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Peter King
August 13, 1990
And other questions to ponder as the NFL season approaches
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August 13, 1990

Can The Broncos Snap Out Of Their Super Bowl Stupor

And other questions to ponder as the NFL season approaches

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It's pointed out to Glanville that his successor in Houston, Jack Pardee, was beginning morning practices at 6:35 a.m. during the first week of camp, trying to avoid the searing Texas heat. "You know what my line on that is, don't you?" he says. "I don't have many rules. But if you see me at 6:30 in the morning, I'm coming in, not going out."

Were the '89 Steelers a mirage?

"Stupid question," hisses Bubby Brister, the 28-year-old Steeler quarterback who has a candy bar, the Bubby Bar, that goes on sale in Pittsburgh when the season starts. "When you win a bunch of games in the NFL, it's no fluke." But when the Steelers lost their first two games last year by a combined score of 92-10, it appeared that coach Chuck Noll had fallen behind the times and the rest of the league was running laps around his team.

Then the Steelers went 9-5 to make the playoffs, beat the Houston Oilers in overtime in the AFC wild-card game and came within two points of beating Denver to reach the AFC Championship Game. Western Pennsylvanians believe the Steelers, who earned four rings for winning Super Bowls between 1975 and '80, might finally get one for the thumb.

Why? Youth, Noll and the on-field maturity of Brister. The reason this team was such a surprise last year was because many of the players were unknown. Two former 10th-round picks—tackle John Jackson and running back Merril Hoge, both 25—became important starters. Four defensive backs who were 25 or younger also started.

"It's amazing that Bubby and I are two of the leaders now," says Hoge, who had two 100-yard games in the postseason. "We're like a kids' show." Right. Call them Nickelodeon's Team. When Nick at Nite staple Leave It to Beaver went off the air in September 1963, only 18 of the 81 players on Pittsburgh's training camp roster had been born.

"We were sitting around the locker room last year and a Crosby, Stills and Nash song came on the radio," says tackle Tunch Ilkin, the graybeard on offense at 32. "I told everybody I was a rookie in 1980 when this song came out. And [23-year-old linebacker] Jerrol Williams said to me, 'God, I was in sixth grade then.' That's when I started realizing how much we've turned this team over."

Noll provided the direction, and Brister did his best impersonation of Terry Bradshaw, quarterbacking the Steelers to five straight wins down the stretch before the 24-23 loss to Denver in the playoffs. Brister's passing numbers were mediocre, but his leadership made the difference.

So let's see if another great Steeler era is in the making. "The whole decade, all you'd hear was, What's wrong with the Steelers?" Ilkin says. But it's a new decade and a new generation of Steelers.

Can Jim Kelly and the Bills find happiness and a championship together?

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