Wagner goes inside the Steel Curtain
Quick hitters from former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Mike Wagner:
Q: What was your view of the "Immaculate Reception?"
A: I was sitting on the sideline with one of my teammates, we were sitting on our helmets and were actually starting to untape. All of the sudden this play develops and Franco Harris catches the ball and goes running by us into the end zone. We were all like stunned. Then everybody just gets up and runs into the end zone, we're jumping up and down. It took about a another half-hour for the referees to figure out whether or not the touchdown was going to count or not.
They finally got everybody off the field and there's still time on the clock. I'm looking for my helmet. I had been sitting on it, but when I ran down to the end zone to celebrate, I didn't bring my helmet with me and no one knew where it was. The defense had to go in there for the final play and I grabbed one from a second-string lineman or somebody. So I'm out there with this helmet that doesn't fit me, the thing was rattling around. The ball was thrown in my direction. I tried to make a play, but I got banged and ended up on my butt. Fortunately my teammate Mel Blount grabbed the receiver and slammed him to the ground and that was the end of the game.
Q: Your favorite Super Bowl moment?
A: Probably picking off Roger Staubach in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl X. Totally surprised him. Didn't get in the end zone, though. Too many big guys from the other team trying to knock me down.
Note: Wagner intercepted Staubach and returned it 19 yards to the Dallas 7-yard line, setting up a field goal that put Pittsburgh up 15-10 with 7:04 remaining.
Q: Toughest player to tackle?
A: Probably Earl Campbell. He ran over me one time in a Monday Night Football game. He stiff-armed me and I felt like I'd been thrown out of a produce truck going about 30 miles an hour. He was probably the toughest one to physically bring down. Larry Csonka might be another one, but he wasn't real fast.
I have a lowlight film chasing O.J. Simpson down the sideline. The only thing that had me feeling good about the play was he didn't pull away from me. But he was probably jogging and I was running as fast as I could.
Q: Playing at Three Rivers Stadium?
A: I didn't like the field. The field was terribly hard. There was no real padding beneath the surface. I liked it when it was dry and quick. I really liked to play on surfaces that had really good footing. Being a defensive back, you don't want to be slipping and sliding out there. The facility itself, in the early 70s, was state of the art, to have a dual-purpose stadium like that. After a while, you just get used to it.
Q: Worst weather game?
A: The worst was the 1975 AFC championship against the Raiders. The field was iced up and then it was just wet as can be and the wind was blowing and it was about 15 degrees out. When they put the de-icers on the field, the first time you fall on the ground, you have all this ice water. It doesn't matter how many layers of cotton or wool you have underneath, now you're soaking wet and the wind starts blowing. Back then we didn't have the performance wear, we didn't have good gloves or anything.
Q: Living in Pittsburgh when it was "City of Champions?"
A: I've been a die-hard Cubs fan my whole life. We had to wait the longest. When the Pirates were in the playoffs, we couldn't practice at Three Rivers. They'd put us on buses and we'd practice at Carnegie-Mellon's field frequently. Or we'd be on a 60-yard field under a bridge somewhere on the East Side. One time, we pulled up to a municipal park and were shooing kids off the playground.
That was a different era. In the middle 70s, when we won two Super Bowls, the combined salaries of the whole team, all 47 players, was $2.2 million. That's pocket change for players today.