Tales from Montlake and the Super Bowl

It was the coolest damn thing I had ever heard. Up to that point, I had been having a great time speaking to Ray Pinney about things like being named All-Coast Center, the '75 Apple Cup miracle, and unruly, drunk Oregon fans from ‘73. Then we started talking about his days with the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he mentioned something that somehow blew my mind.

"I was #74 and Joe Greene was #75", said Pinney nonchalantly. "So we had our lockers right next to each other."

It was here that I lost my composure.

"Noooooooo way! Mean Joe Greene? The guy who threw his jersey to the kid in the tunnel in that old Coca-Cola commercial? The Steel Curtain defense? That guy was larger than life to me when growing up… Man, what a trip!"

That was only part of the mystique that former Husky great Ray Pinney was a part of. In his 13-year NFL career, Pinney's brightest moment was playing right tackle on the 1978 Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. This was the team that beat the Dallas Cowboys 35-31, and years later in a vote of the fans, was named the NFL "Team of the Century".

Pinney remembers being in the locker room following the game and not believing his ears.

"I was sitting there at my locker, all dirty and tired and sweaty… And just a few feet away was the podium where (coach) Chuck Noll was standing. And he said, `this team hasn't peaked yet.'"

Ouff.

As incredulous as it was to hear Pinney tell of that quote, it didn't hold a candle to another story from the Super Bowl as described by the former Husky. It revolved around a Steelers defensive backfield coach named Dick Walker.

"Dick Walker was always wandering around during practices; Chuck Knoll would yell at Walker in the middle of drills to get out of the way. He often seemed to be in places that he wasn't supposed to be", recalled Pinney, priming the story with some background.

"Earlier that year against Cleveland, Franco Harris runs a sweep toward the sideline, and there is a big pile up. We hear someone screaming, "Get off my leg! Get off my leg!" We were thinking, 'Oh no! Franco Harris is our most important player, and now we have lost him. So all the bodies start to un-pile, and suddenly there is Franco hopping up, tossing the ball to the ref, and he was OK.

"And at the bottom of the pile, Dick Walker is lying there, somehow with a yard maker stuck into his ass."

"On the team bus after that game, he's is still in such a daze. He is pulling his luggage out of an overhead compartment, and it falls down and hits (Steelers owner) 72-year old Mr. Rooney in the head, he's bleeding everywhere, and Rooney requires stitches. Walker is so dazed, he doesn't even realize what he has done."

Pinney continued with another story about Walker. "Out on the field during the warm-ups prior to the Super Bowl, we are running our drills. The Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders are out on the field, wearing their really short shorts, with their legs going way up and down. We are running our drills, but Walker isn't paying attention. He is standing out in the middle of the field, just staring at the cheerleaders, watching their legs go up and down. Meanwhile, Terry Bradshaw is throwing to his receivers, and a pass gets away from him and hits Dick Walker in the head... It knocks him out and they need to bring an ambulance onto the field to cart him off... He didn't return until the 3rd quarter."

Wacky assistant coaches aside, there were some great legends that played alongside Pinney in his days with the Steelers. Late Center Mike Webster was a perennial All-Pro and Hall of Famer. John Stallworth and Lynn Swann were "both really good guys, but every time they came back (to the huddle) after a pass play, they would say to Bradshaw, ‘I was open.' Those guys were so good, they always thought they were open on every play."

Terry Bradshaw had gone through some strong adversity early in his career, but by the '78 Super Bowl, he was a hometown hero. Said Pinney, "he had great talent, a great arm, and by then had matured and proven himself."

Ray Pinney stated that there was a fundamental difference between Cowboy coach Tom Landry and Chuck Knoll. He said that Landry always stressed winning the third quarter, but for Knoll it was always the fourth. That was just what Pittsburgh did in rallying to win one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever.

Recalled Pinney, "the turning point in the game was on a pass from Bradshaw to Swann. Pass interference was called."

Since Pinney was pass blocking at that moment, he got to see the tail end of the play very clearly.

"(Cowboy defensive end) Randy White's reaction to the penalty was, "AHHHHHHH…!" And I thought, "aha, we've got ‘em."

The Pittsburgh Steelers not only won that contest, but also returned the next year to beat the Los Angeles Rams, giving the former Husky two Super Bowl rings as mementos for a great career.

Although during his time on Montlake he was an All-Coast center for Don James, when he entered the pro ranks, Pinney played both left and right tackle. He stated recently that the toughest guys he ever had to block in the pros were Reggie White and Bruce Smith. The toughest player he ever had to block in college was Cliff Frazier.

These days, Pinney declares himself to be a "fair weather fan", when it comes to the Huskies, although he does have season tickets.

He recalls his last game when the Huskies miraculously beat the Cougars 28-27 by scoring two touchdowns in the final 4:00 of the game. Amid an endless downpour, the Cougars had a 27-14 lead and the ball inside the Washington 10-yard line. Some Cougar players egged on their coach Jim Sweeny to throw a pass, to rub it in the Huskies' faces. Bad decision. Husky defender Al Burleson promptly picked it off and raced 93 yards for a touchdown. This brought to life the remaining brave souls who were enduring the cold and wet weather.

On the following series, the Cougs went three and out. Then Husky QB Warren Moon dropped back to pass, and heaved one down the middle of the field. It bounced off of WR Scott Phillips' hands, off a Cougar defender, and finally into the hands of Olympic sprinter/Husky receiver Spider Gaines. Into the end zone he raced, and the game was tied.

Ray Pinney's final play as a Husky was in snapping the extra point.

"When it was kicked, to me it looked like we missed it, by about six inches. I was like, noooooooooo."

"But then they signaled that it was good, and I saw the replay of it later and it was good… So that was a great win."
Derek Johnson can be reached at uwsundodger@msn.com

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