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Original Issue


"We couldn't tell whether we had the ball in our hands or not," said Steeler Mike Collier, whose kick-return performance was relatively impressive in that he only lost the ball once. The ball must have spent the whole game yearning for a warm embrace, just as all those cleats were begging for something to sink into. The wind-chill factor was minus 12, the tarp covering the field had split the night before and little chemical bodies known as Sno-Flo had been spread on the icy spots. The players didn't much care for the feel of Sno-Flo—"those little white balls out there"—crunching underfoot. Terry Bradshaw kept calling it salt—"The ball got so slippery with the salt and water that I couldn't get a grip," he said.

The Steelers, perhaps not willing to be upstaged by the conditions, tended to minimize their importance. Good hands and feet are to a great extent in the head, and Receiver Coach Lionel Taylor said, "Our players just had to concentrate more."

But in the Oakland dressing room, Cliff Branch was claiming, "It was the worst field I've ever played on," and Tight End Bob Moore said, "The kindest word I can think of is treacherous."

"We did exactly what we wanted to today," insisted Jack Ham, one of the Steelers' All-Pro linebackers. He had rubbed a white substance, Frost-Guard, on his hands before slipping them into golf gloves. "Ted Kwalick told me about it," Ham said. "Men in the Coast Guard use it." It was the first time Ham and Safety Mike Wagner had tried gloves, though the Pittsburgh receivers had experimented with them in recent weeks in practice.

"Your hands get numb," said Center Ray Mansfield. "What I did, I licked my fingers so they would freeze onto the ball." Actually, he licked them to keep them warm. "I kept tasting that stuff they put on the field," he said. "It tasted bitter. But not as bitter as it would've if we'd lost."

"My hands weren't cold," said Linebacker Andy Russell, who scoffed at his teammates' mittens, "but I've had so many busted-up fingers and I've got so many knuckles double-taped that I can barely use my hands to pick up my helmet to go on the field."

By and large the Steelers felt that numb hands and slipping feet were less significant than that terrible condition players have to contend with every week, the condition that has loused up Russell's hands—hard contact. The bad footing made it difficult to plant oneself and deliver, but all day people kept skimming over the artificial turf to knock other people silly and the ball free. "Everybody was trying to strip the ball," said Franco Harris. "I am glad that thing is over."

Fourteen of the Steelers wore special Canadian football shoes with long, pointed cleats, as they had in last year's Super Bowl. These were introduced by trainer Tony Parisi, but they can hardly have figured in the victory because the Raiders, having heard about a good thing, wore them, too. But Parisi's wife Joan sewed muffs on the Steelers' jerseys—fleece-lined flaps to stick their hands into. And all the Steeler receivers wore Wilson golf gloves.

Roy Gerela believed the wind affected his kicks more than anything else, but he worried about his foot all afternoon. "The first time I went on the field, I didn't feel anything in it," he said. "It would get cold inside my shoe so I'd take it off and hold my foot up to the heater on the sidelines, but then one side would get cold while the other was warming."

Also on the sideline heaters were jars of Firm-Grip, or, as receivers call it, stickum. Ordinarily they put gobs of it on their ankles and reach down for touchups when necessary. But this day the stickum froze.

"A lot of people pshaw the idea," said Mansfield, "but I know the ball contracts when it gets cold."

"I had frostbite in the Army," said L.C. Greenwood, "and I felt it coming back."

But Linebacker Jack Lambert said, "In a game as big as this, you put little things like fingers and toes out of your mind."

Joe Greene had his own theory about whipping the weather: "You get all fired up and your body's gonna keep you warm." That was his theory, but Greenwood admitted nothing had kept him warm. With great dignity, after the game he slipped a good half-dozen rings over his suffering fingers and stepped into a big fur coat. What kind of fur was it? "A little rabbit, a little cat, a little chicken," he said. He looked cozy.


Steeler hero Stallworth had the hot hands.