With a lawyer named Mason pressing him, coach Chuck Noll never had a chance in that San Francisco courtroom yesterday.
All right, so it was Dan Mason, not Perry, for Oakland Raider defensive back George Atkinson in his $2 million slander suit against Noll and the Pittsburgh Steelers. But it was like old Perry at his TV finest as the barrister elicited from the "criminal element" he complained of on pro football fields included not only Raiders (Atkinson) who bushwhack Pitt receivers (Lynn Swann) but Steelers - yes, Steelers - e.g., Mel Blount, who waylay Raider receivers (Cliff Branch).
This was the third day of a trial in which, on the second day, films were shown only of the vicious hit to the back of Swann's helmet by Atkinson last NFL opening day, Sept. 12, but Blount delivering a physical message to Branch far away from the football when Oakland had possession.
Mason asked Noll about existence of a "criminal element" and Noll said, "There is in the sense there are people who want only break the rules . . . In that sense, George falls into that category as do a number of other people."
Like Blount hammering ranch? That, said Noll, was "an act we do not tolerate . . . we do not want that type of thing going on." You mean that was a "wanton and willful" rule violation that would make Blount part of the criminal element? Yes, Noll conceded.
Noll shot back with accusation that Mason was "trying to drive a wedge between my players and me." Also, that Mason had "coerced these two names out of me."
Mason: "There is an aggressive, hard-hitting, courageous element in the NFL and there are Noll's NFL criminals, isn't that right?"
Noll: "If you say so."
Mason: "Isn't that right"
Noll: "Yes" . . .