The verbal calisthenics that accompany every Super Bowl began today with Minnesota defensive tackle Alan Page leveling a complaint aginst the man who will be trying to block him starting at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, guard Gene Upshaw of the Raiders.
"He holds on every play," Page said "and he gets away with it 95 per cent of the time. It's unfortunate, because he doesn't have to. He's big enough and strong enough where he can play it honest."
As Page spoke, a crowd of reporters gathered, and the All-Pro tackle smiled. "Yeh, he holds a lot," he said again. "I might as well make that an issue of the week, give you guys something to write about.
"He holds as much as anyone and the league seems willing to tolerate it. He just grabs you, there's not much to describe.
"If an offensive linemen can hold me at will, I'd be bette of staying home an* d letting them put a blocking dummy in there. Yeh, I get held a lot of times. If you're lucky, the officials will call it once a game.
"The officials close their eyes. They'll say 'I wasn't watching.' I had a guy actually rip my jersey once. That's pretty, tough to do, these things are kind of strong. There was a big hole right down the front of it."
Page and Uphaw have been going against each other for 10 years. They were teammates on the college all-star team and bumped heads in practice for the game. They also have opposed each other in countless Pro Bowl and preseason games, and they are both active in the NFL Player's Association. They also say they are friends off the field.
"He hasn't changed much since the all-star game." Page said. "It bothers me because it's more than frustrating not to be able to do your job. If you have one guy hanging on you and one guy blocking you, you can get hurt pretty seriously. That's my biggest complaint about holding.
"This year during the preseason I had one guy holding and one guy hit me low in the leg, and I twisted it a little. Upshaw holds all the time - the first play, the last play and every play in between.
"If you want an offensive show that's what you do. I suppose if I was an offensive linesman and could get away with it, I'd hold too. Maybe I'll become an offensive lineman in my later years. I could play forever. But I'd hate to think that defensive linemen were being made expendable at the expense of the quarterbacks."
Over at the Oakland training site, Upshaw seemed very much amused by Page's remarks.
"He needs me to get publicity for him, that's what this is all about," Upshaw said. "He's jacking all you guys around. I'll do it, too. You can say he jumps the count on every play. He's a dirty football player, he chases ball carriers all over the field. How's that?"
Upshaw said Page sent him a message relayed by player's association executive director Ed Gravey in some correspondence last week. "Yeah, it said "Tell Upshaw, don't hold me,'" Upshaw said with a grin.
"Hey, I know why he said all this stuff. It's tough for us to get any publicity in a game like this. You guys all want to write about the superstars, not the linemen. Who are these guys Page and Upshaw? It's good ink.
"I'll tell you this, all this talk is either gonna' make me and Page $1 million dollars, or I'm going to get called for a lot of holding Sunday.
"All I know is I'll have my hands full. Now, now don't take it that way, not literally grabbing him. You know what I mean. Hey, we're really good friends, we're both in law school, we're involved in the player's association.
"Anyone who believes that stuff is being had."
At that point, Upshaw was approached by a friend, Jim Hill, his roommate at Texas A&I, and a former Green Bay defensive back.
"Hey, Uphshaw said, "tell them, did I hold?
"He's notorious for holding," Hill shot back. "Let me show you Upshaw's favorite move."
Hill grabbed the front of Upshaw's jersey and yanked for dear life.
"We were roommate in college, that bum," said Upshaw, laughing all the way.