SITE: ROSE BOWL, PASADENA
DATE: JAN. 20, 1980
CLAIM TO FAME: STALLWORTH HOLDS SUPER BOWL RECORDS FOR AVERAGE YARDS PER CATCH IN A CAREER (24.4) AND A GAME (40.3 IN XIV).
THERE WAS A LOT being written, as I recall, about the Rams and how they had just barely gotten through the NFC playoffs and would be a cakewalk for us in the Super Bowl. But we weren't looking much like a juggernaut leading up to the game. None of our practices were all that sharp. One play in particular—60 Prevent, Slot, Hook and Go—never worked. The play was designed to exploit a window in the Rams' zone double coverage and called for me, the slot receiver, to run 15 yards downfield, fake a hitch, then break for the end zone. It was meant to take advantage of a certain coverage the Rams liked to play that we called "in and out," in which they'd put a defensive back on either side of a receiver and charge one with protecting the inside route, the other with protecting the outside and then just play the deep pass by ear. If at least one of them bit on the fake, it would open up things over the top.
Fast-forward to the third quarter. Lynn Swann was knocked out of the game one series after scoring a touchdown that gave us a 17-13 lead. Backup Theo Bell had already left the game after being leveled on a punt return. I knew that if we were going to get a big play out of the passing game, it was going to be on me. So with a little more than 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, we were down two points and facing third-and-eight on our 27, and Chuck Noll called 60 Prevent, Slot, Hook and Go. Even though we didn't have a whole lot of confidence in it, there was no trepidation in the huddle. We knew that if I ran a good route, it could be huge for us.
Terry Bradshaw hiked the ball, and I saw about 11 yards into my route that I had the coverage I wanted. I gave the fake at about 15, 16 yards—not a great fake, but enough to cause the defensive backs to hesitate just a bit. Once I saw the ball in the air, my next thought was, Terry, you've overthrown me. So I briefly turned away and sprinted downfield some more before I tried to find the ball again. When I did, I was kind of off-course for its trajectory and actually ended up catching it over my left shoulder. That kept the defender, who had leaped in anticipation of a pass coming over the opposite shoulder, from making a play or stopping me from reaching the end zone.
My 73-yard catch and run put us up 24-19 and triggered a sigh of relief on our sideline. Not only had the play worked, but it broke the Rams' backs too. We knew we were ahead to stay.
—As told to Andrew Lawrence