I backed off, took a little run and butted Mean Joe Greene right in the numbers. Really. I had sneaked down onto the Steelers' sideline during the last two minutes of their Super Bowl victory, which I felt a part of. On a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED assignment I had spent the whole 1973 season hanging around with the Steelers, on the sidelines and in a lot of other places, to write a book called About Three Bricks Shy of a Load...The Year the Pittsburgh Steelers Were Super but Missed the Bowl. Now, with the clock ticking down, the Steelers were about to consign my title to ancient history. I had more or less taken the position in my book that being humane, or something, was better than winning. Now that my friends had the Bowl all but sewed up, I could see that ultimate victory did have a certain charm, and I was doing my best to join aptly in the exultation. From up in the stands it may look easy, the exultation. But I was burdened by a little red-and-blue bag I had been given in the auxiliary press box. Inside the bag were wadded-up mimeographed play-by-plays and the remains of my press lunch: strange sandwiches called "muffelettes" and some other things, chicken fingers, I think. It is complicated to tote muffelette scraps and embrace Ernie (Arrowhead) Holmes at the same time.
Holmes is the only person I know who is 6'3", weighs 260, has a big gold tooth and wears his hair shaved off except for what forms the head of an arrow pointed at you. Later that night at the Steeler party I was reminded of how unsettling Holmes looks when I said to two different people, "That's Ernie Holmes over there, you want to meet him?" and each of them said, "Oh my God." Two years before the Super Bowl, in a serious emotional crisis, he had shot at a policeman in a helicopter. During the Super Bowl he was largely responsible for reducing the Vikings' offensive line to quivering jelly. Two weeks before the Super Bowl he had been telling me to "get away" in an ominous tone. Now, I just shut the muffelettes, and to some extent the jelly, out of my mind and grabbed Holmes and bounced around with him. And beat on L.C. Greenwood, who off the field wears a gold medallion given him by a lady, which has "TFTEISYF" on it, which stands for "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." And did the grip with Mel Blount—under whose picture in the local paper my name had appeared once that week—and tried to outglow Dwight White and yelled, "Moon! Moon! Moon!" at Moon Mullins and slapped the shoulder pads of Andy Russell, who slapped my shoulders (another problem: no pads) and cried, "You're a part of all this!" I guess I would have felt better if I had been celebrating the signing of an eternal amity pact among all the nations of the world, but I don't know.
Greene and Terry Bradshaw hugged each other. During these last minutes Bradshaw and his quarterback rivals Terry Hanratty and Joe Gilliam and their hard coach Chuck Noll and six cameras all had their noses or lenses within inches of each other, figuring the next play or recording the figuring, and they were all grinning, even the cameras. Greene and Holmes bent way over from the waist and bumped their heads together triumphantly.
The Steelers had the game wrapped up, and I wasn't feeling objective at all. The final gun went off and we all roiled around like an invading army that had just started to whoop after taking a castle, and Greene and Franco Harris picked Noll up on their shoulders and—behold, the winning smile on Noll's face. I had never seen Noll's mouth so wide open. It was as though the Dragon Lady had gone all soft around the eyes and said, "Oh, baby." Glorying, I headed off the field with the players and got nearly crushed between Greene and the Vikings' Carl Eller, who were being crowded by yelping, snatching fans, but who said to each other, emotionally, respectfully, something profound, which in retrospect I believe was "Good game." I looked for Ray Mansfield, the Steelers' newly famous center, so I could pound on him, but I didn't see him until afterward in the press interview tent, which looked alarmingly like a sideshow—Steelers in blood-spotted white-and-gold suits, standing on platforms above milling, curious reporters. "How does it feel?" "What do you weigh?" Right after the gun, Mansfield told me later, he had been busy retrieving the ball, which was lying on the field unnoticed. "Players were running right past it. Even fans," he said. "All of us had been fighting for it so long, and now it was just lying there. It looked kind of sad." He gave it to Russell, who presented it to Art Rooney, who had been wanting it for 42 years.
Up in the stands Julie Marks, 12, a friend of mine who had never seen a football game before but had been yelling "Deee-fense!" at the top of her lungs, also noticed the ball lying free and then Mansfield carrying it away. "Do you think," she asked her mother, "they would give it to me?"
Everybody wants to get into the act. I was into it because of my book, copies of which had reached the players at about the time—early this past December—when the team, which had been on-again, off-again, suddenly became a juggernaut. I feel that some, if not most, of the credit for this transformation should go to the players and the coaches, and perhaps to Radio Rich, who has 34 radios in his room at the Pittsburgh Y and has been hanging around the Steelers longer than I have; but on the afternoon before the Super Bowl, Greene did offer an unsolicited testimonial. I had brought Reggie Jackson of the Oakland A's into a small room-shaking festivity involving Greene, Holmes and Dwight (Mad Dog) White, who had a viral infection. "This guy's book had something to do with us being here," Greene told Jackson. "He raised some bleep that he dug."
I don't know what specific bleep I could pinpoint as helpful, but the great thing was that I had been acknowledged as...a factor. Me, a factor. Like the wind and the turf and the cartilage in the running backs' knees. Like all the other press during the week leading up to Super Bowl IX, I had often felt the urge to mutter "IX, SCHMIX," or when some player or coach said, "It's only another game," to rise up and shout, "It certainly is!" But when you see yourself as a factor, your attitude changes.
Professor studies super bowl, says has myth quality read the headline in the New Orleans Times-Picayune on Thursday morning before the game. Andy Russell was reading the story aloud at breakfast. "Sociologically speaking," said the lead, "the Super Bowl is a 'propaganda vehicle' which strengthens the American social structure."
"I can't stand that stuff!" Greene shouted.
"More than a game, it is a spectacle of mythical proportions which becomes a 'ritualized mass activity,' says Michael R. Real, assistant professor of communications at the University of California at...."
"——" Greene cried. He seized the paper and tore it to shreds. "I'd like to run into that guy," he said of Michael R. Real.
The Steelers have a number of stars and leaders of various kinds, but Greene is their sun. The main strength of the team is the defense, of the defense the front four, of the front four, Greene. There may well never have been a lineman at once so smart, strong, fiery and, especially, quick as Greene when he is inspired. People who watched the films of the Steelers' playoff victory over Oakland said that on one play Greene began his rush a millisecond after the snap and hit the quarterback half a millisecond after the ball did (he was penalized for being offside and thought himself that he must have been, but the films showed that he wasn't). And that he once went straight through Oakland Center Jim Otto, like a 275-pound chill through a man with no coat. They kept slowing down and stopping the film to see exactly how he went through Otto—between the two T's, maybe, or headfirst through one of the O's. They could never figure it out. One moment Greene and Otto were head to head, and then they formed a blur together, and then Otto was more or less where he had been, only lying down (and perhaps spelled "Toot"), and Greene was entangled with the Oakland backfield in a pile. The only lineman to compare Greene with, says Steeler Defensive Line Coach George Perles, is the great end, retired, of the Colts, Gino Marchetti. "Alan Page," said Perles, when the distinguished Viking tackle was mentioned. "Joe could whip Alan Page and stand on him."
Throughout their closing surge this season, as they blew New England, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Oakland and Minnesota off the field, the Steelers relied more and more heavily upon a unique Stunt 4-3 defense, designed by Perles around Greene. Greene and the intimidating Holmes would smash a hole in the middle of the line; the nimble White and Greenwood would pinch in from the sides; All-Pro Linebackers Russell and Jack Ham would stick to the short-passing targets (Minnesota's Fran Tarkenton said they did it "maybe as well as anybody in history"); and everybody in the secondary meanwhile was 1) liable to break a receiver's back and 2) drooling for interceptions. That was basically the defense last year, too, when the Steelers failed, but toward the end of this season it eschewed fancy variations and revolved around Greene, and nobody did anything against it, except Oakland's estimable Ken Stabler with his long passes that were not enough. The Steeler defense was a guerrilla operation, featuring vicious, opportunistic hitting, hell-for-leather pursuit and the repeated generation of loose balls—balls bounding free, popping up, squirting out and rolling around. The game ball Mansfield picked up was probably not much more baffled, lying there, than it had been all afternoon. My favorite turnover of the day was when Minnesota's Chuck Foreman ran into the middle of the line at the Steelers' five. He fumbled in the midst of a huge seething pileup, and Greene, standing beside the tangle, appeared to reach into it and slap the ball up into his arms like a bear scooping a fish out of a stream. What actually happened, said Holmes, was "I hit Foreman...."
"What did you hit him with?" I asked.
"Stuck my head in there," he said sort of modestly. "And the ball got loose and squirted back through Ticklehoff's legs"—Holmes called Viking Center Mick Tingelhoff "Ticklehoff," not meaning any offense, I think—"and Joe picked it up." It was almost as though the Vikings had snapped it to Greene, which seemed appropriate.
There were other factors in the Steelers' improvement this year. Competition among the three quarterbacks produced a much steadier Bradshaw. "He got rattled a couple of times in the huddle," said Rocky Bleier after the Oakland game, "but now we're not getting uptight about it. We settle him down and he comes through." Last year Bradshaw threw key interceptions that deflated the team. This year, after winning the job back, he kept coming up with spirit-lifting third-down completions. That is the difference, or difference enough, between a dumb quarterback and a smart one. I had quoted a Steeler saying last year, "You want your quarterback to be tricky, wily, like Bugs Bunny, or Daffy Duck. Bradshaw's too much like Elmer Fudd." When that came out, Bradshaw called his attorney and asked, "Who is Elmer Food?" But knowing how to pronounce Fudd is not essential. Johnny Unitas last year said, "All I know about sentiment is it comes between '——' and 'syphilis' in the dictionary," which wasn't true, and when I asked Fran Tarkenton before the Super Bowl about peripheral vision, he said, "Periphial vision is bull." Which is also, Tarkenton's pronunciation aside, untrue. Hanratty is the Bugs Bunniest of the Steelers' three quarterbacks, and Gilliam is the most exciting, the one you'd go for if you were building your team around the quarterback. (And he is the one some other team is likely to go for soon—he is too restless to be your ideal No. 2 man, and he has told teammates that he asked Vice-President Dan Rooney for "one point five over five," which is to say a five-year, $1.5 million contract, and got his feelings hurt when Dan seemed amused.) But the Steelers believe in Bradshaw now, hence Greene's hug.
Also this year Harris ran hard again, suppressing his leg pains and ceasing to "dance." Wounded vet Bleier became the solid, good-blocking halfback needed to complement Franco. The offensive line improved. Tackle Gordy Gravelle "arrived." Jim Clack switched from center to guard, and he and Mullins pulled vigorously ahead of the 230-pound Harris. The new offensive line coach, Dan (Bad Rad) Radakovich, was regarded with no warmth by his charges, who were fond of his predecessor, Bob Fry, whom Noll fired. Radakovich told Mansfield after the Oakland game, "Good work, Ranger, but remember, I've got the young guy [rookie Mike Webster] waiting in the wings." But Radakovich drilled them exhaustingly in new techniques that opened big holes for Harris and allowed the quarterbacks to be sacked only 21 times in 17 games. Rookie Receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth added dash to the offense, and Jack Lambert, another rookie, mastered middle line-backing in one year. Bleier talked Russell into lifting weights, and Russell for the first time in his career went uninjured. Russell talked Bleier out of lifting weights late in the season, and Bleier was less tired toward the end.
Usually it is only after you see how the season ends up that you can figure out what the factors were, or which ones were good. For instance, it now appears that having your reserve quarterback's wife shot at in the off-season could be a good omen. That happened to Rosemary Hanratty (by accident, since it was someone else the man was angry with). But a more reliable indicator of the Steelers' fortunes is Joe Greene's behavior each year during and after the second Houston game.
In '72, when half the team was hurt or sick for that game, Greene rose up and beat the Oilers almost singlehandedly, sacking the quarterback five times. The Steelers went on to win their first division championship. In '73 Greene was so disgusted with the Steelers' lack of spark against Houston that he took himself out of the game, an action many of his teammates resented. The Steelers fizzled badly in the playoffs. In '74 the Steelers lost the second Oiler game, 13-10, on Dec. 1, which looked bad. "After that we just about packed it in," says Art Rooney Jr. "We were getting ready for next season. People were saying, 'That Paul Brown, he's a genius. Doesn't have half the talent Noll does and he still wins.' " But Greene was saying something different, and Noll was on top of things.
Greene has been heard to complain that Noll is not emotional enough. A good deal of the time Noll is what you would have to call grim. Early this season, not long after the players' strike was settled, Safety Mike Wagner was walking through the Steeler offices with a check for something like $4.17 that he had been issued because earlier he had been slightly underpaid during the exhibition season. "Look here, Coach," he said lightly to Noll. "This is all they paid me."
"If you're just in the game for money," Noll said stiffly, "you'd better get out of it." Once, during the Steelers' dark losing days, Cornerback Lee Calland came into the dressing room at halftime weeping. He rose tearfully, dramatically, and began making a heart-rending appeal for a better second-half effort. "Shut up, Lee," said Noll, and Calland sat down and Noll fell to diagramming plays on the blackboard.
So Noll didn't feel called upon to whip up his troops after the Houston game this season. Greene did. He went to certain members of the offense and told them bluntly that they had better shape up. He said if the Steelers didn't make the Super Bowl he was going to quit them.
"If you do," Russell told him semijocularly later, "you better not come back and play against us, because we'll kick your tail." But Greene had established his own intensity, at least, for the rest of the year. He is a proud, emotional player, who demands that his context be worthy of and responsive to his fiercest and most acrobatic efforts.
A week or so after that came copies of my book, which raised the stuff Greene approved of, and as the Steelers were picking up steam and moving toward the playoff game with Oakland, Noll tossed in a little provocation of his own. He came into a team meeting with his lips compressed even more tightly than they usually are when his back is up. Before Oakland's first-round game with Miami, Raider Coach John Madden had said of the Raiders and the Dolphins, "When the two best teams in football get together, anything can happen."
"I'll tell you what anything is," Noll told the Steelers. "Anything is that Oakland isn't getting into the Super Bowl." The room was charged. Greene jumped up and began waving his fists and yelling. The fat was in the fire.
The Steelers soundly whipped Oakland. They felt better about that than they did about beating Minnesota in the big one. The year before, in the first playoff round, Oakland had made them look bad. "I never thought I'd see a team of yours embarrassed like that," Art Rooney Jr. told Noll in the Steelers' first draft meeting after that game. Although Noll's instinct for talent and Artie's scouting operation have, by means of the draft, built the Steelers' material up from almost nothing to a young abundance—three Rookies of the Year in six seasons—the partnership has been abrasive, and those words must have galled Noll. He had been tense then, goading people the week before that '73 loss. He was loose this time, before the '74 win, the win that got them into the Super Bowl. He even cracked jokes about the locker-room horseplay in which Kicker Roy Gerela gashed Lambert's ear with a tossed Coke can. The Steelers went into the game happy and came out happier. When I went into the cramped visitors' dressing room at the Oakland Coliseum after the 24-13 win—into the room where the Steelers' season had ended in defeat the year before—Stallworth yelled, "No more bricks!" and we slapped hands, and White said, "Now you got to write: A Full Load." "A Load and a Half," said Gilliam.
I sat down next to Holmes expecting a friendly talk, and he said, in a suppressed furious growl, "What'd you put that stuff in your book for?"
Now if there is one person on the Steelers you don't want to have furious at you, it is Holmes. His given first and middle names are Earnest Lee, and that is the way he likes people and the way he beats on people. He does things earnestly enough to seem vulnerable as well as formidable, and I hated for him to think I had sold him short. Things had been very vague while I was with the Steelers the year before, as to what they were saying for publication and what they weren't. In general, it was up to me to decide. While I was with them they had tended to forget I was a writer because I was always drinking with them and eating chowder and playing liar's poker instead of taking notes. Several of them told me they assumed I would never actually write anything for that reason. I knew that what I had written had hurt the feelings of three or four players I liked, and that made me feel bad. But I hadn't expected Holmes to be one of those players. "What stuff?" I asked him.
"Said I had the mind of a 6-year-old child," he replied in a low tone that caused a tremor in the stool I was sitting on.
"Oh," I thought, "my God." What I had in fact done was quote Holmes as saying, one afternoon when we were drinking martinis and eating chowder, "I'm trying to get my mind right. I haven't wanted to talk to reporters much since the incident." He was referring to that time after the '72 season when he broke down under the pressure of personal problems and started shooting from his car at trucks and wound up in the woods firing, accurately, at a police helicopter flying overhead. "There isn't a moment," I had quoted him as adding, "from the time I go into the dressing room until the game is over that I'm not praying. People think I'm talking to myself, but I'm praying. With the mind of a child and the brains of a 60-year-old warrior."
That had struck me as such a poetic statement I felt he would be proud to have it repeated. Nobody with a small mind could have expressed such a thing. Now I felt as though I had quoted Wordsworth as saying, "I wandered lonely as a cloud" and he had chewed me out for accusing him of not having any friends.
"But you said that," I said. "And it was about your state of mind when you were praying. And it was a great...."
"Get away," he said, and that's more or less what he said on the plane back to Pittsburgh whenever I tried again to explain. "Stay away from him," people said, but I didn't want to leave it at that.
Otherwise, it was a pleasant trip. "Last year on the plane back from Oakland," said Mansfield, "Ham kept asking me, 'When did you know you had it lost?' This time, it's like he's in a daze. I know he's in a daze because he says he doesn't want to play gin."
Ham was not too bedazzled to advise me that my title should have been One Year Shy of a Book. Tony Parisi the equipment man said, "I'm giving you an exclusive. I knew they were going to win this one. You know why? Because before we left for Oakland nobody asked me for a box."
"To ship their stuff home in. Last year before Oakland, a lot of guys asked for boxes."
White said on the P.A. phone, "Mr. Rooney has something to say in the jubilance of what we've done," and Art Rooney, the Chief, the Steelers' founder and owner forever, said something that nobody remembered.
"The first time my father brought Johnny Blood home," Art Jr. said later, "us kids expected him to jump up on the table and take off his clothes or something. But he was very polite, we had dinner, he talked about, you know, pertinent things of the day, and at 9:30 he and my father left. I can't tell you how disappointed I was. Here was this legendary guy, and that's all he did. And that's the way it's been with my father. He hasn't said anything much. Mainly, he's worried about making sure he gets a Super Bowl ticket for every policeman and fireman in Pittsburgh."
The Chief, however, doesn't have to say anything dramatic in order to be a powerful presence on a victory-over-the-Raiders flight home (though personally I would rather make a remember-the-terrible-old-days drive to the racetrack with him), and when we got into the airport there were 10,000 Pittsburghers waiting, at 1:15 a.m. Later, several of the Steelers said they were glad when they got out of that crowd. "I got more beat up by them than I did in the game," said Greenwood. "When I got in the car finally, I just sat there for a minute. People were banging on my windows: 'Open up, we're your fans!' I said, 'Yeah...' "
But I loved it. I was congratulated by Frenchy Fuqua, who had been back in Pittsburgh with two broken wrists; and kissed by Ham's fiancée, Joanne Fell, who looks better than anybody else in the world; and for a distance of what must have been a mile, all the way from the gate down the long corridor and through the baggage area and way on out into the parking lot, I proceeded like a loaded blood cell along a narrow artery through hungry tissues of people, who were jammed into every inch of space on both sides of us, and they were all cheering. They were reaching out hands to shake. I shook them all. Girls sitting on friends' shoulders were bending down to kiss my head. People were yelling, "Great game!" at me, or "Great cigar!" (since I was smoking an Art Rooney stogie of great size). It was like heaven, everybody happy, everybody loving you. Holmes bared his chest and raised his arms in triumph, and the crowd thundered, "ARROWHEAD!" It went on and on, through the warm, bright airport out into the cold, dark lot, as though it were going to go on forever, through day and night and all the seasons, and one person toward the end even recognized me for what I was and (rather than snorting "You're no player") cried out, "Great book!"
I went away from Pittsburgh for a few days then, after the Oakland win, and dreamed two Ernie Holmes-related dreams. Once he was reaching to shake my hand, I guess, but then maybe not, and I was in some kind of craft—a team plane—a helicopter? The other time my head was shaved completely, no arrowhead even, and I looked silly, exposed.
I rejoined the team in Pittsburgh, then flew with them to New Orleans. During the 10 days leading up to the Final Reckoning I headed toward Holmes a couple of times but ran into someone else on the way. Then, on the day before the Bowl, I entered the room where Holmes, Greene, White and a bunch of marveling friends were drinking bourbon and Coke and beer and Mateus and dancing and rejoicing over the coming victory, and the first person I walked head-on into was Arrowhead, who said, "Hello, Arch enemy."
The Steelers were loose all during Super Week. They enjoyed the attention of the press. "Centers are totally overlooked people in this world," Mansfield told an interviewer grandly, "and things like the Super Bowl are good to bring the personalities of people like me out." After the first two nights, which were no-curfew nights—from which I retain an image of Mansfield standing for some reason on top of Russell's rental car—they faithfully returned to their rooms at the Fontainebleau by 11 p.m. But within the fold there was considerable shouting and running around in the halls and drinking and entertaining of guests. One of the diminutive "security men" posted in the players' hall was scandalized. "If the Vikings' coaches impose more discipline on them," he told a Steeler in a tone of deep concern, "you guys are going to be in trouble." Noll, unlike Minnesota's Bud Grant, permitted the Steelers' wives to stay with them on Friday and Saturday nights, although he had never allowed cohabitation on the night before a game even at home during the regular season. "Yes, there will be a bed check," said Russell. "He wants to see our wives in their nighties." Kidding. Kidding.
And Holmes was loose when he called me archenemy. "I'm not your enemy," I said, "I'm a good man. And so are you." I suppose that sounds kind of silly. You had to be there. We shook hands, and then he took my picture. A good many of the Steelers have recently gotten enthusiastically into photography. In this party in a small room of the Fontainebleau, Holmes, White, Greene and several of the friends present all had cameras, and they were all taking pictures of each other. A wrestling match between an Oriental and a Latin was proceeding unattended on the TV set. Flashbulbs were popping. Rosé was flowing. Music was playing. "Of all the writers here, writing all those words all week," said Greene, whose shirttail was out, "nobody has reached it. Nobody has said what it means. We're happy to be here. We're feeling good." Holmes was dancing the Bump with a tiny self-possessed girl whom people called "Texas." "Get down, Texas," people yelled, and Holmes started bumping her hip with his head. Greene hurriedly focused his camera. "Shows what kind of a photographer I am," he said. "I missed it," Holmes started to bump with his head some more, for the picture, but Texas made some slight indication that she'd rather dance the Bump in a serious normal way, thank you. "I'm sorry," Holmes said politely.
White was there, with his viral infection. I had visited him in the hospital a couple of days before. He'd been lying there losing 18 pounds because he hurt too much to be hungry. In the rooms around him were old ladies with complicated wire-and-tape apparatus in their noses and mouths, lying there silent as Dwight. An old lady turned over in her bed and said, "Oh!" vexedly to no one. An old man was helped off the toilet and into a wheelchair by a nurse—"Now sit," she said. Dwight was morose; at least 75% certain, the doctors said, not to play. Now, in the motel on Super Eve, he was still sick, but out bouncing around anyway. The room seemed about to burst. White was saying, "Doc Huber sat down on the bed and put his arm around me and said, I know how you feel.' I was crying like a little punk. I said, 'Know how I feel? You don't know how I feel! I'm gonna be in there. I may fall out, but I'm gonna fall out in the Super Bowl.' They rolled aside the rock," he proclaimed with arms flung wide, "and I came walking out, standing up!"
"You're ready! You're ready! I can tell you're ready," Greene told me as Reggie Jackson and I left the party. Jackson is a good-sized person himself and usually at least as expansive as anybody in the room. "I have never seen people so physical" he said.
And as the world knows, they were physical on the field the next day. Before the game Glen (Knotty Pine) Edwards, the rough-as-a-good-bark-covered-stick free safety, sat in the dressing room and noticed that his teammates were unaccountably sitting around like zombies. That was the first time they had been subdued all week. "Where the hell am I, anyway?" he said, and everybody broke up. Pine, whom the Steelers elected as their most valuable player this season but who attracted widespread notice only when he hurled himself egregiously at the head of Cincinnati Quarterback Ken Anderson as Anderson went out of bounds on TV, was in the press interview room one day during Super Week and nobody was interviewing him. "Nobody wants to talk to a dude like me," Pine said. But in the Bowl itself he came up with one of the biggest plays, nailing Viking Receiver John Gilliam so viciously that an all-but-completed pass deep in Steeler territory bounced high out of Gilliam's arms and into Blount's. Edwards wasn't invited into the interview tent after the game either. In the dressing room he said he'd probably spend his championship money on a new house. He bought one last year, but he thought he'd get a different one. And he'd take a vacation. He didn't know where. He went to the Bahamas last year and didn't like them. Edwards once told somebody that when he went places in Dallas with Greene and White people made a big fuss over them, all of them, including him. When he went back home to Florida, however, people said, "Hey, Pine. Hey, Pine. You still up there?" "Hey, Pine. They cut you yet?"
In the victorious dressing room the Chief entertained a bunch of reporters by telling them that he never showed emotion at ball games. "Even in my betting days at the track, when I was betting a fortune, a guy standing beside me would never know it." Once during training camp last summer a teamster official at a party tried to introduce James Michener, the novelist, to the Chief. "Oh, he's with me," the Chief said. Michener was in town gathering material for a sports book. The Chief hadn't heard of him as a writer, but since Michener had once run for Congress in Bucks County, Pa., he knew of him as a politician, and they had come to the party together.
The teamster official was impressed. "Whoever you're with," he told the Chief, "it's always a top guy. If it's a politician, or a hood, or a union man, or a gambler, it's always a top one." Now the Chief was with the top football team, but he didn't look any more distinguished or any less rumpled than usual. I told him it had been an honor to be associated with him. I felt almost tearful in the back of my eyes. He looked embarrassed.
Everything seemed sort of washed out in the dressing room and in the interview tent, where Greene was saying mildly that his thoughts turned to the Vikings, in sympathy. There was something disconcerting about the Steelers becoming winners. The Rooney regime's charm always had something to do with rising above defeat. Now that the Steelers are kings of the mountain, would they stiffen up? When Tex Schramm of the Cowboys phoned the Chief a few days later and expressed hope that the two teams could do some friendly trading, the Chief reminded him of the kind of trades Schramm used to try to foist upon the old irregular Steelers. "One time they sent us a player with a broken arm," the Chief recalled fondly after hanging up. "I called up Schramm and said, 'We've got just two days till the season starts, and you send us a man with a broken arm!' 'Well,' Schramm said, 'He has an Irish name, doesn't he?' "
The Chief seemed happier over that story than he did over winning the Super Bowl. I wonder whether such stories will collect around the new Steelers. Kathy Kiely, college-sophomore daughter of the Steelers' public relations director, said on the plane back to Pittsburgh after the Super win, "This is the first and last hurrah."
The welcome-home parade in Pittsburgh the day after the Super Bowl wasn't as good as I expected either, not as good as the one after Oakland. The Super reception was nice along the highway in from the airport, where people had been standing in the cold for four hours waiting—a nicely dressed middle-aged lady standing alone waving her sweater, two kids banging potlids together, a new fan club holding a sign identifying itself as "Bradshaw's Brains." But when we got into downtown Pittsburgh, people beat so hard on the top of the convertible I was in that their blows reached my head, and they leered unhingedly in through the car windows. It was unnerving. I hope nobody ever looks at me that way again.
So I guess the climax of the Super Bowl for me was back there on the sidelines, jumping around like a fool, or maybe in the bus after the game when Holmes said,. "I don't know. This thing has got me off into something that I don't hardly know how to express. It's just...too much. After the game I wanted to start slapping reporters."
I said maybe I'd better get on another bus, but he said no. He looked at his ring finger's middle knuckle, which was as big as a golf ball. He was trying to decide where to wear his Super Bowl ring. "I think I'll put it behind the knob," he said.
Holmes' eyes looked glazed, he was so fulfilled. "Them guards was in there quivering," he said of the Vikings. "It was like they were little kids. Joe was down there saying, 'You bleeping faggots!' I think they were terrified."
Greene got on the bus. "How'm I look-in' now!" he cried.
White was regretting that his illness, despite which he had played almost the whole game, was going to keep him from partying that night. "That's half the Super Bowl," he said.
"No," said Greene. "No. This is it. This is all of it. Right here." I looked around the bus. I felt like I knew what he meant, but I'm not sure. Greene has a certain mystery about him. Tarkenton told Russell that a man from Greene's hometown told him Greene was 30 three years ago. He is listed as 28 now. At that little party the day before the game Greene said something about being 28, and White said, "On the books, anyway," and Greene grinned. Can Joe Greene have hidden five years away somewhere? I don't know. I didn't ask. I didn't care. I wasn't feeling like a reporter. I had been sucked into the Super Bowl and I felt good. We were all factors on that bus. Eat your heart out, Michael R. Real.