NFL – Throwback Thursday: Raiders Slay Their Dragon

16 Sep

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Las Vegas Raiders square off this Sunday in the second week of NFL action, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll travel back to the AFC Championship game of the 1976 season, played in Oakland on December 26th between those 2 franchises. They had become heated AFC rivals at this point, and this was to be the third consecutive year they would battle for the right to represent their conference in the Super Bowl. There were stark differences in the two teams’ histories. The Steelers were perennial losers in the 1960s, elevated by coach Chuck Noll to become solid playoff contenders in the 1970s, and had 2 straight Super Bowl titles in their resume from the previous 2 years. Oakland had the winningest record in all pro football for a decade, but had earned a dubious distinction of not being able to achieve the ultimate goal of winning it all.

The Raiders were dominant in the regular season, finishing 13-1 overall, while the Steelers wound up 10-4 and were hampered by injuries. In fact, with both of their starting running backs, Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier out with injuries, Pittsburgh was at a distinct disadvantage going into the AFC title game. So this was going to be the best chance yet for coach John Madden’s Silver and Black troops to finally climb to the mountain top by slaying the dragon that had kept them out of the big game the last 2 seasons. As expected, the defenses of both teams dominated the game. Oakland scored the only first quarter points on an Erroll Mann field goal, then increased their lead to 10-0 in the second quarter when Raider linebacker Willie Hall intercepted a Terry Bradshaw pass and returned it to the Steelers’ one yard line, with Clarence Davis bursting  into the end zone  for a touchdown.  The Steelers, knowing they needed to answer to not let the game get out of hand, did just that. Bradshaw rebounded from his miscue to engineer a 75 yard scoring drive that was capped off with a 3 yard touchdown run from Reggie Harrison, who was filling in for the injured starting backs.

Not to be outdone, Raider signal caller Ken Stabler guided his team on a long, time-consuming drive, and hit Warren Bankston from 4 yards out to give his club a 17-7 lead going into halftime. With the way the defenses were playing on this day, that lead could almost be considered insurmountable, and when Stabler found Pete Banaszak for a 5 yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, Oakland led 24-7 and was clearly in the driver’s seat. Both team’s defenses took over again after that and 24-7 turned out to be the final score. Oakland had cleared a huge hurdle in finally beating the Steelers, and they wouldn’t waste the opportunity. Madden’s forces went on to dominate Super Bowl XI, defeating the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 to capture their long-awaited first Lombardi Trophy.


Willie Hall tracks down Steeler WR John Stallworth


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