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Flashback to 1974 – AFC Championship Game vs Oakland

This is a submission from our friends over at SteelerNationUK.co.uk

By Gordon Dedman

Pittsburgh Steelers
vs Oakland Raiders
December 29 1974

When the Steelers were a rising force in the NFL the rivalry with the Oakland Raiders began. The story of the “Immaculate Reception” in the playoff game of 1972 is well known. NFL films made it their greatest play of all time. That was the start of intense animosity between two teams that believed they were the best and fought hard against each other to prove it.

The Raiders were an important part of the old AFL before it merged with the NFL in 1970. The Steelers were one of three teams that moved across to the AFC to balance the conferences.

The Steelers had been perennial losers, but with a new coach in Chuck Noll that began to change. Following their first playoff win in 1972, their confidence would blossom. Coach Noll’s guile in drafting the right players eventually built a team of champions.

The Build Up

The two teams shared the honors in their first six meetings before they met in the 1974 AFC Championship game in Oakland.

The Raiders had caused an upset the previous week edging past the current Super Bowl winners the Miami Dolphins. Miami had won back to back Lombardi trophies and were favorites to win a third. The Raiders pulled off a last-minute win and the headline in the Oakland Tribune roared, “Raiders End Dolphins Dynasty.”

Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler threw four touchdown passes and acknowledged the Dolphins were a great team before adding, “We are too.” Defensive tackle Art Thoms suggested, “It will be tough to top this one. It was a classic.”

Raiders coach John Madden liked the idea of the Raiders hosting the Steelers, “because we don’t have to travel and we have the home crowd advantage.”

Because of their regular season 17-0 win in Pittsburgh and knocking out the heavily favored Dolphins, the Raiders were five points favorites.

L.C. Greenwood arrived in the stadium early and was watching the NFC Championship game. “What you doing?” asked a Raiders player. “Oh, just watching to see who we’ll be playing in the Super Bowl,” Greenwood replied casually.

The Game

The game began quietly with the teams exchanging field goals in the first half to take a 3-3 tie into the locker room. The Steelers offense was held back by Terry Bradshaw, Rocky Bleier and Lynn Swann all fumbling and a bad call when a John Stallworth touchdown catch was ruled out of bounds.

The Steelers Stunt 4-3 defense shut the Raiders running game down forcing Oakland to go to the air. It was the Raiders who scored the first touchdown. Stabler led Oakland on a 78-yard drive that finished with Cliff Branch hauling in a touchdown pass of 38 yards.

The Steelers defense got fired up. Two Jack Ham interceptions turned the momentum around. His turnovers came about from a coverage the Steelers called “Cover Four.” Ham’s part was to come across the field to cover the second back leaving the backfield open to a pass play.

The Steelers moved the chains 61 yards, finishing with an 8-yard touchdown run from Franco Harris. Swann followed that with a nifty 6-yard end zone catch. The Raiders then settled for a field goal before Harris added the final score with a 21-yard run.

Bleier cited the Steelers offensive line as the reason they dominated the game. “The blocking was super. It was as simple as that.”

“Their defense just crushed us,” admitted Raiders coach Madden. “I didn’t believe any team could handle us like that, but they did it. We couldn’t do a thing with our running game.”

The Steelers 24-13 victory took them to their first Super Bowl

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