The best Super Bowl I ever saw was played between the Los Angeles Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 20, 1980.
The Pittsburgh Steelers had won the Super Bowl three times. Their all-star cast included future Hall of Famers such as quarterback Terry Bradshaw, wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, running back Franco Harris, defensive end “Mean” Joe Greene and linebacker Jack Lambert.
The Los Angeles Rams were the first team to make it to the Super Bowl with fewer than ten regular season wins. They had lost their owner, Carroll Rosenbloom, in a drowning accident in early 1979 and his widow, Georgia Rosenbloom had won a power struggle with Carroll’s son Steven. The team’s starting quarterback, Pat Haden, broke his finger in the middle of the season and was replaced by backup Vince Ferragamo.
Few gave the Rams much of a chance. I sat down to watch the game hoping they could keep it close.
As predicted, the Steelers ran and passed their way to several scores. Bradshaw connected with Swann and Stallworth for touchdowns. Harris pounded away for yards and for two touchdowns.
But what I will never forget was that the Rams, the underdog, matched the Steelers score for score. Running back Wendell Tyler took off with the ball in the first quarter for a 39 yard run. On third-and-goal a few plays later, Cullen Bryant plowed his way into the end zone.
When the first half ended with the Rams ahead 13-10, I started to think they could actually win it.
When Ferragamo responded to a subsequent Steeler touchdown with a 50 yard pass to receiver Billy Waddy, I realized both teams were fighting it out and the ending would not be predictable.
The play of the game took place next. Ferragamo handed the ball off to Lawrence McCutcheon, who then shocked the Steelers by passing to Ron Smith for a touchdown. I can still see the Steeler defender inadvertently knocking Smith into the end zone.
The see saw nature of this game and the story line of the underdog against the heavy favorite made it the essence of football. Anything could have happened after this point and that is what makes watching games like this so exciting.
In the end, it was the Steelers who pulled off the big plays when they needed them the most. Bradshaw hit Stallworth with a long touchdown pass to put the Steelers ahead 24-19. The Rams had a chance to go ahead when Ferragamo drove the team well into Steeler territory, but Lambert intercepted him to end the last serious Ram threat.
So there was no big upset here. But Ferragamo surprised by outplaying Terry Bradshaw, who threw three interceptions. The Rams surprised by forcing the Steelers to sweat it out until the final quarter. It is surprises like these that keep me watching the Super Bowl!