SI Vault
Paul Zimmerman
September 17, 1979
The Steelers' Monster defense played a tune on Houston, chasing Dan Pastorini from the game with an injury and stopping Earl Campbell cold in a 38-7 romp
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September 17, 1979

Pittsburgh Made Them Face The Music

The Steelers' Monster defense played a tune on Houston, chasing Dan Pastorini from the game with an injury and stopping Earl Campbell cold in a 38-7 romp

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"Reminded me of the old days, out there today," someone said to Pastorini.

"Yeah, me too," Pastorini said. "I was hoping I'd never see those days again."

The old days officially ended for the Oilers when they got Campbell last year. Teams couldn't gang up on Pastorini anymore, not when he had a hammer of Thor like Campbell on his side. But Campbell had no place to run in Pittsburgh. He is at his best when he sees a small crack in the line, when he fires into it low and hard—a deadly stump of a projectile—breaking arm tackles like a guy going through a turnstile, cutting back, knocking over off-balance linebackers, punishing people. Campbell takes his worst beatings when the linebackers and defensive backs can meet him head-on, just on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Then no one wins. But he's least effective when he sees no daylight and has to pick and dance, the thing Franco Harris does so well. On such occasions Campbell gets overrun, as he did in Pittsburgh; only one of his 16 runs produced more than four yards, and five times he failed to gain even a yard.

"I feel fine right now; I'm not banged up or anything," Campbell said. "Maybe I shouldn't feel this way. I feel like I was kind of lucky, not getting beaten up more. They were well prepared. Their front four had the holes closed. I can't pinpoint one thing, I just didn't have anywhere to run, you know?"

Mike Wagner, the Steelers' free safety, said, "I think I have a better view of Earl than anyone on the field. When I read run, my first key is to find the hole, then Campbell. When it's him, I know it's gonna hurt, and I get ready for the jolt. But today...well, it was weird. I'd see a surge of people, and I'd be waiting for Campbell to pop out somewhere, but he didn't pop. I mean, I thought he'd pop through at least once, but he just didn't. There'd be the surge, and our defensive line would be taking the block, and then everything would close down and Campbell never came out.

"Wisdom tells me that if my front four is doing such a great job stopping the run, the pass rush has to suffer. So I thought: O.K., I'll just worry about my coverages. But then the line put so much pressure on Pastorini that he was throwing to his receivers before they were into their breaks. That's how I got my two interceptions. It was just awesome what those guys did up front. It kind of gives you a feeling of invincibility."

Strangely, the Steelers went into the game feeling anything but invincible up front. Tackle Joe Greene was coming off a sore knee that had kept him out of the Steelers' 16-13 sudden-death win over New England on Monday night. Tackle Steve Furness had a jammed toe. And an injury to End L. C. Greenwood's right knee had forced him from the New England game. On paper, Greenwood's replacement, Tom Beasley, was the weak link in the Steeler front. But as Penn State grows linebackers and Southern Cal grows tailbacks, the Steelers grow defensive linemen; Beasley, a 25-year-old, third-year man out of Virginia Tech, stopped Campbell twice on third-and-short with solo tackles—he had a remarkable 11 in all—and kept the steadiest pressure on Pastorini.

"The Oilers' favorite short-yardage play comes right at me—the 34-lead-C, with Campbell carrying and the fullback leading," said the 6'5", 253-pound Beasley, who has a light, sandy mustache and beard and. notes the Steeler press guide, is "aided by exceptionally long arms." "You play your man head-up and try to shut down Earl's lanes. You can't flag him as he comes through or he'll tear your arms off." Beasley smiled. "Just basic football, you know?"

It's a proud, intense rivalry, the Oilers vs. Steelers, and now Houston has a 38-7 rallying point for the Dec. 10 rematch in the Astrodome. The teams are old friends of a sort. Elvin Bethea, Houston's defensive right end, has lined up against Jon Kolb, Pittsburgh's offensive left tackle, 20 times. "It's amazing, we've faced each other so much and I still don't know what the man looks like behind that face mask," Bethea says. "Maybe I don't want to know."

Steeler Center Mike Webster has played against Oiler Middle Guard Curley Culp 12 times. "I've been following Curley's career ever since I was in high school," Webster says. "I was on my school's wrestling team when Curley was an NCAA heavyweight champ at Arizona State. We had an article about him posted on our bulletin board. He must be a very interesting person. Hell, he's the master of the nose-guard position. But I've only met him once. It was at the Pro Bowl. I said, 'How are you?' and he said, Tine, how are you?' and that was it."

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