A month after winning Super Bowl XIII, Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Chuck Noll joked to reporters that his new ring had a button on the side.
"You push the button and the top of the ring flips up," said Noll. "Inside there's a tiny tape recorder and you get to hear Tom Landry bitching."
Bill Cowher should hope for the same when he receives his ring on June 4, because the crying and whining from the Seattle Seahawks has not ended.
In the current issue of Sports Illustrated, writer Peter King allows Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren to continue his unabated sob. In a piece that should've been titled "100 Days of Tears," King reports of yet another meeting between Holmgren and Mike Pereira, the NFL director of officiating.
The meeting occurred on the 100th day after the Seahawks' 21-10 loss to the Steelers, and according to King the two sides hashed out "some very close calls – all of which seemed to go against the Seahawks."
Much like Landry before him, Holmgren began complaining after the game and has continued throughout the spring. Landry had complained about a pass interference call against his defensive back, Benny Barnes, who inadvertently tripped Lynn Swann to give the Steelers a 33-yard gain to the Dallas 23.
Landry, like Holmgren, never did point out how his team responded to such adversity. Two plays after the call, on third-and-nine, Franco Harris ran a trap play – an audible by Terry Bradshaw – up the middle 22 yards for a touchdown. The Cowboys fumbled away the ensuing kickoff and the Steelers put the game away with a touchdown for a 35-17 lead.
The Cowboys couldn't overcome adversity and neither could the Seahawks, but that hasn't stopped them from laying their incompetence at the feet of the officials.
The recent article concludes that two calls killed the Seahawks. The first of the two was a hold during a second-quarter punt return. Apparently, the Seahawks felt the game turned after Peter Warrick returned a punt to the Pittsburgh 46. But, alas, the game's true goat, Etric Pruitt, was called for holding Tyrone Carter on the return. The game replay isn't conclusive, but immediately after the block in question Carter is shown turning quickly to complain to the official, who was in the midst of throwing a flag.
The call was replayed by ABC, but instead of showing the return, the two players were shown at the line of scrimmage earlier in the sequence, and Pruitt was holding Carter then.
"He was holding right there at the line of scrimmage," broadcaster John Madden said at the time. "He's trying to hold his guy up from getting a release to get into coverage."
And how did the Seahawks respond to such a crippling first-half call? Well, late in the same quarter they had the ball at the 50 with 1:13 left and trailing 7-3. In typical west-coast fashion, short passes were thrown to slow players who could not get out of bounds. A tricky handoff up the middle and Matt Hasselbeck's best Peyton Manning-at-the-line imitation allowed the clock to roll from 48 seconds to 13 seconds before the Steelers called a timeout. After an incompletion, Josh Brown missed a 54-yard field-goal attempt and Holmgren trotted into the locker room with a timeout in his pocket.
The second call the Seahawks discussed at length with Pereira wasn't the touchdown call on Ben Roethlisberger's sneak. Obviously someone has told Holmgren that the Steelers would've had another crack from the one millimeter line.
No, the second game-turning call was a hold called on right tackle Sean Locklear that prevented the Seahawks from advancing a completed pass to the Pittsburgh 1 while trailing 14-10 in the fourth quarter.
King wrote that the player who was held, Clark Haggans, was "very close to being offside," but a frame-by-frame review of the play shows nose tackle Casey Hampton beating Haggans and everybody else across the line at the snap. Haggans gained leverage on Locklear, who must've felt he had no choice but to hook Haggans to keep him off the quarterback.
In a similar situation earlier in the game, Steelers left tackle Marvel Smith refused to hook a similarly positioned Grant Wistrom, who sacked Roethlisberger to set up third-and-28 for the Steelers. Of course, Roethlisberger overcame the sack by completing a 37-yard pass to Hines Ward.
The Seahawks followed up on their first-and-20 a little differently. They allowed Casey Hampton's first sack in 875 days, and then threw an interception to a wide open Ike Taylor.
Way to handle adversity, boys.
As for the penalty, Haggans said the call was correct.
"He horse-collared me up here," said Haggans, who was bothered by the interruption. "If they want to keep whining about this stuff, we're trying to get minicamp done. It's already game, set and match."
One would think that after 100 days of sobbing by the Seahawks, and apologizing by the national media, the Steelers would be sick of it. Instead, they are amused. After all, they had overcome their own share of adversity.
In the playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts, the Steelers kept their composure after Troy Polamalu's clear interception was overruled. During the review, their coach coached. Cowher knelt down in front of Polamalu and called for the defense to gather around them.
"Any reversals," Cowher started, "you can't control. One thing we can control is us going out there and playing right now.
"Listen," Cowher continued. "Just play. No matter what happens, regardless of what happens, we move on and we play. You got it? Just play."
"What are you talking about?" was Polamalu's initial reaction to what may have been the greatest speech in Cowher's career.
"He was trying to coach ahead," Polamalu said the other day. "He was doing his job."
There we go. Do your job. King made a point in his article to commend Holmgren for the way he talked to his assistant coaches in order to get their heads straight prior to Pereira's arrival. But Holmgren was about 100 days late. He should've coached when it mattered.