SI Vault
Paul Zimmerman
September 15, 1980
When last seen, the Steelers won the Super Bowl on a bomb to John Stallworth. Sunday, against Houston, it was more of the same
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September 15, 1980

Picking Up Where They Left Off

When last seen, the Steelers won the Super Bowl on a bomb to John Stallworth. Sunday, against Houston, it was more of the same

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It hadn't been a happy preseason for Bradshaw. His wife, skater Jo Jo Star-buck, filed divorce papers a month ago, but on Friday Bradshaw was hoping that he could still figure out a way to patch up his marriage. He had lost 23 pounds during training camp, thanks to a lingering virus. His upper body looked thin; his short-sleeved practice jersey flapped around his arms. A few of the Steelers said they were worried about him. Bradshaw was on a downer before the last Super Bowl, too, but when it came to the fourth quarter, he and Stallworth still put together the big plays.

In contrast, Stabler's preseason had been very happy. He looked younger than he had in his last couple of years in Oakland; his face less lined, his body more firm. There were whispers that he'd actually done some working out in the off-season. And the receivers were looking forward to his nice, soft passes.

Oh, there was an occasional slip. He stiffed a charity golf tournament in Port Arthur, clean forgot about it, and didn't that annoy the guy who had paid $12,000 for the privilege of being his partner? "I understand it and I forgive him," said Phillips, who lent his name to the tournament, "but I'll never invite him again." And Stabler missed the last practice before the Oilers broke camp. "I didn't even know what to fine him," Phillips said. "I had to look it up in the book. Nobody had ever done it before."

But going into the game at Pittsburgh, Stabler had a winning streak of three against the Steelers, and John Madden, the Snake's old Raider coach, said that if there was one man who knew how to beat the Steelers, it was Kenny.

"The number one thing about him is that he's not afraid to throw the ball on any down," Madden said. "That's what it takes to beat Pittsburgh. If you get into a pattern offense against them, you're dead. They can defense the pattern game better than any team that's ever played. To beat them, you've got to pass when you're supposed to run, and vice versa. Of course, it's easy to say but hard to do. Not many quarterbacks have the confidence to do that, but Kenny does."

And on Sunday, Phillips provided Stabler with a one-back alignment that would be best suited to his short-passing game. "It made sense," Noll said. "You can't expect a back like Campbell, even that great a back, to carry the load over a 16-game season."

After the game, Phillips was second-guessed for gearing his attack to Stabler's arm rather than Campbell's legs, but Campbell's history at Three Rivers was on Phillips' side; Campbell rushed 17 times for 15 yards against the Steelers in that AFC title game, and 16 times for 38 yards against them last September.

"I don't think the idea was wrong," Phillips said. "What was wrong was that we were dropping the damn ball. There's nothing I can tell them. They're grown men and they can catch. What good does it do to tell a 25-year-old man 'You're not looking the ball in.' "

That was only part of the trouble. The other was Stabler's persistence in trying to force the ball to receivers. "I think he was surprised at how quickly we reacted to the ball," said Pittsburgh Safety Mike Wagner, who had one of the interceptions. "I think he misread a few coverages, too. The one Shell intercepted at the end was like that."

"Maybe two or three interceptions were on tips," Stabler said, "and the others were on bad throws, as simple as that."

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