In the half-light Friday night, as the Washington Redskins resumed their three-year search for electricity, the Pittsburgh Steelers looked strangely recognizable. No. 88, Michigan rookie Chris Calloway, juggled a catch in the manner of Lynn Swann. No. 20, Dwight Stone, dipped his shoulder like Rocky Bleier. No. 82, Derek Hill, did a passable impression of John Stallworth.
Does assistant coach Joe Greene ever think he is seeing ghosts? "No, the jerseys that aren't out there are the ones that belong to the ghosts," he said. "I kind of like to see the old numbers, to be honest, especially when the wearers perform well. Hell yeah. I wish there was a 75. If your shirt is still on the field, it makes you feel a little less dead."
The Steelers of Mean Joe Greene and four Super Bowl championships are far from dead. In the August ceremony that annually signals another kickoff, two more demigods were assumed into Art Rooney's condominium at Canton. That makes six Hall-of-Famers off one enduring team -- tackle Greene, linebacker Jack Ham, cornerback Mel Blount, quarterback Terry Bradshaw, fullback Franco Harris and linebacker Jack Lambert -- with at least receiver Swann and center Mike Webster to come, if not a third linebacker, Andy Russell. Even combining riches, the Redskins and 49ers will never match them.
From Washington's Super Bowl teams, fullback John Riggins and receiver Art Monk seem sure to wear mantles one day. If a backup kicker isn't considered superfluous, onetime MVP Mark Moseley could join Lou Groza in heaven. Guard Russ Grimm might get a few votes. "Don't forget Joe Theismann," said Sam Huff, one of the members. "Quarterbacks always get a few votes." From an adjoining cloud, Sonny Jurgensen inquired again: "What about Larry Brown?" But he was leaning back too far. Riggins and Monk make two.
Besides Joe Montana, San Francisco is surprisingly short on saints: defensive back Ronnie Lott, probably; pass-catcher Jerry Rice, possibly. "You have to remember one thing," Greene said, "and almost nobody does. We were essentially the same team for our four Super Bowls. The 49ers have been at least three teams, maybe four."
They have been a magician's box of changeable parts. The first 49ers champion was a defensive club founded on the pass rush of Fred Dean, an itinerant capitalist who had fulminated his way out of San Diego. For a running game, San Francisco made do with Earl Cooper and Lenvil Elliott until Nebraskans Roger Craig and Tom Rathman were graduated. Momentarily, Cooper altered his number from 49 to 89, became a receiver and started a trend.
Hacksaw Reynolds, a Ram near the end of his career, gave way to Matt Millen, a Raider near the end of his. They might have been the same linebacker. End Dwight Clark threw a farewell salute to his old crony Montana just as Rice was introducing himself. Meanwhile, Randy Cross kept shifting over one cubicle in the offensive line until finally he fell out completely and wasn't desperately missed. In the ultimate transition, coach Bill Walsh yielded last year to George Seifert without disturbing anything. The 49ers have been a great organization in the '80s, and a lot of wonderful teams.
"I thought the Bears might be like us," Greene said, "but they couldn't keep it going. I don't know why. Outstanding teams come along -- the Giants are another -- that look poised to win for a while. But the same crew isn't able to stretch it out anymore. It seems to have become necessary to change faces. I don't know where we got our consistency. No, I do know: Chuck Noll. But there was something inside us too that kept pushing us over the top."
As a coach, Greene is more devoted than ever to the interior man. "I don't try to motivate young players as much as I try to get them to motivate themselves," he said. " 'Just listen,' I tell them, 'and give me an honest effort. If you don't understand something, ask. If I don't understand something, tell me.' I never start off demanding, 'Do it my way.' I begin: 'Let's try it your way. But if your way happens to fail, then we'll take a shot at mine.' The funny thing is, if they reach down far enough into themselves, their way often works."
He thinks the burden of their heritage is "easing up" on the young Steelers. "It is a burden, though," he said. "Last year, when we got off to such a bad start, I tried to talk to them about battle scars, take them back to the horrible old Steelers, show them how everybody has to start someplace and Steelers usually start at the bottom. When they bounced back to have a tremendous, growing year, you could almost hear a click of understanding."
Observing from the sidelines, Greene finds the game less violent than he remembers, the opposite reaction from most retirees. "The players are bigger, faster, stronger, and there are more of them," he allowed, "but the game doesn't look as rough to me for some reason. People don't want it to be too rough anymore. Maybe that's it."
Not that he misses the throbbing. "At its best, coaching is really satisfaction without pain," he said, "but a little roughness never hurt. Roughness is showing up for the big games. Roughness is hanging in there no matter what. When the Hall of Fame dials your number, you want to be home to take the call. The rough guys are always home."