A game that needs no hype was heating up yesterday as the media in Pittsburgh tried to ruffle the usually unflappable Coach Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys in a conference telephone hookup.
Landry issued a sly warning when asked if he was bothered by reports that the Steelers have been "gloating" since their 35-31 Super Bowl victory over the Cowboys.
"It doesn't bother me," said Landry, whose team plays the Steelers Sunday in midseason Super Bowl rematch at Pittsburgh, "but it might bother our players. If you win, then you can tell the jokes."
The coach said he was delighted to be 7-1, but "we just had an easy schedule. The hard part starts now," he went on, and complimented the Washington Redskins.
"Six of our next eight games will be in the National Conference and we'll be meeting four playoff teams -- Pittsburgh on Sunday, Houston, the Eagles, who made them (the playoffs) last year, and the Redskins, who will this year."
Conference rivalry is injecting additional emotion into Sunday's game. The Cowboys have the best record among NFC teams against AFC clubs, 24 victories to nine losses; the Steelers are 21-10 against NFC teams. Both records include postseason contests.
Landry stood behind a previous quote that Roger Staubach is the best quarterback in pro football and repeated that he thought an interference call on Dallas cornerback Bennie Barnes against Pittsburgh wide receiver Lynn Swann cost the Cowboys a chance to win the last Super Bowl.
It was the original remark about that play that led, reportedly, to some Steelers regarding the Cowboys as "cry babies," or, as one sportscaster coined it, "Cryboys."
Steeler Coach Chuck Noll was reported to have concocted a joke when he thought he was doing it privately.
"Have you heard about our new Super Bowl ring?" Noll was quoted as saying by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It has a special button; you push it, a lid pops up, and you hear Tom Landry bitching."
In training camp, George Perles, a Pittsburgh assistant coach, said of the Cowboys trying a trick play that halted their momentum early in the Super Bowl game, "I think their whole philosophy is wrong. I really think they get more satisfaction out of fooling someone than knocking their block off.
"I personally think they're the biggest bunch of hypocrites that ever hit the pike."
Perles has stood behind that remark but now is saying he'd like to forget it and wonders why the media "has to keep reminding me of it. I also said Roger Staubach is a good quarterback, but I don't read that."
He added, "If it fires up the Cowboys and they beat us, I'll have to take the responsibility."
Perles also said in camp, "I know one thing -- when the Cowboys come to Pittsburgh to play us in the regular season, it's going to be hard for them to swallow. We're probably going to lose to them in the exhibition season, but we'll kick hell out of them in the regular season."
Perles was right about the exhibition: the Cowboys won. Now there is his other prediction to fulfill.
Landry was asked whether he would rather face the Steeler team that lost to Cincinnati, 34-10, a week ago or the one that demolished Denver, 42-7, Monday night.
"The one that lost to Cincinnati," he said. "Nobody could have beaten the Steelers Monday night. We (the Cowboys) got real high for the Rams (whom they routed, 30-6, Oct. 14). That doesn't happen often. If it did to both teams on Sunday, it would be some collision."
As to the quarterback question, Landry said, "I think Roger Staubach is the best, that's my opinion, but that won't be Chuck Noll's. I can't separate the two; I admire Terry Bradshaw; he has a great arm and is a great playmaker."
It was when Landry was asked how much longer Staubach will play (he is 37) that the coach gave a hint about his own future plans.
"Roger is having a super year," he said. "He's just been a fine quarterback for the last couple years. I hope he lasts forever. I figure that when he quits, I'll quit."