"When I came to the stadium," Terry Bradshaw said, "I was nervous as a cat."
"Spell cat," someone shouted.
"C-o-t," Bradshaw said. Mischief owned him.
Thomas Henderson, the Cowboys' Ali in shoulder pads, said early in Super Bowl week that Bradshaw, the Steeler quarterback, was "so dumb he couldn't spell cat if you spotted him the 'c' and 'a'." In the early minutes after Bradshaw threw four touchdown passes in a 35-31 victory, the quarterback had his gentle revenge.
Not that he was angry. These Steelers are too good, too controlled to allow a Thomas Henderson to worry them. "This is the best, most cohesive football team I've been associated with," Coach Chuck Noll said today. In his ninth season, Bradshaw has become a consummate professional, secure in the knowledge he can play at the highest levels under the greatest pressures. "Words are beautiful," said his receiver Lynn Swann. "Action is supreme."
So while Henderson admittedly auditioned for the movies and the television networks, Bradshaw cared only about his football performance. It was supreme. A lesser quarterback might have disintegrated in the first half of the 13th Super Bowl. Bradshaw first fumbled in his own territory and then allowed the ball to be stolen from his hands. Those errors gave Dallas two touchdowns and a 14-7 lead.
By game's end, the errors were forgotten because Bradshaw and his playmates had produced five touchdowns against a Dallas defense that had given 18 earlier opponents no more than three in any game.
Bradshaw's work was only part of the Steelers' greatness. The Packers of Lombardi and the Dolphins of Shula did not win three Supies, as the Steelers of Noll have, and it can be argued that this Pittsburgh team is the best ever. The confident and gifted quarterback has elegant receivers, a strong offensive line, a Franco Harris running and a defensive unit that allowed only 12.6 points a game.
One suspects these Steelers would defeat the Cowboys seven times in 10 games, which is the kind of grand statement Chuck Noll never would make because, like his city, he is unpretentious. For the Super Bowl, Tom Landry of the Cowboys, who allows us to consider him a coach/genius/legend, wore a gorgeous camel's hair sportcoat; Noll dressed all in black, topped by a wrinkled windbreaker. "OK, so what if he's well-dressed and I'm a slob?" Noll said. "What difference does that make? It's the players that count."
For a press conference this morning, Noll wore a nice brown coat. "A Christmas present," he said. "You know I don't have that much class."
If Noll isn't interested in the personality-cult business that coaches easily can create -- he wouldn't even tell reporters how he planned to relax in the next few days, other than to say he will "hide" -- it may be because he is bright enough, and honest enough, to know that the legend business is mostly bullfeathers.
Witnesses whose hearts, or pocketbooks, belonged to the Cowboys' cause Sunday have been moved by the taste of sour grapes to say the Steelers were absurdly fortunate to win. So someone put that suggestion to Noll this morning! Would he say the Steelers were lucky?
"Yes," he said, smiling.
A flat yes.None of this Branch Rickey stuff about luck being the child of opportunity and design. No the-harder-I-work-the-luckier-I-get malarky. He believes in that, of course, but he believes it is so basic it should be taken for granted. He does not exalt himself.
"Yes," said the man who was hired after the Steelers went 2-11-1 in 1968 and now is the only coach, legend or nonlegend, to win three Super Bowls, "I love to be lucky and we'll take all the luck we can get."
The teams scored 66 points Sunday, the margin was four and the winner could have been decided on any of a hundred events. It is foolish to pick one or two, as Cowboy lovers have, and say the Steelers won on luck. In the first place, the 35-31 score is deceiving, because Pittsburgh played what Noll called "our 'ahead' defense" and allowed two time-consuming touchdown in the last five minutes.
Secondly, the Cowboys were lucky, too. Bradshaw does not give up three turnovers in a half many times, as he did Sunday, and neither do the Steelers often fail to cover onside kicks, as they failed once Sunday, to set up the last Dallas touchdown.
Finally, the Steelers made the best of their good fortune. The most obvious example came on the touchdown drive that put them ahead, 28-17. On that one, Bradshaw threw a long pass up for grabs. Lynn Swann, the most elegant of receivers, collided with Dallas defender Benny Barnes. Interference was ruled on Barnes when the call might have gone the other way, or not have been made at all. Lucky? Maybe.
Three plays later, on third and four at the Dallas 17-yard line, Bradshaw was sacked for a 13-yard-loss, a devasting development. But the play was nullified. A delay penalty had been called before the snap. Lucky? Maybe.
On the next play, with everyone in America expecting a third-and-nine pass, Bradshaw called a trap for Franco Harris and he went 22 yards up the middle for a touchdown. Lucky? No way.
When Roy Gerela slipped on the next kickoff, he squibbed the ball to the Cowboys' Randy White, a defensive lineman. And White fumbled it back to the Steelers. Lucky? Maybe.
Bradshaw, on the first play, sent Swann toward the goal post. He threw a high pass over a Dallas linebacker. Swann, at full speed, leaped. Somehow, he caught the ball for a touchdown and a 35-17 lead. Lucky? Sure, and Ann-Margret is a guy.
By Noll's accounting, the Steelers are his best team because "offensively, we have more consistency and we're not relying completely on the run... Terry is making fewer mistakes and has a great feeling for the rest of the team... our receivers are peaking... and defensively we played great football last year and we had even more intensity this year."
Noll said nothing about himself. He didn't have to. Words are beautiful, action is supreme. From a 2-11-1 team, Noll created three Super Bowl winners, first doing it with a devastating defense and no offense, now winning with an offense beautiful in its efficiency.
One thin more about our nonlegend. His most significant accomplishment may have been in reaching the Super Bowl a third time, let alone winning it. Three teams have won two straight Supies: Green Bay, Miami and Pittsburgh. Green Bay and Miami, complacent with success, never made it back.