Before the Los Angeles Raiders get carried away celebrating their 38-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC semifinal Sunday in the Coliseum, they should heed this bit of perspective from Matt Millen, their inside right linebacker:
" Pittsburgh played us today like they were favored by seven instead of being seven-point underdogs. Seattle will be playing like they're an underdog with nothing to lose."
Two very nasty gentlemen, Chuck Knox and Tom Catlin, must have been licking their chops.
Knox coaches the Seahawks, who'll meet L.A. for the AFC championship this Sunday. Catlin coaches the Seattle defense. This pair has never lost to the Raiders. They beat them when Knox was with the Rams and Catlin was his defensive mastermind. They beat them again when they teamed in Buffalo. And this season, when they popped up with the Seahawks, they beat them 38-36, giving Raider quarterback Jim Plunkett fits, and 34-21. That's 4-0 against the Silver and Black. Clearly they've got a good book on Al Davis' intimidators.
"Hell, no, I'm not happy we have to play Seattle," L.A. owner Davis, who was otherwise exultant, said in the locker room after the Steelers game.
"They beat you on flukes, on turnovers, the first time," a writer reminded him.
"Hey, they beat us," Davis said. "Never mind how they did it. It's a win. It counts."
On Sunday one series of downs best typified the difference between the play-it-safe Steelers and the confident Seahawks. "The Steelers got down to our six-inch line in the first quarter, and they kicked a field goal," Millen said, "like being down there was no big deal, like they were going to be down there all day. I couldn't believe that."
That decision to go for a field goal instead of the touchdown with 8:19 remaining in the first quarter was, to many observers, the game's turning point, if there can be such a thing in a blowout. Pittsburgh had marched from its 21-yard line on six plays, the most noteworthy being Cliff Stoudt's 44-yard completion to Wayne Capers. On third and one, halfback Frank Pollard looked clearly over, but referee Gene Barth ruled no TD. "I thought he'd scored," Millen said. "When the referee said he wasn't in, I said, 'Thank you.' But I figured it was 100 to one that Pollard would get it the next time, right behind [center] Mike Webster for the score."
Steeler coach Chuck Noll explained the decision to eschew the gamble this way: "Well, we scored on third down and they didn't give it to us, so I figured we'd better kick the field goal."