Like many of us, Terry Bradshaw thought Mike Renfro caught the ball in the end zone late in the third quarter.

"I was just watchin' it," the Steeler quarterback said, "and I thought it was a touchdown. But the guy (side judge Donald Orr) never raised his arms. He should be able to make the call, one way or the other."

Like many of us, Bradshaw thought the nullification important but not ultimately decisive.

"I thought: 'So they score; we'll just score again.' They had to stop us and they didn't. Not once, but twice. They were great, but my boys responded and got six at the end.

"They should have stopped us."

That is the attitude here, the feeling that the Steelers were going to find a way to win the AFC title today no matter what the circumstances, that they just might be subconsciously teasing us by allowing the Oilers to get ever so close to winning before saying: "No."

If Oiler fans want to argue that the pressure of having to break a 17-17 tie instead of padding a four-point lead might have caused Matt Bahr to miss from 39 yards on the possession after the Renfro controversy, Pittsburgh fans could counter by saying Bahr might not have had to try that field goal.

The added pressure of a tie might have inspired the Steelers to get a touchdown of their own. Hadn't they matched the Oilers point for point all afternoon, spotted them a touchdown early and come storming back, made every catch they needed every time that was absolutely necessary?

Still, the Steelers had been uncharacteristically tense before the game -- and Bradshaw surprisingly cautious much of the time after it began.

"It may have seemed as though we were loose (during practice all week)," said Rocky Bleier, "but we really weren't. There was a down undercurrent Thursday and Friday, especially Friday.

"There was not the enthusiasm everyone expected. It could have been taken for complacency -- but it was butterflies. We were nervous . . . the law of averages was not necessarily on our side, getting back-to-back appearances in the Super Bowl."

Bradshaw also sensed an odd pre-game mood.

"The Oilers were talking big," he said. "And that's just not their style.

It was mostly hearsay, I didn't read much of the papers, but then a couple of them came up to me and said: 'We're gonna kick your butts.'

"I said to Joe Greene: 'They never did anything like this before. We better get our act together.' But I couldn't get relaxed. I was a little cautious. I didn't want to make a mistake.

"And that's the kind of football that kills me. I didn't want an interception; I didn't want to miss a handoff. I was running three times (early in the third quarter), putting the pressure on the defense and hoping they'd respond.

"They did."

And then, with just under four minutes left and the Oilers still with a chance to send the game into overtime, with third and two from the Houston 37, Bradshaw became both bold and inventive.

In the huddle, he told the team he would audible at the line -- but to pay it no mind. He had called a play that was a spinoff of the audible he would call a few seconds later.

As Bradshaw stood over center Mike Webster, looked left and yelled "35 Trap" and then looked right and yelled "35 Trap", Bleier could see the Oilers becoming ever so confident, assuming the audible was a running play.

It was and it wasn't. The audible was a run, of course. But the Oilers ran the wrong way. Bleier was steaming downfield for the pass play Bradshaw, the sneak, had told the offense to run all along.

The only problem was Bradshaw. He was supposed to loft the ball to Bleier 20 or so yards downfield -- and Bleier was unbelievably open. But the pass was unbelievably short, like a Texas League popup, and wobbling. Only Bleier could catch it, but if he failed to stop, lunge back and hold on the Steelers would punt and give Houston one more chance.

Bleier made the pressure catch.

"Terry made a great play, but I just wish he hadn't made it so difficult by underthrowing," Bleier said. "But I figured if the wide receivers can make sliding catches I could."

He was referring to Lynn Swann, who made two sliding catches, one for a first down on third and 21 from the Steeler 25 during the drive immediately after the Renfro fuss.

And John Stallworth made a fine catch of a high ball in the end zone to give Pittsburgh a 17-10 lead 2 1/2 minutes before halftime. Customers -- and even some Steelers -- were not sure when the pass left Bradshaw's hands whether it was for Swann or Stallworth.

Swann was cutting left near the goal line; Stallworth was cutting right near the back line.

"That was the same play I threw the interception on," Bradshaw said. The interception (that Vernon Perry returned 75 yards for a touchdown) was intended for tight end Benny Cunningham, the touchdown pass for Stallworth, Bradshaw said, "because different coverage takes you to different folks."

Even Bradshaw was concerned that Swann would spoil the play, that his leap would be high enough to deflect the ball from Stallworth.

"When I let her go," Bradshaw said, "I thought, 'Oh, my God, is it high enough?' Lynn went up and Stallworth came down with it. So we got lucky."