THE BUCS JUST DIDN'T STOP
The Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl. So what else was new? Well, four-year-old Tampa Bay, a team that lost its first 26 games ever, finished 10-6 to win the NFC Central Division. The Buccaneers arrived thanks to an offense that Coach John McKay built around Running Back Ricky Bell, a defense anchored by End Lee Roy Selmon and a schedule designed to perk up last-place teams. Tampa Bay might have made it to Super Bowl XIV but for the equally astonishing Los Angeles Rams. At one point during their soap-operatic season, the Rams were 5-6 and Owner Georgia Rosenbloom was suggesting to endangered Coach Ray Malavasi that he make a wishbone quarterback out of Safety Nolan Cromwell. L.A. did change quarterbacks, but only after Pat Haden broke his pinkie and was replaced by Vince Ferragamo. Ferragamo led the Rams haltingly into the playoffs, but was unstoppable in the postseason opener, throwing three touchdown passes in a 21-19 defeat of Dallas. In the NFC championship, Los Angeles beat Tampa Bay 9-0 in a game not suitable for framing.
Houston limped into the playoffs without its arm, Dan Pastorini, and its legs, Earl Campbell. On heart alone, the Oilers beat Denver 13-7 in the wild-card game. Then the Oilers stole San Diego blind; Vernon Perry intercepted Dan Fouts four times as the Houston coaches decoded the hand signals the Chargers used to send plays in to Fouts. The AFC Championship Game will be remembered for The Call—or Non-call. Trailing Pittsburgh 17-10 in the third quarter, Pastorini passed to Mike Renfro in the end zone corner for what seemed to be a six-yard touchdown. After a summit conference, the referee ruled that Renfro had had "no possession," which also applied to the AFC title so far as the Oilers were concerned. The statistical stars of 1979 were Campbell, who rushed for 1,697 yards, and Fouts, who threw for an NFL-record 4,082 yards. The top rookie was Ottis Anderson of St. Louis, who gained 1,605 yards on the ground. Two familiar names bowed out: Viking Defensive End Jim Marshall, 42, after starting an incredible 302 straight games, and 0. J. Simpson, 32, the premier running back of the decade.