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Before this season ends, that call may well be heard again. Going into last weekend's game against the stumbling New York Jets the Steelers were riding an eight-game winning streak and an overall won-lost record of 9-1. That was good enough to pui them in first place in the Central Division of the American Conference the toughest division in the N.F.L. Their biggest conference obstacle on the way to the Super Bowl is a likely playoff showdown with the rugged Oakland Raiders. If the Steelers survive that, they will probably face either the Vikings or the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl next month in Miami.
A Super Bowl in Florida will be the natural conclusion for a sunny NFL. season. Despite, or perhaps because of, the collapse of the rival World Football League, the N.F.L. this fall registering a jump in attendance (averaging 56,000 per game) and an increase in TV ratings. And why not? Some 40% of the games are being won by 7 points or less, not to mention a rash of sudden-death thrillers.
It is ironic that four of the key protagonists of this season should be Charles Edward ("Joe") Greene, Dwight Lynn White, Ernest Lee Holmes and L.C. Henderson Greenwood. Though front fours have been well publicized in pro football, the Rams "Fearsome Foursome" and the Vikings "Purple People Eaters during the past decade, quarterbacks and running backs still remain the celebrities of the sport. Certainly the action along the line of scrimmage gets only passing attention from TV cameras and fans. But this trench warfare is as fierce as anything in sport. Grunting and cursing, players club, ram and pound each other in two- and three-second rumbles that begin anew with every play.
Until about 15 years ago, the defensive lineman's primary objective was to come out of the rumble stopping the run. No longer. Faced with increasingly sophisticated passing attacks, the interior defensive line must now think first about rushing the passer. To do that, which requires them to overcome powerful, oversize blocking linemen who launch the offensive attack, front fours operate as a team with complicated strategies of their own.
In Pittsburgh, planning starts every Tuesday morning at the Steelers' offices in Three Rivers Stadium when Joe Greene and Co., including back-up lineman Steve Furness, gather with Defensive Line Coach George Perles to go over movies of the previous Sunday's game. Screening a specially edited reel that covers only defensive play by Pittsburgh, Perles, 41, a former Michigan State tackle, shows his players their mistakes in a numbing montage of slow motion, stop-action and reverse-run images. On Wednesday, films of the next opponent come under scrutiny. The group focuses on the abilities of each offensive lineman: Has some bull-like youngster been developing deceptive moves? Has a veteran fallen into a habit pattern that tips off his plans? Perles points out the formations and plays he thinks the opposition will use. In afternoon practice sessions, the front four polish the latest pass-rushing tactics Perles has devised.