September 12, 1976
The Oakland Raiders opened their 1976 regular season against the defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. These two teams had met nine months earlier in the 1975 AFC Championship on the frozen artificial turf at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Now, however, they would battle on the lush green grass of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
|QB Ken Stabler scrambles and looks for a target downfield.|
The Steelers had won the last two Super Bowls and were after a record third-in-a-row. During the 1974-1975 seasons the Pittsburgh team had a record of 22-5-1. The Raiders were even better at 23-5-0, but the Steelers had won the AFC title over the Raiders in both years to set up their Super Bowl triumphs.
A unique rivalry existed between the Raiders and the Steelers - one built on mutual respect. The venerable Art Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh club, had helped build the National Football League. Al Davis, the Raiders Managing General Partner had similarly helped pioneer the American Football League and, as commissioner of the AFL, had forced the merger of these pro football combatants. Many in the NFL looked at Davis as a "maverick" and a "challenger," but Rooney knew Davis’ love of the game and saw him as a friend, a leader and a major contributor to football and the National Football League. This same respect for proven competitors existed at every level of the two organizations. from head coaches John Madden and Chuck Noll to the players, assistant coaches, scouts and administrators. The Raiders and Steelers knew they were pro footballs best and shared an understanding of what that took and what that meant.
The teams would combine for 878 yards on offense in the September 12, 1976 game, but finished the first quarter without a score. The Silver and Black threatened twice, but a blocked field goal and an interception prevented them from scoring. Pittsburgh’s lone penetration into Oakland territory ended when a tackle by S Charles Phillips jarred the ball loose from Rocky Blier, with LB Monte Johnson making the recovery.
QB Ken Stabler began a second period drive on his own 27. Utilizing the Raiders famed five-receiver passing game to perfection, Stabler had completions to RBs Clarence Davis and Mark Van Eeghen and WR Cliff Branch to move the ball to the Steelers 30. From there, Stabler pitched a perfect strike to TE Dave Casper along the left sideline for the game’s first score. Raiders 7 - Steelers 0.
Tough man-to-man pass defense, led by S George Atkinson, stopped Pittsburgh quickly. A punting duel ensued. The Steelers got close once but missed a short field goal. Then, in the final minute of the half, Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw passed down the middle to Franco Harris out of the backfield for a 39-yard pickup. Two plays later the score was tied, 7-7. Yardage was abundant but points remained scarce.
The second half would be a different story, with 45 points scored, 38 of them in the final quarter.
|RB Pete Banaszak had crucial runs for the Silver and Black against the Steelers.|
The punters - Ray Guy for Oakland and Bobby Walden for Pittsburgh - controlled the third quarter action. Guy averaged 44.0 yards for the game, with a long of 63 yards. Walden averaged 42.0 with a 56-yarder as his longest.
The lone third quarter score came midway in the period when Harris burst through the middle for 25 yards. When trapped downfield, he lateralled to WR John Stallworth, who sped the final 38 yards to complete a 63-yard touchdown. Pittsburgh led 14-7 going into the explosive final quarter.
The fourth quarter opened with Bradshaw passing 11 yards to Theo Bell to move Pittsburgh two touchdowns ahead, 21-7. Three minutes later, the Raiders answered on a 67-yard scoring march, finishing with Fred Biletnikoff making a diving catch of a 20-yard pass from Stabler. Steelers 21- Raiders 14.
Pittsburgh regained their two-touchdown lead at the 8:17 mark at the end of an 84-yard drive, when Harris scored on a three-yard run. Steelers 28 - Raiders 14.
The situation worsened for the Raiders as Steelers CB Mel Blount intercepted a Stabler pass on the first play after the kickoff and returned it inside the Oakland 20.
A few plays later Pittsburgh had the ball on the Raiders 19, leading 28-14, with just 5:42 left to play. On the next play, Harris was hit behind the line by Monte Johnson who stripped the ball free and recovered on the Raiders 25.
Stabler started this classic comeback with a 15-yard completion to Clarence Davis, but the play was nullified by an illegal motion penalty. The Raiders would not be denied, however, because on the next play, Stabler found Casper open for 21 yards. The drive continued with a pass to Casper again for another 25 and then to Biletnikoff for 18. On the next play, Pete Banaszak slammed up inside for 11 yards, down to the Steelers 10. Stabler got those ten yards immediately on a toss to Casper and the Raiders trailed by only seven, 28-21, with 2:56 left to play.
After the kickoff, the Raiders defenders rose to the challenge. DTs Charles Philyaw and Dave Rowe smashed two Steelers runs. Then Jack Tatum broke up a pass intended for Stallworth to force a punt situation. Raiders special teams star Warren Bankston, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, acquired by the Raiders in a trade in 1973, knifed in and blocked the punt.
The Raiders defense slows down the Steelers offense in an important win for the Silver and Black.
Charles Phillips returned the ball to the Pittsburgh 29. The roar of the Coliseum crowd was deafening.
Three incompletions brought up a fourth-and-ten for the Raiders. Stabler led Branch, cutting from left to right. Branch made the catch in stride and cut to the corner, getting down to the 2-yard line. Stabler rolled left behind G Gene Upshaw and ducked into the end zone. Steinfort's extra point tied the score at 28. There was 1:05 left on the Coliseum clock. Overtime, now in effect in the NFL, loomed large for this 1976 opener.
On first down from his own 24, Bradshaw dropped back to pass. Rowe, a 6-foot-7 inside pass rusher, got an arm in the way and deflected the ball at the line of scrimmage. Inside backer Willie Hall pulled the ball out of the air and ran it back to the Steelers 12-yard line. Two runs by Banaszak put the ball on the four and ran the clock down to 21 seconds. Coach Madden sent in the field goal team.
On third down, C Dave Dalby snapped, QB Dave Humm spotted the ball and Steinfort booted the 21-yard field goal to put the Raiders ahead for good, 31-28, with 18 seconds remaining.
These valiant Raiders, backed up on defense in front of their own goal line just five minutes before, had scored 17 points in a span of two minutes and 38 seconds against one of football's most vaunted defenses. The 1976 season for the Raiders started with a big win on September 12th and would end with the very biggest win in Super Bowl XI on January 9th. In 1976, these proud Raiders went 16-1-0 for their best single season ever and became the first of three Raiders teams to earn the World Championship of Professional Football.