New Look Oakland Raiders Can Renew Rivalry With Old Foes


The Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers used to have one of football’s greatest rivalry. During the 1970’s and into the 1980’s, those two teams were often among the best teams in the NFL, and were routinely paired together in big time games. On Sunday, the two teams meet again, and with a new look to the normally downtrodden Raiders, they can return to their status as heated enemies.

The rivalry came to life on December 23rd, 1972, during the AFC divisional playoffs. Near the conclusion of a fantastic defensive battle, the Steelers and Raiders were involved in one of the most famous, as well as controversial plays in NFL history, known simply by two words: “Immaculate Reception”.

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The contentious play, which is still heavily debated and dissected to this day over 40 years later, allowed Pittsburgh to score a game-winning touchdown as time expired. In what could be seen as a measure of karmic justice in Raiders’ fan’s eyes, the Steelers lost the Conference Championship game the next week to the Miami Dolphins, who completed the first, and thus far only, undefeated season in league history when they won the Super Bowl. The play spurred, not just arguments between opposing fans, but an intense rivalry that is still considered one of the best the NFL has seen.

Oakland and Pittsburgh were polar opposites. The Steelers were led by their owner Art Rooney, a savvy businessman who was popular among his peers. The Raiders were headed by their own owner, Al Davis, who did things his own way with no worry for public perception. His signature phrase “just win, baby”, is still wildly prevalent among the Raider faithful.

Opposites attract, and the two teams were seemingly attached at the hip over the next decade-plus. Over the next 11 seasons, the Super Bowl was nearly exclusive property of these two teams, as the Steelers won four, and the Raiders won three (two in Oakland, and one in Los Angeles).

In 1973, just one day shy of the first anniversary of the “Immaculate Reception” game, the Raiders got their first taste of revenge, as they walloped the Steelers, 33-14, in the AFC division playoffs. In a cruel twist of fate, the Raiders suffered the same ending to their season as the previous year’s Steelers, being beaten by the eventual-World champion Dolphins in the AFC title game.

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During the 1974 regular season, the Raiders beat the Steelers 17-0 in week three, and were later matched up in the AFC Conference Championship. The Steelers trailed 10-3 after three quarters, but would score three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, two by Franco Harris, as they came back to win 24-13. The Steelers would go on to win the Super Bowl that year, and after the 1975 season as well when they again knocked off the Raiders in the AFC Championship.

Oakland’s fortunes turned in 1976, as they completed their own fourth quarter comeback to beat the Steelers during the regular season’s opening week. The two would meet in the Conference Championship for the third straight season, with the Raiders stifling the Steelers, 24-7, en route to winning their own Super Bowl championship, the first in the franchise’s NFL history.

The Raiders and Steelers wouldn’t meet again in the playoffs until the 1983 season, but in three regular season matchups, the Raiders were victorious in each one. In the playoffs after the 1983 season, the Raiders (now calling Los Angeles home) dismantled the Steelers 38-10, led by quarterback Jim Plunkett, running back Marcus Allen, and defensive end Lyle Alzado. The Steelers, playing without injured future Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw, scored the first field goal, but were outscored 38-to-7 the rest of the way.

Like any rivalry would, it became stagnant as the meetings between the two slowed down, and the Raiders began to fall on hard times. The two teams met 13 times in 11 years, six in the playoffs, but after the playoff matchup following the 1983 season, they faced off just twice in the next 10 seasons, both in the regular season, with each team winning once. Since 1994, they’ve played 11 times, none in the playoffs, with Pittsburgh winning six times.

In more recent years, the Steelers have been a perennial playoff contender, playing extra games seven times in 11 seasons with Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leading the way. They’ve won the Super Bowl twice in that span, and lost it another time. While they are usually one of the toughest teams in the AFC, they’ve been hit hard by injuries this year, as Roethlisberger has played only four games, and All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell is on injured reserve because of a badly torn MCL. They sit 4-4, second in the AFC North.

The Raiders have long been one of the bottom dwellers in the NFL, and haven’t made the playoffs, or even had a winning season, since 2002. But this year is different for the Raiders. With second-year quarterback Derek Carr leading the way, Oakland is 4-3 with a top-10 offense, both in terms of scoring and yardage.

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A refreshing mixtures of exciting young playmakers, like Carr, Amari Cooper, Latavius Murray, and Khalil Mack, and smart veterans, like Michael Crabtree, Marcel Reece, and Charles Woodson, has the Raiders heading upwards, with a very steep trajectory. The future is looking extremely bright for the Raiders.

This one matchup won’t rehash an old rivalry to its fullest extent, especially considering the fact that the two teams aren’t division rivals and won’t meet every season. But it can be a start. For the first time in a long while, both the Raiders and Steelers are good. There could be a playoff matchup down the road featuring these two teams very soon, but it has to get restarted somewhere. Now is as good a time as any.