KEEP THE FAITH
by Pat Livingston
It requires some degree of imagination to see a future for a team that has lost four of its first five games, but the Steelers are far from as bleak as their pitiful record makes them out to be.
Oh, there will be critics who challenge this statement – the born losers and the win-or-else cult – but as far as knowledgeable football people are concerned, coach Noll’s luckless squad is on the threshold of growing into a team.
The Cleveland Browns felt this way about the Steelers, their 42-31 victims Saturday night. So did most of the Cleveland fans in the nail-biting throng of 85,000 who sat in unbelieving silence as the Steelers held the powerful Browns without a first down for twenty minutes of the second half.
Even the Cleveland quarterback, Bill Nelsen, sensed the change which has come over this team in a year’s time. “They’re doing things I never saw the Steelers do before,” said Nelsen. “It’s a lot better football team than it’s been since I’ve been here. They’ve never had a defense this good.”
The Browns’ coach, Blanton Collier, agreed with his quarterback. “I like that Steeler team, I really do,” said Collier. “It’s a big, strong, physical team and, believe me, they like to hit. I wouldn’t give up on it. If it hadn’t been for a couple of mistakes, there’s no telling what the score might have been – or who might have won.
That defensive line has great personnel, and there’s a lot of speed and quickness in the secondary. Listen to me, “’this team’s going to win a lot of football games yet.”
THAT 75? HE’S GOING TO BE GREAT!
There’s much about this Steeler team that deserved unbounded praise. It’s a fighting team for one thing. A team that hasn’t had any luck, but it’s a team that hasn’t quit. Even when the Steelers were 25 points behind, there was always eleven players on the field who were carrying the fight to the Browns.
Browns’ guard, Gene Hickerson, who played against Joe Greene, and Monte Clark, his side-kick tackle, agreed that Greene, for a rookie, was a cut above the ordinary defensive lineman.
“That 75? He’s going to be great,” enthused Hickerson. “He’s strong as a bull, and so blasted quick. I don’t know how anyone’s going to handle him in a year or two. Believe me; I don’t know how you handle him now. That kid’s all football player. What I like about him, he’s got a great attitude – no smart-aleck stuff.”
HANRATTY MAY BE THE ANSWER
“We’re still going to be a good football team,” says Noll. “I really believe this. Each week a few more things are falling in place. Defensively, I thought we played our best game of the season against the Browns. Let’s face it; they’re a good football team now. We’re going to be a good one.
It may seem strange saying we’ve played a good defensive game. Something’s wrong when you give up 42 points, but the defense wasn’t to blame for that. We gave the Browns – what, 21, 28 points? After that we had to play catch up ball, and no defense can control a game when it comes down to that.”
The one bright spot in Saturday’s defeat was the surprising performance of rookie quarterback, Terry Hanratty, who was pressed into service by an injury to Dick Shiner and the ineffectiveness of Kent Nix.
After a shaky start in which he fired three interceptions in his first six throws, Hanratty came back to drive the Steelers to three fourth quarter touchdowns, climaxing his pro debut by throwing two touchdown passes and setting up a third in his brief, but promising appearance.
Hanratty finished with 6 of 11 for 132 yards with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
Reprinted from the October 20th 1969 edition of Pittsburgh Press.
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