There was an ugly red bruise on his left arm; the sweat was still dripping off his nose; his hair hung in a dank, gray clump; and Kenny Stabler was telling people that, yes, training camp is a sensible way to spend summer afternoons.
It took an injury to the Oilers' interim quarterback, Gifford Nielsen, and many, many phone calls from Houston to various parts of Alabama to bring Stabler back to the Oilers. But here he was, and despite a very lackluster performance by the offense, Houston was 2-0 after Sunday's 9-3 victory over Cleveland.
"You need to go to training camp, there's no doubt about it," Stabler said. "I definitely believe that. Our offense wasn't worth a damn. The defense carried us the whole way."
"How did you attack the Browns today?" he was asked, and Stabler let out his breath in a long sigh and seemed to shrink a couple of inches. "Any damn way I could," he said.
The week before, it seemed that Stabler was on the verge of revolutionizing the game, when the Oilers scored 21 points in the second half to beat the Rams 27-20. O.K., so it took a 95-yard kickoff return by a rookie named Willie Tullis to clinch it, but hadn't Stabler bounced back from a 4-for-11 start with nine straight completions? After the game the Oiler players were telling people, "That first half, that was all the training camp Kenny needed."
Last Sunday things evened up a little. The Browns, bombed 44-14 by San Diego in the opening Monday-nighter, rose up and played ferocious defense. They knocked Earl Campbell out of the box after three quarters. The Oilers' fullback came into the game with a damaged left shoulder, and after a couple of carries, it was obvious he wasn't himself.
"I brought him down with an arm tackle one time," Cleveland Linebacker Clay Matthews said, "and that's something that never happened before. I figured either I'd got a lot stronger or Earl was a lot weaker."
A neck injury finally finished Campbell off—"I tried butting a guy with my head, and it didn't work," he said—and it was up to Stabler and his receivers to carry the offense. The result was three Toni Fritsch field goals and a depressing set of stats: 50 offensive plays vs. 81 for the Browns, 2-for-12 on third-down conversions, 118 yards passing and another 91 on the ground.
What the Oilers got from Stabler was two big plays, and they were just enough. He set up a field goal in the first quarter with a 42-yard completion to Ken Burrough: the ball hung; Burrough, who is 6'3", went up for it; the cornerback, 5'11�" Lawrence Johnson, froze.
Fritsch was put in position for his last field goal, in the fourth quarter, by a 48-yard pass-and-run. Stabler to Campbell's replacement, Adger Armstrong. This was vintage Snake. A play-action fake sucked in two linebackers and Stabler neatly hit Armstrong, cutting in behind them. Aside from that one play, the Oilers' offense in the fourth period totaled five yards.