When the defending champion Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers square off Sunday afternoon in Miami's Orange Bowl, they should produce the biggest upset in Super Bowl history—a good football game. In the past, the NFL championship has often been something less than super. You had a team with no offense, or one fumble-struck by all the hoopla, or—worst of all—the Minnesota Vikings. For excitement, the Super Bowl has rivaled watching Terry Bradshaw battle baldness.
Not this time. At long last, the AFC and the NFC have both put their best teams forward. The Steelers and the Cowboys are the two best in pro football, with outstanding organizations, coaches, quarterbacks and defenses. It looks like a super Super Bowl.
No two Super Bowl teams have ever had better credentials. The Steelers were the winningest team in the NFL this season, with a record of 14-2. They now have a seven-game winning streak, but that is only the second longest in the league. The Cowboys have won eight straight. Pittsburgh won the AFC championship game by 29 points. Dallas responded by winning the NFC championship game by 28. Pittsburgh yielded only five points to Houston in the title game, but Dallas was even stingier, shutting out Los Angeles.
Pittsburgh and Dallas have been down the Super Bowl road before. In fact, Sunday's game marks the first rematch in Super Bowl history. In Super Bowl X three years ago in the Orange Bowl, the Steelers edged the Cowboys 21-17 in a game considered by many to be the most exciting of these affairs yet played. This time around, the Steelers and the Cowboys have an extra incentive. Not only will the winners get $18,000 apiece, as well as Super Bowl rings worth about as much as the $2,500 it cost Art Rooney to obtain the Steelers in 1933, but they will also become the first team ever to win three Super Bowls. Pittsburgh is perfect in Super Bowl play, winning Games IX and X. Dallas has a .500 record, winning Games VI and XII, losing V and X.
Pittsburgh and Dallas have the most stable, effective organizations in their respective conferences. They also lead the NFL in developing their own talent, although neither force-feeds rookies into its starting lineup. Only one rookie—Steeler Cornerback Ron Johnson—will be among the 44 starters in XIII. Both teams signed 42 of their 45 players directly out of college. Under Coach Chuck Noll, who suffered through a 1-13 season in his first year as coach in 1969, the Steelers have now qualified for the playoffs seven straight years, the longest such streak in the league. Under Tom Landry, who endured an 0-11-1 record in 1960, the first season for both Landry and the Cowboys, Dallas has made the playoffs 12 times in the last 13 years.
Ten Steelers and nine Cowboys will play in next week's Pro Bowl. The starting quarterbacks in that game will be the starting quarterbacks on Sunday—Pittsburgh's Bradshaw and Dallas' Roger Staubach. Both Bradshaw and Staubach set club passing records for touchdowns this season. Staubach led the entire NFL with a quarterback rating of 84.9. Bradshaw led the AFC with a rating of 84.8 and was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player. Staubach and Bradshaw can each choose between throwing to a Pro Bowl wide receiver—Dallas' Tony Hill and Pittsburgh's Lynn Swann—or handing off to a Pro Bowl running back—Dallas' Tony Dorsett and Pittsburgh's Franco Harris.
And both Dallas and Pittsburgh have that mandatory ingredient of championship teams—an overpowering defense. The Cowboys' Flex Defense, Doomsday II, led the NFL in controlling the run, giving up just 107.6 yards rushing a game. Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain had the AFC's stingiest rushing defense, surrendering 110.9 yards on the ground per game. During Pittsburgh's current seven-game winning streak, the Steel Curtain hasn't allowed more than 100 yards rushing in any game. As for the bottom line—points—the Steelers gave up the fewest in the NFL, 195, while the Cowboys yielded the fewest in the NFC, 208.
When Dallas has the ball, the Cowboys will discover what Houston Coach Bum Phillips meant when he compared attacking the Steeler defense to "eating an ice-cream cone on a hot summer day. Before you get it all in your mouth, it gets all over you." In particular, Pittsburgh's jarring defensive backs, notably Safeties Mike Wagner and Donnie Shell, and its three linebackers—Jack Ham on the left, Jack Lambert in the middle and either Loren Toews or Robin Cole on the right—get all over end sweeps. The Cowboys will no doubt follow the example of most Steeler opponents and run Dorsett inside to his left, behind Guard Herbert Scott, their best offensive lineman. In other words, away from the left side of the Steeler defense, which is a roadblock composed of their two best defensive linemen, Mean Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood, and Ham, who may be the best outside linebacker ever to play in the NFL.
This year Dorsett joined John Brockington and Lawrence McCutcheon as the only players in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in each of their first two seasons. Dorsett gained 1,325 yards, 318 more than he had in 1977. Against Pittsburgh, he may prove to be more valuable as a pass receiver than a rusher. In passing situations. Pittsburgh likes to double-team both wide receivers—in Dallas' case, Hill and Drew Pearson—with a cornerback and a safety. If Hill and Pearson become bottled up, Staubach will have to turn to his inside receivers—Tight End Billy Joe DuPree and running backs Dorsett and Preston Pearson. All things considered, the Cowboys may well invite double coverage on the wide receivers and then tantalize the Steelers with short stuff. DuPree caught 34 passes for 509 yards and nine touchdowns, while Dorsett and Preston Pearson caught 37 and 47 passes, respectively, and averaged better than 10 yards per reception.
On defense, Dallas hopes to shut down the Steelers' running game and force Bradshaw to throw the ball more often than he would like. He threw an average of 23 times a game this season; the Cowboys would love to make Bradshaw go to the air at least 30 times. One reason is that Dallas led the NFL in sacks this season with 58, and the Cowboys feel that Pittsburgh's offensive line is not impenetrable. In Super Bowl X, the Cowboys chased Bradshaw all over the Orange Bowl, sacking him twice and ultimately knocking him out of the game. On the play on which he was KO'd, however, Bradshaw completed what proved to be the game-winning 64-yard touchdown pass to Swann.