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July 05, 2004
Dr. Z's Mailbag
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July 05, 2004

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Dr. Z's Mailbag

Jeremy of Minneapolis is into the history book, the pages of which I find myself constantly reading as senility approaches. "Are there any defenses that did not win a Super Bowl that would compare with the alltime greats?" he asks. "Any that were so good but had so little help on offense that they were ignored?"

The best defense I ever saw belonged to the 1976 Steelers. Terry Bradshaw was hurt in the fifth game, so the Steelers rallied around rookie quarterback Mike Kruczek, and the D allowed just two touchdowns in the next nine contests, which included five shutouts. Four Hall of Famers were on that unit. Mel Blount, Joe Greene (below, center) and Jack Ham (below, left) were all in their prime, and Jack Lambert was approaching his. Injuries wiped out Pittsburgh's running back corps in the playoffs, so the Steelers tried to run a three-tight-end offense against the Raiders and lost 24-7.

Then there were the '98 Chargers, who finished last in the AFC West but first in defense in the entire NFL, an unheard-of feat. "I've never been around anything like it," Pro Bowl strong safety Rodney Harrison said. "We'd stop 'em, three and out. Then Ryan Leaf and our offense would give 'em the ball back on the first play, so we'd go out and hold them, three and out, again. We never let up." I picked San Diego's defensive coordinator Joe Pascale as my coach of the year for SI that season.