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Monday, May 7
'79 Steelers played all-around game

By Eddie Epstein
Special to

Editor's note: Our series on the greatest NFL teams of all time continues with its sixth installment and a look at the 1979 Steelers. The greatest team ever will be revealed on Tuesday, May 15.

Lynn Swann
Lynn Swann made this clutch fourth-quarter catch during the Steelers' Super Bowl XIV win over the Rams.

The presence of the 1979 Steelers may be a surprise to most of you who were probably expecting a different year, perhaps 1975. (Remember that only Super Bowl winning teams made this list which is why the 1976 Steelers weren't considered. However, their adjusted Power Index wouldn't have gotten them in, anyway.)

The '79 Steelers had to get help from their intrastate rivals, the Eagles, just to win the AFC Central. Pittsburgh lost to Houston 20-17 on a Monday night in the Astrodome in the next-to-last game of the season leaving them tied with the Oilers at 11-4. On the last week of the season, the Eagles beat Houston 26-20, while Pittsburgh manhandled Buffalo 28-0, outgaining the Bills 415-156 and thereby winning the AFC Central.

The Steelers team that dominated the 1970s is remembered for its defense, the famous Steel Curtain. I have another surprise for you. While that image certainly fit the 1974-75 Steelers, the 1979 Steelers were very proficient offensively. They had an effective running game, finishing second in the league in yards gained and first in average yards per carry, but they also had a very productive passing attack. In fact, it was kind of a high-risk, high-reward situation. Only three teams in the league threw more interceptions than the Steelers, but Pittsburgh was second in the league in passing yards and second in average gain per pass attempt.

1979 Steelers
  • Record: 12-4
  • Points scored/allowed: 416/262
  • Adjusted power index: +6.69
  • Opponents' record: 131-109 (.546)*
  • Record against teams with winning records: 7-3
  • Points scored/allowed against teams with winning records: 270/174
    *For all of these opponents' records, games against this team are excluded.
  • The two big offensive plays in their Super Bowl win over the Rams were long touchdown passes. The Rams had a surprising 13-10 halftime lead, but the Steelers took the lead early in the third quarter on a 47-yard TD pass from Terry Bradshaw to Lynn Swann. The Rams regained the lead and were ahead 19-17 at the end of the third quarter. Bradshaw threw a 73-yard TD pass to John Stallworth three minutes into the fourth quarter. Another long pass, a 45-yarder from Bradshaw to Stallworth, set up the Steelers' last touchdown, which iced the game.

    It's amazing that even after just 20 years or so, facts have a way of fading as mythology grows.

    Eddie Epstein works as a consultant to major league baseball teams. He is the co-author, along with's Rob Neyer, of "Baseball Dynasties: The Greatest Teams of All Time." He has been a regular contributor to's baseball coverage and is a huge football fan.

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