There were 3 hours, 26 minutes of suspense of the highest order today before a rookie's size-7 foot delivered the Pittsburgh Steelers a 33-30 victory over Cleveland, 13 seconds before the 15-minute overtime period would have ended.
Steeler kicker Matt Bahr shrugged off the taunts of the bedraggled Browns and kicked a 37-yard field goal for the triumph that maintained a tie for the Steelers with Houston for the AFC Central Division lead, both with 10-3 records.
It was Bahr's fourth three-pointer of the 63-point game that produced 951 yards of offense, and his second under pressure from a howling crowd of 48,773 in Three Rivers Stadium. He tied the regulation game at 30-30 with a 21-yarder with 24 seconds left.
Bahr admitted, "I was more nervous about the 21-yarder than the 37-yarder, becuase if I had missed the shorter one we would have lost. If I'd missed the next one we still would have probably gotten a tie in the standings."
It was entertainment that escalated and escalated, with the quarterbacks ending up making the longest runs of the game in the extra period.
Brian Sipe of the Browns ran 34 yards on Cleveland's first possession to spur a drive to the Pittsburgh 41-yard line, but then was sacked and ultimately intercepted.
The Browns' end zone must have looked a mile away as Bradshaw looked 96 yards toward it. He made it to the Cleveland 33 before being intercepted with 8:52 to go, but now the Pittsburgh defense was in charge and the Steelers got the ball back 63 yards from the Cleveland goal, with the clock exerting pressure on Bradshaw with 3:43 left.
He came up to third and 10 at his own 34 and was put under immense duress by defensive linemen Lyle Alzado and Mickey Sims. The quarterback was playing with a sore knee from last week's loss in San Diego but he got outside his tormentors and ran 28 yards to the Cleveland 38-yard line, with 83 seconds left.
Bradshaw probed and used up time until the ball was at the Cleveland 19 with 13 seconds left. Then Coach Chuck Noll justified the selection of Bahr on the sixth round of the draft from Penn State.
The result left a thoroughly fatigued Alzado sitting, hands on knees, at the Cleveland 23-yard line as the television cameras zoomed in for a vignette to symbolize the Browns' dismay.
Ten-season Veteran Calvin Hill, now 32, was more dejected as he stripped adhesive tape from his knee in the dressing room.
Hill had set up a touchdown with a 30-yard pass reception in the second quarter that shot the Browns into a 20-6 lead. He scored on a three-yard pass reception in the third period that upped the Browns' advantage to 27-13.
Hill was disconsolate because he missed picking up a blitz, causing Sipe to be sacked. "I knew he (the pass rusher) was coming," Hill said. "I was stupid. These are the things you remember afterward, and we needed to win this game so badly (the Browns dropped to 8-5). We had them on the ropes and couldn't put them away."
Alzado said, "This is the second toughest game I've ever been in; the toughest was when I was with Denver and we beat Oakland for the AFC title in our Super Bowl year."
Alzado was shifted from end to tackle today because of injuries. "I thought I held up well. I had my fingertips on Bradshaw (before he broke loose on 28-yard run), but he rolled out. He's a hard quarterback to get. He's elusive.
"They're the world champions. They came up with a way to win. We've got to learn how. We had it in our hands until the fifth quarter. We've got to play better defense, the same as Pittsburgh did.You can't win without it."
Bradshaw joked about his run."If I had been younger, there is no telling how far I would have gone," he said. "I saw (wide receiver) Jim Smith was covered on the play and I had to get something down there, so I took off."
Sipe of the Browns said, "When we couldn't run, it made for a long afternoon. We're putting together a pretty good team but it's tough coming up on the short end of the stick all the time (it was the Browns' 10th loss in 11 games against the Steelers)."
Sipe was sacked seven times but completed 23 of 38 passes for 333 yards and three touchdowns. Bradshaw hit on 30 of 44 passes for 364 yards and two touchdowns.
Franco Harris rushed for 151 yards in 32 carries and scored three times, twice on two-yard pass receptions and once on a three-yard run.