Super Bowl XIII has got to be one of the all time talked about game played in Super Bowl history….for not only was the game between the two best teams in the NFL at the time….but who can forget the dropped pass in the end zone by Cowboys TE Jackie Smith….an eventual NFL Hall of Fame Member.
Super Bowl XIII was an American football game between the American Football Conference (AFC) champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the National Football Conference (NFC) champion Dallas Cowboys to decide the National Football League (NFL) champion for the 1978 season. The Steelers defeated the Cowboys by the score of 35–31. The game was played on January 21, 1979, at the Orange Bowl in Miami….which was the fifth and last time that the Super Bowl was played in that stadium.
This was the first Super Bowl that featured a rematch of a previous one (the Steelers had previously beaten the Cowboys, 21–17, in Super Bowl X), and both teams were attempting to be the first club to ever win a third Super Bowl. Dallas was also the defending Super Bowl XII champion, and finished the 1978 regular season with a 12–4 record, and posted playoff victories over the Atlanta Falcons and the Los Angeles Rams. Pittsburgh entered the game after posting a 14–2 regular season record and playoff wins over the Denver Broncos and the Houston Oilers….with Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw being named Super Bowl MVP after completing 17 out of 30 passes for Super Bowl records of 318 passing yards and 4 touchdown passes….in a game in which Bradshaw eclipsed Bart Starr’s Super Bowl record for passing yards in the first half with 253 yards in the air as the Steelers led 21–14 at intermission. His 75-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter also tied Johnny Unitas in Super Bowl V for the longest pass in a Super Bowl. The Cowboys were able to stay close….trailing only 21–17 at the end of the third quarter….but Pittsburgh scored two touchdowns in a span of 19 seconds in the fourth period….as Dallas could not overcome turnovers, drops, and a controversial penalty during the second half….however, the Cowboys were eventually able to score two touchdowns in the final minutes of the game….but still ended up being the first defending champion to lose in the Super Bowl and the first losing Super Bowl team to score 30 points or more.
The game came to be known as “Black Sunday” in Las Vegas. The point spread opened at Pittsburgh -3.5 points. As the Steelers backers placed bets on them the sportsbooks adjusted the line. It eventually hit Pittsburgh -4.5 and then the Dallas money poured in on the Cowboys. It eventually settled at Pittsburgh at -4. The Steelers’ four-point margin of victory meant the Las Vegas sportsbooks lost the vast majority of wagers on the game.
For the 1978–79 season….the NFL extended its schedule from 14 regular season games to 16 and increased the playoffs from an 8-team tournament to 10….thus creating two extra playoff games. The three division winners from each conference would be ranked first through third and be given a week off….while two wild card teams from each conference which were seeded fourth and fifth….would play a playoff game with the winner going on to play the first seeded team (or, if they were in the same division, the second seed).
The Steelers joined the Cowboys in their attempt to be the first team to ever win a third Super Bowl after wins in Super Bowl IX and Super Bowl X….as QB Terry Bradshaw had the best season of his career by completing 207 of 368 passes for 2,915 yards and 28 touchdowns, with 20 interceptions. He ranked as the second highest rated passer in the league (84.8)….while his 28 touchdown passes led the league….and he won the NFL Most Valuable Player Award.
The Cowboys became the first team to appear in five Super Bowls (after playing in Super Bowls V, VI, X and XII). Dallas led the league in scoring (384) and was No. 2 in total yards (5,959). The defending Super Bowl champions were once again led by quarterback Roger Staubach….who finished the season as the top rated passer in the NFL (84.9) by throwing 231 out of 413 completions for 3,190 yards and 25 touchdowns, with 16 interceptions. He also rushed for 182 yards and another touchdown. Wide receivers Drew Pearson and Tony Hill provided the deep passingthreats, combining for 90 receptions, 1,537 yards, and 7 touchdowns. Tight end Billy Joe DuPree contributed 34 receptions for 509 yards and 9 touchdowns. Running back Tony Dorsett had another fine season, recording a total of 1,703 combined rushing and receiving yards, and scoring a total of 9 touchdowns. Fullback Robert Newhouse and halfback Preston Pearson also contributed from the offensive backfield, combining for 1,326 rushing and receiving yards, while Newhouse also scored 10 touchdowns. The Cowboys also had a superb offensive line, led by Herbert Scott and 12-time Pro Bowler Rayfield Wright.
The Cowboys’ “Doomsday Defense” finished the season as the top ranked defense in the league against the run by only allowing 107.6 yards per game, 2nd in total yards allowed (4,009), and 3rd in points allowed (208). Pro Bowl linemen Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Harvey Martin, and Randy White anchored the line, leading the league with 58 sacks, while linebackers Bob Breunig, D. D. Lewis and Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson provided solid support. Their secondary, led by safeties Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters, along with cornerbacks Benny Barnes and Aaron Kyle, combined for 16 interceptions. The Cowboys started the regular season slowly, winning only six of their first ten games. But Dallas finished strong, winning their last six regular season games to post a 12–4 record.
Although the Super Bowl had grown into America’s biggest one-day sporting event by this point….many believe the 13th edition began the game’s evolution to unofficial national holiday….for it was the first Super Bowl with a true heavyweight title-fight feel….given the Steelers’ and Cowboys’ unquestioned status as the two best teams in the NFL, and the honor of the first three-time Super Bowl champion (and likely team of the 1970s designation) that would go to the winner.
Super Bowl XIII can arguably be called the greatest collection of NFL talent ever to gather for a game. In addition to coaches Noll and Landry, 14 players would end up being voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Of the 14 Hall of Fame players to play in this game….nine were Pittsburgh players (Bradshaw, Harris, Swann, Stallworth, Webster, Greene, Lambert, Ham, and Blount), and five were Dallas players (Staubach, Dorsett, White, Wright, and Jackie Smith). The Cowboys had lured Smith out of retirement from the St. Louis Cardinals….due to injuries to Cowboys tight ends and most notably, Jay Saldi. Other Hall of Famers who participated in the game representing the Cowboys were general manager/team president Tex Schramm, and defensive coordinator Ernie Stautner….who actually was a Hall of Fame defensive tackle for the Steelers. Additional Hall of Famers representing the Steelers included owner Art Rooney, Sr., and son Dan Rooney.
This was the first Super Bowl in which the designated “home” team was allowed to select between their primary team colored jersey or their white jersey….a rule similar to that of home games in the regular season and playoffs. Previously, the designated “home” team was required to wear their team colored jersey. The Cowboys, who traditionally wear their white jerseys in home games and often only wear their blue jerseys against teams that have similar policies for themselves (most notably against the Washington Redskins and occasionally the Philadelphia Eagles)….were forced to wear their blue jerseys as the “home” team in Super Bowl V….which the team lost to the Baltimore Colts and is widely believed where the “blue jersey jinx” started with America’s Team. Not wanting a repeat of that being the designated “home” team in Super Bowl XIII….the Cowboys were able to persuade the NFL to change the rule to allow the “home” team to choose so that they could wear their white jerseys. The Cowboys would later repeat the option of wearing white jerseys as the “home” team in Super Bowl XXVII, while the Redskins would do so in Super Bowl XVII….and, ironically, the Steelers (who always wear their black jerseys in home games) in Super Bowl XL due to the team’s success on the road that season. The only other team to wear white jerseys as the home team in a Super Bowl is the Denver Broncos….who wore white as the home team in Super Bowl 50.
The game was televised in the United States by NBC with Curt Gowdy handling play-by-play and color commentators John Brodie and Merlin Olsen….while Dick Enberg served as the pregame host for the broadcast. Also taking part in NBC’s coverage were Bryant Gumbel, Mike Adamle (who also covered the Vince Lombardi Trophy presentation ceremony), Donna De Varona and recently retired former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton. This was Gowdy’s seventh and final Super Bowl telecast….and his last major event for NBC before moving to CBS later in 1979. Enberg had essentially succeeded Gowdy as NBC’s lead NFL play-by-play announcer in the 1978 regular season, and network producers didn’t decide until nearly the last minute which man would get the Super Bowl call.
The national radio broadcast of Super Bowl XIII was carried by the CBS Radio Network….with Jack Buck and Hank Stram calling the action. Locally, Verne Lundquist and Brad Sham called the game for the Cowboys on KRLD-AM in Dallas….while Jack Fleming and Myron Cope called it for the Steelers on WTAE-AM in Pittsburgh.
Both teams entered the game with the best defenses in the league (the Cowboys only allowed 107.6 rushing yards per game while the Steelers only allowed 107.8), and each side took advantage of the other team’s mistakes throughout the game. But Dallas could not overcome their miscues in the second half.