The Pittsburgh Steelers kicked water in the faces of the Oilers today in aptly named Three Rivers Stadium, swamping Houston, 34-5, in the rain-soaked American Football Conference title game and winning a ticket to the Super Bowl.
Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw, recovering from a stomach virus, was well enough to blitz the Oilers with 11-for-19 passing, icluding two tuchdown passes in 19 seconds in the final minute of the first half.
A driving rain and 26-degree weather turned the game into a downpour of errors. There were seven pass interceptions -- Pittsburgh picked off five -- and 12 fumbles, a record for an NFL championship game.
Bradshaw mounted his touchdown barrage after Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier had already scored on runs of seven and 15 yards, respectively.
With the score 14-3, Lynn Swann caught a 29-yard scoring strike from Bradshaw with 52 seconds left in the half.
Johnnie Dirden then fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Rick Moser recovered for Pittsburgh on the Oilers' 17-yard line. After Harris was stopped for no gain, Bradshaw hit John Stallworth, who bulled his way into the end zone to make it 28-3.
After the kickoff, Oiler Ronnie Coleman fumbled on the first play from scrimmage, Steve Furness recovering. This time the Strrlers settled for Roy Gerela's 37-yard field goal with four seconds left, making it 31-3 at halftime.
Oiler Coach Bum Phillips made no excuses. "The harder we played," he said, "the behinder we got.
"We've been playing good ball for a long time, but we just couldn't do it today. The weather didn't beat us -- Ittaburgh beat us. That's the best team in the National Football League, no doubt about it."
Bradshaw made his postgame remarks while coughing through chattering teeth.
"The balls were totally saturated," he said. "This was actually worse than the Baltimore game (which was played in snow). I fumbled several snaps. They were all good snaps, but my hands were cold.
"The safety (scored when Elvin Bethea of Houston tackled Bleier in the Pittsburgh and zone) was my fault. I turned the wrong way (on the handoff)."
Despite the rain and cold, Bradshaw came out gambling with passes on first down. His first one went to Swann for 34 yards, setting up Harris' scoring burst, and the Steelers were off and winging in the rain.
Meanwhile, the weather and the Steeler defnese combined to shut down the Oiler offense.
Earl Campbell, the league's rushing leader with 1,450 yards during the regular season, was held to 62 yards on 22 carries, most of the yardage coming after the outcome was no longer in question.
"It seems like every time we got something going, we committed one of those darn mistakes," Campbell said. "The Steelers are a great bunch of guys. They are hard-hitting, but they show a lot of class, and regardless of who they play in the Super Bowl, I'll be pulling for them."
The Steelers covered Houston quarterback Dan Pastorini better than his flak jacket, sacking him four times in addition to the five interceptions. He was only intercepted 17 times during the regular season.
"You can't turn the ball over and give a championship team field position like that," said Pastorini, his voice choking and his eyes misty. "It was on eof those days. We got whipped physically. You can't play catchup against a team like that."
Coach Chuck Noll of the Steelers said "the weather was unquestionably a factor." Referring to Phillios' pregame comment about declaring war on the Steelers, Noll said, "Our team wanted an unconditional surrender."
Bradshaw said the Steeler team, 14-2 in the regular season, "is a much more exciting team than in the past. The guys were having fun out there today. They were extermely loose.
"I threw some good passes and some bad passes. I was awfully lucky on the good ones. On the touchdown throw to Swann, I just threw the ball up there. Stallworth made a great catch on his touchdown.
"I was weak on Friday. I couldn't throw. I even messed up my play-calling today. I took tons of medication and liquids. I felt weak today before we warmed up, but then I got all pumped up and felt no effect." Then, pausing to savor the victory, he added, "I feel good now," and headed for the sauna.