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On This Date in Sports January 6, 1980: The Roots of Replay

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The Pittsburgh Steelers earn their fourth trip to the Super Bowl is six years. For the second straight year, the Steelers beat the Houston Oilers 27-13 in the AFC Championship Game. The game’s turning point came at the end of the third quarter, when a game-tying score by Mike Renfro was ruled out of bounds, forcing Houston to settle for a field goal. The play would begin the call for the use of instant replay in the NFL.

Loser for four decades, the Pittsburgh Steelers finally became a contender in the 1970s. Their rise began with the immaculate reception in 1972, which was the team’s first-ever playoff win in their 40th season. Two years later, they beat the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX led by coach Chuck Noll; they repeated the following season beating the Dallas Cowboys. After two near misses, the Steelers again won the Super Bowl in 1978, beating the Cowboys again. In 1979, the Steelers closed out the decade with a 12-4 record. The Steelers would go on to beat the Miami Dolphins 34-14 in the Divisional Playoff Round, reaching the AFC Championship for the sixth time in eight years.

In 1978, the Houston Oilers led by Bum Phillips took advantage of the newly established Wild Card round and made a trip to the AFC Championship, where they were crushed by the Steelers 34-5. The Oilers pushed the Steelers to the final week of the season in 1979, finishing one game back of the AFC Central lead at 11-5. The Oilers -again won the Wild Card Game, beating the Denver Broncos 13-7, they followed it up with a 17-14 Divisional Round win over the San Diego Chargers to set up the showdown at Three Rivers Stadium against the Steelers.

It was a cold day in Pittsburgh, as the Oilers got off to a great start with Vernon Perry intercepting Terry Bradshaw and returning a pick-six, 75 yards. The teams would trade field goals as the Oilers held a 10-3 lead. The Steelers would turn the game in their favor before halftime, as Bradshaw had a pair of touchdown passes one to Bennie Cunningham, the other to John Stallworth to take a 17-10 lead.

The defenses ruled the third quarter, as the Oilers were in a position to tie the game on the Pittsburgh six-yard line. Dan Pastorini appeared to throw a touchdown pass at the end of the quarter as he found Mike Renfro in the back of the end zone. The pass, however, was ruled incomplete. As the game went to the fourth quarter, the replay was showed several times, indicating that the officials got the call wrong. The Oilers would settle for a field by Toni Fritsch. The blown call seemed to take all steam out of the Oilers as the Steelers answered with a field goal by Matt Bahr and pulled away with a four-yard touchdown run from Rocky Bleier.

The Steelers would go on to beat the Los Angeles Rams 31-19 in Super Bowl XIV, becoming the first team to win the Lombardi Trophy four times. The Oilers meanwhile returned home to a rally of their fans who honored their two-year run with a Luv Ya Blue rally at the Astrodome. The missed call would plant the seeds for Instant Replay, as fans asked if you could see it was wrong on television can you use that to correct a mistake.