Terry Bradshaw shed forever today the image of "Ozark Ike." He became the first quarterback to win three Super Bowls, topping his own play-calling with an audible selection that suckered the sophisticated Cowboys for the touchdown that put them in a hole for good.
"I thought I saw them coming in a blitz," Bradshaw said of the changed call that sent running back Franco Harris on a trap play for a 22-yard score to put the Steelers ahead, 28-17, on the way to the 35-31 victory.
On the previous play, linebacker Thomas Henderson of the Cowboys blitzed and sacked Bradshaw for a 10-yard loss. But the play was wiped out because of a delay-of-game penalty against Pittsburgh, which took precedence.
On third and nine at the Dallas 22-yard line, Bradshaw saw the Cowboys in their starting blocks. On the audible play, center Mike Webster turned in defensive tackle Dave Stalls, and defensive tackle Randy White took himself out of the play with his eager charge.
On the winning play, Bradshaw seized on the emotional atmosphere after Henderson's voided sack. As if he didn't like Henderson manhandling Bradshaw on the play, Harris grabbed the Cowboy linebacker by the jersey and demanded, "Didn't you hear that whistle?"
Henderson reported afterward that he answered Harris, "I'm deaf and mute." Then Henderson admitted he was trying to "psych" Harris by provoking him "so he might swing at me and get thrown out of the game."
Bradshaw had been treated roughly by the Cowboys, particularly by Henderson, who drilled the Pittsburgh quarterback in the second quarter. Henderson flung him to the ground and linebacker Mike Hegman grabbed the loose ball and went on for a 37-yard touchdown.
When Bradshaw hit the ground he twisted his left elbow. It was announced he had a bruised left shoulder. That may have helped Bradshaw victimize Dallas defenders for another touchdown in the same period.
If the Cowboys thought his throwing rhythm or strength would be disturbed by his injury, he quickly disabused them of the notion by passing 75 yards to wide receiver John Stallworth for a touchdown to a 14-14 tie in the best first half of the best of the 13 Super Bowls.
"I felt nervous as a cat all week," said Bradshaw.
"I came out to the stadium early today, maybe 2 1/2 hours before the game, and I felt fine as I got in this football environment. I was ready to play.
"The one thing I made up my mind was that I was going to play my game win or lose," he continued. "I didn't give a hoot what they would say. The thing I didn't want to do in this game was change what got me here. And what got me here was play-action passes and throwing the ball."
Bradshaw admitted he was shaken somewhat when Henderson and Hegman victimized him in the second quarter. There seemed to be some question as to whether he could come back and backup quarterback Mike Kruczek would have replaced him had he not been able to.
"I told him I was going back in," Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw became upset with some of his teammates late in the final quarter when the Steelers were what they considered safely in front, 35-17.
"There was 6:48 to play and our guys were celebrating," Bradshaw said. "It made me mad. I got upset when I thought to myself that we had scored 35 points and I have seen Dallas come from behind and I didn't want that to happen again."
Defensive tackle Joe Greene called Stallworth's 75-yard gainer "the big play" of the game.
"We deserved to be the first to win three Super Bowls," Greene said. "I think we are the best and this has got to be the best Steelers' team of all. In the second half we (the defense) tried not to let them get anything quick and we used up the clock. It was tough out there. I got knocked a little goofy in the first quarter. By whom? I didn't see the truck."
Henderson, who spoke loud and clear last week, was barely audible at his dressing cubicle. He rested as if bone-tired, elbows on his knees, shaking his head from side to side in dejection.
"I feel very hurt (about the defeat)," he said. "I talked last week, but I worked hard today. I covered every kickoff and punt, I was in on all kinds of defenses. I got knocked on my can on the first play, but I came back.
"I wish I could have done something big," he went on when it was mentioned that he had three jarring tackles on kick coverage and assisted on the sack of Bradshaw that produced Hegman's touchdown on the fumble recovery.
"I think I will have an ulcer in the morning. My stomach's upset. I gave it all I had I got to say the Steelers are the best on their record; and they beat us."
The Cowboys missed a chance to tie at 21-21 in the third quarter when, from the Pittsburgh 10-yard line, Staubach spotted 38-year-old, 16-season veteran tight end Jackie Smith alone in the end zone and lobbed a pass to him. Smith caught it while falling and let it roll out of his hands while on his back. Coach Tom Landry commented, "Roger got a little conservative; instead of drilling the ball, he threw it softly." The Cowboys had to settle for Rafael Septien's 27-yard field goal which cut Pittsburgh's lead to 21-17.
Cowboy defensive tackle Randy White blamed himself for the Steeler touchdown that ran their advantage to 35-17 in the fourth quarter.
"If I don't fumble," White said, using the present tense in his dismay, "we still can beat 'em. It was stupid. The ball was rolling on the ground, but I fumbled it. I forgot about lateraling."
He was referring to mishandling a kickoff by Roy Gerela of the Steelers, at the Dallas 18-yard line. White was hit by Pittsburgh's Tony Dungy and the ball was recovered by linebacker Dennis Winston. Bradshaw passed on first down to Swann for an 18-yard touchdown, his third scoring throw of the game.
Landry said he had mentioned before the game that turnovers and breaks were going to make the difference.
"I turned out to be right," he said. "They're no better than we are on a given day."
Landry added that he thought the Cowboys had a good game plan, "but you never know what is going to happen.
"We were a little loose on our pass defense and they really took advantage of it," Landry said. "We kept our cornerbacks back a bit and they really took advantage. We should have been more aggressive."
"I told the guys when we came in after the game that the best is still to come," said Steeler Coach Chuck Noll. "This club hasn't peaked yet. We still have a lot ahead of us."