Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Truly 'Super' Super Bowl

In its first 12 years of existence, the Super Bowl was a blowout more often than not.

A few games were relatively close (i.e., victory margins in single digits). The New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts by nine points in Super Bowl III; the Colts turned back the Dallas Cowboys with a last–second field goal in Super Bowl V; the unbeaten Miami Dolphins topped the Washington Redskins by a touchdown in Super Bowl VII; and the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cowboys by four points in Super Bowl X.

But those were the exceptions.

That made what happened 35 years ago today in Miami so remarkable.

There was no shortage of compelling storylines. The game was the first–ever Super Bowl rematch. The winner would be the first franchise to win three Super Bowls. The Cowboys were the defending Super Bowl champions, looking to repeat.

The Steelers were favored by 3½ points. The oddsmakers clearly expected a close game.

And the oddsmakers were right. The Steelers prevailed, 35–31, inspiring more than one sportswriter to observe that Super Bowl XIII lived up to the hype. It really was super.

Pittsburgh's Terry Bradshaw threw four TD passes and was the game's MVP. Roger Staubach had three TD passes, but he would have had four if Jackie Smith hadn't dropped a sure touchdown in the end zone in the third quarter. Staubach wouldn't let Smith take all the blame. "The play was wide open, so I tried to take a little off the ball and I think I threw it too low," he said after the game.

Perhaps the pass was a little low, but Smith knew that wasn't the whole story. "I just was wide open and I missed it," he said.

That dropped pass forced Dallas to settle for a field goal instead of scoring a game–tying touchdown, and the Cowboys never led again. They only led once all afternoon as it was — and briefly at that — after Mike Hegman stripped the ball from Bradshaw and rambled 37 yards to give Dallas a 14–7 advantage early in the second quarter.

The Steelers tied it up about a minute and a half later when Bradshaw hit John Stallworth for a 75–yard touchdown strike. They seized the lead in the closing seconds of the half when Bradshaw hit Rocky Bleier for a touchdown, capitalizing on Staubach's only interception of the day.

Dallas' Tony Dorsett led all rushers with 96 yards, but Pittsburgh's Franco Harris had the game's only TD run.

The victory — and the one the following year — sealed the Steelers' place as the team of the decade. They, along with Miami and Dallas, had two Super Bowl championships to their credit when the game began. They finished the decade with four Super Bowl titles in six years.

When did the Steelers wrap it up? I think an argument can be made that, when Smith dropped the pass and the Cowboys had to take a field goal instead of a touchdown, that was when the Steelers began to believe they would win, and the Cowboys began to believe they would lose.

Then Pittsburgh broke it open with two touchdowns in a 19–second span midway through the fourth quarter. Harris scored his touchdown run, then Pittsburgh recovered a fumbled kickoff and built the lead to 35–17 with 6:57 to play on Bradshaw's 18–yard strike to Lynn Swann.

Dallas managed two late touchdowns, but the deficit was simply too great to overcome.

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