The Steelers went on a tear through the 1970s with great defense. They were given the name “Steel Curtain” because of their non-wavering defense and Pittsburgh’s reputation for steel production. The same was modeled after the USSR’s “Iron Curtain” during World War II. The Steel Curtain referred to the defensive line of Joe Greene, L. C. Greenwood, Dwight White, and Ernie Holmes. The rest of the Pittsburgh defense was very strong as well with Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, and Donnie Shell.
Through the 1960s, the Steelers were one of the NFL’s worst teams and absolutely horrible. Pittsburgh benefitted from the high draft picks and could draft some of the best talents in the NFL’s future. Each year from 1972 through 1979, the Steelers were in the Top 10 for allowing the NFL’s fewest yards.
Birth of the Steel Curtain
In 1972, the Steelers rose through the ashes and won the AFC Central Division. In the Divisional Round against the Raiders, Franco Harris’s “Immaculate Reception” was what won the game 13-7. The Steeler’s defense held the Raiders scoreless for the entire game but gave up a 30-yard touchdown rush to Ken Stabler. The Steelers lost to the undefeated Dolphins in the AFC Championship 21-17, but the birth of the Steel Curtain was in progress.
In 1974 and 1975, the Steelers won back-to-back Super Bowls and were the new face of the NFL. At Super Bowl IX in 1974, the Steelers’ defense forced Fran Tarkenton to throw 3 interceptions as they also held the Viking’s offense scoreless. A special teams score by Minnesota led to a 16-6 final score. Through the entire regular season and the playoffs, the 1975 Steelers allowed more than 17 points in a single game only twice. They kept their momentum through the playoffs and took down the Cowboys 21-17 in Super Bowl X.
The Steel Curtain was what fully supported the Steelers in 1976. The Steelers began their 1976 season 1–4 and lost quarterback, Terry Bradshaw. The Steel Curtain picked up the slack and terrorized opposing offenses. For the nine remaining games of the season, the Steelers recorded five shutouts. For the entire 9-game stretch, they only surrendered two touchdowns and five field goals.
The defense allowed an average of 3.1 points per game and the team had an average margin of victory of 22 points. Eight Steelers members were selected to the Pro Bowl in 1976. Although the Steelers finished on a 10-game winning streak, they fell to the Raiders in the AFC Championship.
The Steelers solidified themselves as one of the best sports dynasties by winning the Super Bowl again in the 1978 and 1979 seasons. In 1978, the Steelers had the best record in the NFL, 14-2 in the new 16-game season. The Steel Curtain never allowed more than 24 points in all of their regular-season games in 1978. In the playoffs, the Steelers defeated the Broncos 33-10 and then the Oilers 34-5. At Super Bowl XIII against the Cowboys, the Steeler’s defense struggled, but their high-powered offense led to a 35-31 victory.
In 1979, the Steelers’ offense did the heavy lifting while the defense was still very strong. The Steelers were #1 for the most points scored and #5 for the least points allowed. The Steelers took down the Rams in Super Bowl XIV 31-19 to have a perfect 4-0 Super Bowl record in the 1970s. The Pittsburgh Pirates also won the World Series in 1979, so Pittsburgh was “The City of Champions.”
As the 1980s approached and many of Pittsburgh’s top players started to retire, the Steelers approached NFL mediocrity. It wouldn’t be until the 1990s when the Steelers defense had a resurgence and gave birth to “Blitzburgh.”