Dirty Rotten Scoundrels : Under the Pile, Away From the Play, That’s Where Real NFL Action Often Is, Even if No One Sees It


Sometime Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys’ Kevin Williams will catch a pass.

A swarm of Pittsburgh Steelers will grab him.

The Steelers and Cowboys will form a huge pile on top of him.

Then, if Super Bowl XXX is like one particular game this season, something else will happen.

Somebody will bite Kevin Williams in the groin.

“The guy got stopped by the cup,” Williams said. “So he bit me on the leg.”


Sometime Sunday, the Steelers’ Levon Kirkland will chase down a runner.

He will shed a frustrated blocker and make the tackle.

Then, if Super Bowl XXX is like one particular game this season, something else will happen.

That blocker will spit in Levon Kirkland’s face.

“And I won’t say nothing,” Kirkland said. “I’ll just do it right back to him.”


It was only appropriate that the theme of Super Bowl XXX was announced Wednesday by the man with a face resembling a forearm shiver.


“One word you are going to hear a lot this week is physical,” Steeler Coach Bill Cowher said. “Dallas is a physical team. And I assure you that the Steelers will play physical.”

In one corner is an offensive line that blocks behind the legs, a secondary that punches at the line of scrimmage, a coach who has bumped referees.

“Everybody knows how we play,” Cowboy safety Darren Woodson said. “Like it or not, we aren’t changing.”

In the other corner is a team with one running back named Bam, one linebacker who patterns himself after Hulk Hogan, and another linebacker who was fined for a dangerous hit to the head . . . during the preseason.

“Everybody talks about the roughness of the Cowboys . . . well, long before that there has been something known as ‘Steeler football,’ ” Cowher said. “Tough, punishing football. The kind of football we still play here today.”

And mostly the kind of football that the average fan will never witness.

Based on the type of play that these Super Bowl participants claim they have both seen and used, some of the toughest shots Sunday will be delivered after the whistles.


On the sidelines. In the piles. And from the mouths.

Millions will thrill at the tackling of the Steelers’ Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd, the blocking of the Cowboys’ Larry Allen and Erik Williams.

But few will see the pushing, shoving, twisting, tugging and, yes, biting.

“Nobody sees the hell,” said Mark Bruener, Steeler tight end.


Steeler cornerback Alvoid Mays said the dirty play will start long before the first hand is shoved in the first face.

“Both teams watch so much film of each other, they know each other’s tendencies,” Mays said. “During pregame warmups, players will walk up to the officials and tell them about them.”

Receivers will warn of a cornerback’s penchant for tugging.

Cornerbacks will warn of a receiver’s habit of punching.

“Then we’ll spend the rest of the game screaming to the officials to call one of those things,” Mays said. “And of course, they’ll call none of it, because they can’t see it.”

And chaos will ensue.


The last strains of the national anthem have not even left the stadium, and players on the kickoff teams are already yelling at each other.

“Guys will be saying, ‘I’m going to punk you out,’ ” said Tracy Greene, Steeler specialist. “And guys on the other side will be screaming, ‘You’re scared! You’re scared!’ ”


The ball is kicked, all eyes focus on the kick returner . . . and everyone will miss the three guys being tripped.

“If you can do it away from the ball, maybe nobody sees you,” Greene said. “And if you get him good, the other guy won’t forget it.”


While actually carrying the ball, running backs are usually above dirty shots.

“You can’t punch anybody, because you might fumble the ball,” said Bam Morris, Steeler running back. “And all they are trying to do is tackle you.”

But once you are tackled, that’s where the fun starts.

Pity the man who ends up at the bottom of a pile in Super Bowl XXX.

“You wouldn’t believe what happens in piles, because the referees can’t see anything,” Steeler defensive end Brentson Buckner said. “In fact, looky here . . .”

With that, he held out his right wrist, where the indentations of a tooth were still evident.

“Don’t know whose teeth they are,” Buckner said. “By the time you get up, those guys are gone.”


The idea behind a pile riot is to remove the football from the player’s hands, then claim he fumbled it before he was tackled.

Once, Morris looked up to find an opponent’s hand trapped under his facemask.

Another time, Williams said he felt his face actually being squeezed.

“The places they grab, sometimes you wonder, ‘What is this guy doing?’ ” Bruener said.

The piles are even too ugly for All-Nasty Charles Haley of the Cowboys, a man so mean that after one altercation, he relieved himself on another player’s car. A teammate’s car.

“If the guy has the ball and is running, I’ll try to tackle him,” Haley said, slowing his speech for emphasis. “But I am . . . not . . . going . . . into . . . any . . . pile.”


The quarterback is supposedly protected by the referee and substantial fines. Sometimes that even works.

The receiver is supposedly protected by pass-interference penalties. That too sometimes works.

But who protects the defensive backs from flying cut blocks from receivers away from the ball?


“I’ve seen guys who were my teammates one minute, and out of football the next minute after one of those cheap blocks,” said safety Scott Case, the Cowboys’ most physical defensive back. “Guys laying there with their leg going in different directions. All because some receiver got mad and decided to get dirty.”

And on Sunday, heaven help the defensive back who drags a receiver out of bounds in front of the receiver’s bench.

“All of a sudden, 30 guys want to know what you’re doing over there,” Case said. “You’re laying there and they all gather around you, elbowing you, kneeing you, doing anything they can until you can get back on the field.”


After the Green Bay Packers’ Reggie White complained about Cowboy linemen Erik Williams’ dirty play in the NFC championship game, many thought it was the minister versus the monster.

But in fact, the play in which Williams injured the knee of Packer John Jurkovic with a block on the side of Jurkovic’s legs was not penalized. And Williams was not fined.

It is not illegal to hit a man on the side of the legs. The career-threatening “chop block” maneuver--involving one blocker holding a defender while another hits his legs--is something entirely different.


Williams’ hit was a cut block. And while it may have been an illegal clip, it was not intentionally dirty.

“We have been taught to block that way,” Williams said. “Jurkovic took the play off, and was real late through the line, and so I just hit him.”

Not that Williams is bothered by being portrayed as a lousy cheat for the first time in his five-year career.

“If all they are calling me is a ‘dirty’ player, then I’m happy,” he said. “And if I can make money off of that, fine.”

Williams knows that more important than actually intimidating opponents with dirty play is making them think you will play dirty.

You must make them think that if they hurt you, somehow you will figure a way to pay them back.


“The Cowboys don’t complain about dirty play, because we are men and we deal with it,” guard Nate Newton said. “If I get into an alley fight with a guy, and he pulls out a pipe and hits me, am I going to run into the street and scream that he didn’t use his fists?

“No. I’m going to go find a pipe and do the same thing to him.”


By standing about 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage, Sunday’s punters will be different in that they will at least begin the play free from serious hassle.

“They can’t spit on me, I’m too far away,” the Steelers’ Rohn Stark said.

Even when opponents begin taunting him before the kick, as the Cowboys surely will, Stark said he feels safe enough to taunt back.

“The other week, somebody was yelling, ‘I’m gonna get this one, I’m gonna get this one,’ ” Stark said. “I just yelled back, ‘Yeah, like I’ve never heard that before.’ ”


Nothing the Cowboys will scream or throw can bother the Steelers’ 14-year veteran kicker Norm Johnson.

Not the wad of tobacco that somebody will undoubtedly spit on the ball before it is snapped--”That happens all the time,” Buckner said.


Not the Cowboy spy who might sneak behind the Steeler bench before the game and steal his kicking shoes.

“I’ve seen shoes stolen before, and it can really mess a guy up,” Johnson said. “So I’ve learned not to even care what shoes I wear.”

Nothing anybody can sing will bother him either.

Because that has also happened.

Several years ago, when Johnson was with the Atlanta Falcons and facing his former Seattle Seahawk teammates for the first time, he was settled in behind the holder for a 42-yard attempt when he heard something strange.

“A one-a and a two-a and a kick-a . . . “ sang the defensive linemen.

It was a song that Seahawk Coach Chuck Knox used to sing to Johnson. He couldn’t believe he was hearing it again.

“It was the perfect distraction, because I couldn’t stop laughing,” he said. “But I made the kick. Thank goodness, I made the kick.”


Rarely is a player ever seriously injured by dirty play.

Oddly enough, the players trying to maim each other live by a code.

“Everybody knows that all of us are one play away from ending our careers,” Cowboy defensive end Tony Tolbert said. “You don’t want to do something to anybody else that you don’t want done to you.”


And, really, how many times can you poke somebody in the eye without feeling like a stooge?

Cowboy linebacker Dixon Edwards recalls earlier this season when he was hit in the back at the end of a special teams play by Oakland Raider Aundray Bruce.

“I was just standing there, nowhere near the ballcarrier, and he knocks me flat,” Edwards recalled. “Then he looks at me and shouts, ‘Your mother!’ ”

Edwards said he was so furious, on the next special teams play he knocked Bruce from behind, jumped in his face and screamed, “Your mother!”

Nearby teammates broke up laughing, and Edwards began thinking.

He pondered the toughness of his game. He mulled over the will to succeed despite all bodily costs.

And then, Dixon Edwards was visited with a revelation.

“I told myself, something’s wrong here,” Edwards said. “Here I am, almost 30 years old, and I’m talking about somebody’s mother?”