NFL – Throwback Thursday: Steelers Steal One

02 Nov

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans clash on this week’s NFL schedule, and for Throwback Thursday we’ll travel back to the AFC Championship game of the 1979 season, played at Three Rivers Stadium on January 6, 1980 between these 2 franchises. The Steelers were defending champs and seeking their fourth trip to the Super Bowl in the decade of the ’70s, while their opponents were still located in Houston as the Oilers. The 2 teams were fierce division rivals at the time in the old AFC Central, and were meeting in the title game for the second straight year.

The Oilers were humiliated 34-5 in the previous season’s title game, and coach Bum Phillips and his squad were determined to get revenge this time. They got off to a rousing start when Vernon Perry picked off a Terry Bradshaw pass and returned it 75 yards for the opening touchdown. The teams traded field goals before Bradshaw got back on track and tossed scoring passes of 16 yards to tight end Bennie Cunningham and 20 yards to John Stallworth to lift his team to a 17-10 halftime lead.

The defenses stiffened in the third quarter, but late in that period a play occurred that would change the course of future NFL games. Houston quarterback Dan Pastorini hit receiver Mike Renfro with an apparent game tying touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone. None of the officials originally signaled a TD, or any other call for that matter. After one of their annoying little “conferences”, the call was made that the pass was incomplete because Renfro had not gotten both feet down inbounds. There was no official instant replay at the time, but television replays clearly showed that the play should have been a touchdown. Phillips vehemently argued the call but there was no recourse at the time, and the Oilers settled for a field goal to cut the lead to 17-13. The Steelers tightened up on defense after that, and the Oilers seemed to lose their momentum. Bradshaw engineered drives that led to another field goal and a 4 yard Rocky Bleier touchdown run to earn their Super Bowl trip 27-13.

The Renfro play wasn’t forgotten, however. It was the impetus for the league to begin serious discussion about using replay as a tool to get calls correct, and since change moves slowly among tradition-bound NFL owners, it was finally implemented in 1986.


Mike Renfro’s non-catch in AFC title game



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