These two teams didn’t meet until the NFL merged with the AFL in 1970 when they were the Oakland Raiders. They edge the series with 16 wins to the Steelers’ 13 and many of those games were bitterly fought battles, especially in the ‘70s.
While Chuck Noll was still putting his Super Bowl winning team together in 1970, the teams met for the first time when the Raiders triumphed 31-14 in Oakland. The Steelers were taken apart by 21-year veteran George Blanda, who only came on to play due to an injury to their starting quarterback. He threw three touchdown passes and kicked a 27-yard field goal and four extra points.
Two years later, the Steelers won 34-28 in the season opener when they dominated their opponents more than the score would reflect. So much so, the Pittsburgh Press went with the headline, “Could ’72 Be Year of The Steelers?”
The two teams met again that year in the Steelers first playoff game for twenty-five years. History was made in more ways than one when the Steelers won 13-7 and the Immaculate Reception became the number one highlight in all NFL plays. The Steelers went on to lose in the championship game to a Dolphins team who remained unbeaten on the season and continue to be the only team to achieve that feat.
In 1973 the Raiders took their revenge and knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs, but the following season, Coach Noll’s revolution in Pittsburgh finally produced the ultimate reward.
The Raiders beat the Steelers 17-0 in the regular season and Oakland’s coach John Madden must have taken some solace in the success. “We should have won here two years ago,” he muttered after the win.
For the Steelers, it was an inept performance on offense and defense and the first shutout they had suffered for 132 games. Joe Gilliam completed just 8 out of 31 attempts with two interceptions including one by Jack Tatum, who had featured in the Immaculate Reception legend.
Three months later the teams would meet in the AFC Championship in Oakland. For the Steelers, it would be their first appearance in a championship game, but for the Raiders it would be their sixth which saw them made 6-point favorites.
After the Raiders beat the Dolphins in the divisional game, Madden declared, “When the best plays the best, anything can happen,” suggesting they had already played the championship game.
For the Steelers, the major difference from the regular season loss and the playoff game would be Terry Bradshaw at quarterback. He was now firmly in place as their starter with a 7-2 record in their previous nine games.
AFC Championship game December 29, 1974; Oakland Coliseum
Despite going three and out on their first possession, Oakland struck first. Lynn Swann fumbled the punt return, gifting the Raiders a first down on the Steelers 41. Pittsburgh’s defense held their opponents to a field goal.
After missing his first field goal attempt, Roy Gerela hit one in the second quarter from 23 yards and a quiet first half saw the teams go into the locker room tied 3-3.
Late in the third quarter, Kenny Stabler lofted a 38-yard touchdown pass to Cliff Branch to break the deadlock, but the Steelers came straight back. Going 61 yards in five plays including a run of 22 yards from Rocky Bleier. Franco Harris finished the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run.
With the Oakland running game spluttering, Stabler was forced to go back to the air. Intending to complete to Charlie Smith, he watched Jack Ham step in front of the Oakland receiver and pick off the pass.
Ham should have returned it into the end zone but was knocked down by teammate Ernie Holmes on Oakland’s 9. On third down, Bradshaw dropped back and found Swann in the end zone for the touchdown putting the Steelers back in front.
The Raiders were not going to fold and Stabler completed three passes to move the chains 70 yards. On a third down on the Steelers 7, Mike Wagner forced an incompletion to limit the Raiders to Blanda’s 24-yard field goal.
The Steelers defense set up the final score when J.T. Thomas intercepted Stabler and returned it 37 yards to the Raiders 24. Harris burst up the middle for a 21-yard touchdown that guaranteed the Steelers first Super Bowl appearance.
Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Oakland Raiders 13
The Raiders managed only 29 yards rushing as they were crushed by the Steel Curtain while the Steelers totaled 224 yards on the ground with Franco Harris contributing 111 and Bleier 98.
“We defeated them where we had to – at the line,” Noll commented. “Our defense played super. We were great against the run, and we stopped them cold.”
Steelers’ Owner Art Rooney was asked how he felt about finally making the Super Bowl and tongue in cheek replied, “I’ll go there like a big shot.” Rooney added, “You know, you think about some of the years we had, some of the things that happened, and to tell you the truth, you wondered if you were ever gonna win.”
Win the Steelers had done and they were on their way to Super Bowl IX where they would beat Minnesota to earn the first Lombardi for Art Rooney and Pittsburgh.