Coach Don Coryell of the San Diego Chargers said yesterday he doubted that the Houston Oilers stole his team's hand signals in winning their playoff game, 17-14, Saturday.
"I don't think Bum Phillips would go to the trouble," Coryell said of his counterpart. "I don't think he'd do it."
Sports Illustrated magazine reported in its current issue that the Oilers intercepted the hand signals of Jim Hanifan, the assistant head coach of the Chargers, and quoted several members of the Houston organization as acknowledging it.
Coryell said, "I don't know if they did or not. Hanifan has his doubts. If they did come up with some of our signals, they might have flashed them in to their defense.
"But we weren't beaten by signals. We were beaten by the Oilers.
"We were beaten by a stubborn fine defense, and our mistakes.We had 12 men on the field when they kicked a field goal before halftime. That gave them a first down near our goal line and they went in for a touchdown instead. We're making no excuses about stealing signals.
"If we had played decent football we would have had a 10-0 lead at halftime.
As to (defensive back) Vernon Perry's four interceptions, I think we just had a few off-target passes; a couple were tipped. Perry made great plays."
Coryell was asked why the Chargers used hand signals rather than sending in plays by "messenger," as many teams do.
"Because it is so much quicker," Coryell said. "There is less chance of error. They come from the coaches in the press box to Hanifan and go direct to the quarterbacks (Dan Fouts)."
The Charger coach said of the report that the Oilers studied Hanifan's hand signals with field glasses and relayed them to the Houston defensed: "I think this has been blown out of proportion.
"The signals were quite complex, involving six or seven motions by Hanifan. The Oilers would have had to match up what they saw at the live games with previous films of our games.
"They would have had to know our signals in advance from films. They would not have known what to look for without preparation that would have taken about two weeks. I don't think Bum would do that," Coryell repeated.
Coryell said films of the Charger-Oiler game might answer the hand-signal question but he has not yet looked at them "because I'm still sick (with disappointment)."
A member of the New York Giants recalled yesterday that the Giants once stole the signals of the Cleveland Browns, who sent them to the huddle by radio.
Coach Paul Brown arranged to have a receiving device in the quarterback's helmet, but the Giants had a reserve player on the sideline with a receiver tuned to the same frequency who reported the Browns' plays to the New York defenders.
The Giants took advantage of the somewhat garbled reception to stop Cleveland, and afterward told the media about it. Bert Bell, National Football League commissioner at the time then banned the electronic device.
Members of the Oilers organization were traveling yesterday to Pittsburgh for Sunday's conference championship game and were reported unavailable to comment on Coryell's remarks.
A spokesman for the Oilers said the statuses of injured quarterback Dan Pastorini (groin), running back Earl Campbell (groin) and wide receiver Ken Burrough (tailbone) all had been upgraded to "probable" for the game against the Steelers.
Of an expected three-inch snowfall yesterday in Pittsburgh that was forecast to be followed by more snow Sunday, the spokesman said, "The Oilers are saying,'We're not playing the cold weather, we're playing the Steelers.'"
The Oilers were beaten by the Steelers for the American Conference title, 34-5, last year in snow, rain and subfreezing temperatures in Pittsburgh.