With the Raiders celebrating their 50th anniversary, it is only fitting that they matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers as part of the ongoing celebration. With the Raiders well documented struggles of late, it is easy to forget that once upon a time, this was the marquee matchup.When these two teams met on the field it was going to be a tough physical game between two teams who genuinely did not like each other.
From 1972-76 these two teams battled it out in the playoffs, with everything on the line. Three of those matchups were in the AFC Championship game, with the Steelers getting two and the Raiders getting one. Ultimately, this was a rivlary for all time.
The Raider-Steeler rivalry can be traced to December 23, 1972 and the closing seconds of a divisional playoff game. The Raiders had a 7-6 lead, and Terry Bradshaw faded back to pass on fourth and long. He got the ball off to Frenchy Fuqua, who was promptly leveld by safety Jack Tatum sending the ball caroming through the air where it was grabbed by Franco Harris, who rumbled into the end zone for a game winning touchdown. This play is known by legions of NFL fans as the “Immaculate Reception” or the “Immaculate Deception” by the Raider Nation.
In 1973 the Raiders defeated the Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs, thus returning the favor from the year before. These games were always tough, hard hitting affairs. In 1974, the Steelers came to Oakland for the AFC Championship game and beat the Raiders 24-13, in the game following the legendary “Sea of Hands” win. In this game, the Steelers were driven by comments made by the Raiders about the best two teams having met in the previous game.
The following season, the Raiders journeyed to Pittsburgh for yet another conference championship game.This time the field was mysteriously frozen. This was questioned by the Raiders,as they relied on deep passing outside the numbers, which just happened to be the frozen part. The Steelers won for the second consecutive playoff matchup.
The rancor reached a fever pitch during the regular season in 1976. Raider safety George Atkinson nearly decapitated Steeler receiver with a hit. The Steelers coach Chuck Noll responded by calling Atkinson a criminal, which prompted a defimation lawsuit. As expected, the two teams met again for a third consecutive AFC Championship game. This time, the Raiders broke through and beat the Steelers on their way to the first Silver and Black Super Bowl win.
The players who were involved in those epic wars have all retired. Many of them are enshrined in the Pro Fooball Hall of Fame, and there are more who deserve the call. The uniforms will look the same as they did back then, but the fortunes of the two teams are vastly different. The Steelers are coming off of two Super Bowl wins in the last four years, and the Raiders are mired in a slump of epic proportions. However, it is in the DNA of these two fan bases to hate the other team. When the players take the field on Sunday, the ghosts of football past will be everywhere.