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Bradshaw, who was able to accept the restraints of the Harris-led offense through the mid-1970s, opened up. He had averaged 20 passes a game in '74 and '75. In '78 and '79—when Pittsburgh won its third and fourth Super Bowls—he averaged 26. The running game, which accounted for 64% of the Steelers' offensive yardage in '76, was responsible for just 46% in '78 and 42% in '79. Again, that Steeler luck: Who knows how well they would have fared if the league hadn't removed the restraints on the passing game?
Willing players helped too. The Steelers began the 1978 season with consecutive 11-point wins over the Buffalo Bills and the Seattle Sea-hawks. Then they went on the road to Cincinnati, where they had always had trouble. The night before the game, as was his custom, Shell took a film projector to his room. He studied the Bengals' goal fine offense. When it got inside the three, Shell noticed, Cincinnati liked to pull the right guard and fill that hole with a diving fullback. The other back would then try to sweep in for a touchdown. Shell figured if he saw the same formation the next day, he would dive in the hole before the fullback filled it, knock down the guard and rely on his mates to swallow up the ballcarrier. The next day the Bengals had the ball in a goal line situation. The play developed just as Shell had envisioned it—and ended with running back Archie Griffin being tackled in the backfield for a three-yard loss. Cincinnati settled for a field goal. The Steelers won 28-3.
They won seven in a row to start the season. By the time they got to the Super Bowl, against Dallas, they had the 1974 feeling back. "The Friday before the game, Chuck had to stop practice," says Shell. "We were incredibly ready, and he didn't want to ruin it. He said, 'That's enough. We're ready.' " The Steelers beat Dallas 35-31. "We haven't peaked yet," Noll said after the game.
But they had. Or they were very close to it. Bradshaw was entering his 10th year; his backs, Harris and Bleier, their eighth and 10th, respectively. Greene. Greenwood, Ham, White and Blount would all be 30 or older that year. At camp before the 1979 season, Stallworth wondered aloud, "How can we get back what we had last season?" Once more, they could. They won four midseason games by an average margin of 26 points, and they beat the Rams 31-19 in their last Super Bowl appearance.
"I always thought one of the reasons we were good was because of competition," says Stallworth, who today owns an aerospace research and engineering firm in Huntsville. "Swannie and I were friends, but the fact that we were competing put a barrier between us. I wanted to make the big play; he wanted to make the big play. I was ticked off at times early in my career because I felt Bradshaw was forcing the ball to him when I'd be open. The competition was the same at other positions. L.C. and Dwight [White] wanted to be known as great players. Every linebacker had to play well to live up to the level of play there."
Yet the competition never seemed to poison the atmosphere. Noll and many of the players think that the old man, Art Sr., who died in 1988 at age 87, fostered the harmony that generally characterized those years on the Steelers. During the player strike in the summer of'74, Lambert and Mullins were working a picket line at the end of a road outside the Steelers' camp when Art Sr. drove up and handed them a six-pack of beer. "Thought you fellows might be awful hot out here," he told them.
It was the custom for Art Sr. to get a large suite in team hotels on the road. He would sometimes grumble about his accommodations—not that they weren't good enough, but that they were too good. On the day before the opening game of the 1979 season, against the Patriots in Foxboro, Mass., Rooney was walking from his suite to the lobby when he noticed a priest and some very well-dressed middle-aged people gathered in a standard room, with two double beds. Rooney stuck his head in amiably, as he often did, to find out what was up. A wedding, he was told. These people were about to be married in this room. "I've got a big room I'm not using," he said. "This room's too small for a wedding. Use mine." He took them to the room and gave them the key, and they got married.
According to Bleier, one reason for the Steelers' success was "that there wasn't a jerk on that team. And I think a lot of the way we acted stemmed from the top."
By the time they had won their fourth championship, however, the Steelers were getting old—and immensely popular. Twenty-one of them made national commercials in the late 1970s. Bradshaw and Greene were in a Burt Reynolds movie. Bradshaw went on a national tour for Terry Bradshaw Peanut Butter.
"After that, we just weren't that good anymore," says Bradshaw. "We didn't dominate. We were old. And personally, I was tired. God, you win four Super Bowls in six years, and it's like. I don't want to get up for Buffalo anymore. I got to training camp after making so much money that off-season, and I just wanted to rest. I needed a break."