The Best: A Curtain of Steel

Brennan Miller, Columnist

It’s 1976. Handlebar mustaches are cool, everyone has big hair and the speakers are blasting Dancing Queen and Bohemian Rhapsody. Life was pretty far out. In fact, it was way groovy…as long as you weren’t playing the Steelers.

In my life, I have seen nothing more fearsome than the face of Jack Lambert. Standing 6 foot 4 and weighing in at about 220 pounds, Jack is most famous for his teeth, or lack of teeth as the case was. Can you imagine walking up to the line and seeing a hulking, toothless man snarling at you and spitting out less than polite words about your mother? This iconic image has surely scared many a quarterback. But you didn’t just have Lambert to worry about. There was also Jack Hamm, Mean Joe Green, LC Greenwood, Ernie Holmes and Mel Blount to name a few. The squad boasted eight pro-bowlers and four future Hall of Famers. They were nicknamed simply, “The Steel Curtain.”

This defense is by and large regarded as the best ever. Some might say that the 2000 Ravens were better but statistically that isn’t true. Baltimore gave up an average of 10.3 points per game while The Curtain on surrendered 9.9. The Ravens did however force more turnovers, with 49. But the Steelers gave up fewer yards per play, fewer total touchdowns and fewer total yards. If this isn’t enough to sway you, listen to this.

In 1976, Pittsburgh was coming off back-to-back Superbowl wins and looking to become the first team ever to win three in a row. But, much to the surprise of, well, everybody, the Black and Yellow started the season a less-than-playoff-bound 1-4. In week five versus the Cleveland Browns, star quarterback Terry Bradshaw was viciously sacked by Joe Jones and sustained neck and wrist injuries. Safe to say, the season was not looking good.

Then came the players’ meeting. No one knows exactly what was said except for the players that were in the locker room, but rumor has it that our boy Lambert gave a speech. And it worked. Big time.

In the final nine games of the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense gave up an average of 3.1 points per game.

Let me just let that sink in for a minute.

28 points. Total. In nine games. There are plenty of teams who give up 28 points in a single game! In fact, it happened three times last weekend! The Steel Curtain pitched shutouts in five of the last nine games of the season, including three in a row, and back-to-back zeros to end the season.

There is no other team that has ever done that before. For reference, the 2000 Ravens only shut teams out three times, and they played a 16 game season. The Steelers shut a team out 17% more than the Ravens, who are more often than not deemed to be the second best defense ever.

Well I rest my case, the 1976 Steel Curtain is the best defense of all time and in my opinion, will be forever. Rule changes, more games and a generally less defensive- minded league combine to create an unlikely situation for any other colored curtain to be sewn again. In addition to the statistics, which stand impressively by themselves, the Steelers defense had an attitude. They were nasty. They were physical. They were the type of people you don’ t want to meet in a dark alley but if you were in a fight, you would want them on your side. That’s the way a defense is supposed to be. I’m glad Jack Lambert never saw a dentist.