The story of the real-life 1972 Steelers centers on the franchises first playoff appearance in 40 seasons, along with the improbable ‘Immaculate Reception’ that lifted Pittsburgh past the Oakland Raiders 13-7.
Due to a rotational format still in place, the Steelers hosted the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship a week later. The Dolphins won and a fortnight later completed their 17-0 season, a benchmark that no NFL team has exceeded or matched.
As for Pittsburgh the ’72 season marked a new day in the franchises fortunes, and Super Bowl glory awaited throughout the rest of the decade.
In KACSPORTS simulation of the 1972 simulation through WhatIfSports game simulations, the Steelers first World Championship came early.
The 1972 Miami Dolphins do not like sims that end anywhere short of a 17-0 record. In this regular season they lose in Week 6 and Week 9 to the Bills and Patriots, while the Cincinnati Bengals handed the Steelers lone regular season loss.
Miami and Pittsburgh appeared to be on a collision course for the AFC Championship game until the 8-6 AFC West Champion San Diego Chargers shocked the Dolphins at the Orange Bowl in the Divisional Playoff.
I blame the depth chart sliders on WhatIfSports that goes with Earl Morrall as starting QB. In a typical Dolphins game with the sim Morrall gets 70 percent of the snaps over Bob Griese.
The highlight films of the 1972 Dolphins includes the image of Griese being whisked off the Poly-Turf after sustaining a broken ankle against the same Chargers in Week 5. Morrall held down the fort until Griese returned at regular season’s end.
I chose not to adjust the sliders for the purpose of the simulation, although it was well known that Griese led the 1972 Dolphins through the playoffs, adjusting the sliders would lead to a slippery slope for dozens of unique roster situations that occurred over the years.
On the NFC side, Washington won the real-life conference championship in 1972 but finish 8-6 and out of the playoffs in the sim. The Cowboys won the East at 12-2, the Green Bay Packers won the Central at 10-4 (same as their actual record) and the Atlanta Falcons, considered an ‘improving team’ at the time won the West at 11-3 with the 9-5 Los Angeles Rams as the Wild Card.
The Rams upset the Cowboys 6-0 in Dallas in the divisional round while a John Brockington touchdown run in overtime lifted Green Bay over Atlanta and bringing the NFC Championship Game to Lambeau Field.
Both conference championships proved to be mismatches, Franco Harris rushed for 162 yards as the Steelers blanked the Chargers 37-0 while Roman Gabriel tossed five touchdowns in the Rams 52-0 demolition of the Packers to earn their second Super Bowl berth in as many games hosted at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Steelers AFC Championship was tempered by the news hours later that Pittsburgh Pirates legend Roberto Clemente had died in an airplane crash while delivering supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua. The Steelers would wear special ’21’ patches for the Super Bowl.
The Rams broke out to an early 10-0 lead and a defense led by run-stopper Larry Brooks and pass-rushers Merlin Olsen and Coy Bacon seemed primed to record their third postseason shutout. But the Steel Curtain defense took over and the offense eventually solved the Rams to record a 20-10 victory and give Art Rooney his first championship in 40 years as an owner.
Other headlines from the sim version of the 1972 NFL season..
- Joe Namath returned from injury, and the Jets improved from 0-14 to 10-4, and clinched the AFC’s Wild Card berth with a 55-13 rout over Cleveland.
- The Dolphins beat the Chiefs 41-3 in the first game at Arrowhead Stadium
- The Philadelphia Eagles snapped a 21-game losing streak with a Week 7 win in New Orleans.
- The Colts destroyed New England 59-7 in a Week 11 game.
- O.J. Simpson rushed for 200 yards in Buffalo’s 45-7 win over the Colts.
- The Falcons clinched their first ever playoff berth with a 31-24 win over San Francisco.