TDBH: Bengals outpoint Steelers (Take a bow, Rattler)

Posted Dec 9, 2017

This Day in Bengals History - December 10, 1977

It is the Freezer Bowl before the Freezer Bowl. Try the Ice Rink Bowl. With the Riverfront Stadium Astroturf slicked down in zero-degree weather with a 17-below wind chill, the 8-5 Bengals skate past the 8-5 Steelers, 17-10, to win an odd tiebreaker that makes them AFC Central Division champs over two-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh with a win at 7-6 Houston in next week’s finale. The Bengals are trying to squeeze into the postseason like the panty hose equipment manager Tom Gray orders early in the week to help keep his players warm. After consulting with the Jets, Gray orders three sizes and 15 Bengals get the biggest that start at 240 pounds.

 It is an extra large assignment. After losing to the Steelers eight weeks ago, 20-14, the Bengals need to win by more than six points to render the Steelers’ finale in San Diego useless with a Cincy win in Houston. And as if on cue, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw is driving from his own 21 for a Roy Gerela field goal in the final two minutes that would be a loss but a win. Only Bengals-Steelers. The mind games just didn’t start with Bill Cowher and Kimo von Oelhoffen. “All the garbage about Pittsburgh’s superiority and psychological edge, it’s all over,” says Bengals head coach Tiger Johnson. “We beat ‘em. We beat ‘em right.” Bradshaw reaches the Cincinnati 40 when he’s sacked for a seven-yard loss by defensive end Gary Burley with 43 seconds left. Bradshaw then proceeds to uncork three straight incompletions in the final minute to end it, but his third-and-10 floater is headed to wide-open wide receiver John Stallworth at the Bengals 15. It looks like a 32-yard completion, a 33-yard chip shot for Gerela and ….. But no. Jeremy Hill holds on to the ball. A.J. Green’s touchdown stands and isn’t negated by a hold. Cornerback Ken “Rattler,” Riley strikes out of nowhere, leaps, and at the last possible instant knocks the ball away to preserve the playoffs. “I was on short rotation,” says Riley, indicating Stallworth isn’t his man, “But I saw the ball in the air, so I got as much depth as I could. I thought it was going over my head. I had that extra inch.” The big bad Steelers are slain. “I’m really kind of shaky,” Tiger Johnson says. “It’s an emotional thing.”

As the defense holds Steelers running back Franco Harris to minus-six yards on five rushes in the second half to knock him back under 100 yards when they ditch their stunts and go straight ahead while Bengals defensive end Coy Bacon taunts him, the Bengals cash two Steeler fumbles in the third quarter for the tying and winning points. Tight end Pat McInally is best known for his punting and catches just five TDs in his 10 seasons, but this is the biggest. The 43-yarder breaks a 10-10 tie on a route originally intended for running back Lenvil Elliott. Running a pattern that is supposed to “clean it up,” for Elliott, McInally gets the call instead. “I don’t think they expected me to run a goal pattern,” McInally says. Quarterback Ken Anderson overcomes a massive hit from Ernie Holmes to throw for 303 yards, his fourth most ever. The respect between Bradshaw and Anderson shines through the picture of their post-game greeting with Bradshaw putting his hands on Anderson’s shoulder pads. Riley offers wisdom only a cerebral tactician that is among the NFL’s active interception leaders can offer. “It doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t win next week. Houston is always tough at home. They’ll be looking for spoilers.” Footnote: Oilers 21, Bengals 16. Steelers win the division the hard way.

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