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Raiders-Steelers 1970s rivalry had deflation drama, too

John Madden of the Oakland Raiders

John Madden of the Oakland Raiders

Sporting News via Getty Images

Welcome to another edition of Football Inflation Theater. In this episode, we go back to 1973, when the Steelers and Raiders were fighting for the same thing: AFC supremacy.

When the clubs met in Oakland on November 11, the Steelers forced five turnovers, including four Daryle Lamonica interceptions, in a 17-9 road win.

However, afterwards, the Steelers alleged some potential rule-bending by the Raiders. There was purportedly an unexplained timeout at the end of the half, allowing Oakland’s George Blanda to hit a field goal. Also, the Raiders’ offensive linemen allegedly had a slippery substance on their jerseys, making them tough to grab.

But this is Football Inflation Theater, so let’s get to our main act: as the Steelers were to attempt a field goal, a somewhat deflated football was almost put into play before Pittsburgh center Ray Mansfield squeezed it and alerted an official.

“I showed it to the referee and he was just as surprised as I was,” Mansfield said, according to the Associated Press. “He sent it back and they replaced it with a good one. I’m not making any accusations against Raider management. I really don’t know how those things happen.”

The Steelers got the football switched out, and Roy Gerela hit a 17-yard field goal, per a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette account of the game. Gerela missed his other four attempts in wet, sloppy conditions in Oakland.

For his part, Raiders coach John Madden noted that footballs were inspected prior to the game.

“The balls used in a game are handled by the officials and checked before game time,” Madden said, per the AP. “Anytime a center wants a new ball, he simply has to ask an official.”

Ultimately, the Raiders were cleared of wrongdoing on all Steelers charges by the NFL. And in the postseason, the Raiders would turn the tables on Pittsburgh, winning 33-14 in Oakland in December.

But that was hardly the end of the Steelers-Raiders rivalry.

So concludes another episode of Football Inflation Theater.