In sports, you never know when a dynasty is going to end. Just ask the 2018 Golden State Warriors, who most likely never thought they’d go from three NBA titles in five years to a likely lottery team this season.
The Steelers probably felt similarly heading into Super Bowl XIV against the Los Angeles Rams on Jan. 20, 1980. They were the defending champs with a 14-4 record and no reason to believe their dynasty was anywhere near over.
In a sense, they were right. The Steelers beat the Rams 31-19 to secure their fourth title in six seasons. But what they couldn’t know at the time is that this would be the last Steelers Super Bowl victory until Feb. 5, 2006 — 26 years later.
As the great poet Andy Bernard once said, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”
The big Steelers story line headed into this matchup at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. — essentially a home game for the Rams — seemed to be the team’s banged-up offensive line, particularly guard Gerry Mullins and the pinched nerve in his left shoulder.
He wasn’t the only lineman battling an injury, Post-Gazette sports editor Phil Musick reported in the Jan. 17, 1980, edition. Fellow guards Steve Courson and Sam Davis hadn’t participated in team workouts, and tackle John Kolb had a similar shoulder issue to Mullins’.
“Four days before the Steelers present the Los Angeles Rams with an opportunity to prove they are worthy of even being a part of this tribal rite, it has become clear that the Steelers offensive line is the pivotal unit involved,” Musick wrote.
It turned out that this concern was unwarranted, as the Steelers’ offensive line allowed zero sacks on quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who finished the game with 309 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Those two touchdown passes were pretty spectacular, too, with a 73-yard bomb to receiver John Stallworth and a 47-yard strike between two defenders to receiver Lynn Swann.
The Steelers finished the game with 393 yards of total offense compared to the Rams’ 301-yard offensive output. Four sacks from the vaunted Steel Curtain defense and a Jack Lambert interception helped seal the Steelers’ fourth Super Bowl victory of the Chuck Noll-Bradshaw era and remind the football world that Pittsburgh was still No. 1.
The headline in the Jan. 21 edition of the Post-Gazette indicated that there was a belief in Pittsburgh that this was just the beginning of a dynasty that had the potential to keep going throughout the rest of the decade.
According to reporter Vito Stellino’s game story, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle told Steelers owner Art Rooney, “We have to stop meeting like this,” as he handed him the Lombardi Trophy yet again.
It was announced soon after the game that the city of Pittsburgh would sponsor a “Salute to the Steelers” celebration on Feb. 2. Mayor Richard Caliguiri clearly felt the city had earned it after how many of them showed up in Pasadena to cheer on their hometown squad.
“There was black and gold everywhere, and I’m sure the sight stunned the Rams’ fans,” Caliguiri told Pittsburgh Press sports writer Jim O’Brien in the Jan. 22 edition. “It was supposed to be a home game for them. I’m told there were more than 30,000 people from back home out here.
“It’s remarkable for a city our size to send that many people across the country to see a football game. It just shows you how they feel about our football team. It’s unique.”
Just like they showed up in droves to watch their team beat the Rams, Steelers fans came out in full force in 14-degree weather on Feb. 2 for that celebration.
“After you stand here for three hours, you don’t feel the cold anymore,” 21-year-old Art Rex of Robinson Township told Press reporters Edwina Rankin and Al Donalson for the Feb. 3 edition. Rex had arrived at 7 a.m. for an event that wouldn’t technically start until 11 a.m.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get pictures of Chuck Noll and all four of the trophies,” Rex continued. “It’s worth the wait.”
He had no idea how right he truly was. This would be the last championship celebration for the Steelers until Feb. 7, 2006, which probably seemed pretty far fetched after this stretch of dominance.
Coming off a Super Bowl MVP, Bradshaw probably would’ve laughed in your face if you told him his career would end less than three years later on Dec. 10, 1983, due to a lingering elbow injury. And yet, that’s exactly what happened, and the dream of sweeping the ’80s never materialized.
As the Steelers get ready to face the Rams at Heinz Field on Sunday, remember Super Bowl XIV and what turned out to be the culmination of the Steelers’ dynasty.
Hopefully Rex got those photos.