Skip to main content

News | Washington Commanders -

Flashback: Bizarre End Marked '73 Redskins-Steelers Game

The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s, squads that featured such stars as quarterback Terry Bradshaw, wide receiver Lynn Swann, middle linebacker Jack Lambert and the legendary "Steel Curtain" defensive line, won an NFL-record four Super Bowls. One can safely argue they constituted the greatest dynasty in league history.

The Redskins were a tier below the Steelers that decade, posting five playoff seasons, including an appearance in Super Bowl VII in the 1972 season, and eight winning years.

They were also among the top teams in national television appearances in the 1970s, including 16 games on ABC's "Monday Night Football," which had become a national spectacle as the NFL took on a prime-time image.

On the night of Monday, Nov. 5, 1973, the two teams collided at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium, one of the cookie-cutter sports venues that were so prevalent at the time.

The 5-2 Redskins had already played a Monday night game that year, a heart-throbbing 14-7 win over Dallas at RFK Stadium a few weeks prior that ended on safety Kenny Houston's iconic tackle of Cowboys fullback Walt Garrison at the goal line.

Heading into the Steelers game, the Redskins were coming off a 19-3 loss to the Saints. The 6-1 Steelers were riding a two-game winning streak.


George Allen

On a cold and windy night, the Redskins scored first on Curt Knight's 30-yard field goal midway through the first period.

Cornerback Mike Bass, part of the stingy defenses that defined the Redskins for much of the era of then-coach George Allen, set up the score by intercepting quarterback Terry Hanratty's pass and returning it to the Steelers' 23.

Pittsburgh answered later in the quarter on Hanratty's seven-yard scoring pass to running back Preston Pearson.

In the second period, Knight kicked a 12-yard field goal (the goal posts were then on the goal line), but Hanratty's 24-yard touchdown pass to receiver Ronnie Shanklin put the Steelers up 14-6 at halftime.

A holding penalty on Redskins linebacker Dave Robinson nullified an interception before that score by safety Brig Owens, who picked off 36 passes in his 12 years in Washington.

Midway though the third quarter, Robinson intercepted a pass around midfield, and the Redskins moved to the Steelers' 9. But they stalled again and settled for Knight's 16-yard field goal.

Later, Redskins defensive end Ron McDole tried to scoop up Hanratty's fumble on the Steelers' 10 in the third quarter and appeared headed for a score. But he lost possession around the 1, and the Steelers recovered in the end zone.

Steelers' third-string quarterback Joe Gilliam, in for an injured Hanratty, threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to receiver Barry Pearson with 8:56 to play in the game for a 21-9 Pittsburgh lead.

That's when things became interesting.

Redskins quarterback Billy Kilmer found running back and Pittsburgh native Larry Brown on a 17-yard scoring pass with 6:56 to play.

After the Redskins regained possession, Kilmer and Brown, two staples of the Allen era, hooked up for what appeared to be another 17-yard touchdown pass.

But as Brown began to clutch the ball around the goal line, he was hit by defensive back Mike Wagner. The ball popped up in the air and was picked off by fellow defensive back Glen Edwards, who fumbled only to have defensive tackle "Mean" Joe Greene, a member of the "Steel Curtain," recover the ball.

The Steelers held on for a 21-16 win.

For the Redskins, it was no time for moral victories, as they dropped their second straight game.

"God, we're not used to losing two in a row," said Redskins defensive tackle Diron Talbert, as quoted by The Washington Star. "It's just real embarrassing. It's hard to face anybody now, even your wife or girlfriend. There's got to be a reason. Maybe we've lost a little of our aggressiveness."

The loss was one of only two in 12 Monday night games during the regime of George Allen, who coached the Redskins from 1971-77.

They won five of their last six regular season games in 1973 to finish 10-4 and secure the NFC's only Wild Card playoff spot available at the time, but fell in the opening round to the Minnesota Vikings, 27-20.

Michael Richman is the author of The Redskins Encyclopedia, a 432-page book that spans the 75-year history of the storied franchise. He co-hosts a show on ESPN 840 in Charlottesville, VA called the "DC Sports Blitz." His Web site is ***.*

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.