Why is it so difficult for teams in this day and age to repeat as Super Bowl Champions? It rarely happens more than once every one and a half to two decades anymore. But in the glorious decade of the 1970s, two different teams accomplished the feat, and one of them managed to do it twice! Why is there such a disparity for the difference between then and now? Is there more than just one reason?
The most reasonable place to try to answer this question is to go back to the wonderful pro football decade of the 1970s, where winning more than just one Super Bowl was much more common than the current decade. In 1972, the Miami Dolphins achieved the unexpected, a perfect 17-0 season and a Super Bowl VII victory.
If you ask any members of that team, to a man, they would say that the 1973 Miami team was even a better team than what they were in their undefeated season of 1972. The ’73 Dolphins managed to lose twice during the regular season. And they had a tougher schedule of opponents in 1973 than they had in 1972. But the ’73 Dolphins repeated to win Super Bowl VIII. They were thus the first team since the 1967 Green Bay Packers to repeat as world champions.
How did they do it? Well, the one thing that head coach Don Shula insisted on was for his team to play mistake-free football. And they did that better than anyone else. Their defense in 1973 gave up only 150 points, which was the best mark in the entire league, and which was 21 fewer points than what the No-Name Defense surrendered in the previous year...the undefeated year.
Miami made the most of their opportunities throughout the ’73 season. They played smart football. They did not allow the league standings or their opponents dictate how they played the game. The Dolphins offensive line also did not get flagged for an abundance of holding penalties.
Shula believed that holding penalties stopped scoring drives even better than opposing defenses on many occasions. By limiting those penalties, Miami’s offense could continue their numerous scoring drives. In short, the Dolphins played the way that Shula wanted them to play…mistake-free, which gave them a second straight world title.
A couple of years later, the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing the same challenge. They were built a little differently than Miami. The Steelers made great use of the annual college draft and built their roster up to include numerous future Hall of Famers at many different positions. Pittsburgh’s defense was the most impressive part of their team in 1974, when they captured their first world title.
Their defense was very good in 1975 also, but it was really their offense that improved much more than their offense in 1974. The Steelers were strong in 1974, but they did suffer from occasional letdowns. They peaked at exactly the right time, especially their defense against opposing rushing attacks. They permitted only a meager amount of ground yards to all three of their postseason foes in ’74…the Bills, the Raiders and the Vikings in Super Bowl IX.
In 1975, however, the Steelers limited those letdowns from the previous year to a much smaller amount. True, their opponents played them tough, but the Steelers just proved that they were tougher. They swept all of their divisional games, which allowed them to win the AFC Central division with only a limited challenge from Cincinnati. In the 1975 AFC Title Game, both the Raiders and the Steelers made numerous mistakes.
The difference was that Pittsburgh was able to take advantage of more of Oakland’s miscues, which was enough for a Steeler win. In Super Bowl X, it took everything that Pittsburgh had in order for them to beat the tougher than expected wildcard Dallas Cowboys. In this game, it was their character and their refusal to fold which led the way to a 21-17 comeback win for the Steelers, their second straight world championship.
A few years later, the Steelers once again were the defending world champions, having beaten Dallas again, in Super Bowl XIII. But how would they repeat? The pro game had undergone many different rules changes in the previous year, and even though Pittsburgh was able to adapt to those new rules better than any other NFL team, they still faced an enormous challenge in 1979.
If there was ever a team during the decade that would suffer from complacency, it would be the 1979 Steelers. Furthermore, in that season, Pittsburgh’s offense committed an incredible number of turnovers. Their quarterbacks threw a total of 26 interceptions, and they fumbled the ball 26 times, the greatest number of fumbles in the league. A grand total of 52 turnovers. Now to be fair, the Steelers had quite a few newer players and rookies handling the ball in 1979, which might explain the high number of turnovers.
So the 1970s saw its share of champion repeaters, much more so than the teams of today. The overall verdict? The teams of that previous era were seemingly just built stronger than today’s teams. They managed to keep their roster of veteran players intact for the most part during the 1970s. They were also able to take advantage of whatever situation befell them better than today’s teams.
Will the 2022 Los Angeles Rams be able to duplicate what the 1973 Miami Dolphins, and the 1975 and 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers did? Only time will tell.
Joe Zagorski is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and the Pro Football Researchers Association (PFRA). He was the 2021 winner of the PFRA’s Nelson Ross Award for Pro Football Research and Historiography. He has written four books on pro football and is almost finished writing his fifth book. He has also written one screenplay about a couple of early pro teams in the coal region of Pennsylvania.