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Oiler Coach Won’t Be Out-Barked : Question Is Whether Houston Has Bite to Win at Cleveland

Times Staff Writer

House of Pain for rent: One-room mansion in Houston, holds 55,000, available immediately. Site of many joyous celebrations but recently lost tenant.

That’s the Astrodome, home of the not-quite-all-conquering Oilers, who went 7-1 in their Paindome, with a final 41-6 rout of the Cincinnati Bengals, giving them their fondest desire, a chance to open the playoffs at home not-so-sweet home.

Unfortunately, they’d lost their second-to-last ‘Dome game to the Pittsburgh Steelers ? Yup. So when, the Oilers blew a 23-7 lead to the Bernie Kosar-less Browns last week, they put themselves on a return trip to Cleveland for today’s American Conference wild-card game at 10:30 a.m. PST.

Kosar, who has a sprained knee, is still questionable, but then the volatile Oilers and their cocky little coach, Jerry Glanville, have long demonstrated a penchant for self-destruction, no matter what the odds.

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Glanville has already fired the first shots in this one, sneering before last week’s game at the Browns’ playing field (“painted dirt”), locker-room accommodations (he said he had to bring a hammer and nails to hang his clothes up), and city (“It could be worse, those guys have to stay there.”)

It should come as no surprise that Brown fans pelted the Oilers with snowballs and golf balls and anything else they could lift and throw.

Outraged, Ladd Herzeg, the Oiler general manager, protested to the league office last week, asking that a screen be erected in front of the Dog Pound, the seats behind the east end zone, and that the Oilers be allowed to warm up at the west end.

The league took no action.

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“Of course, we’re not one of the league’s favorite sons,” Herzeg told the Houston Post’s Ray Buck.

This was a thinly veiled reference to Brown owner Art Modell, a traditional ally of Pete Rozelle.

The Browns replied that no snow was expected today.

Mudballs anyone?

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This is just part of the new Oiler saga. The Oilers dote on the outlaw image they’ve worked so hard to acquire, although you might ask why a team with all that talent doesn’t just zip it up and play.

Glanville dresses in black, a la Johnny Cash or Al Davis, and is roundly disliked by other coaches who allege dirty play and lots of it. Glanville used to feud with the press, but this season he went on a public relations crusade, starting in training camp when he announced his “hug-a-writer-a-day” program.

Then he began his I’m-good-copy series, leaving a ticket at the ticket window for Elvis Presley at an exhibition in Memphis.

That went over so boffo that he subsequently left tickets for Buddy Holly in Dallas, James Dean in Indianapolis, and Loni Anderson in Cincinnati. Just to prove he hadn’t forgotten his (bad) manners, he left tickets in Philadelphia for W.C Fields, and in Pittsburgh for the keeper of the city’s zoo.

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Maybe he should leave a ticket today for Tom Flores or someone who just wants to coach?

A year ago, Glanville got the Oilers into the playoffs for his first time, almost blew a big lead against the Curt Warner-less Seahawks in the wild-card game, and moved on to Denver. The Broncos’ inability to deal with big running teams was already well established and Glanville has one of the biggest. His offensive line has three high No. 1 picks (all-pro guards Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews, tackle Dean Steinkuhler), and his backfield has Mike Rozier and Alonzo Highsmith.

Nevertheless, on his first play from scrimmage, Glanville had Warren Moon throw a lateral pass into his own end zone to Rozier, who fumbled it. The Broncos recovered at the Oiler 1, scored on the next play and won a laugher.

Glanville, under fire, later produced letters from fans, telling him to stay just the way he is.

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The Browns are 3 1/2-point favorites, although they have struggled all season. Kosar’s passing rating of 82.3 is his lowest since his rookie year, which has been attributed to his injured right elbow, or the loss of offensive coordinator Lindy Infante to the Green Bay Packers. The once-solid running game was sixth worst in the league. Their defense, however, third best in the league, limited Rozier to 17 yards last week.

If Kosar can’t go, the Browns will warm up 38-year-old Don Strock. A week ago, Strock threw 3 first-half interceptions . . . and came back to bomb the Oilers for 326 yards on a windy, snowy day. Halfback Kevin Mack returns, so the Browns won’t have to use their Ernest Byner-Tim Manoa double-fullback tandem.

This isn’t supposed to be Browns’ weather, however. The forecast is for temperatures in the 40s to 50s, which is good news for America’s would-be tough guys.

The Oilers haven’t won a cold-weather game in their division since 1977.

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They’ve never won a game in Cleveland after Halloween.

Dog biscuits, anyone?


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