As two of the National Football League’s iconic franchises, the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers evoke legacies and memories that date back to the 1970’s. That is where the two franchises forged their reputations as being elite. The two teams met in a pair of Super Bowls and combined to play in seven during the decade. With wins over the Cowboys in Super Bowls X and XIII,
the Steelers gained the upper hand in the matchup in the 1970’s during which they went 4-0 in Super Bowls and claimed the status as the team of the decade. The two Super Bowl matchups between them in the 1970’s were classics. Pittsburgh claimed a pair of four-point victories with a 21-17 win in Super Bowl X and a 35-31 victory in Super Bowl XIII.
While both franchises fell off the very top of the NFL pedestal in the 1980’s, they came back to prominence in the 1990’s during which they met in a third Super Bowl, that being Super Bowl XXX in 1996 which Dallas won 27-17. It was the third Super Bowl title in a four-year span for the Cowboys who were the team of the decade. Dallas was lead throughout the 1990’s by Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin, who collectively were known as, “The Triplets.” They combined with a mammoth offensive line that featured multiple pro bowlers and a pro football hall-of-famer in guard/tackle Larry Allen that dominated opponents. Meanwhile, the Steelers had emerged as a contender with back-to-back trips to the AFC Championship game in 1994-95. Pro football hall-of-famers Rod Woodson and Kevin Greene were part of those Pittsburgh teams and soon to join in 1996 would be another eventual hall-of-famer in Jerome Bettis.
The mere mention of the Cowboys and Steelers dueling on the gridiron is enough to get any football fan’s attention. The names on each side represent a hall-of-fame roll call of players and coaches. For Pittsburgh it is the dominant era of “The Steel Curtain” defense in the 1970’s that took the league by storm. That defense was made famous by the likes of “Mean” Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, and Mel Blount who are all in the pro football hall of fame. L.C. Greenwood was also part of the Steel Curtain and was named to the NFL’s 1970’s All-Decade Team. Leading those great Steelers’ teams was the late Chuck Noll who was 4-0 in Super Bowls, the only coach in the Super Bowl era besides Bill Belichick to win four. Those Pittsburgh team’s of the 1970’s also had firepower on offense behind the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Mike Webster who are all in the pro football hall of fame.
On the flip side, Dallas had its’ star power during the 1970’s with Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Bob Hayes, Drew Pearson, and
Tony Hill on offense and was lead by the stoic and classy head coach in Tom Landry, the first and only head coach the franchise ever new for its’ first 29 years of existence. While the Steelers’ Steel Curtain dominated its’ opposition, the Cowboys were also very good on defense. Dallas featured “The Doomsday Defense” behind the likes of Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Bob Lilly, Randy White, Jethro Pugh, LeRoy Jordan, Chuck Howley, Mel Renfro, Cliff Harris, and Charlie Waters. Lilly, White, and Renfro are each in the pro football hall of fame while Jordan, Howley, and Harris are all in the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor.
While there is more to the storied histories of Pittsburgh and Dallas such as statistical milestones, individual accolades, and big-game performances, the aforementioned summary states much of it. What this represents in short is that the two franchises have been cornerstones of the entire NFL and have left their footprints on what it means to sustain excellence for a period of time and then rekindle it later. Each franchise has experienced a dominant era during the league’s 97 year history before falling off and returning to glory again.
The Cowboys and Steelers were both elite franchises in the 1970’s with Pittsburgh claiming the upper hand by virtue of its’ two Super Bowl wins over Dallas. The Steelers were 4-0 in Super Bowls in the 1970’s while the Cowboys were 2-3. Dallas was 3-0 in Super Bowls in the 1990’s including one win over the Steelers, the only Super Bowl trip made by Pittsburgh in the decade. The Cowboys have not been to a Super Bowl since the 1995 season while the Steelers have played in three Super Bowls since the 2005 season, going 2-1 in the big game.
That brings us to 2016.
The two prolific franchises meet again today in week 10 of the season in Pittsburgh. While Dallas appears to be way out in front with an NFC best 7-1 record, the Steelers find themselves at a crossroads at 4-4 and trying to end a three-game losing streak. While it looks like the two teams are going in opposite directions, you can throw the records out the window when these teams play each other. Even though they only meet once every four years – unless they were to meet in the Super Bowl – under the league’s current scheduling formula, NFL lore and supremacy always seem to be at stake when these two franchises meet. One wants to out duel the other and lay claim to the superior hand.
Today’s game will feature a hot team playing very well in the Cowboys against a team hungry for a win in Pittsburgh. The Steelers can get back in the AFC North Division race with a win and thereby keep pace with division-leading Baltimore who they lost to last week. To do so they will have to stop the league’s leading rusher in rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott who is on pace to break Eric Dickerson’s NFL rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards set in 1983. Elliott has 891 yards rushing on 177 carries (5.0 avg.) with seven touchdowns. Dallas is riding a seven-game winning streak behind Elliott and the steady and strong play of rookie wonder Dak Prescott who has already set an NFL record for pass attempts to begin a career (176) without an interception. Prescott has already passed for 2,020 yards and 12 touchdowns and run for another 4. His completion percentage of 66.5 is rarely seen in a rookie and while Prescott is playing behind the league’s best offensive line and has veteran experience around him in his receivers, it is still impressive to see what he is accomplishing. He has displayed remarkable poise and avoided making bad throws. When pressured or when the pocket has collapsed he has made good decisions by throwing the ball away or taking off on a run. It has worked to the tune of seven straight wins, the Cowboys’ longest win streak since they won seven straight during the 2007 season.
Meanwhile Pittsburgh has lost its’ last three games and is looking to turn its’ season around. Ben Roethlisberger missed one game
earlier this season due to a knee injury and has since returned to the starting lineup. As a team, the Steelers have struggled to get their ground game going as Le’Veon Bell has yet to score a touchdown this season and has rushed for just 376 yards while veteran DeAngelo Williams has run for only 276 yards with three touchdowns. Williams also has one touchdown catch. All-pro wide receiver Antonio Brown is one of the best receivers in the league and has 55 catches for 677 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Defensively, Pittsburgh will be looking to veterans on their front seven like James Harrison, Cameron Heyward, Ryan Shazier, and Lawrence Timmons to get penetration and stop or slow down Elliott. The task will be a challenge against the Cowboys’ offensive line which features three number one draft picks who are young and have all already been to the pro bowl in left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick, and right guard Zack Martin.
The last two games in this series have been close and competitive with each one swinging on a late-game interception. Dallas won 27-24 in overtime on Dec. 16, 2012 in Arlington, TX. The Steelers took a 24-17 lead on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Brown with 12:37 left in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys responded later in the fourth quarter with a 7-play 44-yard drive that was capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by DeMarco Murray. That knotted the score at 24 apiece with 6:55 left to play in regulation. Each team would possess the ball again during the rest of the fourth quarter but would not be able to score and the game went into overtime. Pittsburgh won the coin toss and on the second play in overtime, Roethlisberger’s pass was intercepted by Brandon Carr who returned it to the Steelers’ one-yard line. Two plays later, Dallas kicker Dan Bailey kicked the decisive three points as the Cowboys won 27-24.
The last meeting in Pittsburgh was equally as thrilling as the 2012 game. Both teams were thinking playoffs on Dec. 7, 2008 when they met at Heinz Field. Dallas came in at 8-4 and Pittsburgh stood at 9-3. Locked in a 3-3 tie at intermission, The Cowboys scored 10 unanswered points in the third quarter to take a 13-3 lead as the teams headed into the fourth quarter. Tony Romo connected with Terrell Owen for a 12-yard touchdown pass at the 9:49 mark of the third quarter before Nick Folk connected on a 33-yard field goal with 3:36 to play. In the fourth, the Steelers got a 41-yard field goal from Jeff Reed to pull within 13-6 before Roethlisberger connected with Heath Miller on a six-yard touchdown pass forcing a 13-13 tie with 2:04 left to play. On the ensuing possession, Romo passed over the middle looking for Jason Witten only to have it intercepted at the Dallas 25-yard line by DeShea Townsend who returned it for a touchdown. Only 1:40 remained and the Cowboys were unable to do anything as Pittsburgh rallied for the win. The Steelers went on to win Super Bowl XLIII that season while Dallas missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
With Pittsburgh looking to turn its’ season around and the Cowboys seeking to continue building momentum, the two teams should provide an interesting game on Sunday. They have played to thrilling conclusions before and that is what just might be in store today.