December 26, 1976*
On a hazy post-Christmas day in 1976, there was one more gift awaiting one of these two talented teams. For the better part of a decade, The Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers always seemed to find themselves in competition for a trip to the Super Bowl. This was the third straight year these AFC powerhouses would meet in the Conference title game. In 1974, the Raiders lost 24-13 and in 1975 the score was 16-10 in favor of the Steelers. The third time would truly be a charm for the Raiders.
QB Kenny Stabler (12) and the Raiders take the field at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
This ’76 Championship game would be one controlled by the Silver and Black defense and the not the famed “Steel Curtain” of Pittsburgh. The Oakland Raiders’ defense would hold the Steelers to just seven points, while the offense racked up 24. During the opening quarter, it seemed both teams’ defenses would dictate the tempo of this AFC Championship game.
The game began with a kickoff return by Raiders’ running back Pate Banaszak to the Oakland 22. A quick eight-yard run by Mark Van Eeghen was as much as either team would get on their first drives. Both of these powerhouse teams went three and out on the first possessions. On the Raiders’ second possession, they were able to move the ball fairly well into Pittsburgh territory. After a Ken Stabler pass fell incomplete, Ray Guy came on for his second punt.
Steelers’ quarterback Terry Bradshaw tried to get his team moving, but his Steelers’ offense was forced off the field by a focused Silver and Black lineup. A partially blocked punt set up the Raiders’ offense at the Steelers’ 38-yard line. Six plays later, Raiders’ kicker Errol Mann nailed a 39-yard field goal. Those would be the only points of the quarter as the Raiders led 3-0.
The defensive battle continued in the second quarter as neither offense was able to move downfield. On Pittsburgh’s second drive of the quarter, the Silver and Black defense made a tremendous play. As Steelers’ QB Bradshaw dropped back to pass at his own 19, ILB Willie Hall intercepted the pass and returned it the Pittsburgh one-yard line. Three plays later, Raider RB Clarence Davis scampered in for the game’s first touchdown. From this moment on, the offensive play picked up.
Pittsburgh’s offense took the field and looked to close the gap with a touchdown of their own. Terry Bradshaw completed passes of 11 yards (to WR Frank Lewis), 18 (Lynn Swann) and 30 (Swann.) This set up a three-yard touchdown run by RB Reggie Harrison. Harrison’s score cut the Raiders’ lead as the score was now 10-7. It didn’t take long for the Ken Stabler and the Raiders’ offense to put points on the board.
Safety George Atkinson (43) breaks up a pass intended for WR Lynn Swann (88).
On the next Raider drive, the QB all fans knew as “The Snake” methodically drove the offense down the field. The backfield of Mark Van Eeghen, Pete Banaszak and Clarence Davis bulldozed their way and opened up the air for Stabler and his receivers. A 14-play, 69-yard drive culminated in a Stabler to Warren Bankston four-yard touchdown pass. As the first half ended the score was Oakland Raiders 17 – Pittsburgh Steelers 7.
The visiting Steelers’ came out of the locker room with a determination to get back in this game and clinch a spot in the Super Bowl. However, Oakland’s stifling defense had other ideas. On Pittsburgh’s second drive of the half Raiders’ Phil Villapiano and John Matuszak teamed up to tackle Steelers’ RB John “Frenchy” Fuqua for a three-yard loss. This led to a Steelers’ punt.
The two teams traded punts, but on the Raiders’ second possession the Silver and Black broke the game wide open. With Banaszak and Van Eeghen carrying the ball for positive yards and Stabler completing passes to WR Cliff Branch and Warren Bankston for 28 and seven yards. That set the Raiders’ offense up for another touchdown, this time it was a five-yard pass from Stabler to Banaszak. After an Errol Mann PAT, the score was Oakland 24 – Pittsburgh 7.
Raiders fans swarm the field after the Silver and Black clinched a spot in Super Bowl XI.
From then on, it was the defense of the Silver and Black that would shutdown Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers’ offense. No matter what the Steelers tried to do, there was no stopping this Oakland team from making it to the Super Bowl. As the second ticked away in the fourth quarter, the fans of the Silver and Black stormed the field to celebrate with their team. Two weeks later, the Oakland Raiders would defeat the Minnesota Vikings to capture their first Super Bowl, but after beating the rival Pittsburgh Steelers there was no opponent this Oakland Raider team could not defeat.