The Pittsburgh Steeler fans saw it as a victory when George Atkinson lost his slander suit against Steeler coach Chuck Noll, who had remarked that Oakland Raider Atkinson was part of "a criminal element in football."
So, when Lynn Swann of the Steelers, the martyr in taking a forearm shot on the back of the head from Atkinson last year, was introduced for an exhibition game against the Buffalo Bills over the weekend, the ovation was thunderous.
After the game, which the Steelers won, joy was restrained.
Rookie Pittsburgh cornerback Wentford Gaines of the University of Cincinnati had been embarrassed on the field by the several catches of wide receiver John Holland of the Bills, including a touchdown pass.
Gaines was filling in at the position left vacant by all-pro corner back Mel Blount, who is under contract but has sued Noll for $5 million for grouping him with Atkinson's ilk, under oath.
Blount has asked to be traded and says he will file a grievance under the collective-bargaining agreement asking to be released from his contract with the Steelers. To back up his position, he has not reported to training camp.
The Steelers are reading something more into Blount's attempt to shop his services. Noll says that some club may be tampering with Blount, encouraging him to hold out in order to be traded and gain a higher salary.
Middle linebacker Jack Lambert, another all-pro selection, also is holding out, and the man who started in his place in the exhibitions, Marv Kellum, also was victimized early in the game as the Bills marched for two touchdowns within the first 16 minutes. But rookie Dennis Winston of Arkansas was a hit at the position when he replaced Kellum.
Lambert's holdout is uncomplicated. He is reportedly asking for close to $200,000 in salary. He is not under contract: Blount is.
When it was mentioned to Noll that Gaines was worked over at Blount's position, the coach was quick to defend Gaines, noting that the inexperienced player "hung in there and was doing some good things at the finish."
Noll also noted that Gaines was playing because four-season veteran Jim Allen, who normally backs up Blount, was sidelined by a leg injury.
Noll has been to the top with Super Bowl winners, but football is not his entire life. He makes no claim to being a motivator, saying he and his staff merely select self-motivating players and try to teach them.
Noll takes the time to raise orchids, attend concerts, seek out vintage wines, pilot his own plane and fly his son to Florida on weekends to collect specimens for the saltwater aquarium in their Pittsburgh home.
He studied law at night for three years when he was playing with the Cleveland Browns. That was said to have served him well in the witness chair when he fenced with Atkinson's attorney for about 10 hours.
What effect will the Atkinson trial have on the Steelers' squad?
"It could be a positive effect," Noll said.
Was it true that he once lectured one of his own superstars, Joe Greene, about overstepping the rules?
"Yes," Noll said. "The sport is rough, tough, hard, and physical enough as it is, without going beyond that."
Greene reportedly was called in after he was charged with kicking an opposing lineman. Greene is understood to have rationalized that the opponent had gotten away with so much holding that the defensive tackle "Took the law in my own hands."
Greene, who was included in Noll's "criminal element" testimony last month, has been named captain of the Steelers' defensive team replaciang Andy Russell, who retired.
"I'm hardly captain material said Greene, "I'm a little bit too emotional. A captain is supposed to set examples and I might set bad examples.It's probably good for me to tone me down."
Wide receiver Swann was solicited for his opinion of Noll after the coach went to bat for him with tar strong language against Atkinson.
"Well," Swann said, "No. 1, Noll didm file the suit; George Atkinson did. In a sense, Noll went to bat for what he said, and there may have been an underlying issue between Al Davis managing general partner of the Raiders) and Pete Rozelle (NFL commissioner).
"It affected Blount, but again there might have been an underlying motive. I don't think it has affected (adversely) the attitude of our squad."
Dan Rooney, president of the Steelers, said Davis was sending notes to Atkinsons lawyers in court during the trial. Rooney also said Atkinson. Davis and witnesses for the plaintiff made out to be the result the fining of Atkinson of a feud between Rozelle and Davis, between the establishment and the Raiders.