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On This Date in Sports December 26, 1976: Feeling Super

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Oakland Raiders finally take down the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning the AFC Championship Game 24-7. The Raiders played in Super Bowl II but lost in the AFL Championship in 1968 and 1969. They lost the AFC Championship in 1970 and three consecutive years between 1973-1975. All six teams they lost to went on to win the Super Bowl. The Steelers were without their two top rushers as Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier were injured. The Raiders would win Super XI, beating the Minnesota Vikings 32-14.

The Oakland Raiders had a commitment to excellence. They had gone to Super Bowl II, losing to the Green Bay Packers 33-14. The following two seasons, they lost in the AFL Championship. They dropped the 1968 AFL Championship 27-23 to the New York Jets. In 1969 they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 17-7. After the merger, they dropped the 1970 AFC title game, 27-17 against the Baltimore Colts. In 1973, the Raiders were beaten by the Miami Dolphins 27-10 in the AFC Championship. The next two seasons, they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-13 in 1974 and 16-10 in 1975. All six teams that beat the Raiders went on to win the Super Bowl. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers had become a dynasty in the 1970s. After toling at the bottom of the standings for four decades, Pittsburgh finally won its first playoff game in 1972. That win came at the expense of the Oakland Raiders 13-7 in a play known as the "Immaculate Reception." That game sparked a rivalry between the Raiders and Steelers, as Oakland felt that Franco Harris did not make a clean catch when scoring the winning touchdown. 

The Steelers coach by Chuck Noll seeking a third straight Lombardi Trophy posted a record of 10-4 in 1976. Earlier on, things looked bleak for Pittsburgh as they started 1-4, with Terry Bradshaw suffering an injury in Week 5. The Steelers won six straight with rookie Mike Kruczek and ended the season with a nine-game winning streak. In the Divisional Playoffs, the Steelers slammed the Baltimore Colts 40-14. 

The Oakland Raiders played like a team on a mission all season, starting the season with a 31-28 win over the Steelers. The Raiders posted the best record in the NFL 13-1, losing to the New England Patriots 48-17 in Week 4. The Raiders would face the Patriots again in the Divisional Playoffs and went into the fourth quarter trailing 21-10. The Raiders rallied to win the game 24-21, with Ken Stabler scoring the winning touchdown with 14 seconds left on the clock. 

The Steelers were shorthanded going into the AFC Championship Game at the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum as both Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier were injured and unable to play. The Steelers' offense was one-dimensional against the Raiders without their two top rushers. Oakland took a 3-0 lead on a 39-yard field goal by Errol Mann. In the second quarter, Willie Hall intercepted a pass by Terry Bradshaw to set up a one-yard score by Clarence Davis. 

Down 10-0, the Steelers marched down the field and got in the end zone on a three-yard run by Reggie Harrison. As time was winding down in the first half, the Raiders marched down the field and scored again, as Warren Bankston caught a four-yard pass on a play-action play to Clarence Davis to give Oakland a 17-7 lead going into halftime. 

 

The rest of the game was a defensive struggle as the Raiders shut down the Steelers the rest of the game. In the third quarter, Pete Banaszak caught a five-yard pass from Stabler to complete the scoring as the Raiders won 24-7 to reach Super Bowl XI. The Raiders would beat the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 in Pasadena for their first Lombardi Trophy.