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On Oct. 20 Pittsburgh was rocked by tragedy when 6'2", 293-pound rookie Defensive Tackle Gabriel Rivera, the Steelers No. 1 draft choice, was critically injured in an auto accident in North Hills. He's still in Allegheny General Hospital. Doctors fear permanent paralysis from the chest down.
Somehow, through all the adversity, the Steelers tightened the straps and drew everything together. Starting at quarterback after six years on the bench, Stoudt has had his ups and downs. He has heard his share of boos. No one will forgive him for not being Bradshaw. Nonetheless, Stoudt has managed to keep his composure—and his sense of humor. "On Halloween I went out disguised as a quarterback," he said a couple of weeks ago. "No one recognized me."
In the season opener Denver had intercepted him three times. "What did you learn from your first start?" someone asked him.
"How to tackle," he said.
Another time Stoudt was asked to name his favorite charity.
"Defensive backs," he said.
While the Pittsburgh offense continues to have its shortcomings, the defense keeps making big plays. It went into the Colt game as the No. I-ranked unit in the NFL, and, what's more, it had come up with seven touchdowns this year, a figure that Defensive Coach Woody Widenhofer calls "shocking." Before this season the most defensive TDs a Noll-coached team had scored was two.
It's a curious mix, this edition of the Steeler defense, led by 10-year veteran Jack Lambert, who's still playing middle linebacker at All-Pro level, and manned largely by ambitious youngsters such as Defensive End Keith Willis, a second-year free agent out of Northeastern, whose 13 sacks are a club record.
There was an oldtime flavor as the Steelers flew into Baltimore. For the first time in six years the Colts, at 6-4, had a contending team. Fortified by an influx of some 20,000 fans from Pittsburgh, Memorial Stadium was sold out for the first time since December 1981. "We always know the Pittsburgh fans," said a doorman at the downtown Hilton. "Their luggage is Iron City beer."
On Saturday night, Colts' owner Bob Irsay was interviewed on local TV. "If someone said 'playoff to you, what would you say?" he was asked.