of my all time favorites.  Hell, he even made me like Robert Urich (RIP).
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mcmillenandwife
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#10
04-10-2021, 07:18 AM

(02-24-2021, 10:16 AM)RaynorShyne Wrote: Rock was ALWAYS sticking his maw into a linebacker or blitzing corner.   One of my all time favorites.  Hell, he even made me like Robert Urich (RIP).

Truth.  Thumbsup

Rocky was a truly great blocker. Countless famous plays were a direct result of huge Bleier blocks, including Swann's "Levitating Leap" and final TD pass in Super Bowl X. The dude was amazing.
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aqua -park
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#11
04-25-2021, 01:15 PM

Victory over Browns in OT was huge.  A loss and Pittsburgh is probably a Wild Card and I doubt they make it to Super Bowl XIV.  This was a great season but the Steelers did get some luck in the post season.  Since the Oilers knocked out San Diego (playing without Campbell & Pastorini no less) Pittsburgh avoided a trip out to the west coast for the AFC Championship.  The Eagles, who had beaten Pittsburgh earlier in the year, lost in the playoffs.  The Cowboys lost at home to the Rams on a deflected pass that went for a Ram TD at the end of the game (Cowboys looking for revenge in the Super Bowl would've been a tough game).  The Steelers got to play an Oilers team with Campbell & Pastorini still hurting.  Renfro's bobble was helpful.  Lots of good fortune!
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mcmillenandwife
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#12
04-26-2021, 04:04 PM

(04-25-2021, 01:15 PM)aqua -park Wrote: This was a great season but the Steelers did get some luck in the post season. Since the Oilers knocked out San Diego (playing without Campbell & Pastorini no less) Pittsburgh avoided a trip out to the west coast for the AFC Championship. 

Good post. My two cents: I think you'll find EVERY team who makes it to a Super Bowl experiences a healthy share of good fortune. Conversely, teams who fail to get there experience misfortune. That's axiomatic.

My take is, if the Chargers couldn't get past the hamstrung Oilers with NO Earl Campbell and NO Dan Pastorini -- at home, no less -- there's no way they were going to get past an experienced, proven post-season MACHINE like Pittsburgh who was out for revenge. The Steelers knew how to CRANK IT UP during the playoffs; the Chargers didn't.

That Oiler team had flippin' HEART, by the way. Physical AF and my favorite "non-Steeler" team ever. Earl Campbell is still my favorite RB of all time. 


(04-25-2021, 01:15 PM)aqua -park Wrote: Victory over Browns in OT was huge.  A loss and Pittsburgh is probably a Wild Card and I doubt they make it to Super Bowl XIV.  

You're 100% right about that win being huge. The single-biggest regular season win in Steelers history, IMO. And one of my all-time favorite games.



(04-25-2021, 01:15 PM)aqua -park Wrote: The Eagles, who had beaten Pittsburgh earlier in the year, lost in the playoffs.  

No fear of the Eagles. At all. IMO, that loss was almost as much of an aberration as the San Diego game. Injuries and terrible turnovers deep in Eagle territory were just enough to tip the scales. 

Pittsburgh was missing Lynn Swann, Jim Smith, Moon Mullins, L.C. Greenwood, Ron Johnson and Steve Furness. And Larry Brown was the victim of a nonsense ejection after a tussle in the 2nd quarter. Some terrible breaks in the 4th quarter: Terry threw a bad pick in the end zone, Franco fumbled at the Eagle 1-yard line, and the refs blew a call by overturning a clear Pittsburgh recovery of an onside kick late in the game. 

So the Steelers had some not-so-good fortune, too.  Pi_wink1 Ironically, we also got screwed on a clear recovery of an onside kick in the week 15 loss to Houston.


(04-25-2021, 01:15 PM)aqua -park Wrote: The Cowboys lost at home to the Rams on a deflected pass that went for a Ram TD at the end of the game (Cowboys looking for revenge in the Super Bowl would've been a tough game). 


IMO (with hindsight), the toughest Super Bowl opponent we could have faced in 1979 was the Rams, despite their regular season record. This is as much because of Bud Carson as anything, because they knew our defense, then knew our offense, they even knew our audibles. Beyond that, the Rams were a hot team, winning 6 of their last 7 before meeting Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. 

As for the Cowboys, Pittsburgh had throttled Dallas earlier in the year, just like they did seemingly every year. They were still a good team, but Roger Staubach was basically done and despite their strong 7-1 start, the Cowboys stumbled badly to finish 4-5 down the stretch.  



(04-25-2021, 01:15 PM)aqua -park Wrote: The Steelers got to play an Oilers team with Campbell & Pastorini still hurting.  Renfro's bobble was helpful.  Lots of good fortune!


Okay... but we spotted them 7 points and were playing without Hall of Famer Jack Ham.  Pi_bigsmile

Hurting or not, Pastorini played his ass off. One of the best games of his career IMO. Renfro got screwed by the officials, no question. But we got screwed the bad onside kick call a few weeks earlier, so... what comes around, goes around.

Beyond that, the Steelers outplayed Houston in every phase of the game. We gave Vernon Perry the "gimme" TD to start, but we pretty much manhandled them from there. 24 rushing yards in 22 attempts is ridiculous, especially when compared to Pittsburgh's 161 yds on 36 carries. 

So while I appreciate what you're saying here and I agree with you that the Steelers had some good fortune in 1979, IMO they had "almost" as much misfortune in the form of injuries and turnovers. Yet they overcame.

And that's kinda my point.  Thumbsup
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