| Super seasons started with defense|
By Dave Ailes
FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW
The 1974 Steelers were in
town Monday night for a special celebration, a perfect time for the '99 Steelers
to display defensive brillance.
Defense was the
cornerstone of a 13-9 victory over the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons.
And defense was the foundation that led to four Super Bowl titles in a span of
six years in the '70s, a time when that team gave this city its identity,
coach Bill Cowher said.
I always said our
defense won the first two, and the offense the last two, said honoree Jack
Lambert, who defined smash-mouth football to fans who cheered his name at
Monday's halftime introductions.
Number 58 shared
handshakes and memories with special teammates from a quarter-century ago -
including lengendary coach Chuck Noll and two other fellow Hall of Fame honorees
Jack Ham and Mel Blount.
It was Lambert's rookie
year when the lanky second-round pick from Kent took over in the middle of a
linebacker corps that terrorized the NFL.
I was just glad to be
here. And when we won the Super Bowl my first two years, I thought that's what
you did - win championships every year.
The first one, 16-6 over
Fran Tarkenton and the Minnesota Vikings, put an end to more than 40 years of
frustration for a franchise that would never again be called Art Rooney's
The phrase, though, was
lost on Lambert. Born and raised a Browns fan from upstate Ohio, Lambert had no
first-hand knowledge of the Steelers saga. Instead, he helped rewrite history.
Lambert assisted in
converting the Steelers into the team of the decade, a period of such
unqualified excellence that then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle said that it was time
for another team or two to replace the Steelers at the head of the class.
But Super Bowl IX had a
sharp twist for Lambert, who left the game with an injury near the end of the
first half and didn't return.
Ed Bradley came in for
me and played a great second half, he said.
Then Lambert related one
of the untold stories from that first ride on that train of triumph.
Lambert and a former
roommate at Kent left New Orleans the next day for a vacation in Fort
Lauderdale, a playground for a 22-year-old football star. But there was one
problem - pain inside his injured leg.
I went to the hospital
the next day. They told me I had a fractured ankle. They put a cast on it.
Lambert reported the
fracture to team physician Dr. John Best, who happened to be vacationing in
Dr. Best, rest his soul,
told me to run a tub of cold water, put my ankle in it and he'd come over the
next day. He took one look at it and cut off the cast.
Dr. Best applied an
orthopedic wrap. Lambert smiled: It consisted of about six pieces of tape. You
know what? The ankle healed just fine.
Lambert didn't talk about
the fracture back then. Neither did the Steelers. No need. Lambert was better
than ever in '75. So were the Steelers. They went 12-2 in the regular season
before knocking off the Baltimore Colts, the Oakland Raiders and the Dallas
Cowboys to repeat as Super Bowl champions. The '74 draft, the best in Steelers
history and one of the most formidable in league history, brought these players
to the roster: Lynn Swann (1), Lambert (2), John Stallworth (4a), Jim Allen
(4b), Mike Webster (5), Jim Wolf (6a), Rick Druschel, current athletic director
at Hempfield High School (6b). Also, Donnie Shell, another long-term discovery,
signed as a free agent.
This young team could
have had the only threepeat in Super Bowl history in '76 until injuries to
running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleir derailed the Steelers heading into
the AFC title game at Oakland. That (season) haunts me, said Lambert. I think
that was our best team. If those guys don't get hurt, we'd have done it all
(quarterback) Bert Jones and a really good team. We went in there and killed 'em
The Steelers won the last
nine in the regular season, five on shutouts, prior to the Baltimore playoff.
The Steelers also outscored those last nine opponents in 1976 by a remarkable
margin of 234-28.
If 1976 still haunts
Lambert, think how many nightmares those teams of the '70s caused the rest of
It all began in 1974, a
season to remember; a year to celebrate for all time.