Quarterback Dan Pastorini smelled a blitz, and he audibled into the 99 play, a two-step pattern. He takes two steps back and lofts the ball to Mike Renfro, the flanker on the right side, who has to run under it. Ron Johnson covers him.
Renfro caught the ball in the far right corner of the end zone, planting his right foot inbounds, dragging his left toe barely inside the stripe. From the ground, Renfro looked to Don Orr, the side judge who was on the play, for a call. Nothing. The deep freeze. Donald Orr, a ninth-year official, is executive vice-president of a Nashville machine company.
"What's the call?" Renfro yelled.
"What the hell is it?" Renfro yelled. Orr very tentatively crossed his hands in front of him one time, the no-touchdown sign. He was looking over to Bill O'Brien, the field judge, for help. Sorry, Don, no help coming. Your call, buddy.
"I was in dismay," Renfro said. "I couldn't believe he wouldn't call the play. I thought maybe the play had been whistled dead, that everybody else had stopped playing and they were just watching me and Ron Johnson out there. It made me sick. It confounded me. I said to the official, 'You're paid pretty good money to make a call. You shouldn't be out here today.' He had that starry-eyed look. He was looking right through me, over to the other official. He said something about wanting help. He said, 'We're gonna have to talk about it.' "
The officials huddled. "Right then I knew we were dead," said Oiler Coach Bum Phillips. "No way we're gonna come out on top in one of those huddle deals. Not in Pittsburgh. In Houston, maybe we'd win it."
"Another officials' huddle," one Oiler said. "Seems like they were huddling all day today. I expected them to break one of those huddles and run a play—Umpire Right or something."
In his box, Steeler owner Art Rooney shook his head. "When in doubt, call a meeting," he said. "Just like the U.N."
Finally a ruling. No touchdown. The receiver did not have possession of the ball. No possession. The cop-out call.