SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
January 26, 1976
Caught between the man-eating Pittsburgh defense and the pass-catching wizardry of Lynn Swann, the Cowboys fell just short in their gallant bid for a Super Bowl upset
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January 26, 1976

Dallas Feels The Steeler Crunch

Caught between the man-eating Pittsburgh defense and the pass-catching wizardry of Lynn Swann, the Cowboys fell just short in their gallant bid for a Super Bowl upset

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For all of those gaudy things that happened throughout the afternoon, memories of the 1976 Super Bowl will keep going back to the Pittsburgh Steelers' Lynn Swann climbing into the air like the boy in the Indian rope trick, and coming down with the football. He didn't come down with very many passes last Sunday, really, only four, but he caught the ones that truly mattered. That is why it will seem that he spent the day way up there in the crisp sky, a thousand feet above Miami's Orange Bowl, where neither the Dallas Cowboys nor even a squadron of fighter planes could do anything to stop him. When it was all over Lynn Swann and the Steelers had won 21-17 and had repeated as the champions of professional madness.

The thinking beforehand was that Pittsburgh could win this game only if Franco Harris trampled over and through a thing called the flex defense of the intellectual Cowboys who, in the meantime, on offense, would do enough weird things to the hard-hat Steelers to capture the day and write a perfect finish to their storybook season. Essentially Dallas stopped Harris, however, and the winning of Super Bowl x was left up to Swann and the indomitable Terry Bradshaw, who seems to collect concussions and championship rings with equal facility. Just for good measure there also was a defense that could probably take apart an attacking tank battalion if it had to. But mainly it was Swann, keeping Pittsburgh in a game that looked to be swaying, early on, toward the underdog Cowboys. It was Swann, soaring above the Cowboys' Mark Washington at the sideline, who fielded a Bradshaw pass of 32 yards and made the drive that put Pittsburgh back in the contest late in the first quarter. Until then Dallas had done everything but cause the Orange Bowl floats to disappear.

And in the fourth quarter it was Swann who would make the biggest catch of the day, a 64-yard touchdown heave from Bradshaw, who didn't realize until much later, after his head stopped rattling, that he had passed for a touchdown. This was the play that put the Steelers safely ahead 21-10. Only a few impossible last-minute deeds by the Cowboys could have changed the outcome of Super Bowl X, and though they were dead game and scored one more touchdown they just were not quite a good enough football team to pull it off.

That last catch of Swann's has to be dwelled on, for it had Super Bowl trophy and $15,000 to each Steeler written all over it. There was so much to the play—so much that could have happened, and so much that did. It ended with Swann catching a rocket from Bradshaw that traveled at least 70 yards in the air, Swann jumping and taking it on the Dallas five-yard line and gliding in for the touchdown, and Bradshaw barely conscious on the ground after being decked by Cliff Harris on a safety blitz. For those who collect trivia, the name of the play was a "69 Maximum Flanker Post."

The play began with the Steelers trying to protect a lead of 15-10 with just over three minutes left in the game. It was third down and four to go at the Steeler 36, and Dallas wanted the football badly. There was still plenty of time for Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson to conjure up some of that witchcraft they used on the Minnesota Vikings.

Perhaps we'll never know what possessed Bradshaw to call 69 Maximum Flanker Post when the world had a right to expect Pittsburgh to try only for the first down, the percentage move to keep the ball. It may be that Bradshaw is not as dumb as it has become numbingly popular for his critics to suggest. One could certainly say he remembered Swann at just the right time.

So instead of giving the ball to Franco Harris, Bradshaw faded back to throw the long one—a wild gamble, it appeared. Alas, Dallas had figured it properly; the blitz was on, and D.D. Lewis came storming at Bradshaw from his blind side, with Cliff Harris right behind him. For a fleeting instant it seemed that Lewis would reach the quarterback before he could release the ball, causing either a sack or a fumble. But Bradshaw, possibly just sensing Lewis, took a step to his right. Lewis missed him by a hair. That gave Bradshaw enough time to unload the pass.

In the next instant Cliff Harris destroyed Bradshaw with a whack the 80,197 in the stadium might have heard if their attention had not been turned to the flight of the ball and the blur of Swann's footrace with the Cowboys' Mark Washington. Washington will have to live with the knowledge that he covered Swann as well as anyone could have but could not leap as high or as deftly at the right time.

Finally, it was a beautifully thrown ball, a perfectly run pass route and a marvelous catch, all three at the most splendid moment—for Pittsburgh—of a rather important football game.

Players who are involved in such heroics seldom have much to say afterwards that would give them more meaning. Swann said,' 'All I did was run under the ball." He thought for a moment and figured there must be more to it than that. He remembered that earlier, referring to another pass, Cliff Harris had told him, "You're lucky you didn't come back on that ball because I'm gonna take a shot at you. You better watch your head."

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