"They talked all week about how they wanted George Atkinson," he said. "They think they can scare people with that crap. Their biggest problem is talk. Tell them to keep talking. I love it."
Ah, yes. The game was back where it started in the first place. In the mouth. Which brings up Pete Rozelle.
On behalf of the NFL, Rozelle could naturally be expected to strongly oppose Nazis, Communists, cocaine, Hustler magazine and child molesting, but a couple of weeks ago, with Oakland and Pittsburgh in mind, he added violence. An edict from his office stated: "Violence, as Webster defines it and as the public perceives it, is conduct characterized by extreme and sudden...unjust or improper force. It has no proper place in professional football."
Swell. But not a word about immaculate receptions, mysteriously split tarpaulins, Vaseline on jerseys, fans attacking tight ends and all of the varying forms of intimidation that have been a part of the Oakland- Pittsburgh series.
Touching briefly on some of the more fascinating incidents in the rivalry, we begin with Franco Harris' reception in the 1972 playoff game at Pittsburgh. Bradshaw threw this pass, you see, that was intended for Frenchy Fuqua. It either hit Fuqua or didn't, but officially the ruling was that Oakland's Jack Tatum knocked it down, only Harris caught it and ran for the touchdown that won the game. Films proved to be inconclusive, but Oakland still feels it was an illegal reception.
Next came the great grease scandal at Oakland in 1973. That was when the losing Steelers accused the Raiders of smearing Vaseline on their shirts and pants in order to make themselves harder to tackle. Rot, said Oakland boss Al Davis. However, a couple of Raiders, once they were ex-Raiders, whispered to some newsmen that it was true. And you know how journalists are. They wrote it. At the same time, the Steelers also suggested that the footballs supplied for the Raiders in Oakland—and only the Raiders—were not properly inflated, making them easier for Stabler to throw and for Biletnikoff to catch.
In 1974 Oakland Tight End Bob Moore encountered a hostile mob the night before the game near the Hilton Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. In their inimitable way, the Steeler fans put a gash in Moore's head, and he was unable to play. Now the Raiders stay at a suburban motel when they are forced to visit Pittsburgh.
The Ice Age playoff took place the following year. As they began the battle for the AFC championship, the Raiders were shocked to discover that Pittsburgh's tarpaulin had mysteriously split the night before, leaving the artificial turf as slippery as a hockey rink, which, in turn, took away Oakland's fanciest pass routes. Pittsburgh won.
And, finally, last season there was the Atkinson forearm on Swann's headgear, isolated, slow-motioned and rerun more often than Lucy in the kitchen.
With this background, it was anticipated that all of the pregame comments would be filled with anger and promises to maim everyone's grandmother. Instead, there was a good deal of chatting about mutual respect. Pittsburgh Linebacker Jack Lambert summed it up best for both teams.