Bad taste left by tie will stay with Rams
NOV 13, 2012 8:21p ET
Meet Otis Armstrong. He was a Denver Broncos running back from 1973 to ’80. On Sept. 22, 1974, he was part of the NFL’s first regular-season overtime tie when Denver and the Pittsburgh Steelers slugged each other before leaving Mile High Stadium even at 35.
Ah, timeless melodrama. Sunday, the St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers finished gridlocked at 24. The tie, the NFL’s 18th since overtime was introduced for all regular-season games in the '74 campaign, was an enigma wrapped around a paradox: It felt worse than losing but better than suffering defeat.
“You expend a lot of energy,” said Armstrong, who caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Steve Ramsey in the fourth quarter to tie the score in ‘74. “We went into overtime and still couldn’t get it done. … If you ever notice most of the faces of guys, there’s no exhilaration at all. It almost feels like it’s wasted.”
Or frittered away, a scarlet letter on the record until next fall. Some things don’t change after almost four decades. Monday, Rams coach Jeff Fisher described the tie, which left his team at 3-5-1 in the NFC West cellar, as if it were a smooch moment with a sibling.
A letdown? Of course.
Empty? A little.
Awkward? You bet.
“I’m disappointed,” Fisher said. “You set out to win every game. I guess you don’t feel as bad as you would have had you lost the game, but we had opportunities to win it. Whether we get the kick (in overtime) off on time, or make a play, or get lined up in the appropriate formation, we had opportunities to win this game.”
So did Armstrong’s Broncos. Back in '74, Denver jumped to a 21-7 lead by the first quarter’s end. The Broncos led 28-21 late in the third before the Steelers scored 14 consecutive points with touchdown runs by Steve Davis and John Fuqua.
Then came Armstrong’s catch to tie the score, which capped a five-play, 50-yard drive with 7:01 left. Then both teams punted. Then Pittsburgh’s final drive of regulation ended with Roy Gerela’s 25-yard field-goal try being swatted at the line of scrimmage.
Pittsburgh never advanced into Denver territory in overtime. But the Broncos had something to rival Greg Zuerlein’s shank from 58 yards Sunday: Jim Turner’s 41-yard field-goal try sliced right on their first possession, and they never sniffed the uprights again.
Voila, history was made. So was lost opportunity.
“It was a great game, but we had a chance to win it,” Armstrong said.
“It was sort of a letdown for us. We had a good offense.”
The tied score tells half of this Don Quixote tale. Denver and Pittsburgh combined for 816 yards, four fumbles (three lost), seven turnovers and 19 penalties for 152 yards. Only the Broncos, with 37 points 11 weeks later in a victory over the Houston Oilers, scored as many points again.
There were solid individual showings too. Joe Gilliam, the Steelers’ quarterback, completed 31 of 50 passes for 348 with one touchdown and two interceptions. Armstrong, meanwhile, ran for a game-high 131 yards on 19 carries.
“I just remember diving in the end zone,” Armstrong said of the play that tied the score. “I made it, and the referee said, ‘Touchdown.’ I thought that was the end. I was running and jumping up on everybody and getting all excited.”
Talk about your turn of events. Talk about your fork in the end zone.
Denver, which left 0-1-1, finished 7-6-1 and without a playoff berth. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh, which left 1-0-1, finished 10-3-1 in the regular season before capturing its first Super Bowl title.
“We went on from there,” said Armstrong, who ended the season with a league-high 1,407 rushing yards. “You’ve got to move on. That’s exactly what we did. We just moved on through the schedule, but it was an exciting game. I can recall that.”
So Armstrong can relate to the overcast skies over Rams Park this week. A tie is … bleh. It's no worse, and it's certainly no better.
Get used to the taste, Rams.
It will stick around for a long time.
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.