I was hanging out at the White Fields dinner at “The Priory” last week and many ex-players were in for the dinner. One of my former teammates, the legendary tackle Jon Kolb was in attendance. Jon was reminiscing about the Steelers-Browns game from my rookie year (1980) played at Three Rivers stadium.
What made this conversation so interesting to me was many times this past season i have been hearing people who called into the show Tunch and i do during the season and scream about Bruce Arians being so predictable. Though i totally disagreed with the callers, and am a fan of the offense Bruce runs, the main point to offensive football as i’ve learned the game from Chuck Noll is largely overlooked.
But to many fans who have not played the game it’s “I knew what they were running before they snapped the ball!” If i heard it once, i’ve heard it a thousand times.
But the real deal is correct execution. You can do all the innovative stuff you want, but at it’s core, high-powered offensive football is all about executing the play. Even when the opponent knows what’s coming. That’s the sign of a good offensive unit.
Less than a couple minutes left with the game on the line back in 1980, and us having a first and goal, Chuck Noll called a “Sprint right pick.” It’s a pass play that has Bradshaw rolling towards the sidelines and the WR’s are doing a little “rub” action to free up in the end zone. Incomplete pass. So on second down Coach Noll again calls the same play. Again an incomplete pass. Now it’s third and goal. The crowd is amped and going nuts.
Chuck was not one to be deterred in a situation like that. Coach Noll knew what he wanted, and that if correctly executed, it didn’t matter what the Browns defense did, they couldn’t stop it. This was Coach Noll’s belief system in a nutshell right there.
So Coach again calls the sprint right pick. Again the ball hits the ground. One more play to be run. This is the game right here and now. We need seven to win. Timeout is called. Fourth and goal and Coach Noll calls a sprint right pick.
Nobody can believe that Chuck is so stubborn calling the same play four times in a row. But he won’t be swayed in his thinking even with Terry standing face to face trying to change his mind. Chuck was all about execution. “Get it done” was what he believed even if the other team knew it was coming. Running the dad-gum play correctly beat trickeration hands down in his mind. It was all about the will to win.
“Run the play!” Chuck screamed with that bulldog look in his eyes that always ended all conversation. And so we did. And we completed the pass and won the game.
Jon Kolb finished his story, and then he looked at me and said, “I always believed the greatest complement we ever got was when the opponent said we knew the play you were gonna run. And we still scored on them. Because the real test is executing the play even when they know it’s coming.”
Jon paused, then continued with a grin, “Yeah, you know it’s coming, but can you stop us?”