1976 AFC Playoffs Steelers 40 at Colts 14
December 19, 1976
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1976 AFC Playoffs Steelers 40 at Colts 14

I love this game. Along with it being one of my earliest memories as a young fan, it's also a truly amazing look at the most talent-laden team in NFL history at the absolute peak of its game. There has never been a better defense; don't even bother trying to debate it. And in my opinion, the '76 team, when healthy, was the greatest football team ever assembled in terms of talent -- offense, defense, special teams -- and this game shows them at their pinnacle.

It's not that they play a perfect game; they don't. But they are so overwhelming that the 11-3 Colts with their #1-rated offensive scoring machine led by League MVP Bert Jones manage just 99 yds net passing and 71 yds rushing while the full-throttle Steelers pile up 526 yards (301 passing and 225 rushing) and lay 40 points on Baltimore. And it could have been worse because the Steelers leave a TD on the field after a Reggie Harrison fumble at the Colts' 2 and are deep in Baltimore territory again as time expires.

Bradshaw, finally healthy after missing 6 games with neck and wrist injuries, is utterly flawless, hitting 14 of 18 for 264 yds and 3 TDs including a 76-yd TD bomb to Frank Lewis on the game's 3rd play. The O-line manhandles Baltimore and clears the way for Franco to run wild for 132 yds (122 in the first 30 minutes) with 3 catches for another 24 yds before being injured. Swann is fantastic, snagging 5 passes (several in heavy traffic) for 77 yds and 2 TDs.

And that defense... sweet mother of Mary. They are absolutely suffocating. Baltimore has one fluke drive early, capped by a truly beautiful Jones-to-Carr TD pass, but they don't sniff the end zone again until garbage time. You have to keep in mind, this was the #1 offense in football and the Steel Curtain just shakes them like a rag doll.

There's a great statistical comparison at the start of the game between the Baltimore offense and Pittsburgh defense: Points (Colts scored 417, Steelers allowed 138), TDs (51 scored by the Colts, 13 allowed by Pittsburgh), yards, etc. The Colts were a very talented team... and the Steelers just swallow them whole.

Unfortunately, the Steelers are ravaged by key injuries in this game. Franco, Rocky and Frenchy all go down, leaving Reggie Harrison (primarily a special teamer and short yardage back) as the only healthy running back on a team that had been the NFL's #1 rushing attack. Roy Gerela's kicking duties are assumed by The Ranger, center Ray Mansfield, meaning FG's would no longer be an option. So frustrating, because this incredible team was headed for a 3-peat had they been able to stay healthy.

The footage ends with 2 minutes remaining in the game, but no scoring is missed.

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