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A Brief History of The 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers vs Houston Oilers Rivalry

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The privilege of working with the Luv Ya Blue era Oilers for We Were the Oilers led to a lot of research and, subsequently, much thinking. I also got to speak with Steelers legend Jack Ham for The Game Before the Money football history podcast.

Dan Pastorini for Ken Stabler Trade After 1979 AFC Championship

A lot of the talk around the Dan Pastorini for Ken Stabler trade between the Oilers and Raiders pointed out that “Stabler’s beaten the Steelers, Pastorini’s lost two years in a row.” Over time, a generally accepted theory has been that Pastorini and the Oilers simply couldn’t beat the Steelers. There’s also hinting that perhaps if the Oilers had a different quarterback, maybe they would have won. Ken Stabler led the Oakland Raiders to a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1976 AFC Championship Game.

What NFL team is the Houston Oilers now?

The Houston Oilers are now known as the Tennessee Titans. The team had a great history in Houston before moving.

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1970s Pittsburgh Steelers

Looking back as objectively as I can, here is my own theory about this. First, the Steelers lost only one home game between 1978 and 79. That was a Monday Night Football loss to Dan Pastorini and the Houston Oilers. Second, the Steelers only lost six games total in 78 and 79. Who was the only team to beat them twice? Yep. The Pastorini-led Oilers.

It turns out Terry Bradshaw and company only lost one home playoff game throughout the entire 1970s. That was the 1972 AFC Championship to the undefeated Miami Dolphins. Not to start any greatest-ever arguments, but those 17-0 Dolphins were one of the greatest teams in NFL history. The Steelers made it into the 1972 AFC Championship after the famous Immaculate Reception.

Oilers vs Steelers AFC Championship and 1970s NFL Rivalry

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Although it’s easy to point out that the Oilers didn’t beat the Steelers in two straight AFC Championship Games at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, the facts are that nobody was beating the Steelers there. Especially in 78 and 79. In reality, Houston was the only visiting team to win at Pittsburgh during that time.

Listen to Pastorini, and his teammates share about the Luv Ya Blue era:

History doesn’t always have the best memory. Dan Pastorini and the Oilers may have actually been the biggest threat to the back half of the Steeler dynasty. Agree or Disagree? Friendly comments welcome.

Steeler legend Jack Ham spoke about the Oilers-Steelers rivalry in an episode of The Game Before the Money Podcast. You can listen to it or download it from the player below.

Hear Football Legends on The Game Before the Money Podcast:

Looking for a great NFL history book? Check out The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL available at — Amazon.com – Barnes and Noble – University of Nebraska Press

Like sports history? Listen to The Game Before the Money Podcast! Most episodes include stories from legendary football stars.

When did the Houston Oilers play in the AFC Championship?

The Houston Oilers were in the 1978 and 1979 AFC Championships.

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  1. I had forgotten the out of bounds call till another
    reader cited it. That key moment in the back corner of the end zone almost ended me being a fan of the NFL FOREVER! I do remember it was a call that virtually overturned the game in Pittsburg favor. Thus the NFL had sealed the victory for the Steelers and doomed the Oilers in defeat!

  2. The Houston Oiler(song) came of age with Earl Campbell (out of where else? Texas University) on that Monday Night Game‼️ Howerd Cosell’s narratives were verbose but accurate. I rooted for the Oilers all the way! When they moved to Tennessee I was heart broken. But now every year they play homage to their roots by wearing the throwback Uniforms like today December 17, 2023. Time has past us all by! But in my heart I will cherish the what ifs? If Houston HAD beaten Pittsburg just once for a trip to the Super Bowl! Thank you for the too short story!

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  7. Saying something like “if the Oilers had a better QB they would have won” is tantamount to saying if the Oilers weren’t the Oilers they would have won. That’s a ludicrous argument, not to mention disrespectful to Pastorini, who was not the weak link. In ’79 they had a better shot at winning than ’78. Remember the early Steelers had White and Holmes teaming up with Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood in the early ’70s as opposed to Gary Dunn and John Banaszak. In ’79 Jack Ham was injured and missed the entire playoffs. They had a real chance in ’79. Not a good chance, but a real chance. The fact that they even got to the game to begin with is amazing. Vernon Perry’s 4 picks in one game made way for an upset victory over the Chargers. Everyone was looking for a Steelers-Chargers match-up in the title game.

    The Steelers WRs were better than the Oilers WRs and the Steelers DBs were better than the Oilers. Granted Pastorini threw 5 picks in the ’78 Championship, the score in that game became lopsided due to turnovers. However when you analyzed the teams going in to both playoff games, the Steelers key edge was the WR vs. DB match up on both sides of the ball. I love the Steelers-Oilers rivalry of the late ’70s. They were the two most physical ball teams, but they were both clean and honorable. It was great football, fun to watch. The Oilers were a great team, just not great enough to contend with Pittsburgh in the ’70s. Then again who was?

  8. Great points….the Bengals who won the AFC after Bum was fired, weren’t exactly unbeatable. Neither were the Raiders who won the Super Bowl during Bum’s last year….had the Oilers still had Pastorini and he stayed healthy that year, one also may wonder if the Oilers would have had a better chance that year also.

  9. Bum even said that he felt that there was no way they were going to beat the Steelers at 3 rivers. He did say that if he had not been fired the Oilers would have been in it the next year, but that is a whole ‘nother article. I know that the conventional wisdom was that if Renfro would have been ruled “inbounds” game would have been tied and our chances would have increased (Pastorini insists on this today!) but I think Bum was correct.