- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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"The two things to remember." he said, "is that Atkinson isn't the only one who likes to intimidate people. I've done a few things in my career that I'm not exactly proud of. Two years ago in the Super Bowl against Dallas I tackled Preston Pearson, and then as I was getting up I kneed him in the chest. It's just one of those things you do because you get carried away with the emotion of the game. I'm sure George Atkinson didn't say to himself before our game with them last year, 'Well, today I'm going to go out there and hit Lynn Swann in the head.' The thing is, we don't have 45 angels, either. If you hate a team it's because they beat you on the scoreboard."
For most of the first half it was volleyball in the secondary as both Stabler's and Bradshaw's passes bounced off assorted shoulder pads. A near-catch would instantly become a near-interception and then a near-catch again as a couple of bodies went hurtling through the air.
Oakland might well have scored two touchdowns if the gods of deflection had treated the Raiders more kindly. Once, Mike Siani, taking over at wide receiver for Cliff Branch, who had turned his ankle in the game's early moments, was racing into the Pittsburgh end zone along with Steeler Cornerback Mel Blount. Blount went up and appeared to have intercepted Stabler's bomb. No, what he had done was tip it into Siani's hands. But what Siani did, as he went sprawling, was lose control of the ball. High drama for several seconds, but ultimately just another incompletion.
Much funnier was the deep sideline pass that Stabler lofted toward a wonderfully wide open Casper on the Steeler 15. Here came the ball, there was Casper and the play had six points engraved on it. Then along came Biletnikoff at the last second to stretch out an arm and wiggle his fingers and tip the ball away from Casper. It was a brilliant defensive maneuver, and Casper, who caught five other passes from Stabler, finally came up empty. The only thing wrong, of course, is that Biletnikoff and Casper are on the same side.
Actually, the most astonishing play of the first half came very early—on Pittsburgh's first possession, in fact. And, if you care to be cruel about it, it wound up being Pittsburgh's only hint of an offense in the first 30 minutes. It was right out of Jock Sutherland or Pop Warner—a fake punt. Not only that, the Steelers used it on fourth down at their own 36-yard line. From punt formation, Reggie Harrison, ostensibly in to block for Kicker Bobby Walden, took the short snap, darted off to his left and sprinted 33 yards. In the pros, you see this sort of gamble about as often as you see a general manager smile during a contract negotiation.
The Steelers moved to Oakland's 15 in that drive, but then they tried to run wide. Rocky Bleier did not get much in two carries, and on third down Tatum made Franco Harris look as if he had run into a wall. No gain. Roy Gerela, with a chance to give the Steelers a 3-0 lead, then missed a field goal attempt from 29 yards.
When Tatum hit Harris, it brought about the game's first display of emotion, the type of act that was supposed to be routine in this contest. Tatum got up after the tackle and slammed Franco's feet to the rug. A rumble of disapproval rose from the stadium. Disapproval from Pittsburgh's fans has the same sound as a skyscraper crumbling. Tatum appeared to speak harshly to Harris at the time, but after the game he insisted he had said nothing. "He shoved me and I shoved back," Tatum said. "I'm not a bad guy, like people say."
The best chance for both squads to erupt from the bench and do unkind things to each other's face masks came in the second quarter. The occasion was a nonfight between the Steelers' Walden and Oakland rookie Lester Hayes, who had rushed him on a fourth-down punt. All Hayes did after Walden got the kick away was reverse his role and block Walden, who didn't like it, for some reason, and went after Hayes. Had Hayes defended himself more earnestly, a gang war might have resulted. But the rookie did a nice job of keeping his temper, and the incident passed.
In the end, the most prophetic of all the players was the Raiders' Warren Bankston, a reserve tight end who once played for the Steelers. "Yeah, it's pretty frightening in this stadium when all those people start hollering," he said before the game. "But you know how we'll cure that? We'll score. It's amazing how quiet the Pittsburgh crowd gets when you score on 'em."
And Three Rivers Stadium was indeed a rather quiet place last Sunday night when the Oakland Raiders departed for home, looking very much as though they could play their next 12 games waist-deep in the Monongahela and still get to the playoffs.