SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
January 20, 1975
Pressuring the Vikings with a vigorous attack and an overwhelming defense, the Steelers bulled their way to sweet victory in the Super Bowl
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January 20, 1975

Pittsburgh Punches It Out

Pressuring the Vikings with a vigorous attack and an overwhelming defense, the Steelers bulled their way to sweet victory in the Super Bowl

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And now, for an encore, the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense will pick up Tulane Stadium and throw it into the middle of Bourbon Street. L.C. Greenwood, or perhaps Mean Joe Greene, will swallow what is left of Fran Tarkenton in a crawfish bisque. Why not? Along with Ernie Holmes and Dwight White, they have already enjoyed dining on the Minnesota running game—has anyone tasted Chuck Foreman's jersey lately?—and making Vikings fly this way and that through the frozen gray sky over New Orleans.

In the 16-6 Super Bowl victory last Sunday that Pittsburgh richly deserved, the Steeler defense was so magnificent that the Viking offense never scored a single point, except two for Pittsburgh. The Steel Curtain was physical and unyielding; at one point, with a yard to go for a first down, Tarkenton decided his best play was a long count that might lure the Steelers offside, evidently because he felt he had no hope of making the yard any other way.

The Steeler defense was so much in control of the game that the Vikings gained only 17 yards on the artificial turf, 12 fewer than Pittsburgh yielded to Oakland in the AFC championship. Tarkenton must have known it was going to be one of those days. He went to the air early and stayed there, not that it did him much good. Rolling to his right to evade the Pittsburgh defenders who kept swarming after him, he threw 27 times and completed just 11 for only 102 yards. Three of his passes were intercepted, four were deflected and many were hurried.

With defense like this, it was inevitable that the game would have a lot of insane turnaround plays, and it did. How about a safety, which made the score 2-0 Pittsburgh at halftime? Tarkenton, on his own 10-yard line, faked a quick pitch-out and tried to hand the ball to Dave Osborn on a dive. But the ball either hit Chuck Foreman's hip or Foreman's hip hit the ball, and the next thing anybody knew Tarkenton was scrambling—after the ball, which was scooting toward the end zone—and being pursued by every Steeler but Art Rooney. Fran prevented a Pittsburgh touchdown by recovering the ball and sliding across the goal line with it for the safety.

Tarkenton was in several other unnatural poses throughout the day because of the Pittsburgh defense. There was the aforementioned occasion when, with fourth-and-one at their 37, the Vikings decided to gamble. They lined up tight. Fran bent over the center and began reciting either the signals or Swannn's Way. Weeks went by and eventually the play ended up in an argument and no play at all. It was still fourth-and-one and the Vikings decided there was nothing left to do now but punt.

Then there was the time Tarkenton threw two passes on the same play. This was another of those marvelous interludes where Fran was running for life and limb, looking for Wide Receiver John Gilliam downfield where he might be interfered with—which turned out to be Minnesota's best play all day and, one might add, its only hope. Tarkenton threw the ball. It was deflected by L.C. Greenwood right back to Tarkenton, who threw another pass. This one got to Gilliam for an electrifying gain, except that there happens to be this rule that you cannot throw two forward passes on the same play.

In his behalf, it must be noted that Tarkenton did get one drive going toward the end of the first half. He moved Minnesota 55 yards to the Pittsburgh 25. At that point he passed across the middle to Gilliam near the goal line, but the ball was batted out of his hands and Mel Blount intercepted.

The final embarrassment for the Minnesota offense came after it got the biggest break of the game early in the fourth quarter with Pittsburgh leading 9-0. The Steelers' Mike Wagner drew an interference call for shoving Gilliam on a deep pattern, which gave Minnesota a first down at the Pittsburgh five. Suddenly it was a ball game again, but on the first play from scrimmage, Mean Joe Greene pinched so fast on a Foreman stab at the middle that Foreman fumbled, and after poking around for a while Greene came up with the ball. As he trotted off the field, Greene, who earlier had intercepted a pass, gestured triumphantly, shaking his fist at the Vikings, a Steeler way of saying who was the boss. It was the Steeler defense.

In recent weeks, as the Steelers destroyed Buffalo and Oakland on their way to the Super Bowl, the defense had got into the habit of teasing the offense. "Just hold 'em, we'll get the points," Linebacker Andy Russell would say to Terry Bradshaw now and then.

As it happened, Minnesota's defense wasn't bad, either, and it did get the only points the Vikings scored. The touchdown came, typically for this day, on a blocked punt. Matt Blair crashed through to knock down Bobby Walden's punt, the ball bouncing neatly into the hands of Viking Terry Brown in the end zone. But, just as typical of the whole 1974 pro season, Fred Cox saw his placement try for the extra point strike the goalpost and bounce back.

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