Steelers get history lesson on Raiders rivalry
Coach Mike Tomlin gave his players a lesson this week in one of the storied chapters in Steelers history: their 1970s rivalry with the Oakland Raiders.
Aware that some of his younger players might not know how Steelers-Raiders games defined toughness and physicality and involved 22 Hall of Famers, Tomlin explained what one of the nastiest and most-competitive rivalries in NFL history was all about.
“You talk about mirror images as far as being hard-nosed and physical, those were the two teams,” cornerback Ike Taylor said. “To this day, there's some bad blood between the organizations.”
Tomlin told them how the franchises met in the playoffs during five consecutive seasons from 1972-76. They played in three AFC title games from 1974-76, with the Steelers winning the first two and the Raiders winning in '76. That season, the Steelers had the best defense in NFL history but played Oakland without injured 1,000-yard rushers Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier.
Tomlin also told them how Joe Greene carried Lynn Swann off the field to avoid an injury-caused timeout and how Harris made the catch of a lifetime known as the Immaculate Reception.
“You knew the history, but you didn't know it was that deep,” Taylor said. “Coach T broke it down to us. You knew (it was a big rivalry), but now you kind of respect how they played in the 1970s.”
The Steelers (2-4) play at Oakland (2-4) on Sunday for the second time in as many seasons. They have lost their past two games there, upset defeats in 2006 and '12.
“It was the right time (for Tomlin) to kind of break down history because you have a lot of young guys that don't know anything about the Raiders and the Steelers,” Taylor said.
Taylor said O.co Coliseum — formerly the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum — is one of the NFL's most intimidating venues because of the impassioned Raiders fans. One section of the stadium — the last multipurpose stadium still in use in the NFL — is known as the Black Hole because it is occupied by especially rowdy fans.
“Just going into the Black Hole, in general, you're talking about serious fans. If you don't go in wearing black and silver, you can get wind up getting hurt,” Taylor said.
Safety Ryan Clark agreed it can be “intimidating” playing in Oakland, where the Steelers are 5-9.
“More than anything, when you see those fans, you think about the tradition, you think about the history of the Black Hole,” Clark said. “You think about the crazed, obsessed feeling those fans have towards their team. I think that's why it's a tough place to play. Once they get it rolling there, and the fans get involved, it can get loud.”
Those 1970s Steelers-Raiders games were controversial, too, starting with the Raiders' decades-long argument that the Immaculate Reception was an illegal play. The Steelers once charged the Raiders intentionally deflated game footballs and wrote vulgar messages on them.
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu wonders if some gamesmanship still goes on in Oakland.
“There are some funny things that happen there,” Polamalu said. “In 2006, I saw the clock go from 1 minute, 50 seconds to 1 minute, 30 seconds in two seconds. We're trying to get off the field in three downs. … The only other person who saw it was Joey (Porter). So we both go, ‘The clock! The clock!' ”
Polamalu told the referee, who merely shrugged.
“I wonder what would have happened if I'd just grabbed the ball and said, ‘No!' ” Polamalu said.
Polamalu and Taylor agreed it won't take the younger Steelers players long to understand what Raiders home games are like.
“When they get there, they'll understand,” Taylor said.
It's the only stadium in football where an eternal flame-like cauldron burns in honor of a former team owner, Al Davis.
And what if an opposing player irrationally decided to take a Lambeau Leap-like jump into the stands to celebrate a touchdown?
“It's scary going into that Black Hole. They're really serious about that,” Taylor said. “You can jump into the stands if you want to, but I don't think you're going to come back out.”