Golden Football Magazine
NFL Championship Games
This series covers the history of the NFL through the prism of its yearly championship games.
Note: The gray boxes contain asides that provide interesting material but could be skipped without losing the continuity of the article.
Super Bowl XIV - Los Angeles Rams vs Pittsburgh Steelers: Pregame
On the heels of the game-changing rules modifications for the 1978 season, the committee adopted additional changes, most of which were designed to make the game safer.
  • Kickoff and punt return units were prohibited from blocking below the waist.
  • The area where crackback blocks could be made was further restricted to within three to five yards past the offensive tackles along the line of scrimmage.
  • Players who used their helmets to butt, spear, or ram an opponent would be cited for unnecessary roughness.
  • The "in the grasp" rule was installed to encourage officials to blow their whistles sooner when the defense got to the quarterback when he was in the pass pocket.
    Steelers' MLB Jack Lambert reacted to still another restriction on defenders by suggesting that quarterbacks "should now wear dresses."
  • In reaction to the Raiders' "Holy Roller" play, a fourth down fumble could be recovered only by the player who fumbled the ball. Furthermore, a fumble on any down after the two-minute warning could be advanced only by the player who fumbled the ball.
  • Goal post uprights were extended to 30' above the crossbar.

The Steelers and Cowboys were big favorites to return to the Super Bowl.

  • The defending Super Bowl champions from Pittsburgh looked even stronger. "We've got all our first-line people back. There were no retirements," said QB Terry Bradshaw just before the regular season. "And our second-line guys are much stronger. We've got great depth." The Men of Steel would need that depth because the 22 starters were all a year older, averaging 29.
  • Chuck Noll's 11th Steeler team started 4-0 on their way to a 12-4 regular season and the AFC Central Championship by one game over the Houston Oilers. Pittsburgh led the AFC in points scored (416) and tied for third in points allowed (262).
  • With the Raiders missing the postseason for the second year in a row, Pitt breezed through the AFC playoffs, downing Miami 34-14 and Houston 27-13 to earn the club's fourth Super Bowl berth in the last six years.

Dallas's season started shakily. DE "Too Tall" Jones abruptly retired to pursue a pro boxing career. During the summer, star HB Tony Dorsett fell off a horse and dropped a wall mirror on his foot. As a result, he missed the first two games of the regular season

  • The Cowboys finished 11-5 to tie the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East.
  • After enjoying a first round bye because of tie breakers, Dallas was upset at home by the Los Angeles Rams 21-19.
  • The Rams then shut out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had made the playoffs for the first time in their four years of existence.

No one foresaw the Rams reaching the Super Bowl.

  • Los Angeles had been a solid team for most of the '70s, winning at least ten games every season from '73 through '78. Yet they never got over the hump and won the NFC.
  • Owner Carroll Rosenbloom had drowned in April while swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. His wife Georgia inherited 70% of the Rams. As majority owner, she appointed herself president and fired Steve Rosenbloom, her stepson and a popular executive with the team who had been his father's closest advisor.
  • Second-year head coach Ray Malavasi was hospitalized shortly afterward for hypertension a year after undergoing quadruple bypass surgery.
  • Additionally, the club had to deal with the persistent rumors - which would prove to be correct - that the team was jettisoning the L.A. Coliseum for Anaheim the following season. To make matters worse, QB Pat Haden suffered a fractured finger on his right hand in Game 10 that ended his season. So Malavasi turned the offensive reins over to Vince Ferragamo, who had yet to start a game in his three years with the Rams.
  • Finishing fifth in the NFC in both points scored and points allowed, the '79 team won four of their last five games. Their 9-7 record ended the double-digit win streak but was still good enough to edge the 8-8 New Orleans Saints for the playoff berth from the weak NFC West.
  • LA won two playoff games on the road over Dallas - on Ferragamo's late 50y TD pass to Billy Waddy - and Tampa Bay to reach the Super Bowl for the first time.
    Rams veteran LB Jack Youngblood recalled: "In all honesty, the Rams were probably a better football team between 1973 and 1978 than we were in 1979. We had a more dominating defense and a stronger running game."
    "It was a roller coaster of a season," said Ferragamo. "First, not being expected to be in the playoffs and then making it with a 9-7 record. When I started playing mid-season, we caught fire. we were playing our best ball at the end of the season. They were total team victories with offense, defense and special teams."

Most observers believed the Steelers would have little trouble disposing of the upstart Rams. But the Pittsburgh players were far from overconfident.

  • While the Steelers had a decided edge in experience, age and the wear and tear of another grueling season had worn them down. The 262 points yielded during the regular season were the most a Pitt defensive unit had given up since 1971, the last season the team had not made the postseason. One writer has summarized the situation like this. "Pittsburgh was good and sporadically great, but it no longer dominated opponents consistently."
    The Steelers had two clunkers during the '79 season - a 34-10 loss to the winless Bengals in Week 7 and a 35-7 drubbing in San Diego in Week 12.
  • Noll continued to push his grizzled veterans to play at an even higher level. DE John Banaszak recalled, "He always had high expectations for his football team. I know that he had to know how good we were. ... He would always push us a little bit harder. His message was that we could do this all over again. He was a masterful motivator."
  • With many Steelers, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was getting weaker. DT Joe Greene recalled his performance during the '79 season like this: "I wasn't as quick, wasn't as fast, wasn't as strong. Plays that I was making in the past, I wasn't making anymore. Early on, 1974, 1975, 1976, we could play defense that was really truly stifling. In 1978 and 1979, we did play some stifling defense, but it was kind of hit or miss."
  • Gerry Mullins, a fixture in the O-line during Pitt's magical run, had lost his starting job in 1979. However, an injury brought him back into the lineup. "That was sort of the tail-end of my career," Mullins recalled. "I was battling some injuries. I had pretty much been replaced by Steve Courson. I was sort of a backup at the time but then Steve got hurt, so I ended up starting that game (the Super Bowl)."
  • Many Steelers wondered if Super Bowl XIV was their last hurrah. "We realized that was the last go-round," recalled LB Jack Ham. "We could see the handwriting on the wall." "Teams were starting to catch up to us," recalls Greene. "We were tired," said Bradshaw about the '79 team. But we added, "We sure did hate to lose."

Another reason the Steelers respected the Rams was the fact that Malavasi's staff included three former Pittsburgh assistants.

  • Bud Carson had been the defensive coordinator from 1973-77 who designed the complicated Cover 2 zone coverage for the Steel Curtain secondary. In the same capacity with the Rams, Carson's defense limited the Steelers to 174y in a 10-7 LA victory during the 1978 season.
    Carson later said, "At that point, I thought we were a better defense than Pittsburgh. L.A. was a good football team, it really was. Dallas kept them from going to the Super Bowl a lot of years."
    LB Jim Youngblood recalled, "Bud came in the first day after we beat Tampa and he was all fired up. He said, 'We can beat them. I know we can beat them. We've done it before with the same personnel. We can beat them.' Once we started watching films of the Steelers, I knew we could beat them, too."
  • Dan Radakovich coached Noll's offensive line from 1974-77.
  • Rams offensive coordinator Lionel Taylor coached the Pittsburgh wide receivers from 1970-76.
    Banaszak: "It takes great talent to get to that position (the Super Bowl). If you try to underestimate anybody, then you're a fool. A few of our old assistant coaches were with the Rams, so we knew they were going to be well coached. They had some great players, especially on their defensive line. ... They knew us probably better than any other opponent we could have faced in that game. They knew our personnel because of the coaches, and we knew going in it was going to be a tough game."
  • The Rams knew the Steelers wouldn't take them lightly but used the blowout predictions of the media as motivation.
    "We were heavy underdogs but that worked to our advantage," recalled Ferragamo. "We were given no respect, but people who knew us thought different. That gave us more incentive and fired us up, especially the veteran players we had on our team."

While the Super Bowl was almost old hat for the Steelers, some Rams were disappointed they were playing in their own back yard.

  • The Rose Bowl in Pasadena was only 13.9 miles from the Los Angeles Coliseum where the Rams played their home games.
  • DE Jack Youngblood, the Rams captain, recalled, "I'd gone to different Super Bowls as an observer and I'd been to Miami and New Orleans and all the other places, and then the year I finally get to go as a player, I don't get to go anyplace."
  • On the bright side, more L.A. fans could attend without spending a small fortune on travel and lodging. The Steelers regarded Super Bowl XIV as a Rams home game - another reason to be wary of the NFC champs.
  • Following NFL protocol, eight days before the game the Rams moved into the hotel in Orange County that had been booked for the NFC champions. Youngblood saw the wisdom of the move. "We could kind of stay away from all the hoopla surrounding the game and all those other distractions. ... We were a veteran team and went about trying to make it business as usual."
  • The night before the game, the Rams transferred to a new Hyatt Regency in downtown Los Angeles.

The Steelers flew to California as 11-point favorites.

  • Many reporters focused their articles on the Steelers' quest for sports immortality. A sample: "They are now chasing legends. The Pittsburgh Steelers enter their fourth Super Bowl with the official foe listed as the Los Angeles Rams. But the Steelers find the shadow of Vince Lombardi hanging over this Super Bowl. The name of Lombardi, the late, legendary Green Bay Packer coach, is stamped on the gleaming Super Bowl trophies. The Steelers already have three of them in a glass case in their lobby. They're heavily favored to become the first team to win four of them. If they beat the Rams, they'll become only the second team since the modern era began after World War II to win four championships in six years. That team was Lombardi's Packers, who won five times in seven years in the 1960s ..."
  • The chance to make history was on the minds of the Steelers. "Five championships ... five championships," repeated DT Joe Greene. "That is something special."
  • Coach Noll insisted his club was not taking the Rams lightly. He was an assistant coach under Don Shula at Baltimore for Super Bowl III when Joe Namath's New York Jets upset the heavily-favored Colts. Chuck said the Rams compared favorably to the two Dallas teams and the Minnesota club that the Steelers defeated in their first three Super Bowl games. "They have a very capable defense, and they have the offensive weapons that can produce the big play. When you have two defensive teams on the field, the penchant for the big play can separate them." That prediction would prove to be on the mark.
  • Noll said his men enjoyed the Super Bowl scene. "Our team responds well to big games. We have the kind of people who get excited by big games."
  • However, some Steelers felt the pressure of living up to expectations. LB Robin Cole recalled: "We were the team that was expected to win. Of course, the Rams wanted to win the game, but the pressure to win was on the Steelers, not the Rams." Greene agreed. "They're a team with nothing to lose. The 12-4 (record) we had this year, the 9-7 they had. That doesn't matter any more. The only tangible thing is winning the damn football game."

One reporter wrote that Rams coach Ray Malavasi "looks more like a friendly bartender than a football coach."

  • Perhaps no one was more surprised at reaching football's pinnacle than the 24-year coaching veteran. After all, he was one loss from being fired when the Rams came to life in late November and steamed through the playoffs to the NFC title.
  • But that wasn't enough to satisfy the former defensive coordinator. He told the press a week before the game: "Just to be satisfied with getting to the Super Bowl," said Malavasi, "is crazy. Winning it is what's important. That's what I've been telling our people all along. I'll tell you this. I'm comfortable right now, a lot more so than I was back when we were 6-5 and had everyone hurting."
  • He recognized the Steelers had great personnel and excellent coaching. But he proclaimed, "If I could bet, I'd bet on us. We've had very good practices all week. ... I think our players are aware of what it will take to get the job done."
  • Ray respected Noll but added, "No, I don't think he has an advantage over me. I've been coaching as long as he has, maybe even longer. And our team is not as bad as some people have made it out to be, and I seriously doubt whether Pittsburgh is as good as they're made out to be. All that will be resolved Sunday, though, so there's no point in arguing about it now."
  • While not revealing an iota of the game plan his staff had developed with the aid of the three former Steeler assistants, Malavasi said, "We've run the ball on every team we've played. ... If we move the ball, we've got a good chance to win. And as I said, I think we've got a good chance to win the game."

The news media highlighted the contrast in QBs.

  • Terry Bradshaw: age 31, ninth year in the NFL, 118 starts including three Super Bowls, MVP of Super Bowl XIII
    Vince Ferragamo: age 25, third year in the NFL, 4 starts including two playoff games
  • A native of the Los Angeles area, Ferragamo had the dubious distinction of being the Super Bowl starting QB with the least experience. He agreed that the Steelers enjoyed an edge at QB. "That's a fact. That's a fair way to describe it." But Vince showed his confidence by telling a reporter that he considered himself the #1 Rams QB on merit even though Pat Haden's injured pinky had healed. Asked if he had a prediction for the game like Joe Namath, Vince replied, "I won't make a prediction, but I think we'll be on top when the game is over."
    Teammates called Ferragamo a "space cadet" (absent-minded). In a late season game against the 49ers, Malavasi told him what play to run. Then Vince trotted into the huddle and called a completely different one. "Vince is a smart guy," said Ram receiver Preston Dennard. "But there are times when you've got to ask him about some things." Bradshaw could sympathize since he had been labeled dumb in the early years of his career. Vince made the Big Eight All-Academic team with a 3.6 GPA at Nebraska and was accepted to medical school.
  • Bradshaw talked to reporters about his Rams counterpart. "I think if he finds out he's in the Super Bowl, he'll get scared to death. I know. I went through it." Terry sent a message to Ferragamo via former Redskins QB Sonny Jurgenson. "He told me to just keep calm and take it like any other game," Ferragamo said. "He didn't need to do that. I realize where I am. This is what the game is all about. If you don't enjoy the big games, there's no sense in playing."

Both sides dealt with injury issues.

  • Jack Youngblood played the entire post-season with a fractured fibula. "I couldn't personally savor the win over Tampa Bay because I was playing with a broken fibula in my left and it was hindering my play. I had broken it in the second quarter of the Dallas game." Team doctors told him his leg was already broken, so continuing to play wouldn't make the injury worse. "They said if I could manage the pain and deal with that and still play at a reasonably high level, then it was up to me. ... Going into the Super Bowl ... I was probably only capable of playing 60 percent of how Jack Youngblood was supposed to play. ... I had the trust of the coaches that if I was a detriment to the defense I'd take myself out."
  • The Steelers would play without two of their defensive stalwarts, LB Jack Ham (broken foot) and FS Mike Wagner (hip and hamstring). Dennis "Dirt" Winston replaced Ham, and former CB J. T. Thomas filled Wagner's spot.
    Thomas had missed the entire 1978 season with a severe blood disorder.

Two players, one in each locker room, had special challenges as they prepared for the game.

  • Youngblood had a unique way of preparing for the game. "My leg was taped and we had built ourselves a special stirrup-like brace that was supposed to keep the fibula from moving more than it normally did. I wasn't taking any shots or painkillers - there wasn't any way that was going to take away a broken leg."
  • Terry Bradshaw slept only three hours the night before the game - midnight to 3 a.m. He averaged less than five hours of sleep for the whole week. He just couldn't shake the feeling. The Steelers were going to lose. "It was weird. It just wasn't like me, not being able to sleep before a big game. Last year before Dallas I didn't have any trouble. I never had any negative thoughts. I never think about losing. I had to say to myself, 'Stop that now. Think positive. Finally, it worked." Would sleep deprivation affect his play?

CBS televised the game with Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier announcing.

  • A 30-second commercial cost $222,000, up $37,000 from the year before.
  • The game drew an estimated 76.2 million viewers, an increase of 2.5 million from Super Bowl XIII.
  • Actress Cheryl Ladd sang the National Anthem.
  • The NFL honored Pittsburgh owner Art Rooney by asking him to flip the coin.

The Super Bowl record crowd of 103,985 was split about 50/50 between the two fan bases. The Steeler fans waved their Terrible Towels throughout the contest. The temperature was 67° at kickoff.

Terry Bradshaw

Chuck Noll

Carroll Rosenbloom

Georgia Rosenbloom

Ray Malavasi

Pat Haden

Vince Ferragamo

Billy Waddy

John Banaszak

Gerry Mullins

Steve Courson

Bud Carson

Dan Radakovich in his later years

Jack Youngblood

Robin Cole

Dennis Winston

J. T. Thomas

1979 Los Angeles Rams
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
3 Frank Corral K 6-2 225 UCLA 2
8 Jeff Rutledge QB 6-1 195 Alababma 1
13 Ken Clark P 6-2 195 St. Mary's (Canada) 1
15 Vince Ferragamo QB 6-3 205 California, Nebraska 3
19 Bob Lee QB 6-2 195 Arizona St., Pacific 11
20 Jackie Wallace S 6-3 195 Arizona 6
21 Nolan Cromwell S 6-1 195 Kansas 3
24 Eddie Hill RB 6-2 205 Memphis 1
25 Eddie Brown S 5-11 185 Tennessee 6
26 Wendell Tyler RB 5-10 190 UCLA 3
27 Pat Thomas CB 5-9 185 Texas A&M 4
28 Ken Ellis CB 5-10 190 Southern 10
30 Lawrence McCutcheon RB 6-1 205 Colorado State 8
32 Cullen Bryant RB 6-1 235 Colorado 7
33 Dwayne O'Steen CB 6-1 195 California, San Jose St. 2
37 Ivory Sully CB 6-0 200 Delaware 1
42 Dave Elmendorf S 6-1 195 Texas A&M 9
43 Jim Jodat RB 5-11 210 Carthage 3
49 Rod Perry CB 5-9 175 Colorado 5
51 Joe Harris LB 6-1 225 Georgia Tech 3
52 George Andrews LB 6-3 225 Nebraska 1
53 Jim Youngblood LB 6-3 230 Tennessee Tech 7
54 Dan Ryczek C 6-3 250 Virginia 7
57 Greg Westbrooks LB 6-2 215 Mesa, Colorado 5
59 Bob Brudzinski LB 6-4 230 Ohio State 3
60 Dennis Harrah G 6-5 250 Miami (FL) 5
61 Rich Saul C 6-3 245 Michigan State 10
62 Bill Bain G 6-4 280 Colorado, USC 5
64 Jack Reynolds LB 6-1 230 Tennessee 10
70 Jerry Wilkinson DE 6-9 2250 Oregon State 1
71 Reggie Doss DE 6-4 265 Hampton 2
72 Kent Hill G 6-5 260 Georgia Tech 1
73 Gordon Gravelle T 6-5 250 Brigham Young 8
77 Doug France T 6-5 270 Ohio State 5
78 Jackie Slater T 6-4 270 Jackson State 4
79 Mike Fanning DT 6-6 250 Notre Dame 5
80 Billy Waddy WR 5-11 180 Colorado 3
83 Terry Nelson TE 6-2 240 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 7
84 Ron Smith WR 6-0 185 San Diego State 2
85 Jack Youngblood DE 6-4 245 Florida 9
86 Charle Young TE 6-4 235 USC 7
87 Drew Hill WR 5-9 170 Georgia Tech 1
88 Preston Dennard WR 6-1 185 New Mexico 2
89 Fred Dryer DE 6-6 230 San Diego State 11
90 Larry Brooks DT 6-3 255 Virginia State 8
1978 Pittsburgh Steelers
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
5 Craig Colquitt P 6-1 180 Tennessee 2
9 Matt Bahr K 5-10 175 Penn State 1
12 Terry Bradshaw QB 6-3 215 Louisiana Tech 10
15 Mike Kruczek QB 6-1 200 Boston College 4
20 Rocky Bleier RB 5-11 210 Notre Dame 10
23 Mike Wagner FS 6-1 210 Western Illinois 9
24 J. T. Thomas S 6-2 195 Florida State 7
27 Greg Hawthorne RB 6-2 230 Baylor 1
29 Ron Johnson CB 5-10 200 Eastern Michigan 2
30 Larry Anderson KR 5-11 185 Louisiana Tech 2
31 Donnie Shell SS 5-11 190 South Carolina State 6
32 Franco Harris RB 6-2 230 Penn State 8
33 Anthony Anderson RB 6-0 195 Temple 1
38 Sidney Thornton RB 5-11 230 Northwestern State (LA) 3
39 Rick Moser RB 6-0 210 Rhode Island 2
47 Mel Blount CB 6-3 205 Southern 10
49 Dwayne Woodruff CB 5-11 200 Louisville 1
50 Tom Graves LB 6-3 230 Michigan State 1
51 Loren Toews LB 6-3 220 California 7
52 Mike Webster C 6-1 255 Wisconsin 6
53 Dennis Winston LB 6-0 230 Arkansas 3
54 Zack Valentine LB 6-2 220 East Carolina 1
55 Jon Kolb T 6-2 260 Oklahoma State 11
56 Robin Cole LB 6-2 220 New Mexico 3
57 Sam Davis G 6-1 255 Allen 13
58 Jack Lambert LB 6-4 220 Kent State 6
59 Jack Ham LB 6-1 225 Penn State 9
63 Thom Dornbrook C 6-2 240 Kentucky 1
64 Steve Furness DT 6-4 255 Rhode Island 8
65 Tom Beasley DE 6-5 255 Virginia Tech 2
66 Ted Peterson C 6-5 245 Eastern Illinois 3
67 Gary Dunn DT 6-3 260 Miami (FL) 4
68 L. C. Greenwood DE 6-6 245 Arkansas Pine Bluff 11
72 Gerry Mullins G 6-3 245 USC 9
75 Joe Greene DT 6-4 275 North Texas 11
76 John Banaszak DT 6-3 240 Eastern Michigan 5
77 Steve Courson T 6-1 275 South Carolina 2
78 Dwight White DT 6-4 255 Texas A&M Commerce 9
79 Larry Brown T 6-4 245 Kansas 9
82 John Stallworth WR 6-2 190 Alabama A&M 6
83 Theo Bell WR 6-0 185 Arizona 4
84 Randy Grossman TE 6-1 220 Temple 6
86 Jim Smith WR 6-2 205 Michigan 3
88 Lynn Swann WR 5-11 180 USC 6
89 Bennie Cunningham TE 6-5 255 Clemson 4
Part 2 - SB XIV 1st Half | Part 3 - SB XIV 2nd Half

References: The Super Bowl: Celebrating a Quarter-Century of America's Greatest Game (1990)
Super Bowl Chronicles: A Sportswriter Reflects on the First 30 Years of America's Game, Jerry Green (1995)
Super Bowl: The Game of Their Lives, Danny Peary (ed.) (1997)
The Football Game I'll Never Forget: 100 NFL Stars' Stories, selected by Chris McDonell (2004)
Steel Dynasty: The Team That Changed the NFL, Bill Chastain (2005)
The Ultimate Super Bowl Book, Bob McGinn (2009)
Their Life's Work: The Brotherhood of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, Then and Now, Gary M. Pomerantz (2013)
50 Years, 50 Moments: The Most Unforgettable Plays in Super Bowl History, Jerry Rice and Randy O. Williams (2015)
Super Bowl Gold: 50 Years of the Big Game, Sports Illustrated (2015)
The Super Bowl: The First Fifty Years of America's Greatest Game, David Fischer (2015)
The NFL in the 1970s: Pro Football's Most Important Decade, Joe Zagorski (2016)
The First 50 Super Bowls: How Football's Championships Were Won, Ed Benkin (2018)