2009 "Blackened Gold" award winning story
Steeler fans are understandably whipped into a frenzy over this weekend's upcoming contest against the Baltimore Ravens; a divisional foe and the Steelers biggest current rival. At stake? Only a trip to the SuperBowl and the Steelers securing the very first "Six Pack Trophy". Emotions will run high as both teams try to lay claim to a piece of the SuperBowl action in Tampa.
If the Steelers weren't already furious about the first hit, in the opening game the following year, the champs opened the season against...you guessed it, the hated Raiders. In that marquis matchup, Swann was leveled again by Atkinson, suffering a concussion on a broken play where he was hit away from the ball (it had been passed to Franco Harris). This blow was from behind and to his neck and back. In fact, it was so far from the action that it didn't even draw a penalty flag from the zebras!
All hell broke loose the following Tuesday at Chuck Noll's weekly press conference. He referred to Atkinson as, "A member of the criminal element of the National Football League who should be kicked out." Dan Rooney was incensed as well and he fired off an angry letter to Commissioner Pete Rozelle. Because the game was such a high profile contest, the league was flooded with letters complaining about the ruthlessness of it.
Above: Darryl Stingley lies motionless after a Tatum hit. He would die years later as a quadriplegic. Tatum, for his part, always remained unrepentant.
The only semi-normal member of the whole bunch was Hall of Famer Willie Brown who amazingly, went only as Willie Brown. Brown had a mean side too, but he was athletically gifted and more of a pure cover man than the others who relied on fear, intimidation, and their elbows to do their dirty work for them.
As we all know, that's the saying that Emeril uses when he's spicing up a dish. However, when it came to the Steelers and Raiders, they'd already done just about everything they could do to each other both on and off the football field. So it was time to "kick it up a notch". Enter the thorn in everyone's side at the time, owner Al "just win baby" Davis.
Months after it happened, Atkinson was still stinging over the "criminal element" tag that Noll had given him and with the help of his mercurial owner, Davis, they hatched a plan where Atkinson would file a $3 million lawsuit against Noll for "defamation of character". As you can imagine, the case took on a life of its' own. Not only was it Atkinson against Noll, it was also Davis against Rooney and ultimately Davis against Rozelle and the entire NFL. No expense was spared for attorneys either. For their part, the Steelers employed one James McInnis, the same man who had successfully defended Hearst Publishing heiress and Symbionese Liberation Army member Patty Hearst.
In the July 1977 trial that became a media circus, some of the notable people testifying were: John Madden, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Dan Rooney, Al Davis, Pete Rozelle, Lynn Swann and George Atkinson. During the course of his testimony, Noll was backed into a corner and forced to admit that three of his own players, Glen Edwards, Mean Joe Greene and Mel Blount could be considered as having styles of play similar to Atkinson's. The Steelers were certainly no choirboys themselves and the Raiders had the footage to prove it.
Yes, Ravens-Steelers is big and the Ravens are, after all, a divisional rival too. But in the long and storied history of the Pittsburgh Steelers, they're not anywhere near what the Raiders and Steelers had going in the '70s. But these things take time. With the Ravens being in our division and with a shot at the SuperBowl dangling in the balance, there's plenty of motivation available to allow both teams to throw more than just a few logs onto this ever-growing bonfire. Stay tuned for the next installment Sunday night!