Pittsburgh - Steelers defenses of the mid-1970s were both intimidating and opportunistic, setting the tone for many Steelers victories.
That was certainly the case in the Steelers' Dec. 27, 1975 playoff game against the Baltimore Colts, which was selected by Steelers fans as the seventh-greatest game in Three Rivers Stadium--part of the year-long Last Season at Three Rivers Stadium celebration.
The seventh-greatest play at Three Rivers occurred in the game as well: Linebacker Andy Russell's NFL-record, 93-yard fumble recovery for a TD that clinched the Steelers' victory.
Franco Harris ran for an AFC playoff record at the time of 153 yards, but it was Mel Blount's interception late in the third quarter that provided the Steelers with the impetus to overcome a 10-7 Baltimore third-quarter lead.
The defense set the tone early when linebacker Jack Ham's interception propelled the Steelers to a 61-yard, four-play drive. Highlighted by Frank Lewis' sensational one-hand 34-yard catch, it gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Playing without regular quarterback Bert Jones, the Colts used a Lloyd Mumphord interception to tie the game on Marty Domres' pass to Glenn Doughty. A fumble by Harris at his own 19, one of four by the Steelers, gave the Colts a field goal and their only lead of the game.
Three minutes later Blount intercepted Domres, and Rocky Bleier scored on the first play. The Pittsburgh defense stiffened, holding the Colts without a first down on their next three possessions. Even though Terry Bradshaw's tough two-yard run, which capped a 39-yard drive, gave the Steelers an 11-point lead with fewer than 12 minutes to play, the Colts stayed in contention and were threatening.
The Colts, led by Jones, who entered the game at the start of the fourth quarter, had marched to the Steelers' three-yard line. But the Steelers secured the victory when Ham sacked Jones, forcing a fumble that Andy Russell retrieved and returned 93 yards for an NFL record that still stands today.
But Russell can claim one thing the two Jacks cannot: an NFL record.
As part of the Steelers Last Season at Three Rivers Stadium celebration, fans voted Russell's NFL-record 93-yard fumble return for a touchdown versus Baltimore in the Dec. 27, 1975 AFC Playoff game as the seventh-greatest play in Three Rivers history.
"That play has been a source of embarrassment for me for years," said Russell jokingly. "There have been so many jokes. Ray Mansfield was the one that said NBC cut to a commercial during the return and came back to catch me score the touchdown. Nonetheless, it was a memorable play in my career."
To set the scene: The Steelers had rallied from a 10-7 deficit to regain a 21-10 advantage with fewer than 12 minutes left in the game. Despite the 11-point lead, the Colts were still in contention and had driven to the Steelers' three-yard line. With the entrance of quarterback Bert Jones, who missed the first half because of injury, the Colts remained a threat.
The Steelers' defense, however, eliminated any chance for a Colts comeback. With nearly seven minutes left in the game, Steelers linebacker Jack Ham nailed Jones for a sack, forcing the quarterback to fumble. Russell, who was known more for his intelligence and instincts than foot speed, picked up the fumble at the Steelers' seven-yard line and rambled 93 yards for a Steelers touchdown. Safety Donnie Shell and defensive end Dwight White both produced key blocks on the play to free Russell.
That play ended any hopes of a Colts comeback.
Game Notes: Each home game there will be honorary game captains, selected from among those who played for the Steelers during the 31 seasons at Three Rivers. This week's captains are: running back Rocky Bleier (1968, 1970-80), defensive end L.C. Greenwood (1969-81) and offensive lineman Gerry Mullins (1971-79).