Home Steelers 2022 Season Steelers History: Franco and Rocky Sink the Buccaneers

Steelers History: Franco and Rocky Sink the Buccaneers

by Gordon Dedman

Since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers joined the NFL in 1976, the Pittsburgh Steelers overall have overshadowed their rivals by 9-2. Of the four contests played in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have only lost one and that was a 27-24 defeat in 2014.

At one point during that loss, Ben Roethlisberger completed 14 consecutive passes (his record is 16) and overall completed 29 for 314 yards with 3 touchdowns, but it was a Tampa last minute touchdown that took the win.

Following two consecutive Super Bowl winning seasons, in 1976 the Steelers were looking forward to make it a third. When they struggled through the opening five games, losing four of them the season looked gone.

In the week five defeat by Cleveland, they also lost Terry Bradshaw after he was bounced on his head by Browns’ Joe “Turkey” Jones.

At 1-4, the Steelers were adrift on the bottom of the AFC Central and Steelers’ fans could only look with astonishment at Cincinnati and Houston sitting on top at 4-1.

Their next game was against the Bengals. Lose that and any thoughts of post season football would be over. To meet the challenge, the Steelers would have to rely on rookie quarterback Mike Kruczek who would be starting his first game in the NFL.

Pittsburgh rediscovered their running game as Franco Harris rushed for 143 yards on an NFL record 41 carries, to spark the Steelers into a 23-6 win. With his contribution, Harris set a new franchise record for a running back with a career total of 4,485 yards.

Kruczek next led the Steelers to a 27-0 triumph in New York over the Giants before Bradshaw returned with another shutout, this one 23-0 against the Chargers.

The following week in Kansas the Steelers crushed their opponents 45-0 as both Harris and Rocky Bleier had 100-yard games. The total of 330 yards rushing set a new high under Coach Noll. It was a first for the franchise to have two running backs gain 100 yards on the same Sunday.

The defense held the Chiefs to 34 yards rushing, another first for a Chuck Noll team. That shutout was the first suffered by the Chiefs in 179 games.

Bradshaw suffered a wrist injury early in the Dolphins’ game, but Kruczek was once again proficient in replacing him to close out the 14-3 win.

Division rivals Oilers came to Pittsburgh next and Kruczek continued to thrive leading the Steelers to a 32-16 success.

The following week was a crucial visit to Cincinnati. After the Steelers had beaten the Bengals in week 6, Cincinnati also went on a roll winning all their games and were two games in front of Pittsburgh.

“It’s a must game for us and not for Cincinnati,” noted Coach Noll. Cincinnati would clinch the division title with a win. Cincinnati’s tight end Bob Trumpy acknowledged, “It’s difficult to say how you beat the Steelers. We haven’t done it for a while, but when we did, we ran the ball a lot.”

The game was played in a blinding snowstorm that saw a low scoring contest edged by the Steelers 7-3.

The Steelers’ win moved them to within one game of the Bengals with the following week seeing a visit from the winless Buccaneers. Along with the Seahawks, Tampa had joined an expanded NFL that year.

Former San Francisco 49er Steve Spurrier had quarterbacked the Buccaneers, but for the Steelers game it would be Terry Hanratty who had been waived by the Steelers just before the season started. Hanratty was Bradshaw’s backup for six years but was more well-known for strolling the Steelers sideline with his clipboard.

After trials with the Chiefs and Lions, he was picked up by the Buccaneers in October. Following twelve defeats, Tampa’s coach John McKay decided a change was needed and named Hanratty to start against his old team. “Hanratty is familiar with the Pittsburgh personnel and it’s the logical time to give him a chance,” acknowledged McKay.

In a game that was projected as little more than a scrimmage, the addition of Hanratty added some spice to the contest. Hanratty admitted, “I never lost faith in the Steelers. Right now, they’re the best football team in the league. It would be a shame if they don’t get in the playoffs.”

The (8-4) Steelers vs the (0-12) Buccaneers; December 5, 1976

The Steelers’ defense controlled the game, limiting Hanratty to -1 yards passing after completing only one of his four passes. He was replaced by Spurrier in the second half, but by then the Buccaneers had fallen four touchdowns behind.

After Tampa fumbled a punt on their own nine in the first quarter, Rocky Bleier opened the scoring with a 7-yard touchdown run. Bleier followed that with a 1-yard touchdown run.

Another Tampa fumble on the ensuing kickoff gifted the Steelers their next touchdown run of one yard from Mike Kruczek. One more touchdown run from Bleier from 3 yards before the first half expired, saw him score his only career hat trick.

Terry Bradshaw replaced Kruczek in the second half and his 35-yard touchdown pass to Lynn Swann confirmed all was well on his return from injury. Bradshaw hit Swann again with a 23-yard touchdown pass to complete the scoring as the Steelers crushed their opponents.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 42 vs the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0

A Bengals’ defeat in Oakland saw the Steelers move to the top of the division. The following week Pittsburgh beat Houston 21-0 for their fifth shutout which was one short of the franchise record set in 1934.

Pittsburgh took the AFC (Central at that time) North for the fourth time under Coach Noll’s eight-year tenure. The Steelers went on to the AFC Championship game, but without Harris and Bleier due to injury, they succumbed to the Raiders.

Rocky Bleier broke the 1000-yard barrier for the first and only time along with the third one from Franco Harris.



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