OLD SCHOOL: Baltimore v. Pittsburgh, a One-Sided Post Season Rivalry

Street Talk OLD SCHOOL: Baltimore v. Pittsburgh, a One-Sided Post Season Rivalry

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In this two-part article will revisit the post season matches between Pittsburgh’s and Baltimore’s sports teams.

Part I, the 70’s, the Colts, Orioles, Steelers, and Pirates

Part II, 1979-to January 2009, Orioles, Ravens, Pirates, and Steelers

With the Ravens making NFL history by winning in the Wild Card round for the third consecutive year they now set the table for another post season trip to Pittsburgh. This will be the Ravens third trip there for a playoff game trying to win for the first time against the Steelers in the post season.

Since we re-entered the NFL in 1996 Pittsburgh has become our bitter archrival and that bitterness seemingly extends beyond football. We root against them in just about everything.

But when you view the post season sports history between our two cities, the level of competitiveness falls and the rivalry bogs down a bit. The fact of the matter is Pittsburgh leads us 6-0 and that leans more towards a whitewash than a rivalry.

Both the Colts and Ravens have beaten the Steelers in the regular season, and to add to our sports equality with them, they gave us out greatest hero by cutting John Unitas.

Pittsburgh can counter though that we gave them one of their greatest sports heroes, by allowing Chuck Noll, who was the Colts secondary coach under Don Shula during the 60’s here to take the Steelers head coaching job in 1969. Shula would leave Baltimore after the 1969 season. Had Colts owner Carrol Rosenbloom retained Noll on Shula’s staff by promoting him to assistant head coach after the 1968 season, he would have stayed and in all likelihood would have been named the Baltimore Colts head coach after Shula’s departure.

Who knows how the football history would have played from there. Would the Colts have won those 4 Super Bowls in the 70’s instead of just the one after the 1970 season? Perhaps, but instead Rosenbloom offered Noll up to the Rooney family, to help the NFL’s worst team, after Joe Paterno turned them down to be their head coach.

The Ravens have lost both of their playoff games to the Steelers, Pittsburgh beat the Colts twice in the Bert Jones era in the NFL playoffs, and the Pirates beat the Orioles in the 1971 and 1979 World Series. The cold hard truth is Baltimore hasn’t shown up in the post season against Pittsburgh.

To that point let’s revisit the Baltimore v. Pittsburgh post season clashes…

1971 World Series, Baltimore Orioles v. Pittsburgh Pirates, October 9-17, 1971, Memorial Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium

This World Series created one of my most memorable Baltimore sports days. I’ll get back to that in a bit…

The Orioles entered 1971 as defending champions after demolishing Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in 5 games in the 1970 World Series. World Series MVP Brooks Robinson spectacular play at the hot corner and regular season MVP Boog Powell led the Orioles to the easy win. They were considered perhaps the best pitching and fielding team in MLB history with three pitchers winning 20 games.

They defended their American League pennant easily in 1971 winning over 100 games for the third year in a row, beating the Athletics, 3 games to none in the American League Championship Series. The O’s ’71 pitching staff consisted of four 20 game winners: Dave McNally, Pat Dobson, Mike Cuellar, and Jim Palmer.

They faced a veteran laden Pirate team that won 97 games and featured first baseman Willie Stargell who hit 48 home runs and Roberto Clemente with a .341 batting average. The Pirates had a solid but not dominating pitching staff and the oddsmakers took notice and installed the Orioles as heavy favorites to repeat. 

The Orioles were paced again by Powell, Brooks Robinson who won his 12th Gold Glove, and Frank Robinson. They took the first two games in Baltimore easily, 5-3 and 11-3, with McNally going the distance in game one and Palmer going 8 innings in game two. The series then moved to Pittsburgh.

Game 3 had Pittsburgh’s Steve Blass shut down the Birds on three hits in a 5-1 Pirates win. Game 4 was the first night game in World Series history, and the Oriole responded by scoring three first inning runs yet the Pirates battled back and won 4-3. Bruce Kison pitched six shutout innings in relief, all while hitting three batters a World Series record. Catcher Milt May singled in the winning run in the 7th.

Manager Danny Murtaugh started journeyman and future Oriole Nelson Briles in game 5 and the Pirates took the series lead with an easy 4-0 win. Briles pitched a two hitter and knocked in a run to support his own cause.

The stunned Orioles came back to Baltimore and won game six, 3-2, in 10 innings as Brooks Robinson sacrificed Frank Robinson in with the winning run on a short fly ball to center.  

Game 7, Sunday October 17th provided me with one of my most memorable Baltimore sports days. The Colts played the Giants that day at Yankee Stadium, 1:00PM kickoff and the Orioles and Pirates first pitch was at 2:00PM at Memorial Stadium. With both games being carried by NBC, NBC’s local affiliate WBAL channel 11 moved the telecast of the Coltd game to the new channel 45, while channel 11 carrief the Series.

For me, a 10 year old sports nut this was a dream, the first place Colts and the Orioles on TV at the same time. In my living room on Charlesmont Road that day, I had the Colts on the color console TV, and my Dad brought down a portable black and white set, which we put the Orioles on. I had made my choice – football was more important and therefore deserving of the color set.

I was not the only Baltimorean to choose football that day. Game 1 of the series in Baltimore had 53,229 fans in the seats at Memorial Stadium. Game 7, which conflicted with the Colts game had 47,291.

The Colts won easily that day as they clobbered Fran Tarkenton and the Giants to stay in first place. Earl Morrall threw for three scores, two to Ray Perkins in a 31-7 Colt win.

Unfortunately the Orioles did not fare as well.

Steve Blass of the Pirates threw a complete game four hitter, in a 2-1 Pirate series clinching win. World Series MVP Roberto Clemente homered to start the scoring in the 4th. He was the first Pittsburgh athlete to cause pain to Baltimore sports fans in a post season affair. He posted .414 average and hit safely in all 7 series games.

This was the first of six post season wins for Pittsburgh over Baltimore.

AFC Divisional Playoffs, Colts at Steelers, December 27, 1975, Three Rivers Stadium

The Steelers were the defending Super Bowl Champions. The Colts were the surprise team of the NFL, going from last in 1974 at 2-12 to first, 10-4 in the AFC East. Head coach Ted Marchibroda was named NFL coach of the year, Joe Thomas, Colt GM, executive of the year, and quarterback Bert Jones became one the NFL’s rising stars.

The Steelers won 28-10, but the game was much closer than the score. Jones was knocked out of the game in the first quarter when after being tackled on a short run, Steeler defensive back Donnie Shell kicked Jones’ right elbow (on purpose from my view) and the Colts leader and star was lost.

Backup quarterback Marty Domres who did not play one his best games that day, with aid from the Colt defense, including Lloyd Mumphord’s long interception return of a Terry Bradshaw pass shocked the Steelers by grabbing a 10-7 third quarter lead. Domres who completed just two passes that day in relief, found Glenn Doughty on a short scoring pass and while Toni Linhart added a field goal.

The champion Steelers who got 153 yards on the ground from Franco Harris then took control as the Colts could not move the ball after taking the lead. The Steelers scored twice on short runs to make 21-10 Pittsburgh midway in the 4th

Jones, who could barely lift his right arm came back in to try and rally the Colts. He found Doughty for a fifty yard completion and moved to the Steeler 7 yard line. The Colts who were the best red zone scoring team in the NFL in 1975 were about to make this a 4 point game, but linebacker Jack Ham came in from Jones’ blind side on first down and knocked the ball loose, (sound familiar).

Veteran Andy Russell recovered and raced ninety three yards for a touchdown to end the scoring at 28-10 and the Colts surprising turnaround season.

AFC Divisional Playoffs, December 19, 1976, Steelers at Colts, Memorial Stadium

The Colts repeated as AFC champions and Jones led a Colts attack that gained the most yards and scored the most points in the NFL in 1976. Jones became the third Baltimore quarterback named league MVP, winning the award for 1976.

The Steelers were defending their Super Bowl championship but had to fight back from a Terry Bradshaw injury and 1-4 start to finish at 10-4. They did it with one the most dominating defensive performances in NFL history, allowing just 138 points, best in the NFL.

It was the NFL’s best defense against the NFL’s best offense. Not only did the team with the best defense win but they set an offensive record in doing so.

Bradshaw hit Frank Lewis with a 76 yard scoring pass on the game’s third play from scrimmage. The Steelers missed the extra point and led 9-0 when Jones found Roger Carr for a 17 yard TD pass to trim the lead to 9-7. From there the Steelers could not be stopped as they scored 24 unanswered points on their way to a 40-14 win.  They set a divisional playoff record by gaining 526 yards on the Colts in what was a forgettable day in Baltimore sports history.

Although the game itself was forgettable, events surrounding the game left a indelible mark on Baltimore sports history.

A troubled Baltimore man, Donald Kroner piloted a single engine plane into the upper deck, section 41 of Memorial Stadium as the game was ending. Good thing for the Steelers blowout, because those seats were all full not that long before his crash.

And like that plane, Baltimore’s hopes of taking down a Pittsburgh team in the post season crashed as well.

In part II, the Birds continue to play the Oriole way, the Colts slither away, and the Ravens fly into town but the post season Baltimore v. Pittsburgh song remains the same.


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Kurt Backert

About Kurt Backert

Kurt’s passion for the game began in the 60’s watching the Colts on TV and at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. He began following the statistics of not only his beloved Colts but also those of the Colts opponents, with a keen eye on Vince Lombardi’s Packers. His thirst for and attention to statistical detail would eventually lead Kurt on a journey to the world of fantasy football in the late 1980’s where he’s captured more titles than John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins
Kurt carries a distinction that no other fan of the NFL can boast about.  He is the reigning NFL National Trivia Champion and he credits his Dad for passing on such passion for the game, something Kurt also hopes to pass along to his 9-year-old son.

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