NFL’s Best Ever Team, The 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers


Franco Harris runs for 25 yard 4th quarter touchdown to put Pittsburgh ahead 10-0  in the AFC Championship over the Oakland Raiders on Jan.4, 1976 in one of the NFL’s most brutal play off games of all time . In zero degree windchill, ice and snow the Steelers won 16-10. Harris had 27 carries for 79 yards against the Raiders. Photo courtesy of bing images.

With not much NFL news going on this time of year I thought this would be a good time to write about why I think 1975 Steelers are the best team the Steelers and the NFL ever had.   I feel very strongly about this particularly because the 1975 Steelers seem to get no respect when this topic inevitably comes up. In fact the 1975 Steelers are never mentioned when it comes to the one of the NFL’s or even one of the Steelers best ever teams.

I know that through media, NFL Films and many Steelers fans the 1978 Steelers that went 14-2 are proclaimed the be the best ever Steelers team and possibly the NFL’s best ever. I disagree. In fact I rank the 1978 team third out of the Steelers winning Super Bowl teams (2008 #2). While growing up sports was prominent in my life and made impressions on me that I still carry to this day. I loved the way

Jack Lambert was the ultimate enforcer of the Steelers defense. Photo courtesy of bing images.

football was played back then. No hot dogs or prima donnas. It was a team sport.  Fans could count on the majority of their players being on their team for entire careers and because of this, the rivalries were intense. In the 1970’s the Steelers had heated rivalries with the Raiders, Browns, Cowboys, Oilers and Bengals.  These games were always physical and brought the best out of both teams.

Fortunately for me I became a Steelers fan in the early seventies as the Browns started declining. I grew up half way between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Luckily the Browns could not sell out their 80,000 plus seat stadium and due to the NFL blackout rules, most Sundays the Steelers were on NBC instead of the Browns.  Thus a lifelong Steelers fan was born.

Ernie Holmes in week 7 Nov. 2, 1975 win over the Bengals 30-24. Photo courtesy of bing images.

I lived and died with the Steelers. A loss was pure agony and would stay with me until late in the week. I hated going to school on Mondays after a loss. But that wasn’t a common occurrence during my grade school years as the Steelers from 1972 – 1979 were the NFL’s best team.  In eight years they went to 6 AFC Championship games and won 4 Super Bowls.  The Steelers of the 70’s left an indelible mark on me for the rest of my life and no team more so than the 1975 team (the 1976 team and season would be #2).

1975 Was the Last Year the NFL Had 26 Teams

Joe Greene in Pittsburgh’s 16-13 win at Green Bay in week 6 on Oct. 26, 1975. Courtesy of bing images.

For those who don’t remember, 1975 was the last year the NFL had 26 teams. With only 26 teams the competition was not watered down. Only 8 teams total made the playoffs in 1975.  (In 1976 the NFL went to 28 teams as Seattle and Tampa Bay were added. Tampa originally played in the AFC West). In 1975 the AFC Central was the NFL’s best division home to three of the NFL’s best teams. Pittsburgh went 6-0 in AFC Central Divisional games. No big deal as the Steelers have had many undefeated years within the division right?  Wrong, it was a big deal. The NFL may have never had a division this tough before or since.

1975 AFC Central Maybe the NFL’s Best Ever Division

In 1975 Pittsburgh finished 12-2 losing only to Buffalo (8-6) in week 2 (30-21) and a meaningless week 14 Saturday night loss at Los Angeles (12-2) as Bradshaw only played the first half and the Steelers did not play to win.

Cincinnati finished 2ndin the AFC Central with an 11-3 record.  Other than 2 losses to the Steelers (30-24 in week 7

Steelers defense lines up against division rival Bengals in AFC Central title game in week 13, 1975. Steelers win 35-14 in a rare Saturday NBC game. Photo courtesy of bing images.

and in a week 13 Saturday game 35-14) the Bengals only other loss was a 35-23 divisional loss against Cleveland (3-11) in week 10.

Houston finished 3rd in the division at 10-4. Other than two divisional losses to the Steelers (24-17 in week 8 and a week 10 Monday night loss in Houston 32-9) the Oilers other two losses were also within the division at home in week 3 to the Bengals 21-19 and again 23-19 in week 11 at Cincinnati.

Cleveland finished 3-11 but five of those losses came from 3 of the NFL’s best teams. Cleveland’s one divisional win came against the Bengals (35-23) in week 10. Pittsburgh beat Cleveland by the scores of 42-6 at Cleveland in week 3 and 31-17 in week 12.

That means outside of the AFC Central Division the Bengals and Oilers went undefeated against the rest of the NFL. The Steelers went undefeated against the Bengals and the Oilers.

1975 Steelers Team Had Great Balance                                                                                                                            

Terry Bradshaw’s breakout year was 1975. After 5 years of repeated benching Bradshaw was re-inserted as the starter during the final weeks of 1974 season leading the Steelers to the division title and Super Bowl championship. In 1975

Bradshaw leads Steelers to 21-17 win over Dallas in Super Bowl X on Jan. 18, 1976. Photo courtesy of bing images.

the starting job was now Bradshaw’s permanently and he turned into the Pro Bowl QB the Steelers and their fans had been hoping for since he was the #1 overall draft pick in 1970. In 1975 Bradshaw had his best year with over 2000

yards passing, his highest completion percentage of his career at 57.7% and an 18-9 touchdown to interception ration. It was the only year in his career Bradshaw ever had a 2 to 1 ratio, no other year was even close.  From 1970 – 1974 Bradshaw did not have a year where he had more touchdowns than interceptions. Bradshaw who also rushed for 3 touchdowns and finished 4th in the league in 1975 with a QB rating of 88 (Kenny Anderson #1 of the Bengals).

Bradshaw and Swann teamed up to have career years in 1975. Photo courtesy of bing images.

After having a quiet rookie year as far as receptions (11), Lynn Swann blew up in his second year making the Pro Bowl with 49 catches (finishing 11th) for 781 yards (6th) and 11 touchdown receptions (tied for 1st with the Cardinals Mel Gray).  In 1975 only Minnesota RB Chuck Foreman caught more than 60 passes and the Oilers Ken Burrough was the only receiver over 1000 yards with 1063.

The Steelers offense was the #2 ranked rushing offense (Bills #1) running for 2633 yards for a 4.5 avg.   Franco Harris who had  a career best 1246 yards, a 4.8 avg., and 10 touchdowns also finished #2 in the league behind O.J.Simpson. Harris also caught 28 passes for 214 yards and 1 touchdown. The Steelers offense passed for 2544 yards (#14), almost a 50-50 ratio to their running yardage. Cincinnati was the only team to pass for over 3000 yards with 3241. The NFL was a much different game than today.

Steelers Dominate All Pro & Pro Bowl Rosters

According to Pro the offense ranked #5 in overall scoring at 26.6 points per game and had 4 members named to the All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams: Bradshaw, Harris, Swann, and center Ray Mansfield. Kicker Roy Gerela and punter Bobby Walden were named as well.

Mel Blount the 1975 NFL’ Defensive Player of the Year led the league in interceptions with 11.  He added 2 more in the playoffs. Photo courtesy of bing images.

On defense the Steelers were ranked #2 overall (LA Rams #1), #2 in scoring, #4 in yardage allowed and Mel Blount was named  the NFL Defensive Player of the Year due in part to his league leading 11 interceptions. The defense had 10 members (out of a possible 11) named to the All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams: L.C. Greenwood, Mel Blount, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Joe Greene, Andy Russell, Dwight White, Mike Wagner, Ernie Holmes and Glen Edwards. Out of a possible 24 positions on the All-Pro and Pro Bowl rosters the Steelers had 17 representatives which was 71% of the Steelers starting team.

Steelers Dominate the 1975 Season

Coming off of their 1st World Championship in 1974 the Steelers entered the 1975 season with a bulls-eye on their backs as the prohibited favorite to win it all again. They did not disappoint. Unlike the Steelers Super Bowl winning teams of recent, the 1975 Steelers did not play down to the level of their opponents or fail to make the playoffs. The defense racked up 46 sacks and 48 turnovers. In 14 games the defense had 27 interceptions and recovered 21 of the 34 fumbles they caused paving the way to the #1 seed in the playoffs. In only 3 of their 12 wins did the Steelers not win by 11 or more points. The closest win came in week 6 on the road at Green Bay 16-13.  In half their regular season games (7) they held their opponents to under 10 points.  They were #1 in the league in margin of victory at 15.1 points per game.

Steelers Dominate the Playoffs

The Steelers won the AFC Divisional game at home against the 10-4 Baltimore Colts 28-10. With a 4thquarter 21-10 lead the Colts were inside the Steelers 5 yard line when Andy Russell scooped up a Bert Jones fumble and returned it

Franco Harris carries 27 times for 153 yards and 1 touchdown in 28-10 win over the Colts in AFC Divisional playoff game on Dec. 27, 1975. Photo courtesy of bing images.

94 yards for a touchdown. The Steelers dominated the Colts once again only allowing 154 total yards in the game, 3 turnovers and 5 sacks. Pittsburgh had 287 yards of offense but allowed the Colts to remain close with 5 turnovers.

The AFC Championship was a classic snow and ice  game with wind chills below zero as the Steelers beat their arch nemesis Oakland Raiders 16-10 at Three Rivers Stadium. Both offenses struggled to hold onto the ball in the brutal weather as the Steelers committed 7 turnovers. However the Steelers defense came up with 5 turnovers and sacked Kenny Stabler 2 times in a one of the hardest hitting playoff games ever. The Steelers defense dominated the Raiders taking a 3-0 lead into the 4th quarter but gave up 10 points and close to 150 yards in the wild final minutes of the game playing prevent defense. The Steelers turned the ball over 12 times in 2 playoff games and won by a total of 24 points. Not many teams in the history of the NFL could overcome that many turnovers in 2 playoff games and come out victorious in both.

This Super Bowl Was Truly Super

Lynn Swann makes one of 4 incredible catches on way to MVP in Super Bowl X against Dallas. Photo courtesy of bing images.

In one of the best Super Bowls of all time (a topic I will cover in the near future) the Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 to defend their Super Bowl crown. Once again the defense delivered causing 4 Dallas fumbles (0 recovered), intercepting 3 Roger Staubach passes while sacking Staubach 7 times (L.C. Greenwood 4 sacks which is the all time Super Bowl single game sack record that is not acknowledged; Dwight White 3 sacks). The Steelers offense produced 339 yards,  did not turn the ball over or give up a sack. Lynn Swann named the MVP had one of the most spectacular Super Bowl and post season performances for all time: 4 spectacular catches for 161 yards and the game winning 64 yard touchdown reception.

Yes the 1975 season was truly fantastic producing the best and most dominant Steelers

Lambert and Wagner line up against Dallas in Super Bowl X. Courtesy of bing images.

team ever. Of the 37 points scored against the Steelers in the playoffs, 17 came in the final minutes as the Steelers were willing to give up yards and points for time. In 3 playoff games the defense produced 14 sacks and 11 turnovers. Including the playoff games the Steelers defense had 60 sacks and 59 turnovers in 17 games! The Steelers beat their opponents by an average of over 15 points a game. 17 players were named All-Pro and or to the Pro-Bowl. Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and Lynn Swann all had career best years and the Steel Curtain defense was just entering its prime.  This is my case as to why the Steelers of 1975 are not only the Steelers best ever winning Super Bowl team but the NFL’s best ever team. I have made my argument. What is yours?