Art Rooney was playing gin with Line Coach George Perles, in apparent equanimity. "Wait till next year," he said.
"A guy like me," said Defensive Back Dennis (Kamikaze) Meyer, meaning a marginal recklessly-disregard-your-small-body guy, "I don't know whether I'll have a next year."
"I'd call it a predictable ending," said Cornerback John Rowser. "With our offense, anything we got was a bonus." Several other defensive men agreed. They grumbled about Bradshaw's thinking, and Noll's.
"The terrible thing," said Mansfield later, "is that the defense didn't die on the beaches with their bayonets. They ran into the water and drowned. I think that's basic to the success of humanity—don't quit. What if the United States laid down in World War II?"
"It's like what Adlai Stevenson said after Eisenhower beat him so bad," Hanneman said. "He said he felt like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark. He said he was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh."
Players were taking belts out of various things to augment the two free beers. "Watch out for Noll," someone said. "He won't venture back into the pit," said someone else.
In the dressing room after the game, in his last '73 address to the team, Noll had been brief: "We're too good a team to be losing. We're going to take a long concentrated look at the season. We're going to find out where the mistakes came and why. All I can say is Merry Christmas." He didn't smile. "Merry Christmas," he said. Now he sat wordless up front staring straight ahead. He had lost. He would be criticized by fans and scouts and scribes.
When we reached Pittsburgh I said goodby to people, as though it were a high school graduation. "I can't drive back to Oregon in time for Christmas," Hanneman said blearily, solemnly. "Can't buy gas on Sunday. Hell, Christmas is just like any other day to me. It'll be the 12th year in a row I'll have Christmas by myself." His face was grim. "You know what I said about Stevenson...not crying? I said that, but I will. I'll break down before I take off in the car."
What kind of end was this for a year with hard-rolling men of contact? Something missing. Something missing. In a plane crowded with 250-pound people, not one image of fullness.
"Sometimes," Bradshaw had said earlier, "you'd like to go out there and really give them something to boo: have 20 interceptions, hand off to the wrong people, lose 100 to 0. Come off the field and the coach is laughing, everybody's hugging everybody, just having a good time."