PAINTED BLACK: Super Bowl XIII dubbed ‘Black Sunday,’ Known For More Than Just What Transpired On Field

Over subsequent years, 1979’s Super Bowl XIII pitting the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys has seen its’ legacy grow beyond the actual gridiron itself. The game has become known for the alleged drug abuse by members of the Steelers offensive line in the hours leading up to kickoff and movement in the betting point spread in the week preceding the game, which in itself was seminal. Super Bowl XIII, considered by historians’ watershed, the exact time the game crossed over from sporting event to worldwide spectacle, was staged at Orange Bowl Stadium in Miami, Florida and posted record television ratings.

Led by a roster littered with all-time greats (see quarterback Terry Bradshaw, running back Franco Harris, wide receiver Lynn Swann, center Mike Webster, defensive lineman “Mean Joe” Greene, linebackers Jack Lambert & Jack Ham and cornerback Mel Blount) Pittsburgh won the first of repeat Super Bowl championships on January 21, 1979, beating the Cowboys 35-31. The Steelers’ 4-point margin of victory setoff bedlam behind the scenes in Las Vegas gambling parlors, as Vegas odds makers opened the line at 3.5 and saw it bloom to as large as 4.5 with wagers from rabid Pittsburgh fans rapidly pouring in.

When Dallas rallied from 18 points behind in the game’s final quarter to wind up only losing by four, casinos in Nevada and around the country got hit hard, losing millions of dollars. In sports-gambling lore, the day of Super Bowl XIII became known as “Black Sunday.”

Around that same time, there was a popular movie out starring Bruce Dern and Robert Shaw called Black Sunday about a domestic terrorist’s plan to explode a bomb by blimp over the Super Bowl. One Las Vegas gambling expert told The Sporting News that he was personally informed by Chicago mob Vegas “inside” point man Frank (Lefty) Rosenthal that the Stardust casino he and the Windy City Outfit controlled lost a cool million and a half bucks on Super Bowl XIII. Rosenthal was portrayed by Oscar-winner Robert De Niro in the 1995 Martin Scorsese-helmed movie Casino.

Then, there were the allegations of cocaine.

In the smash 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys chronicling the decadent and deadly 1980s South Florida narcotics scene, former Miami drug kingpin Jon Roberts claimed that he hosted the entire Steelers’ starting offensive line for a coke-fueled pregame party the night before the game and was amazed how the drugs the gigantic-sized football players consumed had no effect on their play on the field the following day. Nobody on Pittsburgh’s then-starting O-Line (Mike Webster, Jon Kolb, Sam Davis, Gerry Mullins and Ray Pinney) were ever implicated in any other incidents or alleged incidents involving illegal drug use. None of the Steelers’ linemen were specifically named by Roberts in the doc either.

Jon Roberts

Jon Roberts circa Super Bowl XIII in 1979

“Iron Mike” Webster’s name has been in the news lately, for the Steelers’ legend and NFL Hall of Fame center’s death in 2002 was the impetus for the current concussion controversy. Webster played in the NFL from 1974-1990 and was the first diagnosed with the CTE disorder chronicled in the recent Will Smith film, Concussion. Longtime character actor David Morse played Webster in the movie, Smith, the African-born doctor to discover the ailment and press the NFL for reform.

Roberts, whose real name was John Ricconono and had been connected to the New York mob’s Gambino crime family in his young days as an aspiring hoodlum on the east coast, was arrested in a massive federal drug conspiracy case in September 1986, eventually becoming a government informant in a war declared by the FBI and DEA on the Medellin cartel in Colombia and its’ leader, iconic narco boss Pablo Escobar (killed in police raid in 1993). He died of colon cancer in 2011. Hollywood leading man, Mark Wahlberg has been trying to develop a movie based on Roberts and the Cocaine Cowboys doc for a number of years where he would depict Roberts on screen.

 

 

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