In 1975, Colts' magic vanished at Pittsburgh

Baltimore-Steelers rivalry in AFC divisional playoffs began at Three Rivers

January 19, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Tomorrow marks the initial playoff meeting between the Ravens and the Steelers, but it's not the first time Baltimore and Pittsburgh tangled at this juncture of the postseason.

In both 1975 and '76, the Steelers won AFC divisional playoffs over the Colts, who moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984.

In 1976, Pittsburgh handled Baltimore at Memorial Stadium, 40-14, memorable only because a wayward aviator crashed a small plane into the upper deck afterward. More vivid was the previous year's meeting, when a 28-10 loss at Three Rivers Stadium ended a magical season for the Colts.

The '75 Steelers of Mel Blount, "Mean" Joe Greene, Franco Harris and Jack Lambert were elite, three weeks away from beating the Dallas Cowboys and repeating as Super Bowl champions, the second of their four NFL titles during a six-year run. Baltimore? The Colts had gone 2-12 for first-year coach Ted Marchibroda in 1974, and they stumbled to a 1-4 start the following season.

Quarterback Bert Jones had a breakthrough year in his second season as a starter, however, and the Colts piled up points and wins. The defense toughened down the stretch, and on Dec. 14, 1975, Toni Linhart kicked a 31-yard field goal in the fog at Memorial Stadium that beat Miami in overtime, 10-7. A comeback at New England completed a nine-game winning streak and the greatest turnaround in NFL history, and it was off to Pittsburgh.

"Howard Cosell picked us as his dark horse to get to the Super Bowl," said Stan White, the right-side linebacker. "We were on such a roll, we really thought we would win."

The Colts' return to the playoffs after a four-year absence came on a Saturday, Dec. 27. Only a few hundred Baltimoreans braved Three Rivers. As NBC went to its reporter in the stands for a live remote shot during the pre-game show, Ed Zaruba, one year out of Baltimore's Southern High, stepped in front of Steelers fans and yelled "Go Colts!"

When one of Zaruba's friends went into "Shake and Bake," the pre-rap chant inspired by wide receiver Glenn Doughty, a Steelers fan flashed a switchblade and told him to shut up. Pittsburgh was just as intimidating on the field. Jones was knocked out on the fourth play, when Ernie Holmes got a sack and cornerback J.T. Thomas accidentally kicked the quarterback in his throwing arm, which developed a knot the size of a baseball.

Marty Domres replaced Jones. Despite Marchibroda's conservative play-calling and 153 yards pounded out by Harris - who nearly outgained the Colts by himself - Baltimore used a series of breaks to stay in the game.

Lloyd Mumphord intercepted Terry Bradshaw and brought it back 58 yards to set up Baltimore's only touchdown, a 5-yard pass from Domres to Doughty. The Colts had a 10-7 lead midway through the third quarter, but L.C. Greenwood stuffed do-it-all back Lydell Mitchell, and Blount intercepted Domres on the next play to set up the winning points, a 7-yard touchdown run by Rocky Bleier.

Another short field off a punting mishap helped the Steelers to a 21-10 lead, but back came Jones, who hooked up with Doughty for a 58-yard catch and run with three minutes left. At the Pittsburgh 3-yard line six plays later, Jack Ham stripped Jones. Andy Russell, another linebacker, scooped up the ball and took forever to run 93 yards for a touchdown, still the longest fumble return in playoff history.

"It seemed like it took Russell three minutes to get to the end zone," White said. "His own defensive linemen caught up to him. That Steeler defense was so good. To me, that defense was the best ever."

Sun researcher Jean Packard contributed to this article.

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