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Putting the Wild in Wild-Card Games : AFC playoffs: Jerry Glanville and Chuck Noll put their differences in the background as surprising Steelers return to postseason against Oilers.

December 31, 1989|BOB OATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HOUSTON — In the other wild-card game today, the Houston Oilers can end the season for the upstart Pittsburgh Steelers, the surprise team of the American Conference.

And with the more experienced quarterback, Warren Moon, the Oilers, who have been in the playoffs in three successive winters, are widely expected to do that.

Having already beaten Pittsburgh twice this year, 27-0 and 23-16, they are favored to ruin quarterback Bubby Brister's postseason debut.

"(Brister) has take-charge potential," Pittsburgh Coach Chuck Noll said Saturday. "But this is only his second season as a starter."

The club's other hot prospect, running back Tim Worley, who was drafted first last April, is younger yet. The Georgia flyer, 23, came on fast after a slow start in September to run the Steelers into the playoffs.

"(Worley) hasn't touched his potential," Noll said. "He can be a dominating runner."

So that's why the Steelers are suddenly here--10 years after their last Super Bowl, and five years after their last playoff season.

In Brister, 26, they think they have their best quarterback since Terry Bradshaw. A scrappy product of Northeast Louisiana, the Steelers' third draft pick in 1986, Brister has everything it takes to be a pro quarterback but the upper-body build. He is 6-feet-3 and 210 pounds, but tends to get hurt.

In Worley, the Steelers say flatly, they finally have the running back they've wanted since Franco Harris retired. At 6-2 and 216, Worley ran the dashes for his school teams.

By comparison, the Oilers will field a set of running backs today--starting with Allen Pinkett and Alonzo Highsmith--plus one of the NFL's great quarterbacks.

Moon finished the season as the AFC's second-ranked passer. He had 23 touchdowns to 14 interceptions.

Brister, who started 14 games, had nine touchdowns to 11 interceptions.

This will be Houston Coach Jerry Glanville's first playoff game against one of his severest critics, Noll, but both men are resisting the urge to add any combustible elements to the blaze.

"(Beating Glanville) isn't a motive we have trying to get our team ready," Noll said.

Asked to comment, Glanville, who is 5-3 against Noll, said: "Nobody here is mad at Chuck."

AFC Notes

Pittsburgh and Houston, both play in the AFC Central, which has put three teams in the playoffs in each of the last two years. The Oilers beat Cleveland in last winter's wild card game, 24-23. . . . It has been only a year since Chuck Noll fired everyone on his defensive staff except the line coach, Mean Joe Greene. Noll gives much of the credit for Pittsburgh's improvement to his new defensive coordinator, NFL veteran Rod Rust. . . . Today's opponents, en route to 9-7 finishes, went through seasons that were much the same--but in reverse. The Steelers lost their first two games by a composite 92-10, then won five of their last six. "I like to think that that's a plus," Noll said. . . . The Oilers, who lost their last two by a composite 85-27, got to the playoffs by winning five of the preceding six, including 23-7 over the Raiders. . . . In the Astrodome with Warren Moon, the Oilers are 6-2 this year and 18-4 in their last 22.

In possibly the oddest news conference of the season, Noll seemed particularly ungrateful when informed that Jerry Glanville, in one of his strangest moves yet, had voted him coach of the year. Asked for his reaction, Noll said: "I don't know why (Glanville) had a vote." A reporter then asked: "Were you surprised that he voted for you?" Said Noll: "The thing that upsets me is that I didn't have a vote."

Houston's best defensive end, Ray Childress, is doubtful. The Steelers have no serious injuries. . . . Cornerback Dwayne Woodruff is Pittsburgh's only survivor from the Super Bowl era. . . . The Oilers are one of only five NFL teams with winning records in each of the last three seasons.

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