As I was getting some faint measure of feel for the game, the Steelers were losing theirs; it is hard to be intense in Palm Springs. Some interesting things happened. Art Rooney, the owner, used the term "bikinkies"—as in bikinky bathing suits; Joe Greene ate hot sauce until, according to some observers, steam rose from his head; a Steeler got a free massage at a local parlor by telling his masseuse she was under arrest; Van Dyke exemplified cold-blooded football humor by saying companionably to Bobby Walden, who'd been having an uneven season punting and was getting up in years, "Well, this is about it for you, huh, Bo?"
Van Dyke also confessed doubts on the part of the offense: "When we get down close to the goal, we're wondering if we can score. You're not just doing your job, you're asking yourself if you can score."
A sobbing anonymous father called the hotel from a Pittsburgh hospital to ask whether Greene and Linebacker Jack Ham would talk to his dying young son. They strained to hear the boy's weak voice. "We're going after those Raiders," Ham told him. "Are you going to watch the game?" The boy said he didn't know whether he would live long enough to. "Joe and I will come and watch you play football when you gel better," Ham said. The boy's answer was inaudible. Ham and Greene were shaken.
"The Raiders are just like any other bunch of kids who like to beat up another bunch of kids," said their great receiver, Fred Biletnikoff. But they were also the kids on whom the Steelers had perpetrated The Immaculate Reception in the playoffs the year before. And Oakland was where things had been so favorably wild for the Steelers six weeks before. On the way out onto the field Bradshaw slung his golden arm over my shoulder and sang a country song he said he'd written: "Hello, trouble...Come on in...Ain't had no trouble since you know when...." Whatever the sideline equivalent of being on the edge of your seat is, the Steelers were. I found myself sort of bouncing in place like the players, and stopped, feeling silly. The fans were primed. They were holding signs that said MURDER FRANCO and MEAN? JOE GREENE WEARS PANTY HOSE.
Just before the half Bradshaw hit Barry Pearson for a four-yard touchdown pass to make the score Oakland 10, Pittsburgh 7, and Van Dyke exclaimed, "We've got them now! And they know it. Oh, they may make it look good for the fans, but they know it." Surely the Steelers' winning nature would assert itself. Or the Raiders would choke. Somehow things would fit together.
They fit together for Oakland. During halftime Bradshaw nodded his head. "Yeah, yeah, yeah," as Noll tried to tell him what to do. In the third quarter the Raiders kicked two quick field goals and the Steeler offense didn't move. "We're trying to lose!" said Barry Pearson, as if he were a fan. "No sense in that!"
"We're getting beat across the board," said Defensive Tackle Steve Furness. "Offense and defense." The defense had been saving the offense all year; finally they both had gone flat.
"Could be a sad ending to your book," said Craig Hanneman.
"It isn't over yet," I said absurdly.
Franco Harris was pacing back and forth like a zoo lion whose knee hurt. L.C. Greenwood was sitting on the bench with his hands and arms swathed in thick peeling stained bandages like those on besieged Marines at Dak To in pictures in LIFE. His head was down. Linebacker Loren Toews got in a fight on the field, came off and was hit with a chocolate ice cream cone from the stands. Ice cream was all over the back of his head, mingling with sweat and grass and dirt and running down the cords of his neck. The fans whooped and laughed.