has spent most of his career being thought of as the other Pittsburgh Steeler
wide receiver. But last Saturday in Three Rivers Stadium it was Stallworth, not
Lynn Swann, who was soaring up there into the mist to bring down the Terry
Bradshaw passes that destroyed the Denver Broncos, 33-10, in an AFC playoff
game that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated.
from Alabama A&M, which obviously stands for Acrobat & Marvel. You
could ask Steve Foley, the Bronco cornerback, about that. Foley had a wonderful
view of practically everything Stallworth did, including all 10 of his
catches—a playoff record—for 156 yards and one touchdown. Stallworth's efforts
also set up a couple of other touchdowns and one of Roy Gerela's two field
Foley was supposed
to be covering Stallworth, but to say that he played him loose would be an
understatement. Stallworth did catch several balls underneath Foley, who was
seldom closer than five yards away, but Stallworth also spent a lot of time
leaping into the air in the manner of his friend Swann to pluck the ball out of
The fact is, Foley
was victimized as much by the Broncos' brain trust as by either Bradshaw or
Stallworth. Denver came into the game Swann-conscious, which made sense. In the
regular season, Swann had grabbed 61 passes (20 more than Stallworth), and
Swann, after all, was the All-Pro. Denver therefore decided to double-cover
Swann with a zone, which left just one man, Foley, to deal with Stallworth.
For its part, the
Pittsburgh brain trust had astutely figured out that Denver might just set its
defense to shut Swann down, and had in mind a game plan that made Stallworth
the primary receiver. Even so, Denver's scheme might have worked had the
Broncos put more pressure on Bradshaw. But the Broncos rarely got a strong pass
rush, and when they did, Bradshaw would drift outside and eventually find old
82 running clear.
his presence felt early. With the Steelers trailing 3-0 in the first quarter,
he got them rolling on a 66-yard drive by catching a 19-yard pass from
Bradshaw. Then he got so wide open on a flea-flicker that the Broncos' Bernard
Jackson could do nothing but desperately interfere with him. The penalty put
the ball on the Denver 12. Four plays and a penalty later, Stallworth caught a
16-yard pass to set up the first of Franco Harris' two touchdowns, which he
scored from one yard out.
Stallworth set up
the next touchdown with perhaps his best catch of the day, jumping as high as
the crossbar to bring down a 22-yard toss. On the next play, Harris, who gained
105 yards for the day, rumbled in to score for a 13-3 lead.
catch was an equally beautiful thing to see—unless you happened to be Steve
Foley. This was in the fourth quarter with the Steelers leading 19-10, and the
chief suspense was whether Stallworth would make a 10th grab to set the record.
Rather than sit on the lead, Bradshaw chose to try to put the game away. So he
fired a 45-yard pass into the end zone, where Stallworth was racing a step
ahead of Foley.
It was as close as
Foley had been to his nemesis all day, but when they went up after the ball, it
was Stallworth who got his hands on it. Stallworth failed to come down with
both feet inside the end line, but he did get one shoe inside. The officials
signaled touchdown, ruling Foley had forced Stallworth off the field.
Apart from the
dazzling performance of Stallworth, the game ran pretty close to form. The
Steelers resembled the club with the best won-lost record in the league, and
Denver looked like the team that had played .500 ball the previous month. The
Steelers' balance of rushing and passing was impressive, and both their offense
and defense were overwhelming. Defensively, they chased Craig Morton from the
game before the second quarter was over, and when Norris Weese, the Mississippi
CPA, took over, they had him running for his life.