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On This Date in Sports January 18, 1976: Swann Lake

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Pittsburgh Steelers win a second consecutive Lombardi Trophy, beating the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 in Super Bowl X at the Orange Bowl in Miami. The game is a showcase for Steelers receiver Lynn Swann who wins Super Bowl MVP with 161 yards on four receptions. Lynn Swann’s catches became iconic, including a diving 53-yard catch, a 64-yard touchdown reception, and a 32-yard catch on the sideline when he tipped toe to stay inbounds.   

Super Bowl Championships are built on draft day. That was true for the Pittsburgh Steelers. For much of their first 40 seasons, the Steelers were consistent losers. Finally winning their first playoff game in 1972, they had perhaps the best draft in NFL history in 1974, selecting four future Hall of Famers. Receiver Lynn Swann was chosen in the first round out UCLA, linebacker Jack Lambert out of Kent State was taken in the second round, receiver John Stallworth of Alabama A&M went in the fourth round, while center Mike Webster from Wisconsin went in the fifth round. The Steelers, led by Chuck Noll, won Super Bowl IX, with all four rookies playing a key role. Looking to defend their crown, the Steelers were 12-2 in 1975, with their second loss coming with nothing on the line in the season's final game.  In the playoffs, the Steelers beat the Baltimore Colts 28-10 in the Divisional Playoffs. In the AFC Championship Game, it was the Oakland Raiders again; this time, Pittsburgh won 16-10 to punch their ticket to Super Bowl X. 

The Dallas Cowboys were the first Wild Card team to make the Super Bowl after the merger. After missing the playoffs in 1974, most expected the Cowboys to continue to retool in 1975. However, Dallas won five of their final six games and got the Wild Card spot in the NFC. At the time, there was just one Wild Card spot that went to the top second-place team in each conference. In the Divisional Playoffs, the Cowboys stunned the Minnesota Vikings 17-14 on Roger Staubach’s Hail Mary pass to Drew Pearson. A week later, they crushed the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game to reach the Super Bowl for the third time. 

Super Bowl X was the first Super Bowl to feature two teams that had previously won a Lombardi Trophy. The Steelers were looking to join the Green Bay Packers and Miami Dolphins as repeat winners, while the Dallas Cowboys, who won Super Bowl VI four years earlier, were a seven-point underdog. Questions surrounded Lynn Swann going into the Super Bowl as he was recovering from a concussion suffered in the AFC Championship Game.

The Cowboys took advantage of an early Steelers miscue to open the scoring of Super Bowl X, as Drew Pearson caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Roger Staubach. The touchdown came after the Steelers fumbled and lost 11 yards on a fourth-down try from their own 40-yard line. The Steelers answered right away as Lynn Swann made the first of his big plays, catching a 32-yard pass while tip towing down the sideline on a ball that was well defended by Mark Washington. What was nicknamed the “kangaroo catch.” The play set up the Steelers' first score as Terry Bradshaw tied the game on a seven-yard pass to Randy Grossman. The Cowboys regained the lead on a 36-yard field goal by Toni Fritsch. The Steelers looked to tie the game, but Roy Gerela missed a 36-yard try. The missed field goal spoiled a spectacular diving catch by Swann in which he batted the ball away from Washington and back to himself while laying out for a 53-yard grab. The catch would be one of the signature plays in Super Bowl history. 

 The Cowboys maintained their 10-7 lead through the third quarter, as Roy Gerela missed a second field goal, this time from 33 yards out. Gerela was playing hurt as he got banged up on the opening kick off, preventing a touchdown return by Hollywood Henderson. Things began to turn in Pittsburgh’s favor in the fourth quarter when Reggie Harrison blocked Mitch Hoopes punt through the back of the end zone for a safety. On the ensuing possession, the Steelers took a 12-10 lead on a 36-yard field goal by Ray Gerela. The Steelers continued to put pressure on Dallas as Mike Wagner intercepted Roger Staubach. However, once again, they settled for a field goal as Gerela nailed an 18-yard chip shot. Following a quick three and out, the Steelers began to pull away as Lynn Swann caught a 64-yard touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw. On the play, Bradshaw was smashed by Cliff Harris and Larry Cole. Bradshaw was injured and knocked from the game, never seeing that the bomb he threw was caught for a touchdown. The Steelers now led 21-10, as Roy Gerela missed the extra point.

Facing desperation, Dallas tried to get back in the game, going 80 yards in five plays as Percy Howard caught a 34-yard touchdown pass with just under two minutes left. The Steelers would recover the on-side-kick but failed to run down the clock with Terry Hanratty under center. Down 21-17, the Cowboys had one last chance to win the game. They got the ball to midfield, but Glen Edwards picked off Roger Staubach with 18 seconds left to seal the victory for the Steelers.