The 1970’s were by far the best decade in Steeler history. There would be a couple of decades that would approach the success of the 70’s but none would really come close. They won 4 Super Bowls and made the playoffs the last 8 years of the decade. The odd thing about the decade was probably their best team, the 1976 team, did not make the Super Bowl, let alone win it.
Record For The Decade: 99 Wins 44 Losses and 1 Tie.
Best Year: 1978 14-2 Won Super Bowl
Worst Year: 1970 5-9
Why The Steelers Won More Than They Loss: Chuck Noll took over in 1969 and built the team almost totally on draft choices. Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Frank Lewis, Franco Harris and J. T. Thomas were the number 1 picks from 69 to 73. They picked up Mel Blount in the 3rd round, in 1970 and Mike Wagner in the 11th round, in 1971. Then came the draft of 1974. It is considered the best draft of all time. The Steelers picked up Lynn Swan, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster in the first 5 rounds. That year they picked up Randy Grossman and Donnie Shell as undrafted free agents. The Steelers had many on the field leaders during this decade, but the true leader of this team was Chuck Noll. Noll would not tolerate anything but total dedication to the cause of winning championships. The Steelers made the playoffs in 72 and 73, but Noll was not satisfied. The 74 team saw 14 rookies on the 48 man roster. Terry Bradshaw did not start the first 6 games. Bradshaw was giving Noll such fits that he even started Terry Hanratty in the 10th game against Cleveland. Hanratty threw more interceptions than completions but somehow the Steelers still managed to win. After that Bradshaw started every game, something finally clicked, and the rest is history.
Significant Games: They won 4 Super Bowls and in 72 there was the immaculate reception, but I feel there were 3 significant games for the Steelers during this decade, with 2 of them being defeats. The first one came in 1972. The Steelers started the season 2-2 but then reeled off 5 wins a row thanks to that great defense and the running of Franco Harris. The five teams they defeated were not considered any kind of elite teams. This led into a showdown with the mighty Cleveland Browns who were also 7-2 and had won the division 3 out of the last 4 years. The Steelers trailed at one time in the game 20-3, but stormed back to take the lead 24-23, capped by a 75-yard touchdown run by Franco Harris. They lost on a late field goal, 26-24 but this game showed that this team had arrived. The Steelers trounced the Browns two weeks later in Pittsburgh, 30-0, and went on to win their first division title in history. The next significant game was the 1974 AFC Championship. The Oakland Raiders had just defeated the Miami Dolphins in a great semifinal game, that ended the Dolphins hopes of becoming the first team to win 3 Super Bowls in a row. The Steelers had to go out to Oakland, and it was considered a foregone conclusion, that the Raiders would win to go on to the Super Bowl. This was the week that Noll told his team that the best damn team in football is sitting right in front of me in Pittsburgh. Even though they trailed 10-3 going into the 4 quarter the Steelers looked like the dominant team from the beginning and scored 21 points in the 4th quarter to win going away, 24-13, to seal their first trip to the Super Bowl. Oakland was involved in the last significant game when they met the Steelers for the third consecutive year in the 1976 AFC Championship Game. Unfortunately for the Steelers both Franco Harris and Rocky Blier were injured, and the Steelers were never in the game and lost 24-7. You never know what might have been, but it was the Steelers best chance to win 3 Super Bowls in a row.
The Decades Best Player: This is the one decade that you really cannot pick a best player. There is no question that the core to this team during those years was Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Jack Lambert, and Joe Greene. The proof of this is the fact that during the next decade they tried to replace them, and never could. More on all of that when we get to the 80’s. They were all Hall of Famers, but more importantly they were the heart and soul of the greatest teams in Steeler history. The Steelers had other Hall of Famers and major contributors to their success, but it was those 4 players who epitomized what it meant to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, each in his own way, Bradshaw with his perseverance, Harris with his consistency, Lambert with his ferocity, and Greene with his dominate presence. They were indeed the players that led the glory years.
The Steelers went from their worst decade to their most successful decade. The Steelers were great in every phase of the game, but like any great run you always have to have a little good fortune on your side. All that good fortune disappeared as they headed into the 80’s.