Thomas Henderson's is not the only NFL mouth that roars.His is the one that attracts public attention this Super Bowl; it is not the one players respect most. That belongs to a small Steeler, Ray Oldham.
In the spectrum of manual laborers, pro football players growl the loudest. But almost never in front of the men who can buy and sell them. Which is why when Oldham, the most expendable Baltimore Colt at the time, told off owner Robert Irsay in front of coaches and teammates it traveled from team to team with quiet urgency.
As Oldham reset the scene, Irsay burst into the dressing room after an exhibition loss to Buffalo in 1976 and began calling each Colt a donkey -- or worse. As he started to verbally undress Don McCauley in the next locker, Oldham suddenly leaped to his feet.
"I just went out of control," he said. "I'd been sitting there listening and getting sick. Finally, when he told Don, 'You run terrible,' I couldn't hold back. Here's a guy who gives 120 percent every play, so I yelled:
"'How can you say that to this guy? How can you?'
"He told me to go stand in a corner and I told him I wouldn't. So he said he'd trade all of us for a dollar. I said: 'You couldn't get a dollar for me, but I'm gonna say what I've got to say.'"
Coach Ted Marchibroda later was fired and rehired the week before the first regular-season game.Oldham figured he'd be unemployed as soon as his final angry words reached Irsay's mind. He was not.
"I was nothing, a special-teamer," he said, "but the only thing that came of it was that he finally knew my name. We got long. I thought that was incredible."
In his five years and two games with the Colts, Oldham had experienced nearly everything possible in pro sports. In addition to his confrontation with Irsay, Oldham sat incredulous outside the door when Joe Thomas fired Howard Schnellenberger immediately after the third game of the '74 season.
"I've seen 'em come and go," he said, "head coaches and assistants -- and players, friends of mine. And then I got the ax."
Every player insists he prepares himself mentally for being cut; in truth, few do. Oldham hardly realized he would be a victim of the Colts' injury problems when he was summoned to a postpractice meeting with Marchibroda on the field.
"I'd gone all the way through practice that day," he said. "I was running extra sprints when I was called over to see him. I figured he was telling me to get the special teams pepped up.
"Instead, he told me he'd put me on waivers. Here I was expecting to play 10 years in this league and I was gone. It seemed like the legs had been cut out from under me. You want to go out as a person, not as a piece of trash -- and Ted showed me no respect.
"But just the other day I got this letter that said: 'Well, you can go back to Baltimore now and thank Ted Marchibroda for putting you in the Super Bowl.' I guess that's true. In a way, I do owe him."
This is the frequently curious NFL justice at work. Oldham was out of work 10 weeks, at home in Chattanooga, Tenn., when first the New England Patriots and then the Steelers came calling.
"I thought I'd be going to the Patriots, but then Pittsburgh called and said, 'We need you.' They could have looked down on me, but they didn't." They didn't have time to.
"The first game I played for them was against San Francisco, and I got the first tackle on the kickoff team. It was a good pop. Everybody got all excited and jumped up and down and made me feel like I'd been part of the team for a long time.
"That made me feel at home."
As the fifth defensive back in the Steelers' prevent defense, Oldham got a quarterback sack against the Denver Broncos. And helped down a punt inside the Houston five-yard line during the playoffs.
"You dream about situations like this, the Super Bowl," he said. "And then you remember getting cut during the season, and the 48-hour waiting period passing and nobody claiming you. And how tough it is watching the game on television."
Oldham remains the most uncertain player on his team, although he hardly cares at the moment. As he looked about a room packed with reporters and players the other day, he could see his famous teammates and one for whom he had special kinship, Jim Mandich.
Like Oldham, Mandich rarely has seen the publicity spotlight turn his way. Although he has caught no passes for the Steelers this season, he will be playing in his fourth Super Bowl Sunday.
Mandich has caught as many passes during his mine-year career, 121, as some players catch in slightly more than two seasons. But he is one of life's winners, cut by the Redskins just before this season because of an injury and now playing in the Super Bowl because of an injury to someone else.
More significantly to the Oldhams of pro sport, Mandich is leaving the NFL after Sunday on his own terms. He, not management, can say the dread words for an athlete: 78It's time to get out."