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The referees, meanwhile, were dancing near the ball while being careful not to touch it. Seconds passed. Finally, corner-back Bobby Butler came from 20 yards back—yes, 20 yards—scooped the ball up and...oops...didn't hold on to it. So Butler lazily batted the ball the 15 yards or so, a la Dave Casper, into the end zone. When he realized the refs were next to him, staring at the ball lying there, he picked it up and spiked it. The refs raised their arms over their heads. Six points. Thank you and have a nice day.
"I don't know what I was thinking," said Epps, a rookie, after the game, holding his head in his hands. "I could've had a touchdown!"
Impossibly, the same thing happened 30 seconds later. Moon, who was in danger of being beaten into a smudge mark by Bruce (Bruce knocked him down four times in the first quarter alone), took off on an option play down the line. Naturally, the Falcons clobbered him and the ball fell free. Tuggle, smarter this time, grabbed the ball and began running with it, but then decided this was too good to be true and nearly stopped.
Still, the indicators were the same: no whistle, the refs following along faithfully. As Tuggle slowed and turned around, 56,222 fans had one word of advice for him: "Go!" Off he sprinted to a 65-yard TD. "It was so loud I couldn't hear anything," said Tuggle. "I assumed the play was dead." At this point Falcons on the sideline were using all their willpower to keep from cracking open the football bag and running one into the end zone. You never know.
Suddenly, hapless Atlanta—the team that had won 11 games all told in the past three seasons—led Houston, a perennial playoff team, 21-0. By early in the fourth quarter, the Falcons were ahead 37-7, thanks to three Greg Davis field goals and Andre Rison's four catches for 64 yards and a touchdown. Then, after Moon had pulled the Oilers back to within 13 points, 40-27, with three fourth-quarter touchdown passes, Tiffany South, a.k.a. Atlanta cornerback Neon Deion Sanders, snatched a Moonbeam at the Falcon 18-yard line. He sprinted by the last man, Moon, with a high-step at the Atlanta 40 and kept on high-stepping to the end zone. The day was done: Glanville, 47; Hated Enemies of Glanville, 27.
"These are the new Falcons," an elated Butler said afterward. "These are not the Falcons in red. These are the Falcons in black. We buried the red ones."
It was a game Glanville should add to his lesson plan. His defense scored three touchdowns. His famous 11-man pile-ons paid off with four fumble recoveries. And Atlanta blitzed Moon so hellaciously that by the end of the afternoon, he looked like a man who had flown from Denver to Chicago on the wing.
Pardee looked worse. He said his team was "terrible." If you're a Houston fan, you have to wonder why Pardee ever installed the run-and-duck, er, run-and-shoot in the first place. For one thing, Moon is 33, and for another, the Oilers, before trading Alonzo Highsmith to the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 3, had the best corral of runners in the league: Highsmith, White, Allen Pinkett and Mike Rozier. So why go to a one-back offense? If anything, what Houston needed was a three-back offense.
What's more, the Oilers traded Highsmith for draft picks, a second and a fifth. A team so near to the Super Bowl, a team in desperate need of defensive help, trading for draft choices? When you saw Moon wearing Bruce like an overcoat, you knew Houston had traded the wrong back. Highsmith is a superb blocker. To an Amtrak like Bruce, the 5'9" Pinkett isn't even a station stop.
As if Pardee didn't have enough to fret about, Glanville gave him more. In the postgame press conference Glanville announced he was giving his game ball to SMU coach Forrest Gregg, whose team was on the ugly end of a 95-21 loss to Pardee's University of Houston Cougars last year. "Doesn't matter," said Pardee. "It's his ball. He can do what he wants with it."