THE BIG BLACK ATTACK

Jerry Glanville's recharged Falcons enjoyed a dark victory against the Oilers
September 16, 1990

The thing about Jerry Glanville is that he isn't one to hold a grudge for long. "Only till I die," he once said. That's why, ever since the 1990 NFL schedule came out way back when, one game on opening weekend stuck out like Miss Illinois: the Houston Oilers at the Atlanta Falcons. The game would be not only the Harley-ridin', reporter-fightin', Elvis-sightin' Glanville's debut with the Falcons, but also a chance for the man in black to polish his dislike for the folks who used to sign his W-2s, the Oilers, whom he coached from 1986 through last season.

Now, Glanville is a scalawag and a raconteur and a pretty fair coach and a man who has too much fun and laughs too loud for some people. Consequently, he made more enemies in Houston than Texaco has maps. He eventually a) quit, b) was fired or c) jumped with only a few flame marks on his pant cuffs. How many people in Houston would love to see him fall flat on his Stetson in Atlanta? "Your story ain't big enough to fit all the names," he said before Sunday's game.

O.K., so maybe just the short list:

•The Oilers' 70-year-old general manager, Mike Holovak. Glanville didn't like the way Holovak acquired players, thinking him hopelessly uninventive. "I don't know why we didn't get along," Glanville says. "Most dead people like me."

•Houston's defensive backs. Glanville said his new ones in Atlanta are "real, not made out of paper or cardboard." The Oiler secondary took that rather badly. "The man's a joke," said cornerback Patrick Allen. "I didn't listen to him then, and I don't listen to him now."

•The city of Houston. When Glanville landed in Atlanta in January to interview for the Falcon job, he stepped onto the tarmac and said, "If you're not sleeping in Atlanta, you're just camping out."

•Oiler quarterback Warren Moon. He was Jerry's kid for four years in Houston but didn't rate one mention in Glanville's new (and, incidentally, hilarious) book, Elvis Don't Like Football. Moon doesn't seem to mind; he's just glad to be done with Glanville. "It got to be a circus atmosphere around here," said Moon in Houston last Thursday. "We'd have the national media coming in and asking us about snakebites. There were so many distractions, you could hardly concentrate on football."

Even a few folks outside Houston figured to be rooting against Glanville. For one, there's L.A. Ram quarterback Jim Everett, whom Houston traded in 1986 several months after Glanville arrived. In his book Glanville writes, "[Everett] said he thanks God every day that he didn't have to play for us, that he was thankful to go somewhere where he could get good coaching. After we played against him twice, it was obvious he needed great coaching."

Last Friday, Glanville even sideswiped his replacement in Houston, Jack Pardee. "He must be a great coach," said Glanville. "He's making three times as much as the last guy they had in there."

Pardee wasn't biting. "Jerry's not going to be on the field," said Pardee. "If he is, we'll get some yards out of it."

Not that Glanville wouldn't give it a try. "I'm so lucky," he once said, "I should charge people 25 cents just to rub up against me."

Glanville practically owns Atlanta these days. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a picture of him lounging on a Harley-Davidson, his eyes twinkling blue. He wanted to throw a country and western concert for charity, featuring three of his most beloved singers, Kris Kristofferson, Gary Morris and Jerry Jeff Walker. Not only did the show come off last Friday, but Glanville also got to emcee it, hug everybody in Fulton County and sing the final number with J.J. and K.K.

Then again, the citizens of Atlanta were so desperate for a new coach that even Lou Saban would have been given a good, long look. The Falcons are a team that drew 7,792 fans for their final game of 1989. Sunday's was sold out. This is a team that endured the deaths of two players in automobile accidents last year, a team that has had seven consecutive losing seasons. The only notable thing the Falcons did before Glanville came along was get themselves named in seven paternity suits (two of which were filed against Rankin Smith Jr., the owner's son) in the last few years. "We may not be good," one player's wife was overheard saying, "but at least we're fertile."

By late July, Glanville had remade the Falcons in his own image. The jerseys and helmets were changed to black. In one "controlled" scrimmage against the Philadelphia Eagles, five fights broke out. At one point there was fighting from the goal line to the far 25-yard line. "In the middle of it all, I looked over at Jerry," says Atlanta linebacker Aundray Bruce, "and he was just smiling."

Glanville unpacked his Red Gun offense, his Black Wave pass rush and his homespun Clint Eastwood philosophy. "Anybody that doesn't want to go along with the program is going to get a comic book, an apple and a bus ticket out of here," he told his players.

Guess what? The players paid attention. The Falcons went 4-0 in the preseason. "This franchise needed a shock treatment," says defensive end Tim Green. "Can you think of a better shock treatment than Jerry Glanville? He's got players who have been losing for years believing they should win. It's crazy."

What Glanville might consider working on now is improving his relations with the Fourth Estate. Houston columnists ripped his lungs out routinely, possibly because Glanville shoved or threatened most of them in return. He had made a standing challenge to Houston radio personality Barry Warner to go into a room, lock the door and fight until only one could come out. Glanville once refused to answer listeners' questions on a call-in radio show until they agreed to cancel their Houston Chronicle subscriptions.

This time around, he figures he won't have run-ins with the press: "The difference between writers in Houston and writers in Atlanta is that in Atlanta some of the ones that write can also read."

Lord knows that when this past Monday morning came, there was plenty to read. Sunday's first quarter alone had three touchdowns—two of which nobody seemed to want to score—inside of 110 seconds, five fights, five fumbles, five penalties, a storm that briefly knocked out the electricity in the stadium, three smoke bombs on the field and a banner that read SADDAM HUSSEIN IS AN OILER.

You'll see it a hundred times on Football Follies, but here it is anyway. With the Falcons leading 7-0, Moon was clonked from behind by Bruce, a disappointing No. 1 draft choice in 1988 who may thrive playing Jerryball. The football went flying sideways. Houston running back Lorenzo White swears he heard a whistle, and other players must have too, because all the black shirts surrounding the ball suddenly became allergic to pigskin. Tory Epps, the Atlanta nosetackle, literally turned his back on the sacred item. Linebacker Mike Gann dived at the ball and missed it. Linebacker Jessie Tuggle started to pick it up but then decided the whole thing was too much trouble.

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."

Glanville also refused to take questions from any journalists—and dozens were on hand—as long as "there's a single reporter from Texas in the state." Seeing as how there were no flights leaving immediately from the stadium, no further quotes were given. Actually, Glanville did say one more thing on his way out the door: "Texas can kiss my ass."

Other than that, he's over this Houston thing completely.

PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYERThe outspoken Glanville took special pleasure in sticking it to his former employer. PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYERBruce was sitting pretty after he and his mates flattened Moon in the first quarter. PHOTOJOHN BIEVERSteve Broussard led the Falcons in rushing, but the defense was really their offensive star. PHOTOJOHN BIEVERTuggle was one of many Atlanta defenders to launch Moon shots in the wild first half. PHOTOJOHN BIEVERQuarterback Chris Miller was dewinged by William Fuller.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)