The Pittsburgh Steelers ascended to Cloud Four today but teetered on the edge before Terry Bradshaw regained the touch that had won three previous Super Bowl games.
He wild-pitched the Los Angeles Rams into contention with three pass interceptions before quick-pitching the Steelers into a 31-19 victory on a 73-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver John Stallworth in the fourth quarter. That ball was thrown with the accuracy of a squirrel shooter.
"I didn't like the play," Bradshaw said. "We had tried it eight times in practice last week and it didn't work. We put it in just for the Rams.
"We used the same play to set up our second touchdown, on the 45-yard pass to Stallworth. We talked about it on the sideline."
Bradshaw had passed 47 yards to wide receiver Lynn Swann for a touchdown in the third quarter, on a thrown that was partly deflected, the quarterback noted.
"It was an audible after a delayed blitz by the Rams," he said.
Bradshaw was voted the most valuable player, although there was sentiment for Stallworth, who caught three passes for 121 yards, and for kick returned Larry Anderson, who broke off runs of 45, 38, 37 and 37 yards.
Bradshaw lost Swann for the rest of the game shortly after his touchdown. While trying to elude a savage Ram pass rush, and a sack, the quarterback flipped a sloppy, high pass to Swann. It went for only a six-yard gain before Swann was tackled near the ankles by cornerback Pat Thomas and somersaulted down onto his shoulder and the side of his head, suffering a concussion.
There was a controversy on a pass interference call against the Rams in the fourth quarter, the penalty putting the ball on the one-yard line, from where Franco Harris smashed over for his second scoring touchdown and a 31-19 lead.
After Bradshaw's 45-yard pass to Stallworth, to the Los Angeles 22-yard line, the quarterback went to wide receiver Jim Smith, who had replaced Swann. Interference was called on cornerback Pat Thomas, for "cutting off" the receiver.
"Stallworth's circus catch and the pass interference call were the whole ball game," said Ram defensive end Fred Dryer.
There were only 109 seconds left after Harris capitalized on the penalty.
Ram Coach Ray Malavasi said of the penalty, "I thought it was a bad call."
Field judge Charlie Musser told a pool reporter, "The defender (Thomas) had good position all the way on the play, until the last second, when he played the man (Smith) instead of the ball."
Steeler Coach Chuck Noll made a questionable decision after his team had taken a 3-0 lead in the first qyarter on Matt Bahr's 41-yard field goal.
Bahr's ensuing kickoff was a "blooper" that the Rams' George Andrews caught on the Los Angeles 41. Wendell Tyler ran 39 yards from scrimmage, to the Pittsburgh 14, and Cullen Bryant plunged a yard for a touchdown and a 7-3 advantage.
"It was an intentional on-side kick-off," Noll said. "We didn't get it to the right spot. A couple of our guys were within three feet of it.
"(But) it served its purpose. The Rams had to worry about us doing that afterward. It helped us defend against their kick returns."
The Rams returned six kickoffs for an average of only 13 yards.
Bradshaw kept his poise after being intercepted by Dave Elmendorf, Eddie Brown and Rod Perry and finished with 14 completions in 21 attempts for 309 yards and two touchdowns.
"I found some coverage I liked," he said.
Bradshaw picked on Perry on the 73-yard touchdown pass to Stallworth. Perry who missed three days of practice while recovering from the flu, fell at the Los Angeles 30 while diving for the ball and Stallworth was unchallanged after that.
On the 45-yard pass to Stallworth that, with the pass interference call, set up the Steelers' final score, Perry and Elmendorf were closest to the play.
Some observers wondered why the Rams did not assign multiple coverage to Stallworth after Swann left the game.
"I couldn't shake the thought of losing," Bradshaw noted. "And I couldn't sleep that night. It was the first time that's happened to me."
Finally, Bradshaw began thinking positively.
"I decided we'd win, 28-7, and Benny Cunningham would be the hero.
"It was the most satisfying Super Bowl," said Bradshaw, named the game's most valuable player for the second straight year. "We had a chance to set some history and we did it."
The team history was a fourth championship and the personal history were Super Bowl records for career yardage and touchdowns.
Swann recovered in time to celebrate another Super Bowl victory.
"I know my name now," he said with a triumphant grin. "I also know the score. And I know that we've won four Super Bowls.
"I felt like I had a race car going around in my head and my vision was blurred. John Stallworth did what he's been doing all season. He made the catch. Then he just ran away from everybody.
"We have the greatest fans in the world," said Swann. "We did them a favor today, we won another Super Bowl . . . and for the people who are interested in other things, we beat the point spread."