These are four teams that know the difference between lame and fame is not just one letter.
It's also, quite possibly, one year.
To wit, the Cincinnati Bengals energized from 6-10 and last place in 1980 to 12-4 and the Super Bowl in 1981. In other 1981 divisional developments, Houston went from a three-in-a-row playoff team to 7-9 and out. Cleveland turned an 11-5 division title into a 5-11 finish.
As for Pittsburgh, 1981 meant 8-8 and the first nonwinning season in nine years. During this offseason, retirement has claimed Joe Greene, Jon Kolb and Sam Davis, chucking them onto the heap that Rocky Bleier, Mike Wagner and Dwight White formed in 1980.
For the Bengals, 1981 was the year of the improbable. Ken Anderson, 33 years old, was removed because of inefficiency in Game 1. He returned to set Bengal passing records for throws (479), completions (300), yards (3,754) and touchdowns (29). Rookie Cris Collinsworth (69 receptions) and tight end Dan Ross (71) joined running back Pete Johnson (1,077 yards), who moves linebackers and first-down chains, in leading an offense of equilibrium.
In Pittsburgh, Terry Bradshaw had a productive 1981 (22 touchdowns, 14 interceptions). Yet, Bradshaw has added injury to age. He broke a hand against Oakland in Week 14 after hurting his hands several other times the past two years.
Another backfield bastion is Franco Harris (11th year), who is 898 yards behind O.J. Simpson, No. 2 on the NFL's career rushing list. Running back Walter Abercrombie, Pittsburgh's top pick, from Baylor, will get the opportunity to start. Most of the name players (Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, part-timer L.C. Greenwood) are in their 30s, playing for the team of the '70s in the 1980s.
In Houston, Ken Stabler is gone from an offense that was often gone in third-down situations last year, ranking fifth-worst in the NFL in points scored. Gifford Nielsen, the five-year veteran with half-year career stats (nine touchdowns, six interceptions), will take over. Meanwhile, No. 2 pick Oliver Luck (West Virginia) might move up.
Top pick Mike Munchak (Penn State) will become part of an offensive line that was munched for 40 sacks last season. Earl Campbell seeks his fifth straight 1,000-yard season. Linebacker Gregg Bingham leads a defense that yielded too many yards rushing (150.7) and passing (207) per game.
Cleveland Coach Sam Rutigliano says, "Us believing we are a playoff contender is not 'Fantasy Island' material." Reality was harsh last year. The offense, led by quarterback Brian Sipe, produced a team-record 5,915 yards, but only 276 points, fourth-worst in the league.
With Lyle Alzado and Robert L. Jackson traded, the new key defensive names are Tom ($3.5-million contract) Cousineau, acquired from Canada, and top pick Chip Banks (USC).