At the end of the 1970s, NFL Films created a video highlighting the biggest moments of the previous decade in pro football. The film was appropriately dubbed "The Super Seventies," a title that perfectly summed up that chapter in the NFL's rich history.
Following the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, pro football picked up where it left off in the 1960s, when football truly started to make the leap as America's No. 1 pastime. This era of NFL football saw the Cowboys, after years of heartbreaking championship defeats, finally break through as champions. The decade also bore witness to the Dolphins' perfect season, the Raiders' rise under Hall of Fame coach John Madden, and the birth of the Steelers' dynasty. It can be argued that this period in pro football had more dominant teams at one time than at any other period in the NFL's 100-year history.
This era also included several compelling rivalries between teams that were perennially in the mix for Super Bowl hardware. These rivalries helped either start or end some of the greatest dynasties in NFL history. In the process, the rivalries further increased the league's popularity, as the NFL was the undisputed king of the hill as far as professional sports was concerned as the '70s drew to a close.
Without further ado, we bring you the seven best rivalries of the '70s, rivalries that continue to be celebrated by fans who witnessed the legendary matchups.
Overall head-to-head matchup during the decade: Vikings, 6-5-1
Playoff record during the decade: Vikings, 3-1
Best game: Divisional round, 1977 playoffs: Vikings 14, Rams 7
Despite guiding the Rams to five straight division titles, coach Chuck Knox is largely remembered for his team's shortcomings against Bud Grant's Vikings during the postseason. From 1974-77, the Rams fell to the Vikings three times in the playoffs, with two of those losses taking place in the NFC title game.
Playing inside a mud-soaked Los Angeles Coliseum in the divisional round of the '77 playoffs, the Vikings jumped out to a 14-0 lead before holding on for a 14-7 victory. Despite the mud, both teams found considerable traction in their running games. Rams running back Lawrence McCutcheon and Vikings running back Chuck Foreman each rushing for over 100 yards. While Minnesota was able to escape with a seven-point victory, the Rams finally got their coveted playoff win over the Vikings the following season. In Week 14 of the 1979 season, Los Angeles edged Minnesota in overtime en route to winning their first NFC championship.
6. Cowboys vs. Rams
Overall head-to-head matchup during the decade: Cowboys, 6-4
Playoff record during the decade: Cowboys, 3-2
Best game: Divisional round, 1979 playoffs: Rams 21, Cowboys 19
A year after being blown out at home by the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game, the underdog Rams relied on three long touchdown passes from quarterback Vince Ferragamo to edge the Cowboys in the divisional round of the '79 playoffs. Ferragamo's 43-yard touchdown pass to Ron Smith gave the Rams a 14-5 halftime lead. HIs 50-yard touchdown pass to Billy Waddy proved to be the game-winning score. The Rams defense, led by Jack Youngblood (who played the entire postseason with a broken leg) also had a big day, holding Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett to under 100 rushing yards while limiting quarterback Roger Staubach to just 13 of 28 passing.
The win helped propel the Rams to an appearance in Super Bowl XIV, while the loss signaled the end of an era in Dallas, as Staubach retired during the offseason.
5. Dolphins vs. Raiders
Overall head-to-head matchup during the decade: Raiders, 5-3
Playoff record during the decade: Raiders, 2-1
Best game: Divisional round, 1974 playoffs: Raiders 28, Dolphins 26
In 1974, the two-time defending champion Dolphins were trying to become the first team to win three straight Super Bowls when they arrived in Oakland for their playoff showdown with the Raiders, a team they defeated with ease in the 1973 AFC Championship Game. Miami took an immediate lead when Nat Moore ran back the opening kickoff 89 yards for a score. And after Ken Stalber's 72-yard touchdown pass to Cliff Branch gave Oakland a fourth quarter lead, a 23-yard score by Dolphins' running back Benny Malone set the stage for one of the most dramatic finishes in NFL playoff history.
Trailing 21-19, Stalber furiously drove the Raiders' down to the Dolphins' 8-yard-line. With just seconds remaining, Stalber lofted a desperate pass in the end zone to running back Clarence Davis, who was able to catch Stalber's pass despite being surrounded by Dolphins defenders. The play, known as the "Sea of Hands," gave Oakland the victory while ending Miami's championship reign.
4. Cowboys vs. Vikings
Overall head-to-head matchup during the decade: Cowboys, 5-4
Playoff record during the decade: Cowboys, 3-1
Best game: Divisional round, 1975 playoffs: Cowboys 17, Vikings 14
After splitting their first two playoff games against one another earlier in the decade, the two-time defending champion Vikings hosted the Cowboys in the first round of the '75 playoffs. Trailing 14-10 with just 32 seconds left, Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach lofted a 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson that gave Dallas a 17-14 win. After the game, Staubach inadvertently created the term "Hail Mary" to describe a last-second desperation pass when explaining the game-winning play.
"I was a Catholic kid from Cincinnati, and they asked me what were you thinking about when you threw the ball," Staubach recalled, via the team's official website. "I said, "When I closed my eyes I said a Hail Mary. I could have said Our Father, Glory Be, The Apostles Creed.
"So he picked it up and gradually, instead of the bomb or the alley-oop, those were kind of the big plays winning games back then, he coined the phrase and, of course, I said it, the NFL recognizes I said it, and slowly but surely it took off. Now it's used for everything."
3. Cowboys vs. Washington
Overall head-to-head matchup during the decade: Cowboys, 12-9
Playoff record during the decade: Washington, 1-0
Best game: December 16, 1979: Cowboys 35, Washington 34
While Clint Longley's 1974 Thanksgiving Day miracle was incredible, the best game between these two divisional rivals during the 1970s was their final matchup. In what was the final regular season game of his Hall of Fame career, Staubach led the Cowboys back from 17- and 13-point deficits to defeat Washington, 35-34. Running back John Riggins' two fourth quarter touchdowns gave Washington a 34-21 lead, but a pair of Staubach touchdown passes to Ron Springs and Tony Hill gave the Cowboys the win as well as the division title. The loss knocked Washington out of the playoffs. The loss was so devastating for Washington that it drove Riggins, a future Super Bowl and league MVP, into a temporary retirement.
2. Cowboys vs. Steelers
Overall head-to-head matchup during the decade: Steelers, 4-1
Playoff record during the decade: Steelers, 2-0
Best game: Super Bowl XIII: Steelers 35, Cowboys 31
Three years after the two teams faced each other in Super Bowl X, the Cowboys and Steelers took part in the first Super Bowl rematch in Super Bowl XIII. The winner would not only become the first franchise to win three Lombardi Trophies, it would also earn the distinction as the Team of the '70s.
Publicly criticized by Cowboys linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson leading up to the game, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who threw two touchdown passes in Pittsburgh's 21-17 win over Dallas in Super Bowl X, responded by throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns, both Super Bowl records at the time. Despite a late rally by Staubach and the Cowboys, Pittsburgh held on for a four-point victory. While the Cowboys may have been regarded as "America's Team," the Steelers won the title of pro football's best team during that era. That fact was further reinforced after Pittsburgh closed out the decade by winning its fourth Super Bowl over a six-year span.
1. Raiders vs. Steelers
Overall head-to-head matchup during the decade: Raiders, 6-5
Playoff record during the decade: Steelers, 3-2
Best game: Divisional round, 1972 playoffs: Steelers 13, Raiders 7
Arguably the nastiest rivalry in pro football history, no love was lost between the Raiders and Steelers, who faced each other in the playoffs each year from 1972-76. Pittsburgh, led by its Steel Curtain defense, upset the Raiders in Oakland in the '74 AFC Championship Game before winning its first Super Bowl. After defeating Oakland again in the '75 AFC title game, Pittsburgh's quest to become the first team to win three Super Bowls came to a halt in the '76 title game, as Ken "The Snake" Stabler and the Raiders finally conquered the Steelers en route to their first Super Bowl win.
The rivalry began on December 23, 1972, when the underdog Steelers hosted the Raiders in their first-ever playoff game. After a Stabler touchdown run gave Oakland a 7-6 lead, Pittsburgh faced a fourth-and-10 at their own 40-yard-line with 22 seconds left. Needing a miracle, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw evaded tacklers before his deflected pass found the hands of Franco Harris, who screamed down the near sideline while completing one of the most improbable plays in NFL history. The play, eternally known as the "Immaculate Reception," started the Steelers' dynasty while also jumpstarting the decade's greatest rivalry.