For 13 straight seasons before Super Bowl XIV, the event was the one opportunity each year for tens of millions of fans to watch the best of the best compete on the gridiron. While the AFC's Pittsburgh Steelers — returning to the Bowl as reigning champions and with three titles to their name — were undoubtedly among the best of the NFL's 28 teams, their opponents were not. The Los Angeles Rams approached Super Bowl XIV, hardly securing a winning regular-season record (9-7) and narrowly outscoring their opponents by a mere 14 points.
January 20, 1980, was unquestionably one of the least anticipated Super Bowl match-ups in history at the time, with many thinking the Rams didn't stand a chance at their first title. By the time you're done reading this article, you'll know which now-famous commercial aired during the game, why winning Super Bowl XIV would mean so much to Pittsburgh, and what record this Super Bowl still holds today.
The 1979-80 Los Angeles Rams season led many to believe that the California team wasn't fit for Super Bowl contention. The squad amassed a dismal 9-7 regular-season record (barely breaking .500), their back-up quarterback Vince Ferragamo couldn't even snag a 50% pass completion rate, and they earned the title of the "worst team" to ever qualify for the Super Bowl.
Despite narrowly outscoring opponents by 14 points, the Rams had a crew of standout players leading the team. Of Los Angeles's best players were running back Wendell Taylor (1,109 rushing yards), wide receiver Preston Dennard (766 yards on 43 catches), and defensive end Jack Youngblood (seven Pro Bowls). The Rams had 6,060 total yards on the season — though it didn't often reflect on the scoreboard — perhaps leveling the chances of a Rams victory.
Though the Pittsburgh Steelers had already been the winningest team on the Super Bowl stage — with three Super Bowl victories — by the time Super Bowl XIV rolled around, the 1979-80 team was the most skillful of all. The team achieved an impressive 12-4 regular-season record, led the league in yards (6,528), and crushed the league in points earned (416).
Still leading the Steelers at quarterback was veteran Terry Bradshaw (26 touchdowns and 3,724 yards), backed by future legends like wide receiver John Stallworth (70 receptions and eight touchdowns), fullback Franco Harris (eight-time leading rusher), and halfback Rocky Bleier (711 yards). The coveted Steelers defense — the "Steel Curtain" — held opponents to just 4,621 yards all season and secured Pittsburgh's position as favorites to win Super Bowl XIV by 10.5 points.
The storyline for Super Bowl XIV was quite simple: Pittsburgh was on a quest for its fourth title, and the Rams hardly proved they deserved to be on the same field. Despite the wild differences in regular-season performance, the Steelers didn't approach the big game with the assumption that it'd be an "easy win." The Rams still led the Steelers 12-1-2 in past matchups, with the last one just two years prior, Pittsburgh understanding the game could go either way.
On January 20, 1980, over 103,985 football lovers poured into the Rose Bowl (Pasadena, California) to experience Super Bowl XIV in the flesh — the most spectators in modern Super Bowl history. It cost an average of $30 for a single ticket (valued at $94.76 today) to watch the Steelers nab a seemingly "easy" fourth Super Bowl win over the Rams.
Following a fun pre-game performance by the Los Angeles Unified School District All-City Band, a National Anthem rendition by Charlie's Angels star Cheryl Ladd, and a coin toss ceremony led by Steelers team owner Art Rooney (it landed on heads), a Steelers kickoff triggered the start of the big game.
Super Bowl XIV got off to a messy start for a game presumed to be "in the bag.”. The Steelers snagged an early head-start with a 41-yard field goal by Matt Bahr halfway through the quarter, giving Pittsburgh a slim 3-0 lead. After a series of handoffs, tackles, and short passes by Vince Ferragmo, fullback Cullen Bryant stole a 1-yard touchdown dash — the first time the Steelers sacrificed a rushing touchdown in Super Bowl play. The underdog Rams were suddenly up 7-3.
Continuing from the last few minutes of the first quarter where the Steelers pressed 53 yards, Bradshaw found Franco Harris at the 1-yard-line to put Pittsburgh up 10-3. The Rams responded immediately. A pass interference led the Rams to the 31-yard line, where Frank Corral delivered a solid kick to tie the game at 10-10. Corral nabbed another field goal for the Rams with 14 seconds remaining in the half, allowing Los Angeles to end the half with a shocking 13-10 lead.
Like so many Super Bowls before it, halftime brought the non-profit organization Up with People to the field for a performance. Viewers at home and in the Rose Bowl enjoyed a show entitled "A Salute to the Big Band Era" while Steelers coaches asked their star-studded roster, "How can you mess up this way?”
Pittsburgh returned with a vengeance. Bradshaw led the Steelers through three running plays until finally connecting with Swann for a 47-yard touchdown. The 17-13 Steelers lead faded just as quickly. Rams quarterback Ferragamo aced a handoff to running back Lawrence McCutcheon, who threw a bullet to Ron Smith for another six points. With a 19-17 lead (Corral missed the extra point), the Rams kept the Steelers off the board for the rest of the third quarter.
Pittsburgh started the fourth quarter down by two, and with Lynn Swann injured. The Steelers rose to the occasion when Bradshaw connected with Stallworth, who darted 73 yards into the endzone. Ferragamo then blundered a pass attempt with just six minutes remaining, allowing linebacker Jack Lambert to intercept. The Steelers clinched their fourth Super Bowl victory on a last-ditch 1-yard touchdown pass to Franco Harris, ending with a final score of 31-19.
Terry Bradshaw — acing his fourth Super Bowl appearance as Steelers quarterback — wowed fans in the Rose Bowl and across the nation with his on-field performance.
This MVP title made Bradshaw only the second player in Super Bowl history to secure back-to-back MVP statuses. Ahead of Bradshaw in this feat was Bart Starr, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers during Super Bowls I and II.
Despite the lack of excitement surrounding this Rams/Steelers matchup, that didn't stop millions across the country from clicking over to CBS to catch the big game. A massive 97.8 million people watched Super Bowl XIV, allowing the network to secure a 46.3 Nielsen rating.
By the Super Bowl's fourteenth rendition, the four-quarter event was nearly a day-long affair. With extensive pre-game shows and live half-time game analyses, Super Bowl XIV exposed the average NFL viewer to the inner-workings and the Xs and Os of football. 1980 also marked the first year that John Madden — heir to the Madden video game dynasty and former head coach of the Oakland Raiders — entered viewers' living rooms during pre-game coverage.
The broadcast of Super Bowl XIV also signified the beginning of a trend still surrounding the Super Bowl today: Unforgettable commercials. This time around, it was a Coca Cola commercial starring Joe Greene of the Steelers, who swapped his game jersey for a Coke bottle with a young fan in the tunnel. Greene said, "Hey kid, catch!" as he tossed his jersey to the child after finishing the drink. This minute-long commercial presumably cost Coca Cola $444,000.
Considering their opponents were the No. 3 seed in their conference and concluded the 1979-80 season with a dismal 9-7 record, it came as no surprise that the Steelers went into Super Bowl XIV expected to win their second back-to-back championship. However, the 10.5-point spread in favor of Pittsburgh was a bit tall. The Steelers managed to clinch their fourth title and covered the spread.
Even though the Los Angeles Rams' performance during the season wasn't excellent, the team did press through the first half of Super Bowl XIV with an unexpected and narrow 13-10 lead. The Rams' ability to rise to the occasion — albeit only temporarily — helped to crush the 36-point over/under by 14 points (50 total points in the game).
Though both teams' qualifications in Super Bowl XIV couldn't have been more different, the back-and-forth throughout the game gave those in the Rose Bowl a heart-pounding experience. The Steelers became the first team in NFL history to secure four victories and two back-to-back titles — ensuring Pittsburgh's dynasty — and Bradshaw only the second ever NFL player to earn a back-to-back MVP award.