SI Vault
Ron Reid
December 11, 1972
Behind the running of Franco Harris, a multicultural rookie back, Pittsburgh takes over first place in the AFC Central Division
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December 11, 1972

Black And Gold Soul With Italian Legs

Behind the running of Franco Harris, a multicultural rookie back, Pittsburgh takes over first place in the AFC Central Division

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Against the Browns, they intercepted Mike Phipps once, tackled him four times for 32 yards in losses and recovered a pair of fumbles by Linebacker Andy Russell—all of which gave Pittsburgh its first shutout victory since 1963. Phipps, whose wife Carole was expecting a baby at any moment, labored through a day as grim as his effigy, which hung near the scoreboard. He completed but nine of 20 passes for 59 yards, as the Browns never crossed the 50-yard line after the first quarter, when Cockroft missed a 37-yarder.

As decisive, however, as the defeat was for Cleveland, the Browns' chances of making the playoffs remain very real. Their record is now 8-4, and their two closest contenders for the wild-card vacancy, Cincinnati and the New York Jets (both 7-5), are precisely the two teams left on the Cleveland schedule. The Browns must play both of these games on the road, though. And if they should make it to the playoffs they will face the additional hardship of then having to meet Miami in the Orange Bowl in the opening round.

The Browns upset Pittsburgh 26-24 when they met a couple of weeks ago in Cleveland, and last Sunday's game did not become a rout until the second half. The Steelers opened the scoring with a Gerela field goal in the first quarter—and then only because Russell recovered a fumble by Cleveland's Bo Scott. Harris scored his first touchdown in the second quarter, bulling over from a yard out after a 57-yard drive, but that meant it was still only 10-0 at the half, and as much as Franco's Italian Army kept cheering for him to run up another 100-yard game, the wild crowd kept a wary eye out for a Cleveland comeback. "Dee-fense, dee-fense!" the fans kept chanting, in their best, and most misplaced, basketball fashion.

Harris pretty much settled things in the third quarter when he slashed 11 yards for his second touchdown—and 10th of the season—to put the Steelers up 17-0, and he was later rewarded with a standing ovation when he reached 100 yards. Pittsburgh poured it on in the last quarter, Gerela booting two long field goals for his gorillas, and Quarterback Terry Bradshaw throwing a 78-yard touchdown pass to Tight End John McMakin.

In the whole game, Bradshaw only passed 17 times, while the Steeler runners rushed on 43 plays. Bradshaw not only has Harris to hand off to, but also Frenchy Fuqua, who has accumulated 564 yards so far this season himself. "I never thought I'd like playing for a running team, but I really do," Bradshaw says. "I didn't have a very good understanding of the running game since I'd been a passing quarterback all through college and my two seasons here, but with Franco and Frenchy to set up the pass, I have more time to throw."

And, more to the point, after all the bleak years the fans at last have more occasion to cheer. "These people have just been too much. They have been a definite factor in our success," says Linebacker Russell. "It will be that much more disappointing if we don't make it after finally coming so close."

In fact, almost everybody in Pittsburgh is talking about the team now. Last Thursday night at Buddies, one of the better watering holes and body shops in the city, a blonde young thing began to rave on about the beloved Steelers. "And that Irishman, Frank O'Harris," she cooed. "I just love him."

By any name, it's a sweeter season in Pittsburgh.

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