’70s Steelers Squad Named Best NFL Team of Super Bowl Era

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.

The 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers are considered by many Steelers-savvy observers to be the franchise’s best-ever team. Now a new CBS Sports ranking of the top 10 teams of the Super Bowl era has that 17-2 edition of the Steelers as the finest NFL team of the past 55 years, ahead of the 1972 Miami Dolphins (17-0) and No. 3 ranked Chicago Bears (18-1)

Using criteria that included “overall record, Hall of Fame representation, coaching, dominance vs. the field, quality of opponents, and offensive/defensive standings,” CBS Sports’ Bryan DeArdo ranks the Steelers No. 1 over the NFL’s only undefeated team (and several one-loss Super Bowl winners), in part on the strength of its ability to adapt to the newly-minted five-yard bump rule. You may recall that that 1977 rule change (colloquially referred to as the Mel Blount rule), was designed to make it easier for offenses to move the ball by air.

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Indeed, Steelers head coach Chuck Noll changed with the times and opened up the team’s offense to take advantage of the team’s talent at the skill positions. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw responded with the only first-team All-Pro season of his career, throwing for 2,915 yards and 28 touchdown passes, many of them to the likes of future Hall of Fame wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. The offense continued to thrive in the playoffs, scoring 33, 34 and 35 points in the team’s three postseason games.

Meanwhile, the vaunted ’70s Steelers defense remained elite, finishing No. 1 in the NFL by virtue of allowing just 12.2 points per game in the regular season. Nor did it disappoint in the playoffs, giving up 10 points to the Denver Broncos and five points to the Houston Oilers before the team’s 35-31 win over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII, a contest recently recalled by running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier.

All told, the 1978 Steelers roster featured 10 future Pro Football Hall of Famers, including safety Donnie Shell, who will be formally inducted next month along with fellow former Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, ex-Steelers head coach Bill Cowher and longtime Steelers offensive guard Alan Faneca. Polamalu has named former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau as his presenter. Meanwhile, Faneca will be presented by former teammate Hines Ward and Cowher will be introduced by Art Rooney II.


Coda: Pittsburgh at San Francisco, October 14, 1984

While none of Pittsburgh’s five other Super Bowl-winning teams made DeArdo’s Top 10 list, it’s worth noting that his fourth-ranked team—the 1984 San Francisco 49ers—likely would be remembered as the No. 1 NFL team of the Super Bowl era had it not been for Chuck Noll’s Steelers.

Joe Montana’s 49ers started 6-0 in 1984 but lost to the Mark Malone-led Steelers at Candlestick Park in Week 7 by a score of 20-17. San Francisco won every game it played the rest of the way that year, capping its season with a 38-16 triumph over Dan Marino’s Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.

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