The Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls in the 1970s to claim NFL team of the decade honors.
But the most important game played by the Steelers during that decade didn’t come in a Super Bowl, according to Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham. It came in an AFC championship game.
Ham visits the Talk of Fame Network this week as part of our “5 Games” series of podcasts highlighting five significant games in his career. Tony Dungy, Willie Lanier and Tom Flores have previously been featured on the “5 Games” podcast.
In this podcast, the second of the five significant games for Ham, he talks about the 1974 AFC championship game victory over the Raiders in Oakland, where the Steelers rallied for 21 points in the fourth quarter to claim their first-ever AFC title with a 24-13 triumph. Two weeks later, the Steelers smothered the Minnesota Vikings 16-6 to capture their first of four Lombardi Trophies in the decade.
It was the third consecutive post-season that the Steelers would meet the Raiders and for the second consecutive year the game was played in Oakland. A week earlier, the Raiders had eliminated the defending Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins and were the favorites in the AFC title game. And Oakland appeared to be on its way to the Super Bowl, taking a 13-3 lead into the fourth quarter of the AFC title game.
But defensively the game belonged to the Pittsurgh defense. The Steelers held the Raiders to 29 yards rushing, intercepted three passes and forced five fumbles. Ham and fellow Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert intercepted Ken Stabler in that fourth quarter to set up short touchdown drives by the Steelers and pave the way for that upset.
“If you talked to our football team during that era, the one game that set the tone and became the catalyst for our Super Bowls was that one,” said Ham, a member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team. “Any time you can win a playoff game – in this case an AFC championship game — on the road in Oakland… This was by far the most important game we had played in our careers.”
Ham talked about the quarterback shuffle by the Steelers that season, the defensive adjustment the Steelers made that season that paved the way for their Steel Curtain identity, the importance of Pittsburgh’s “other” defensive tackle, Ernie Holmes, in that AFC title game and the one key element that separated the Steelers from the Raiders in that decade.
That key element? The head coach.
“The difference was Chuck Noll,” Ham said. “You can have quality players. But why does one team win more than others? Your head coach sets the tone. Chuck Noll did that for our football team. He set the tone for us being able to win on the road. He was upset they called the Miami-Oakland (AFC semifinal) game the `mini-Super Bowl.’ Chuck Noll took offense to all that. He set the tone for the chemistry of our football team. We bought into what Chuck Noll was selling. He was a smart guy and we always felt when we were on that football field, we may have a little more of an advantage because we think our head coach was better than the other guy.”
In the next podcast, we’ll visit with Ham about that first Super Bowl victory by the Steelers – that 16-6 defensive dismantling of the Minnesota Vikings. Subscribe to our podcast and listen for free at @ iTunes or VokalNow.com: