And how might laymen know when the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense is playing well?

"Like, a lot of Dallas players were getting hurt," said linebacker Dennis Winston.


"The team that hits the hardest comes out the winner," Winston said.


"Our defense doesn't appreciate a linebacker if he's not a headhunter. All of us, except for Jack Ham, who keeps us all thinking, are headhunters. We're a real physical team."

Sure thing, Mr. Winston, whatever you say.

Winston was absolutely everywhere Sunday, making 10 tackles as the Steelers beat the Cowboys, 14-3, to end the silly idea the Steelers had gone soft.

This week before, they took care of the Denver Broncos, 42-7. About the worst place in the Western Hemisphere to be next Sunday is in Three Rivers Stadium, because these Steelers, the way they are hitting people hard now, would be six-point favorites over Russia, SALT talks or no.

Unless Pete Rozelle commutes the sentence, the Redskins play the Steelers here next Sunday.

"What do you know about the Redskins?" someone said to Winston.

"Not much, really. They've got a running back I played with in college -- Ike Forte. They've got a lot of new faces, don't they? I'll be studying the films all week, so I'll know all about them by Sunday. They've got Harold McLinton at middle linebacker, right?"

"No, Harold was cut. Neal Olkewicz, a rookie, is in there."


Chuck Noll, the Steeler coach, doesn't know much about the Redskins, either.

"The last time we played them was -- what? Three years ago in the preseason? They have a new staff since then. It'll be an interesting week because I don't know too much about them."

This was at Noll's weekly Monday press conference. Someone wondered if Noll might have preferred a Washington victory over New Orleans the day before, the idea being that a Washington team with a 7-2 won-lost record would excite the Steelers more than a 6-3 team that couldn't win at home against the unholy Saints.

Noll wouldn't bite. "That's not going to make any difference. We have respect for them. We think they're a fine football team."

The Steelers are a great football team. No one need study film all week to know about Frnco Harris and Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, Joe Greene and Jack Lambert. These guys can beat you every which way, including up. But for three weeks preceding the Denver and Dallas victories, the Steelers walked with mortals.

They lost to the Philadelphia Eagles. They gave Cleveland 35 points. They lost, 34-10, to a team so bad its name ought to be the Cincinnati Bungles.It had been 10 years since the Steelers gave up as many as those 69 points in successive games. Woe fell upon Steel City. Had the Monongahela washed Willie Stargell overboard, too bad for Pops. Everyone in Pittsburgh was busy rescuing the Steelers.

Was Joe Greene no longer Mean? Had the pass rush gone on vacation? And Franco Harris! He drops the football! Get these guys off those tire commercials. Put 'em on a diet to get rid of the fat in their heads. So they win three Super Bowls in five years. Big deal. Losing to the Bungles!

You get the idea. Even as the Pirates were undoing the Orioles in a memorable World Series, the radio talk shows in Pittsburgh were occupied with solving the problems of the football team that only last January beat the Dallas Cowboys, 35-31, to become the first three-time winner of Pete Rozelle's favorite game. Sports writers, seeing nine turnovers against the Bungles, wore out their thesauruses looking up different ways to express humiliation and degradation.

"I've never been so embarrassed -- never," said Jack Ham, the thinking linebacker.

Three times against Cincinnati, Bradshaw fumbled the snap from center. Over that, he got into an argument with a fan in a restaurant. Harris dropped a ball and the Bungles ran kit in for a touchdown. In less than two minutes, a team the Steelers had beaten eight times in the last nine tires had scored 21 points -- twice as many as it had scored in two full games with Pittsburgh last year.

Chuck Noll had a word for it, too.


"We had a lot of injuries at the time and we were trying to gt well," he said. "So in practice we were taking it easy.That creeps up on you. It is insidious. Pretty soon, you're taking it easy in the games, too."

Did that insidious creepiness infect the coaches, too?


Forgetting Chuck Noll's first three years with the Steelers, when he was taking over a team that couldn't beat anybody, he has been the most successful coach in the National Football League. His teams have won 83, lost 25 and tied one in the regular season, a 77 percent winning record. In the playoffs, his Steelers are 11-4, second best in NFL history to Vince Lombardi's 9-1.

And the man could not care less.

Perhaps alone among professional sports figures, Chuck Noll, once a lineman for Paul Brown, seeks anonymity. The first thing he did in 1969 was tell the Steeler publicity man he didn't want to become a personality. Just a coach.

"Fifteen or 20 years from now, nobody will know I was around," Noll said.

Which is wrong, of course, for the man's numbers will always be there, even if he didn't smile for the cameras or say he created the offense of the '70s.

"Chuck Noll has very clenched teeth," said Terry Hanratty, once a Steeler quarterback.

No gimmicks for Noll.

"Most of the time when gadgets don't work, they backfire," he said, and everyone knew he was talking about the Cowboys, who botched the Super Bowl with a fumbled end-around and set up a touchdown for the Steelers Sunday by trying a pass from punt formation.

Just football for Noll. One game at a time. "Every week is one-sixteenth of the season."

Did the victory over Dallas mean . . .

"You never arrive," Noll said, anticipating the question. "When you feel you've arrived, you're in trouble . . . My experience is that every week is a new challenge.You're measured," he said, looking at a table surrounded by newspapermen, "by your last story."

Everyone laughed. Sort of.

With his Steelers becoming Marshmallows, Noll had the team on the practice field the day after the Cincinnati loss.

"'Chuck Noll's Clinic,' we called it," said linebacker Winston. "It was pretty rough."

As they had done in training camp, the Super Bowl champions were ordered to do 350-yard sprints. They went through head-ringing individual contact drills. Noll clenched his teeth a lot.

"We even practiced running out on the field for the national anthem," he said.

It worked.

The Franco Harris who couldn't hold onto the ball ran for 121 yards the week after Noll's clinic. The Steelers had 236 yards rushing against a Denver defense that at the time was No. 1 in the NFL against the rush. The Terry Bradshaw who couldn't hold a center snap held them all long enough to complete 18 of 24 passes for 267 yards.

"Those are the Steelers I know," Noll said.

As mighty as the offense was that day, the defense was mightier this Sunday against Dallas.

Those were the Cowboys out there. The Cowboys who have anointed themselves "America's Team." The Cowboys who lost to Pittsburgh in last year's Super Bowl but, by complaining so much about a controversial call, made it seem the had won. ("It's not much fun," Noll said today through clenched teeth, "defending a victory.") The cursed Cowboys, these were. And they could score only three points, their lowest total since 1972.

The defense had been good other times this season. Houston's Earl Campbell ran for only 38 yards and Dan Pastorni left the 38-7 loss on a stretcher. Ottis Anderson of St. Louis gained on 37 yards in a 24-21 loss. sSunday, Roger Staubach passed for only 113 yards, was knocked unconscious and left the game rubbing his head, as if to make sure L. C. Greenwood hadn't taken it home with him. The wonderful Dallas receiver, Tony Hill, did not catch a pass.

"Defensively, I thought we played exceptionally," Noll said.

He unclenched his teeth.