Later Mansfield ate his eggs, and then some of my eggs, in a late-night hash house in Pittsburgh and told me this: "In college they'd say, 'Mansfield, you're fat and last." They wanted me to run hard all the way, but I'd hang back and beat everybody in the last minute. They had guys built like Greek gods who couldn't block, and I got stomach hanging over my belt and I knock hell out of people. I didn't get the MVP my senior year—a guy who was nice did. That's what I like about myself: coaches don't like me. I like to have a good time. But I do the job anyway.
"I'm getting at the stage now where I have to worry about losing my physical ability. My neck hurts so bad sometimes I think about killing myself. I know I'll be a cripple by the time I'm 50. But if that's what it takes, all right. When I was growing up my family never had anything. I want to enjoy life. Next to love, football is the thing I like most."
And right after the playoff loss, in the dressing room before his sweat was dry, I talked to Russell. Russell, who used to be one of the game's great hunch-playing blitzers, but who had sacrificed much of his abandon to Noll's disciplined team-play system. Russell, who surely can't be playing for money, because he makes twice as much in business as in football. Russell, who on a tour of Vietnam, finding himself in a barracks vulnerable to attack, spent the night on its steps with a rifle and a martini.
That was the Russell who after the playoff defeat spoke literally of ecstasy: "I was into that game. There was no other world outside it. There was nothing. That's the thrill."
"Does that make it hard to lose?"
"No—easier. You know you gave it all you had. Some games you're distracted by an injury or something, and you get down on yourself, question your character. This game—I was into the game. We lost. But all I could think afterward was 'Goddam, I had fun.' "
And so I guess did all of that frothing crowd, and maybe even Noll, and so journalistically and personally did I, the detached scribe, who had thrown my arm around Russell's shoulder pads on the sidelines as defeat loomed, and so did the fan back home in Pittsburgh who wrote:
I like your team. I watched all of your games, pittsBurgh when you lost to Oklalang I think it was are right and Because you Bet them 3 times so what well pittsBurgh I am very glad that I am a fan of your team well pittsBurgh I am glad I wrote this letter well I guess Id, Better go well Bye. Bye.
Love your fan
(PS) I love your team.
"It's some game," Russell said. "It's a great game. It's not like going to play a game of squash."