Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time that the Steelers have started a season with a 1-1-1 record. The last time Pittsburgh has started a season like this was back in 1974, a season that ended with then NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle handing Steelers’ founder Art Rooney the franchise’s first Vince Lombardi Trophy. The Steelers capped off their first Super Bowl season by defeating the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX, 16-6.
The ’74 Steelers kicked off that season with a 30-0 demolishing of the Baltimore Colts in Week 1. With Joe Gilliam as their quarterback, Pittsburgh tied the Broncos, 35-35, in Week 2, as Gilliam completed 31-of-50 pass attempts for 348 yards. The Steelers’ offense fell into a funk in Week 3, however, as John Madden’s Oakland Raiders shut out the Steelers in Pittsburgh, 17-0. Despite an inconsistent offense, Pittsburgh would then reel off a five game winning streak to improve their record to 6-1-1. But the Steelers’ offensive woes were again an issue during a 13-10 home loss to the Houston Oilers. It was after that game when Chuck Noll decided to permanently make Terry Bradshaw his starting quarterback for the remainder of the season. Bradshaw and the Steelers’ offense responded by scoring a combined 48 points in Pittsburgh’s last two regular season games, a road victory over the Patriots and a home victory against the Cincinnati Bengals.
In the playoffs, Pittsburgh routed O.J. Simpson and the Buffalo Bills before playing the Raiders in Oakland with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake. After falling behind 10-3 in the third quarter, the Steelers rallied to score 21 of the game’s final 24 points, with Franco Harris scoring two fourth quarter touchdowns to help the Steelers prevail, 24-3.
Harris continued to shine two weeks later in the Super Bowl, earning game MVP honors after rushing for then Super Bowl records 158 yards on 34 carries. Pittsburgh’s defense was downright dominant, holding the Vikings to just 119 total yards that included a mere 17 yards rushing. The Steelers picked off Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton three times while not allowing Minnesota’s offense to score.
Pittsburgh’s current team has some parallels to that 1974 group. Along with having the same record after three games, the current Steelers’ team is unbalanced, with Pittsburgh’s offense leading the way for much of the first three weeks of the season. The Steelers’ defense, heavily criticized after allowing Patrick Mahomes to throw six touchdown passes against them in Week 2, picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick three times in Monday night’s 30-27 victory in Tampa Bay. Pittsburgh’s defense also held the Buccaneers to just 3-of-9 on third downs and 2-of-5 efficiency in the red zone.
The 1974 Steelers are a perfect example of how an NFL team is never as good as they’re ultimately going to be during the first quarter of the season. Very few people would have through that the ’74 Steelers would go onto win the Super Bowl after their shutout loss to the Raiders in Week 3. In time, Pittsburgh’s offense was able to carry their weight, the same thing the Steelers’ current defense will try to do in hopes of mirror the ’74 team’s Super Bowl success by the end of the 2018 season.