By the time the
1970 season was three games old and we had lost two and tied one, even our
Oakland writers had counted us out. One said the season "should be swept
under the rug immediately." But there are always criers of doom around, and
I try never to listen to them or talk to them. The pro football season lasts 14
games; only fools give up after three. I remember 1961 at Houston when we won
one of our first five games and everybody was counting us out and we came back
to win nine straight, the division championship and the league championship.
That's one reason I'm an optimist: I've seen too many "dead" teams come
out of the grave and win it all. Experience has taught me optimism. Or maybe
I'm just dumb.
When the gloomy
articles began to appear last year I worked harder than ever to put on a happy
face. I told the guys we were a much better team than our record showed, that
we'd been victimized by a crazy collection of bad breaks. Which was true.
Things like Charlie Smith running 65 yards for a touchdown against Miami and
the referee calling it back for holding. Things like getting penalized 140
yards a game. I felt the breaks had to start going our way. It never occurred
to me that we were anything but a first-place ball club.
We beat Denver
and Washington to even our record at 2-2-1, but we were still down in the
standings. Our sixth game of the season was against Pittsburgh, and we knew we
were in for trouble. The Steelers had beaten us easily in the exhibition
season, and they had allowed an average of only 13 points a game in the regular
season. They had that big kid, Terry Bradshaw, at quarterback and their defense
was anchored by Mean Joe Greene. It was a game I was dying to get in, but I
figured I had little chance. I knew all the guys would be watching on
television back at the VFW hall in Youngwood, Pa., my old home town. To those
guys Pittsburgh and Cleveland were the key teams in the NFL. If you could beat
Pittsburgh and Cleveland you were a pro. Everything else was vanilla.
started at quarterback, and Kenny (The Snake) Stabler and I did our thing on
the sidelines. We watched the Pittsburgh defense and tried to figure out how it
could be beaten. The game wasn't very old before we realized that the Steeler
secondary could be had short. It was leaving the middle wide open and it also
looked weak deep on the left side where our Warren Wells was working. We'd
noticed in game films that Pittsburgh seemed to red-dog by down and yardage,
and the game confirmed this.
Late in the first
quarter the score was 7-7, and The Snake and I were in conference when I heard
John Madden holler, "George, you're going in. Throw to Chester over the
I looked over and
there was Daryle limping around. It was that old back trouble of his, and he
could hardly move. I grabbed my helmet and ran out on the field and on the
first play I hit Ray Chester right over the middle for a 29-yard touchdown. The
play was called back for holding. On the next series of downs we faked a
running play and sent Warren Wells running like crazy right up the field. I cut
loose, and Wells and Pittsburgh Cornerback Mel Blount got to the ball at the
same time, but Warren caught it for a touchdown. Then we hit a field goal, and
soon after Chester caught a 19-yard touchdown pass. I wondered what the boys at
the VFW hall were thinking. We won the game 31-14 and everybody had played
In the dressing
room the reporters circled around my locker, but I refused to talk to them. I'd
had enough trouble with reporters. One of them wrote later: "One thing
about George, win or lose his disposition remains the same." Another wrote:
" Daryle Lamonica loused up the Pittsburgh Steelers. He didn't play." At
first glance that looked like a knock on Daryle, but it wasn't. What the writer
meant was that the Steelers had practiced all week against Daryle's style of
quarterbacking, and then they had to cope with something entirely different. As
Daryle explained it himself, "George throws the slants, the poles, the
quick stuff that he has all his life. They were preparing for me, for the long
and intermediate passes. George comes in, sets up shorter, throws quicker, and
it confuses their timing." I enjoyed those kind words, but I was even more
pleased by something my little brother John said after the game: "George,
we've always said you're the third-best quarterback in the family, but the way
you're developing we may have to move you up a notch."
The next week we
played at Kansas City and the game turned out to be a tag-team match, with Ben
Davidson squaring off against Otis Taylor of the Chiefs and some of the other
guys mixing it up. It got right down to the last few seconds with the Chiefs
ahead 17-14, and it looked like our only hope was going to be a long field goal
against the wind. It was cold and I hadn't played at all, and I was running up
and down the sidelines trying to get that elderly blood moving in that elderly
kicking leg. We were out of time-outs, but a Kansas City player got hurt and
that gave me a few extra minutes to rub up my leg, do some more deep knee bends
and knead those five ice cubes called toes. Then John Madden came over.
"George, we've got to kick it," he said. Daryle slapped me on the back
and said, "All you gotta do, George, is just hit it like you always do.
I'll give you a good hold."
The old optimist
said, "No problem. We got it." I wasn't whistling in the dark, either.
Ever since I'd missed a key kick at San Diego earlier in the season, my kicking
had been straight and sure, the best of my career.
We went out on
the field and Daryle kneeled at their 48-yard line. I looked the Kansas Cities
over. They had Buck Buchanan, all 6'7" of him, lined up in the middle. That
meant I had to get the ball off quick and up high, which would take some of the
distance off it.