John Stallworth and Donnie Shell Recall Steelers’ Super Bowl XIV Win

John Stallworth and Lynn Swann

DAVID MAXWELL/AFP via Getty Images Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee Lynn Swann (right) talks with former Pittsburgh Steelers teammate John Stallworth (left) as enshrinees Jack Youngblood (back L) and Jackie Slater (back R)—both of whom played for the Rams in Super Bowl XIV—sit in the background during the 2001 enshrinement ceremony.

On Sunday evening the Pittsburgh Steelers streamed Super Bowl XIV on YouTube & Facebook, allowing fans to re-live the team’s 31-19 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

The Steelers were double-digit favorites coming into Super Bowl XIV, but it took a fourth-quarter comeback for Pittsburgh to emerge with the win. The game took place on January 20, 1980, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., in front of 103,985 fans.

As I noted last week, one of the fun facts about Super Bowl XIV is that it featured the two most turnover-prone teams in the NFL. In 1979 the Steelers led the NFL in turnovers with 52, and if you include the 1979-80 postseason the Steelers committed 60 turnovers that season. It could have been worse, though, as the Steelers recovered 21 fumbles that year.

Most compelling about the re-broadcast, though, is how the Steelers interspersed video interviews with Hall of Famers John Stallworth and Donnie Shell, both of whom played prominent roles in the game.

For his part, Stallworth says he can’t believe the NFL allowed a 30-yard-long Terrible Towel to be stretched out over midfield before kickoff, especially since the game was played in the Rams’ own backyard.

John Stallworth on Super Bowl XIV

One of the most interesting insights provided by Stallworth is how the Steelers fretted about the Rams having several former Pittsburgh coaches on their coaching staff.

“There [were] things about the Rams that [were] kind of unnerving—their coaching staff … so we had to counter that somehow,” Stallworth said, making reference to Rams defensive coordinator Bud Carson and Rams wide receivers coach Lionel Taylor, who had, in prior years, served the same roles for the Steelers.

“They knew the inner workings of our defense,” knew the individual strengths and weaknesses of Pittsburgh’s players and “they knew our offense, what Bradshaw liked to do, what routes we liked to run, the nuances of our running game…. They knew us and we had to counter that,” Stallworth continued.

The Steelers also had to overcome several other limitations, including the fact that Jack Ham didn’t play that day—and that wide receiver Lynn Swann was concussed during the game, unable to return.

As for Stallworth’s 73-yard touchdown reception—which allowed the Steelers to take the lead in the fourth quarter—the name of that play was “60 Prevent Slot Hook and Go,” and “it never worked in practice,” Stallworth said. “For a play that never worked in practice it was a very timely play in the Super Bowl,” he continued.

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Donnie Shell on Super Bowl XIV

As for Donnie Shell, he agreed with Stallworth that having former Steelers coaches on the Rams’ staff was a concern.

“I thought they had the advantage on us because they had some of our former coaches,” Shell said. “I couldn’t wait to go out there and show Bud [Carson] that he did a good job of coaching me,” he added, with a laugh.

The coaching factor illustrates why the Steelers “were very confident, but not overconfident,” going into the game, according to Shell.

Indeed the Rams turned out to be a formidable opponent. The Steelers tried to extinguish the Rams’ hopes early in the game by trying an onside kick after taking a 3-0 lead. But the move backfired. Taking advantage of a relatively short field, the Rams went on to score a touchdown on a fullback draw from the one yard line. At halftime the Rams were in the lead, 13-10.

But over the course of the game, the Steelers’ defense wore down the Rams’ offensive players with repeated hard hits, with Rams running Wendell Tyler absorbing the brunt of the punishment. In fact, after one hit by Jack Lambert, Tyler had to leave the game and went behind the Los Angeles bench and vomited.

“We all got some good hits on him,” Shell said. “As a matter of fact, I saw him spitting up blood on the field.”

The physical approach helps explain how the Steelers were able to come from behind, sealing the victory with a Jack Lambert interception late in the fourth quarter.

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