The only team ever to win three Super Bowls, the Pittsburgh Steelers, made it four today, 31-19, over the Los Angeles Rams. The greatest team ever? As the Terrible Towels twirled triumphantly in the chill California night, the Steelers gave a hint of the answer by scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns to pass a Ram team playing its best.
Quarterback Terry Bradshaw was the star with 14-of-21 passing that included two spectacular touchdown throws, the first a 47-yarder to a flying Lynn Swann and the last a 73-yard bomb that fell out of the darkness into John Stallworth's hands.
"Whatever's right," said Chuck Noll, the Steelers' stolid coach. Someone had suggested that Pittsburgh, in winning the Super Bowl for a second straight year for the second time, took a step in greatness ahead of Lombardi's Packers, Shula's Dolphins, Landry's Cowboys.
Then Noll did the strangest thing.
This coach, once described by a player as "having very clenched teeth," put a smile that stretched from the Rose Bowl across Colorado into Kansas and back to the steel mills of Pittsburgh, the city that in three months now has seen its Pirates win baseball's grand prize and its beloved Steelers win a memorable Super Bowl.
Three times the Rams led the Steelers today, three times the only team ever to qualify for the Super Bowl with seven defeats was able to move in front of this Pittsburgh outfit so strong that one NFL general manager suggested, "Don't send the Marines to Iran. Send the Steelers."
Three times these Rams of soap opera notoriety -- the owner drowned in the spring . . . his wife fired her stepson as the football brains and took over herself . . . the coach was about to be fired when the team lost six of its last 11 games -- three times they were ahead of the Steelers.
They were ahead, 19-17, early in the last quarter. They had just stopped a Pittsburgh scoring threat by intercepting, for the third time, a Bradshaw pass. Now the Steelers faced third and eight at their 27-yard line. In this obvious passing situation, the Rams added an extra defensive back.
It made no difference. The only quarterback ever to win three Super Bowl games, Terry Bradshaw, would become the only ever to win four. He threw the football 50 yards in the air, the ball sailing high in the night, failing into the sure hands of Stallworth, who carried it in for the touchdown that did it. It began as a mid-winter day so sunny and warm, so positively sparkling, that everyone agreed that Pete Rozelle does, indeed, have connections in high places. By 7 o'clock here tonight, when the mighty San gabriel mountains had vanished in the dark beyond the lights of the Rose Bowl, a chill touched everyone.
Everyone, it must be presumed, except those Pittsburgh loyalists who insulated themselves against the cold by swallowing large amounts of that famous elixir of the gods, Iron City beer.
Dancin' Danny stayed really warm. Though this game was in the Ram backyard, the Steeler people left the Rams' fans in the shade. The eye could not move without picking up black and yellow shirts, caps, pants, visors, buttons, hard hats, belly buttons.
"We are Dancin' Danny and His Derelicts," said Chuckie Lazar, 22, who wore his regular Sunday-go-to-the-game outfit. He saw no reason to dress up just because this was the Super Bowl. So he wore his normal stuff, which is to say he painted his bare body yellow and black, the Steeler colors.
The black number painted on Chuckie's yellow chest hairs was 32.
"Want a beer?" Chuckie said three hours before the game. "We got 15 cases of Iron City here. Shipped in by Greyhound. Shipped it 3,000 miles. Can't nobody go to a feetball game without Pittsburgh joy juice."
Even as Chuckie spoke, Dancin' Danny Conners, 25, in his black tuxedo and yellow cape, held high a can of Iron City and stomped on the roof of a station wagon parked a hundred yards from the Rose Bowl.
"Four and oh!" Dancin' Danny shouted again and again, the meaning clear to every Pittsburgh man, woman an d household pet who know that after 40 years of melancholy the Steelers have become a football organization so powerful it has never lost a Super Bowl Game.
The Ram fans, meanwhile, seemed content to party sedately, on the Rose Bowl lawns. If Dancin' Danny and the derelicts shipped in 15 cases of joy juice, the Ram patrons were awash in Perrier and white wine.
"It is something to do, deah," said Sarah Middlestone, from the jump seat of her Rolls-Royce limousine. She spoke of her crossword puzzle. With America's most spectacular sporting event an hour away, the graying Sarah Middlestone, a diamond at her throat, was doing a crossword puzzle in the jump seat of her limousine.
A glass of white wine sat on the little teeny bar beside her.
"The game? Oh, my, the Rams will do it today," she said, before-asking, "Do you know a six-letter word for a Baltic seaport?"
The Goodyear blimp puttered through the brilliant sky, poking its long-lens camera into the Rose Bowl where 103,985 people would gather for the electric moments that excite sports customers everywhere.
They would see the Rams' maligned offense, which couldn't score a touchdown against Tampa Bay two weeks ago, score two of the first three times it had the ball against Pittsburgh's defensive wonders, the Steel Curtain that has clanged shut on so many so often.
They would see the Rams score on a halfback pass, a rare piece of imaginative work in a professional football game, and they would see the Ram defense shut off Bradshaw with those three interceptions.
They would see a record total yardage for kickoff returns. They could never forget Swann's touchdown catch, an act of levitation in which the Steeler rose three feet, four feet maybe, above the turf to grab a pass. And Stallworth's catch, made while leaning backward in the classic pose of a hayseed first spotting the Empire State building, ought to be put in bronze and sent to a museum, so beautiful was it.
"We have waited 15 years for this," said Bob Sinclair, a sleek-tanned, mirror-sunglassed, razor-cut-with-a-manicure Rams' fan who was amused by reports Dancin' Ganny leaped over nine barstools and ate three beer bottles in preparation for this Super Bowl.
"But there's no reason to be silly about it," Sinclair said. "These Steeler people are. . . ."
What's an 11-letter word for disgust?
". . . are the lower proletariat."
"We Rams' fans are the upper class."
Must be moving on, Bob.
"Ciao," Sinclair said. "Have a good day."
What this was, of course, was a collisinn of cultures. If Bob, (Ciao) Sinclair wore a $100 sweater, if Rams' men were given to tweed sport coats with leather elbow patches, if the Rams' women wore designer overalls, if they propped up a "Rams Country" sign with emply wine bottles -- if this Super Bowl was Hollywood's excuse to play backgammon in the sun, it was a Pittsburgher's reason to hock the baby.
Dave Byer, 28, bought a house and had a baby this year.
"Anyhow, I got a loan for $1,200," Byer said, "and here I am."
He didn't really hock the baby. Pittsburghs aren't that derelict. He left 11-month-old David Jr. at an aunt's house here. And before David Sr. left to go the Super Bowl in his yellow and black hard hat with the beer cans on top ("Three, one for each Super Bowl I've been to") -- before David Byer Sr. left his heir at home, he did what any loving father would do.
"I put a Terry Bradshaw T-shirt on him," Byer said.