On a cold and dreary January afternoon, the Steelers provided enough warmth for the entire city of Pittsburgh. After over four decades of mostly losing, the Steelers broke through in Super Bowl IX, defeating the Vikings to capture the franchise’s first championship. And while every Steelers fan rejoiced in the victory, no one was happier than team founder Art Rooney, who humbly accepted the Vince Lombardi Trophy from then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.
In a defensive-dominated contest, the Steelers did more than enough on offense to secure a 16-6 victory over the Vikings, who suffered their second consecutive Super Bowl loss and third overall. With both defenses posting championship efforts, the difference was Steelers running back Franco Harris, who took home MVP honors after rushing 34 times for 158 and a touchdown.
Holding a 9-6 lead late in the game, quarterback Terry Bradshaw guided Pittsburgh on a 66-yard drive that chewed up nearly half of the fourth quarter. The drive ended when Bradshaw rolled out before finding tight end Larry Brown in the end zone for the game-clinching score. Led by Defensive Player of the Year Joe Greene, Pittsburgh’s “Steel Curtain” defense forced four turnovers while holding quarterback Fran Tarkenton and the Vikings’ potent offense to just 119 total yards. It was the first of four Super Bowl wins for the Steelers over a six-year span, a feat that has yet to be duplicated.
With the two teams facing off Thursday night, here are five interesting facts from the Super Bowl showdown between the Steelers and Vikings.
Geographical change of plans
Slated to be the first Super Bowl played indoors, the game was moved to 50-year-old Tulane Stadium as the then-Louisiana Superdome was still in the process of being built. The site of the first 50 Sugar Bowls, Tulane Stadium hosted Super Bowls IV and VI prior to Super Bowl IX. The Vikings were part of the first Super Bowl played at Tulane Stadium, as Minnesota fell to the Chiefs in the final game played prior to the AFL-NFL merger. But unlike Super Bowl IV, which was played on a mud-soaked field, Super Bowl IX would be played on Poly-Turf.
With the completion of the Superdome later that year, Super Bowl IX was the last Super Bowl played at Tulane Stadium. The Superdome would host the first indoor Super Bowl when the Cowboys defeated the Broncos in Super Bowl XII. Tulane Stadium, which seated nearly 81,000 fans for Super Bowl IX, was demolished in 1979.
Steelers defensive end Dwight White recorded the first safety in Super Bowl history during the second quarter of Super Bowl IX. White, who lost nearly 20 pounds the week of the game after being hospitalized with pneumonia, tagged Tarkenton in the end zone after Tarkenton’s pitch missed running back Dave Osborn. The loose ball then deflected off the left gold shoe of Pittsburgh defensive end L.C. Greenwood’s and just across the goal line, where Tarkenton recovered but was touched down for two points. White’s safety gave the Steelers’ a 2-0 lead, the smallest halftime lead in Super Bowl history.
Harris’ big day
Two years after authoring arguably the greatest play in NFL history, Harris set Super Bowl records with 34 carries and 158 yards rushing. Both records were only a year old; Dolphins running back Larry Csonka ran for then-records 145 yards on 33 carries in the Dolphins’ 24-7 win over Minnesota in Super Bowl VIII. Harris’ rushing total in Super Bowl IX is the fourth-highest total in Super Bowl history, trailing only John Riggins 166 yards in Super Bowl XVII, Marcus Allen’s 191 yards in Super Bowl XVIII and Timmy Smith’s 202 yards in Super Bowl XXII.
A first-ballot Hall of Famer, Harris remains the Steelers’ career rushing leader with 11,950 yards and 91 touchdown runs. Harris is still the Super Bowl’s career rushing leader with 354 yards. He amassed 468 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s four Super Bowl wins during the decade.
‘Steel Curtain’ clamps down on Vikings
Led by Greene, Greenwood, White and Ernie Holmes; linebackers Jack Lambert, Jack Ham and Andy Russell; and defensive backs Mel Blount, Mike Wagner, Glen Edwards, and J.T. Thomas, the Steelers defense held the Vikings to just 17 rushing yards on 21 carries, the second-smallest total in Super Bowl history. The ’85 Bears held the Patriots to seven yards on 11 carries. The Steelers defense primarily focused on stopping Chuck Foreman, one of the NFL’s most versatile running backs during that era. While he led Minnesota with 50 yards on five receptions, Foreman rushed for just 18 yards on 12 carries, with 12 of those yards coming on one carry.
While Harris was deserving of his MVP award, equally deserving of the award was Greene, who recorded one of Pittsburgh’s three interceptions of Tarkenton. He also came up with a fumble recovery with the Vikings threatening to take the lead. Greene’s contributions helped the Steelers defense become the first unit to shut out an offense in the Super Bowl, as the Vikings’ only score came on a blocked punt in the fourth quarter.
Vikings make unwanted history
The Vikings became the first team to lose three Super Bowls and consecutive Super Bowls. The Vikings would lose their fourth Super Bowl two years later, when they fell to John Madden’s Raiders in Super Bowl XI. The Vikings and Buffalo Bills are the only franchises to lose four Super Bowl without a Super Bowl victory.
While they never won a Super Bowl, the 1970s Vikings are well represented in the Hall of Fame. Among the Vikings from those teams who are currently enshrined in Canton, Ohio include Tarkenton, defensive linemen Alan Page and Carl Eller, defensive back Paul Krause, offensive linemen Mick Tingelhoff and Ron Yary, and coach Bud Grant. Tarkenton retired after the 1978 season as the NFL’s all-time leading passer. Page was the first defensive player to win NFL MVP following his brilliant 1971 campaign. Krause’s 81-career interceptions remains the highest total in NFL history.
The ’70s Vikings featured other talented players like Foreman, defensive lineman Jim Marshall, and receivers John Gilliam and Ahmad Rashad, who last of whom rose to fame later in life as an NBA media member.