- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
I backed off, took a little run and butted Mean Joe Greene right in the numbers. Really. I had sneaked down onto the Steelers' sideline during the last two minutes of their Super Bowl victory, which I felt a part of. On a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED assignment I had spent the whole 1973 season hanging around with the Steelers, on the sidelines and in a lot of other places, to write a book called About Three Bricks Shy of a Load...The Year the Pittsburgh Steelers Were Super but Missed the Bowl. Now, with the clock ticking down, the Steelers were about to consign my title to ancient history. I had more or less taken the position in my book that being humane, or something, was better than winning. Now that my friends had the Bowl all but sewed up, I could see that ultimate victory did have a certain charm, and I was doing my best to join aptly in the exultation. From up in the stands it may look easy, the exultation. But I was burdened by a little red-and-blue bag I had been given in the auxiliary press box. Inside the bag were wadded-up mimeographed play-by-plays and the remains of my press lunch: strange sandwiches called "muffelettes" and some other things, chicken fingers, I think. It is complicated to tote muffelette scraps and embrace Ernie (Arrowhead) Holmes at the same time.
Holmes is the only person I know who is 6'3", weighs 260, has a big gold tooth and wears his hair shaved off except for what forms the head of an arrow pointed at you. Later that night at the Steeler party I was reminded of how unsettling Holmes looks when I said to two different people, "That's Ernie Holmes over there, you want to meet him?" and each of them said, "Oh my God." Two years before the Super Bowl, in a serious emotional crisis, he had shot at a policeman in a helicopter. During the Super Bowl he was largely responsible for reducing the Vikings' offensive line to quivering jelly. Two weeks before the Super Bowl he had been telling me to "get away" in an ominous tone. Now, I just shut the muffelettes, and to some extent the jelly, out of my mind and grabbed Holmes and bounced around with him. And beat on L.C. Greenwood, who off the field wears a gold medallion given him by a lady, which has "TFTEISYF" on it, which stands for "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." And did the grip with Mel Blount—under whose picture in the local paper my name had appeared once that week—and tried to outglow Dwight White and yelled, "Moon! Moon! Moon!" at Moon Mullins and slapped the shoulder pads of Andy Russell, who slapped my shoulders (another problem: no pads) and cried, "You're a part of all this!" I guess I would have felt better if I had been celebrating the signing of an eternal amity pact among all the nations of the world, but I don't know.
Greene and Terry Bradshaw hugged each other. During these last minutes Bradshaw and his quarterback rivals Terry Hanratty and Joe Gilliam and their hard coach Chuck Noll and six cameras all had their noses or lenses within inches of each other, figuring the next play or recording the figuring, and they were all grinning, even the cameras. Greene and Holmes bent way over from the waist and bumped their heads together triumphantly.
The Steelers had the game wrapped up, and I wasn't feeling objective at all. The final gun went off and we all roiled around like an invading army that had just started to whoop after taking a castle, and Greene and Franco Harris picked Noll up on their shoulders and—behold, the winning smile on Noll's face. I had never seen Noll's mouth so wide open. It was as though the Dragon Lady had gone all soft around the eyes and said, "Oh, baby." Glorying, I headed off the field with the players and got nearly crushed between Greene and the Vikings' Carl Eller, who were being crowded by yelping, snatching fans, but who said to each other, emotionally, respectfully, something profound, which in retrospect I believe was "Good game." I looked for Ray Mansfield, the Steelers' newly famous center, so I could pound on him, but I didn't see him until afterward in the press interview tent, which looked alarmingly like a sideshow—Steelers in blood-spotted white-and-gold suits, standing on platforms above milling, curious reporters. "How does it feel?" "What do you weigh?" Right after the gun, Mansfield told me later, he had been busy retrieving the ball, which was lying on the field unnoticed. "Players were running right past it. Even fans," he said. "All of us had been fighting for it so long, and now it was just lying there. It looked kind of sad." He gave it to Russell, who presented it to Art Rooney, who had been wanting it for 42 years.
Up in the stands Julie Marks, 12, a friend of mine who had never seen a football game before but had been yelling "Deee-fense!" at the top of her lungs, also noticed the ball lying free and then Mansfield carrying it away. "Do you think," she asked her mother, "they would give it to me?"
Everybody wants to get into the act. I was into it because of my book, copies of which had reached the players at about the time—early this past December—when the team, which had been on-again, off-again, suddenly became a juggernaut. I feel that some, if not most, of the credit for this transformation should go to the players and the coaches, and perhaps to Radio Rich, who has 34 radios in his room at the Pittsburgh Y and has been hanging around the Steelers longer than I have; but on the afternoon before the Super Bowl, Greene did offer an unsolicited testimonial. I had brought Reggie Jackson of the Oakland A's into a small room-shaking festivity involving Greene, Holmes and Dwight (Mad Dog) White, who had a viral infection. "This guy's book had something to do with us being here," Greene told Jackson. "He raised some bleep that he dug."
I don't know what specific bleep I could pinpoint as helpful, but the great thing was that I had been acknowledged as...a factor. Me, a factor. Like the wind and the turf and the cartilage in the running backs' knees. Like all the other press during the week leading up to Super Bowl IX, I had often felt the urge to mutter "IX, SCHMIX," or when some player or coach said, "It's only another game," to rise up and shout, "It certainly is!" But when you see yourself as a factor, your attitude changes.
Professor studies super bowl, says has myth quality read the headline in the New Orleans Times-Picayune on Thursday morning before the game. Andy Russell was reading the story aloud at breakfast. "Sociologically speaking," said the lead, "the Super Bowl is a 'propaganda vehicle' which strengthens the American social structure."
"I can't stand that stuff!" Greene shouted.
"More than a game, it is a spectacle of mythical proportions which becomes a 'ritualized mass activity,' says Michael R. Real, assistant professor of communications at the University of California at...."