Raiders QB Kenny Stabler (12) completed 82 percent of his passes during the Silver and Black's win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1973 AFC Divisional Playoffs.
December 22, 1973
On a cloudy Saturday in December of 1973 in the city of Oakland, the Oakland Raiders would take the field against what would become a familiar opponent in the Pittsburgh Steelers.
These two teams had not yet had the nail-biting, entertaining games that would build this into one of the NFL’s greatest rivalries. This 1973 AFC Divisional Playoff game marked only the second time the two times met in the postseason and first time in Oakland. The Raiders had entered the playoffs as AFC Western Division Champions with a record of 9-4-1 and the Steelers came in with a record of 10-4 and were champions of the AFC Central Division.
With the anticipation of the 51,110 fans in attendance at a peak the game finally got underway. The visiting Steelers won the coin toss and elected to receive. Ray Guy’s opening kickoff sailed out of the Pittsburgh end zone and they would begin their drive at their own 20-yard line. A Raider penalty moved the Steelers up to the 25 before RB Franco Harris ran for another eight, placing the ball at Pittsburgh’s 33. After a short run by RB John Fuqua, a short completion from QB Terry Bradshaw to WR Barry Pearson and an incomplete pass intended for Harris, the Steelers were forced to punt.
Steelers P Bobby Walden’s punt landed at the Oakland 18 and the Raiders high-powered offense took the field.
A four-yard run by Marv Hubbard was followed by a six-yard loss on a run by Charlie Smith. Quarterback Ken “The Snake” Stabler threw a four-yard pass to Smith, which was moved to the 35 after a Pittsburgh 15-yard penalty. Plays of two, four, eight and seven yards followed, but it was Hubbard’s 20-yard sweep around left end that put Oakland deep in Pittsburgh territory. Back-up RB Clarence Davis came in and rattled off runs of two yards and two runs of nine yards to put the Raiders inside the five-yard line. After a Smith two-yard run, Marv Hubbard plunged into the end zone to cap 16-play, 82-yard drive.
Another Ray Guy kick ended up five yards deep in the end zone, but was returned out to the Pittsburgh 23. The Raiders defense shut down QB Terry Bradshaw’s Steelers and forced a three-and-out. After a Steelers punt, the Raiders offense was shut down and forced into a punt of their own.
The Steelers started their third drive at their own 34-yard line and were looking to move down field. After moving to the Oakland 44, the Steelers were forced into a third down situation. Bradshaw looked to pass, but the Raider defense swarmed and his pass was batted by Otis Sistrunk right into the arms of LB Phil Villapiano. The Raiders ran one play before the quarter ended with Oakland leading the visiting Steelers 7-0.
Opening the second quarter at their own 41, the Raiders quickly moved to the Steelers 35 after a 21-yard pass from Stabler to WR Mike Siani. Runs by Charlie Smith, Clarence Davis and Pete Banaszak moved the Raiders inside the Steelers 10-yard line. A third-and-goal at the Steelers eight-yard line forced Stabler to drop back to pass. He tried to scramble, but was stopped for a 10-yard loss by Pittsburgh DE L.C. Greenwood. The ageless George Blanda came on to attempt a 25-yard field goal, which he nailed. With 8:00 remaining in the half it was the Oakland Raiders 10, Pittsburgh Steelers 0.
Another deep kick led to a short return by Steelers RB Preston Pearson. With the ball at their own 23, the Steelers ran three consecutive times. Pearson had a gain of two yards, but Franco Harris was held to one yard on the next two carries. That forced them into another punt. Walden’s punt was taken at the Oakland 33 by S George Atkinson, who returned it to the Pittsburgh 45 but a 15-yard penalty nullified the return.
For the second time, the Raiders began a drive inside their own 20-yard line. The Raiders managed only seven yards and was forced into a three-and-out by the vaunted Steelers defense. LB Jack Ham and Greenwood led the way for the “Steel Curtain” defense. A 40-yard punt by Ray Guy was returned by Steelers S Glen Edwards to the Raider 45, giving them the best field position they had all day.
Bradshaw quickly got the Steelers offense into better scoring position with a pass to Pearson who got down to the Raiders 21 before being tackled by Villapiano. That play was followed by a seven-yard run by Harris and two incomplete passes by Bradshaw. However, on the second incomplete pass a roughing the passer penalty was called and the ball was placed inside the 10 at the Raiders seven-yard line. A quick three-yard run was followed by a Bradshaw touchdown strike.
The ensuing kickoff was taken by Clarence Davis to the Raider 26, but a holding penalty brought the ball back to the 13-yard line. Runs of nine, three and four by Charlie Smith and a run of three yards by Hubbard were all the Raiders could muster before time expired. Midway through this divisional playoff game it was the hometown Raiders 10, the visiting Steelers 7.
The second half opened up with the Steelers Roy Gerela kicking off to Raiders RB Clarence Davis, who returned the kick to the Raiders 32. A nine-yard pass from Stabler to Siani and a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty put the Raiders in Steelers territory. After a 17-yard pass to Hubbard and Charlie Smith runs of one and two yards, the Raiders offense stalled and settled for a field goal. The ensuing kickoff went out of bounds for a re-kick, which was returned by Pearson to the 33 where the Steelers offense took over.
A penalty stalled the Steelers drive and they were forced to punt. Atkinson returned Walden’s 40-yard punt to the Oakland 43. Behind the arm of “The Snake” and legs of Hubbard, Banaszak, Davis and Smith the Raiders got to the Pittsburgh 15-yard line. Once there, the offense stalled out yet again. Blanda came on to convert his third consecutive field goal. This one was from 22 yards out and gave the Raiders a 13-7 lead with less than three minutes left in the third quarter.
Pittsburgh LB Henry Davis returned the short kick to the Steelers 35-yard line and the offense, led by Terry Bradshaw, looked to get back on track. However, the Raiders secondary had other plans for the boys from the “Steel City.”
After a 17-yard pass from Bradshaw to WR Frank Lewis put the Steelers in Raiders territory, CB Willie Brown intercepted the next pass and returned it 54 yards for a quick Raider touchdown. On the next Steelers possession the fans were treated an encore as S George Atkinson intercepted another Bradshaw pass intended for Lewis and returned it to the Oakland 37.
The Raiders offense moved quickly as Charlie Smith took a sweep around left end for a 40-yard gain, putting the Raiders at the Steelers 22. Two four-yard runs by Charlie Smith had the Silver and Black inside the 20-yard line as the quarter ended with the Raiders up 23-7 and threatening.
With the Stabler and the Raiders at the Steelers 14-yard line, the Coliseum crowd could feel another touchdown coming up. However, the “Steel Curtain” defense stood its ground and made the Raiders settle for three. The determination of the Pittsburgh defense seemed to breathe new life into their offense, as Bradshaw led the Steelers down the field.
The Steelers offense found a way to run the ball in a quick and efficient manner down to the Oakland 26. From there, all it took was a Bradshaw to Lewis 26-yard touchdown reception. With 9:12 left in the game, it was Oakland 26 Pittsburgh 14. By no means, was this one over.
After the teams traded punts, with 5:11 left in the game, the Raiders offense had the ball one more time and looked to run the time out. RB Marv Hubbard had other ideas, though. With long runs of 16 and 15 yards, plus shorter ones of nine and two, Hubbard led the way for the Raiders. With the ball placed at the Pittsburgh one-yard line, Marv Hubbard leaped over the middle and scored his second touchdown of the day. With only 14 seconds left on the clock, Bradshaw and the Steelers could only watch as time ticked away.
RB Marv Hubbard finished the day with 20 rushes for 91 yards and two touchdowns and QB Ken Stabler completed 14 of 17 passes for 142 yards. A defensive touchdown by Willie Brown and four George Blanda field goals were more than enough as the Oakland Raiders defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 33-14, for a trip to the AFC Championship game.