Steelers 35, Cowboys 31
Super Bowl Victory
By John Clayton, The Pittsburgh Press
Bradshaw won the spelling bee. He wrapped the Dallas defense in a Terrible Towel and hurled it in a perfect spiral to Dallas.
Yes, Bradshaw, the ugly duckling, fumbling quarterback of years ago, has blossomed into the beautiful swan (no, not No. 88). Hurray for the good guy. Boo for the heavy, Henderson.
"It was like Tom Henderson always talks about -- a happy ending," said Franco Harris after the Steelers became the first team to win three Super Bowls, topping the Cowboys, 35-31, yesterday at the end of the rainbow, Miami's Orange Bowl.
By halftime, Bradshaw had destroyed the Super Bowl passing record (Bart Starr's 250-yard performance against Kansas City in Super Bowl I). By the end of the game, he had 17 of 30 completions for 318 yards, a career-high four touchdown passes and the MVP trophy. The quarterback whose intelligence is always questioned finally silenced all his critics.
"I hope this is the start of something good," said the man who has seen so much bad in his nine years in Pittsburgh. "Maybe I'm learning something. I wasn't going to let one game destroy a good season. I felt we had a good season but I wasn't going to let anyone ruin it for us."
Bradshaw played like a man possessed -- possessed with great talent and yes, the Terrible Towell. Towel power prevailed. In the third quarter when Jackie Smith broke free into the endzone, it was time for the towel.
When he broke free, I thought it was a touchdown," Steeler Safety Mike Wagner said. "I just said,'Get 'em towell.'"
His call worked. Smith, a sure-handed veteran who came out of retirement to join the Cowboys this year, dropped a low Roger Staubach pass in the endzone with the Steelers leading, 21-14. The Cowboys had to settle for a 27-yard Rafael Septien field goal.
The towel may have covered the eyes of the officials who did not see Steeler receiver Lynn Swann slip and elbow conerback Bennie Barnes.
Barnes, falling down, tripped Swann and drew a 33-yard penalty, setting up Franco Harris' 22-yard run that opened the Steeler lead to 28-17.
Oh, the Cowboys did rally from a 35-17 deficit, but surely this fairy tale belongs to Bradshaw, who said,"The game is the most important thing. You have to play the game. You don't win the game with words."
Speaking of words, Thomas Henderson will have quite a meal of them this week. His week-long promotion of his own ability and the demotion of the Steelers' talents backfired.
First, reserve linebacker Dirt Winston decked him on a first-quarter punt return and later Harris, angered at a rough Henderson tackle of Bradshaw after the whistle, rambled for a touchdown with vengeance in his eye.
"As you can see, I'm a little sad," said Henderson, his face moistened by a combination of tears and sweat. "I want to keep the competitive spirit in football and any time I don't, I'd get out."
It was easy to see that this was Bradshaw's day. Myron Cope talked Chuck Noll into letting Mike Webster wear a Terrible Towel for two plays. Webster kept the towel on the whole day. And Bradshaw wiped his hands on it, grabbed some magic and started completing passes.
Dallas took the opening kickoff and raced into Steeler territory on three Tony Dorsett runs for 38 yards. But the Cowboys abandoned the run and spoiled the offense. Drew Pearson fumbled a handoff from Dorsett on an end around double reverse and John Banaszak recovered.
"I think they may have been getting a little too cute with that flea-flicker," analyzed Steeler linebacker Jack Ham. "They tried to outsmart themselves."
Bradshaw then marched the Steelers upfield 53 yards in seven plays for a touchdown, lobbing a 28-yard strike to John Stallworth, one of two TD catches for Stallworth.
"On the first touchdown, we exploited a weakness we noticed on film," Stallworth said. "We saw the corners do some jumping. I took a slant, went back to the outside and Bradshaw (who pumped once) lobbed the ball."
But as Bradshaw was grabbing the spotlight yesterday, he also assumed the role of goat. He later overthrew Stallworth and linebacker D.D. Lewis intercepted a pass to end a promising drive. On the next possession, Bradshaw, chased by Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Harvey Martin, lost the ball and Jones recovered, giving Dallas possession at on the Steeler 41.
On the last play of the first quarter, Staubach hit Tony Hill for a 26-yard score. Safety Donnie Shell jammed Hill too closely at the line and fell behind. It was the only touchdown scored against the Steelers in the first quarter this season.
The first half was filled with exciting plays as both teams gambled on defense. With the score tied 7-7, Bradshaw had the ball knocked loose by his own man at the Steeler 48, scooped it back up, and was pressured and grabbed by both Henderson and Mike Hegman, who stole the ball and ran 37 yards for a touchdown. The Cowboys took a 14-7 lead, and Bradshaw bruised his left shoulder on the play, but soon returned to action. (Ed. note: I've got a broadcast videotape of this game, and the coaches were giving Bradshaw smelling salts on the sideline during the commercial time-out. He was pretty roughed up).
On 3rd and 5 from his own 25, Bradshaw passed to Stallworth near the sidelines at the Steeler 35 and Stallworth raced through the Cowboy defense for a 75-yard score, tying a Super Bowl record. (Ed. note: Lynn Swann made a great block on this play, taking out the only man in position to tackle Stallworth).
A Mel Blount interception gave the ball back to Bradshaw at the Steeler 44 with 1:41 remaining in the half. Bradshaw worked the 2-minute drill like a master. He hit Swann on 29 and 21-yard passes that moved the Steelers to the Cowboys 16. Three plays later, he rolled right and lofted a beautiful high pass into the endzone that Rocky Blier plucked from the air for a 7-yard touchdown to give the Steelers a 21-14 halftime lead.
"I think the Steelers and the Cowboys have played the two most exciting games ever to be played in the Super Bowl," Blier said. "I give credit to Dallas because they didn't quit today."
In the first half, Bradshaw had picked apart the Dallas secondary for 253 yards and three touchdowns while Dallas had only 102 total yards.
"I was surprised at how relaxed I was," Bradshaw said. "I was able to stay relaxed and not worry so much."
Little did he know at halftime that Stallworth would miss the rest of the game because of leg cramps. But injuries were a big part of the hard-hitting game.
Dallas DE "Too Tall" Jones missed a few plays because somebody stepped on his ankle. Steeler guard Gerry Mullins pinched a nerve in his neck and had the wind knocked out of him. Martin twisted an ankle and linebacker Jack Lambert was injured while trying to run over running back Scott Laidlaw on the Jackie Smith play. All in all, a very physical thrird quarter.
Staubach finally got his Cowboy offense moving midway through the third quarter. Using short, quick runs by Dorsett and some short passes, Staubach drove to the Steeler 10, setting up a key 3rd down and 3. That was when he found the right formation, isolating Smith in the end zone. But Smith dropped the low pass.
"I was wide open and I just missed it," Smith said.
"We weren't sure who was supposed to be covering on that pass,"Steeler safety Mike Wagner said. "All four DBs came off the field wondering what happened. We held a meeting but still couldn't figure it out."
Septien kicked his field goal, cutting the margin to four, 21-17. Bradshaw kept the Steeler offense moving, aided by the 33-yard interference call on Barnes, who said he was elbowed by Swann. (Ed. Note: For the record, I can see Barnes' beef with the interference call... it looked incidental to me. But Swannie sure as hell didn't elbow the guy! Barnes slipped and tripped Swann up. The official saw intereference. It happens.)
Harris converted the Steelers' good fortune on his 22-yard burst up the middle and upped the Steeler lead to 11. The Cowboys fell out of the game when Randy White fumbled the kickoff. Steelers Tony Dungy and Dirt Winston wrestled for the ball, with Winston pulling the ball away from Dungy in a pileup.
On the very next play, Bradshaw hit Swann for an 18-yard touchdown. Staubach rallied for two scores, but it was too little, too late.
"I wasn't sure we were in control until I fell on the ball at the end of the game," said Bradshaw.
Now, that's a happy ending.