By: Randy Campbell (OLD DOLFAN)
GAME 12: Pittsburgh @ Miami, Dec. 3, 1973 (Monday Night)
The Pittsburgh NFL franchise was founded in 1933 by Pittsburgh area sportsman and entrepreneur Arthur J. (Art) Rooney. The impending end to Pennsylvania’s puritanical “Blue Laws” (which banned professional football on Sundays) made the Pittsburgh area a prime candidate for a franchise.
The new team took the nickname “Pirates,” in honor of their baseball landlords at Forbes Field. After several frustrating seasons, the team changed their nickname to “Steelers.” But their performance on the field remained, in a word, awful. The Steelers became known as the Siberia of the NFL. When Detroit’s star quarterback, Bobby Layne, was traded to Pittsburgh, he angrily placed a curse on the Detroit franchise. He said, “Detroit will never win another NFL title because of this dastardly deed.” 56 years later, Detroit has faiked to even REACH another NFL Championship Game. The Curse of Bobby Layne lives on in Detroit.
Pittsburgh’s football fortunes improved dramatically when Chuck Noll was hired as head coach in 1969. By 1972, Noll’s Steelers had improved to the point that, for the first time in their 40 year history, Pittsburgh finally would qualify for an NFL playoff game! That playoff game would forever be known as the “Immaculate Reception!” In that game, Pittsburgh running back Franco Harris caught a deflected fourth down desperation pass and SCORED WITH JUST 22 SECONDS LEFT ON THE CLOCK! Pittsburgh defeated Oakland 13-7 in one of the most famous games in NFL history!
A week later, the 12-3 Steelers hosted the undefeated 15-0 Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game at Three Rivers Stadium. Trailing early in the third quarter, Bob Griese entered the game in relief of Earl Morrall and led Miami to a stirring comeback victory, 21-17. The Dolphins would advance to Super Bowl VII and complete the NFL’s one and only Perfect Season.
During the off season, the NFL ruled that the team with the best record henceforth would host all playoff games. Thus, in 1973, if Miami defeated Pittsburgh, the Dolphins would clinch home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. That’s EXACTLY what head coach Don Shula wanted!
Beating the ’73 Steelers this Monday night in Miami would be no easy task. This team’s pass defense arguably was the greatest in post-merger NFL history. Opposing QB’s completed only 164 of 359 passes (45.7%) for only 11 TD’s and 37 interceptions. Opponents QB passer rating was a puny 33.1!!! Mike Wagner led Pittsburgh with eight picks. 10 other players had at least one interception! On Nov. 11, this Steeler secondary paced Pittsburgh to a 17-9 victory at Oakland. In September, those same Raiders had handed Miami a 12-7 defeat.
The Miami Dolphins thought they had a pretty good secondary, too. Miami’s defensive coordinator, Bill Arnsparger, developed a plan he believed would confuse rookie quarterback Joe Gilliam. It worked to perfection!
Just three plays into the game, Dolphins’safety Dick Anderson picked-off Gilliam, bounced off another player and roared 27 yards TO A TOUCHDOWN! Two subsequent Miami drives produced 28 and 46 yard Yepremian field goals, putting the Fins ahead 13-0. Late in the first quarter Anderson intercepted Gilliam AGAIN and returned it to Pittsburgh’s THREE YARD LINE! Griese’s two yard TD pass to TE Jim Mandich made the score 20-0, Miami, after one quarter! “I don’t think anyone saw this coming,” said Monday Night Football’s Frank Gifford.
A furious Chuck Noll yanked Gilliam and replaced him with the man he had beaten out of a job – – Terry Bradshaw!! On Bradshaw’s very first pass, Dick Anderson stepped in front of a receiver and returned the interception 38 yards for HIS SECOND TOUCHDOWN OF THE GAME! A Roy Gerela FG was matched by Garo Yepremian’s third 3-pointer, putting the Dolphins ahead 30-3 at halftime. “What a performance by Dick Anderson,” said ABC’s Howard Cosell.
Pittsburgh’s stellar defense totally dominated Miami’s offense in the third quarter. The “Steel Curtain,” led by future Hall of Famer Mean Joe Greene, shut down Miami’s running game. Terry Bradshaw’s 5 yard touchdown pass to Preston Pearson narrowed Miami’s lead to 30-10 after three quarters. By this time, it was after 11:00 PM Eastern Time. Much of America would completely miss the Steeler’s furious come from behind effort in a fateful fourth quarter.
Earlier in the game, Dick Anderson picked off his FOURTH INTERCEPTION of the contest. He returned Bradshaw’s pass 25 yards to the Steelers’ 45. Yepremian’s miss on a 33-yard field goal seemed meaningless, given Miami’s 27 point halftime lead. But that miss did play a role later in the game.
It was still 30-10, Miami, with just over 10 minutes left to play. Dandy Don Meredith said, “If Pittsburgh’s going to get in this game, they’ve got to score real fast!” Next play, Franco Harris bolted off tackle through a huge hole and scored from the Miami 21. Now the score was 30-17.
Time was running out. With just over four minutes to go, Bradshaw found back-up receiver Barry Pearson open for a 17 yard touchdown. Dolphin fans gasped as a 30-3 lead had evaporated to 30-24! “That missed field goal sure looks bigger now,” said Cosell.
Miami received the ensuing kickoff. A penalty moved the Dolphins all the way back to their two yard line. Then, it was fourth and one from the 11. Another penalty moved Miami back to the six! Shula decided NOT to send in punter Larry Seiple! The fans and the Monday Night broadcast crew were dumbfounded!
MEREDITH: “I don’t get it.”
GIFFORD: “I don’t get it.”
COSELL: “I don’t get it, either.”
GIFFORD: “All right, let’s watch. Griese’s going to take a safety.”
MEREDITH: “There it is, a safety.”
COSELL: “Shula’s way ahead of us all!”
In one of his most brilliant moves ever, Don Shula decided to have Griese take a deliberate safety, thereby avoiding a dangerous punt out of Miami’s end zone. Trailing 30-26, Pittsburgh STILL needed a touchdown to win the game. See: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVWIg_eCc7o
Seiple boomed an amazing free kick from the Miami 20 that sent Pittsburgh’s Glen Edwards back inside his own 10 yard line! Edwards was tackled at the seven! With 54 seconds to play, Bradshaw’s desperate pass was intercepted by Jake Scott! It was Miami’s SIXTH interception of the game. Miami had defeated Pittsburgh 30-26 in one of the most memorable Monday Night games of all time!
The game statistics clearly favored Pittsburgh. The Steelers had 19 first downs to Miami’s 8. Pittsburgh out-gained Miami both on the ground and in the air. But one statistic overwhelmingly favored Miami: those SIX INTERCEPTIONS, FOUR OF WHICH WERE BY ALL-PRO SAFETY DICK ANDERSON! This was ironic because, prior to tonight, it was PITTSBURGH’S 37 interceptions that had grabbed the limelight.
In the last three games Miami had won at Buffalo, at Dallas, and at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers. WOW!!
The 1973 Miami Dolphins were now 11-1.