Raiders v. Steelers, The Rivalry (Part Two)

From 1972–1977, there were few rivalries as intense as the Raiders v. Steelers.

George Atkinson — (photo, Geocaching)
Lynn Swann & George Atkinson

After playing that historic game in Pittsburgh in December 1972, the Raiders didn’t have to wait too long to try and even things up. On November 11, 1973, they played the Steelers again, this time at home. But they lost once again, this time 17–9, as Daryle Lamonica threw four interceptions to seal the defeat.

The two teams met again in the playoffs on December 22, 1973, in a game that was also played in Oakland. This time the Raiders got revenge, winning easily 33–14. Oakland gained 232 yards rushing against ‘The Steel Curtain’ defense. Pittsburgh rushed for only 65 yards.

On September 29, 1974, the Raiders humiliated the Steelers, 17–0, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers vowed revenge. Three months later, they got their chance.

For the third year in a row, the two teams met in the postseason. This time, it was in the AFC Championship game. Pittsburgh got there by beating the Buffalo Bills. The Raiders arrived with fanfare–disposing of the defending Super Bowl champs Dolphins.

With the Dolphins out of the picture, many fans and experts predicted that the Raiders would win their first Super Bowl. They had good reasons to think that way, too. Oakland boasted a 13–2 record going into the championship game, and they had just beaten Miami, the team that had won the last two Super Bowls.

For their part, the Steelers were tired of hearing how great these Raiders were.

Gameday arrived on December 29. The game, played in Oakland this time, was another hard-hitting defensive battle. The Raiders lead 10–3 after three but, then inexplicably, Oakland’s ‘D’ collapsed in the 4th. Franco Harris gained 111 yards and Rocky Bleier added 98 yards. The Steelers won 24–13 and went on to win the Super Bowl.

The teams met again in the 1975 AFC Championship.

The bad blood got thicker after Steelers’ coach Chuck Noll accused Raiders’ owner Al Davis of sending spies to Steelers’ practices. On gameday, Davis accused Noll of allowing the artificial turf at Three Rivers Stadium to freeze.

Davis saw it as a tactic to slow down Cliff Branch, the Raiders’ speedy wide receiver. The game-time temperature that day was just 15 degrees F.

It was another defensive battle. The Steelers lead 3–0 after three quarters and–once again–most of the scoring came in the last stanza. With the Steelers leading 16–10, and with only nine seconds remaining, the Raiders recovered an onside kick and drove to the Steelers’ 15-yard-line as time expired.

It was another hard-hitting, ugly game. There were twelve turnovers and numerous cheap shots, including a blow to the head that resulted in a concussion for Lynn Swann–courtesy of Oakland DB George Atkinson. Swann got the last laugh, though. Pittsburgh went on to win its second Super Bowl, and Swann was named the game’s MVP.

And this fierce rivalry wasn’t over. Eight months later, the two teams met again, this time in the 1976 season opener. No defensive-minded or one-sided game was this. Pittsburgh had a comfortable 28–14 lead in the 4th quarter when the Raiders came storming back to win, 31–28.

But like so many of these Raiders-Steelers contests, the game featured smash-mouth play. There were 17 penalties and many hits and cheap shots. George Atkinson was back at it again. He delivered a forearm to the back of Lynn Swann’s head in a play that was away from the action. A cheap shot with the intent to injure, Swann suffered another concussion. Teammate Joe Greene carried Swann off the field. The hit so-infuriated Steelers coach Chuck Noll that he called the Raiders “the criminal element” of the NFL. But in truth, the Steelers were no choir, boys either.

George Atkinson played a big role in the rivalry

Four months later, the teams met again in Oakland. It was the fifth year in a row that the two sides had played each other in the postseason. The Raiders won 24–7 in a prelude to winning their first of three Super Bowls.

The two teams didn’t meet again until September 1980. The Raiders won 45–34 that day but, by then, the rivalry had lost its luster. For all intent and purposes, the fiercely contested 5-year war ended.

But make no mistake about it. From 1972–1977, there were few rivalries as intense as the Raiders v. Steelers. It’s etched in NFL lore–never to be forgotten, always to be honored.

I grew up in Northern NJ. I grew up in the 1970s. I was always a big sports fan. I enjoy writing about old school sports and weightlifting.