Hank Stram was acclaimed for his innovations of a moving pass pocket, triple-stacked I formation, and nose tackle on defense when his Kansas City Chiefs won the fourth Super Bowl.
He was to take a lot of ribbing when he forecast his attacking style would be the "offense of the 70s," but he does have a knack for coming up with catch phrases.
He calls the San Diego Chargers practioners of "contemporary football" or "fast-break football" and the fan gets the idea.
The Chargers' quick-shifting and quick-hitting passing formations are not the total answer. The Redskins smothered their patterns. San Diego had to go into overtime to beat rookie David Woodley and a Miami team in transition. It is the concept that appeals to the fans, because of the entertainment in promises.
The Chargers are attracting attention as the model of teams that are exploiting the rule changes designed to encourage more passing, offense, and scoring; clubs such as Dallas, with 454 points, New England, 441, San Diego, 418, and Atlanta, 405. Pittsburgh was the leader in 1979, with 416 points, but fell to 352 this year.
The Steelers' problems, other than the obvious epidemic of injuries to their big-play producers, are the passage of time and the resulting erosion of speed in the secondary. There are 13 players aged 30 or older, 14 counting Rocky Bleier, who has announced his retirement. Safety Mike Wagner has been considering ending his career.
The Steelers ranked 11th in pass defense in the American Conference and were last in the league in sacking passers.
Those expecting a requiem for the Steelers are advised to postpone obituaries. No major overhaul is in prospect because the Steeler management thinks it can win again with a healthy Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Jack Lambert and Jack Ham. In fact, team leaders believe they could have won this season going away with no outstanding team in the AFC.
If Wagner retires, Ron Johnson will be moved from cornerback to safety, with more speed. Substitute defensive back Dwayne Woodruff, fastest on the squad, will start at cornerback with Mel Blount. The theory now is that the pass rush is a relic, because of liberalized rules favoring offensive linemen. "They are not just holding the defensive linemen," one coach says, "they are tackling them. That is why linebackers, and safeties, have to help rush the passers."
The surprise news is that the Steelers' No. 1 objective in the upcoming draft will be a running back. Franco Harris is 30, Bleier will be gone, and Greg Hawthrone, No. 1 pick for 1979, has not lived up to expectations. Sidney Thornton will be the big hope if he recovers from a back injury.
Surprisingly, no one is giving Stram credit for the fact that teams such as the Chargers are doing what he predicted in 1967 -- having quarterbacks who are accomplished athletes move around by design; putting immense pressure on defensive backs with men in motion more than ever before, from more formations, and from more shifting formations.
"Ask Ken Houston whether he would rather play against a wide receiver starting from a dead stop in a conventional formation, or against one coming out of one of several formations, or after being in motion," Stram suggested. "The defensive back has to run like hell these days, get the proper angle, and still not overpursue. It used to be the exception to the rule; now it's the rule. It's fun. Why wait till you're behind to throw? Variety is the spice of football. It's run-and-shoot football."