- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The Pittsburgh Steelers are doing it with mirrors. They're also doing it with a pair of no-named receivers, Calvin Sweeney and Gregg Garrity, and an offensive line that averages 6'2½"—the shortest line in the NFL—and features such household names as Rick Donnalley and Tunch Ilkin. They're doing it with Cliff Stoudt at quarterback and with a defense that has, oh, maybe four or five guys you've heard of and is a shifting force field employing as many as 19 different players on a single series.
Eleven games into the schedule it's clear that Chuck Noll is in the midst of his finest coaching job in 15 seasons in Pittsburgh. Last Friday, two days before the Steelers beat Baltimore 24-13 for their seventh straight win, someone asked Colts Coach Frank Kush if he realized that he and Noll were among the leading candidates for NFL Coach of the Year. It was a logical enough question, because Kush had been working miracles of his own, lifting last year's winless Colts to within one game of the AFC East lead. "Chuck can give one away, he's won so many," Kush said, meaning Coach of the Year awards.
Now wait just one minute, Frank. Hardly anybody wins Coach of the Year for four Super Bowl triumphs, which, of course, Noll—and no one else—has had. Tom Landry hasn't won Coach of the Year for keeping the Dallas Cowboys in the hunt for the last 18 years. Coach of the Year is an emotional award. The rags-to-riches guys make it, the fellows who take a dog and turn it into a playoff team. The elite are taken for granted, and Noll, very much a member of the elite, has never won the award for the entire NFL.
But the '83 Steelers are 9-2, tied with Dallas and the Washington Redskins for the best record in pro football, running away in the AFC Central, and nobody quite knows how Noll is doing it.
After Sunday's victory Noll was asked, "What do you think of your Steelers now?" He made a face. The NFL history book is filled with the sad stories of November hotshots that faded down the stretch. "I think there are still five games left to play," he said.
"If you could capsulize this Pittsburgh team in a word, how would you do it?" someone else asked him.
"Adaptable," he said.
This is what the Steelers have had to adapt to:
Last April, Jim Smith, their long-ball receiving threat and the heir apparent to Lynn Swann, went to the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL, and starting Left Tackle Ray Pinney joined the Michigan Panthers. In March, Quarterback Terry Bradshaw had an operation to repair a torn muscle in his throwing arm. Bradshaw has yet to suit up this season. A few weeks ago his rehabilitation had progressed to the point that he was throwing for two hours a day, but then he strained a triceps and hasn't thrown since. If Bradshaw makes it back for the playoffs it would be a bonus, but no one's counting on it. Moving right along....
John Stallworth, a Pro Bowl wide receiver, missed six games with a sore hamstring. The Steelers got him back for one game, and then last Thursday in practice he went down again with a sprained ankle. The offensive line hasn't looked the same from one week to the next. Center Mike Webster and Tackle Ted Petersen are the only starters who haven't been out of the lineup. Larry Brown, the Pro Bowl right tackle, has missed the last six games with a bad leg.