Larry Brown the Pittsburgh Steelers Former Tackle, Tight End & Should Be Hall of Famer

The Steelers 1971 draft class is perhaps a close second to the famed ’74 edition that produced four Hall of Famers. Jack Ham was the lone Hall of Fame player from ’71, but he was one of eight Super Bowl starters that came out of the class that also included Dwight White, Ernie Holmes, Mike Wagner, Gerry Mullins, Frank Lewis, and Larry Brown.

  • Perhaps it’s fitting that I put Brown last in the group, because of all the special contributors from that class, Larry Brown is the least discussed.

Even for citizens of Steelers Nation in who are 40 something,  the words “Steelers” “Larry Brown” and “Super Bowl” conjure up images of Neil O’Donnell connecting directly with Cowboys cornerback twice in Super Bowl XXX.

But the record must reflect that there is in fact another Larry Brown who actually HELPED  the Steelres win Super Bowls against the Cowboys. In-fact, of all the Steelers players who helped the team win four Super Bowls in six years in the 1970s, Chuck Noll‘s Larry Brown is probably the most unheralded and certainly the most  underrated.

  • It is time to correct that and we do that now.

The Steelers drafted Brown with the first of four fifth round picks in ’71 as a tight end out of Kansas and he played tight end for the first six years of his career.

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1970’s TE/OT Steelers Larry Brown; Photo Credit, Pittsburgh Steelers & Pittsburgh Business Journal

In Chuck Noll’s conservative and run-first offense of the early-to-mid ’70s, Brown’s main role was as a blocker. In-terms of receptions, he pulled in just 48 for 636 yards and five touchdowns. 

During his days as a tight end, Brown earned his place in Steelers lore when he pulled in a six-yard touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw with 3:38 remaining in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl IX to give Pittsburgh a 16-6 lead and all but clinch the franchise’s first NFL title.

But three seasons later, a knee injury would force Brown to turn in his No. 87 and switch to No. 79, as Noll wanted him to (at least temporarily) learn how to play tackle while he was still on the mend.

As Brown told Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin in an interview from November of 2012, the move wasn’t so temporary, after all, but he credits it with extending his career:

In hindsight, it worked out well–it extended my career. The year I switched I had a knee injury I was still recovering from. I wasn’t able to do the running and cutting you needed to do to play tight end. That was anticipated by Chuck. We met in his office and he told me that because I couldn’t run due to the injury he was going to have me learn the tackle position. That once I got healthy he’d move me back to tight end. In the meantime, before that, they drafted Bennie Cunningham [in the first round of the 1976 NFL Draft] and signed Randy Grossman. They saw themselves as being in a good position at tight end and had great need at tackle at the same time, so they never moved me back. Then they traded away tackle Gordon Gravelle, so I stayed at the position for eight years and won two more Super Bowls!

Brown started 13 games at right  tackle in 1977 and a total of 85 over his final years in Pittsburgh–including 52 of a possible 57 from 1979-1982.

Brown’s peers finally rewarded him with his first and only Pro Bowl honor in 1982 and he played another two seasons before calling it a career following the 1984 campaign.

Nine Hall of Famers came out of those ’70s Steelers teams, and if the late, great Chuck Noll had a vote for number 10, Brown would have been his choice.

Here is a quote from an NFL.com article from three years ago that lists Brown as one of the Steelers’ all-time most underrated players:

Chuck Noll once was asked this question: Of all the great players who contributed to those four Super Bowl championships during the 1970s, who among those not enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame most deserves to be? Noll’s response was instant. Larry Brown.

That was quite the endorsement from a legendary coach who certainly knew great football players when he saw them.

As per his Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin interview from 2012, Brown began a business partnership with former Steelers defensive back J.T. Thomas in the 1980s and the two have owned, among other things, multiple Applebees restaurants.

  • When Larry Brown makes appearances at his various restaurant franchises, I wonder if patrons know how much he meant to those Super Bowl teams of the 1970s?

Regardless of his notoriety, not many players can say their careers were even close to Hall of Fame-worthy.

Larry Brown can, and that’s certainly something to be proud of.

 

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Celebrating the 8 Greatest Steelers Super Bowl Plays

Super Bowl 50 is almost here. Unfortunately the Pittsburgh Steelers are not playing Super Bowl 50, but as the great game reaches the half-century mark, Steelers Nation can take pride that regardless of whether Carolina or Denver triumphs, the Black and Gold own more Lombardi Trophies than any other franchise.

With that in mind, Steel Curtain Rising gives you the 8 Greatest Steelers Super Bowl Plays.

Lynn Swann, Mark Washington, Super Bowl X, 8 greatest Steelers Super Bowl plays

Lynn Swann makes and belief-defying catch in Super Bowl X over Dalllas’ Mark Washington. Photo Credit: AP, via NY Daily New

Super Bowl IX – Dwight White Spearheads Defensive Dominance

Sometimes plays symbolize an era, other times it is a player. When the two converge , something special happens. It is fitting then that the Pittsburgh Steelers defense would author the first score in their first Super Bowl.

  • That only tells half the story.

Steel Curtain lineman Dwight White got pneumonia the week before Super Bowl IX. He’d lost 18 pounds in the hospital. Chuck Noll and George Perless told Steve Furness to get ready to play. The morning of the Super Bowl, White called Ralph Berlin, the Steelers head trainer, and begged him to pick him up, as White was determined to be introduced.

After talking with Steelers Dr. John Best, they relented, and when they saw White struggling to even put on his jersey, they figured he’d pass out in warm ups and let him play.

White started, and the Minnesota Vikings attacked him immediately. They handed off to Dave Osborn on three straight plays, and Osborn ran directly to White. The results:

  • A loss, no gain, and a one-yard gain.

The game remained scoreless in the second quarter when the Vikings found themselves backed up against their own end zone. A bad snap left Fran Tarkenton scrambling for the ball. It rolled in the end zone. Tarkenton fell on it. Dwight White landed on him.

A safety might only be 2 points, but scoring one sends a message that a defense is imposing its will. The message of Dwight White’s safety in Super Bowl IX was loud and clear: The Steel Curtain had risen.

Super Bowl X – Lynn Swann Shines

Super Bowl X provides the perfect example of how numbers might not lie, but they often fail to paint an accurate picture. Compared to some of the receiving feats of the 1980’s, let alone to the numbers NFL wide receivers put up today, Lynn Swann’s receiving numbers appear rather pedestrian.

  • Lynn Swann never caught more than 60 passes in a season and retired with 336 catches to his name

For years, naysayers like Peter King used those statics to block his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Super Bowl X reveals why the likes of King were so sorely mistaken. Lynn Swann’s stat line from Super Bowl X reads 4-161 and one TD. Not bad, but it suggests nothing spectacular. (Tweet w/ embedded video available as of 2/6/16):

But it was the quality of the catches that Swann made that earned him the Super Bowl MVP Award. His acrobatic catches were works of sheer beauty and displayed such grace that decades after he retired fans who weren’t even born when Swann was playing were still saying, “That was a Lynn Swann Catch.”

Super Bowl XIII – Rocky Bleier Overcomes the Odds

Wounded while serving his country, in Vietnam Rocky Bleier wasn’t even supposed to walk again, let alone play football. Yet Bleier defied the odds, not only making the game, but earning a starting spot.
Even then, Rocky was low man on the totem pole of a Super Bowl offense that featured no fewer than 5 Hall of Famers.

26 seconds remained in the first half with the score tied at 14. Franco Harris had given the Steelers a 3rd and 1 at the Dallas Cowboys 7. Terry Bradshaw dropped back to pass and this is what happened (available as of 2/5/16 – watch it now before Roger Goodell’s YouTube police have it taken down):

Rocky Bleier would not be denied the touchdown, and added 7 points to the Steelers tally in a game they would ultimately win by 4….

Super Bowl XIV – Bradshaw, Stallworth & 60-Prevent-Slot-Hook-And-Go

History tends to paint the Super Steelers as an unstoppable juggernaut that authored an unbroken string of super-human plays en route to four Super Bowls in six years. The Steelers of the 70’s were good, but what made them great wasn’t their ability to blow everyone out of the water, but rather their ability to make plays when the game was on the line.

  • No Super Bowl showcases that ability better than Super Bowl XIV vs. the LA Rams

The 4th quarter had begun, and the Steelers trailed the Los Angeles Rams 19-17. Lynn Swann was out of the game, as was Theo Bell, the Steelers 3rd receiver. Everyone on the Rams staff, most of all former Steelers defensive coordinator Bud Carson, knew Terry Bradshaw would try to get the ball to John Stallworth. And on third and 8 at the Pittsburgh 27, Chuck Noll ordered Bradshaw to do that.

The play was “60-Prevent-Slot-Hook-And-Go” and the Steelers had failed miserably executing the play in practice, and neither Bradshaw nor Stallworth thought the play would work. Chuck Noll knew better. (Available as of 2/4/16):

As Art Rooney Jr. observed in his book Ruanadh, this is the result when you when you pair a Hall of Fame quarterback, with a Hall of Fame Wide Receiver and a Hall of Fame Coach.

Super Bowl XXX – Steelers Surprise Onsides Kick

The Steelers opened the 4th quarter of Super Bowl XXX down 7-10. Nine plays into the game’s final period, a Norm Johnson field goal narrowed the Steelers deficit to 10. On the side lines, special teams coach Bobby April came up to Bill Cowher, next NFL Films captured Bill Cowher into his head set, “Chan? Chan, I’m going with the surprise on sides. I’m not leaving anything in the bag.”

  • Norm Johnson executed the surprise on-sides kick perfectly, and Deon Figures recovered.

Neil O’Donnell led the Steelers down the field, and a Bam Morris touchdown made it 17-20 with the momentum decidedly in the Steelers favor… Of course, Steelers Nation would like to forget what happened after the Steelers defense forced a punt, but alas that too is part of history.

But so is Bill Cowher’s decision to call the surprise on sides. In terms of X’s and O’s, it may not have been the best play call in Steelers Super Bowl history, but it was certainly the boldest.

Super Bowl XL – Ike Taylor’s Interception

If Steelers Nation rightly remembers Bill Cowher’s first Super Bowl for its missed opportunities, it also must honor his final Super Bowl as the occasion where Cowher’s Steelers seized their own opportunities. The two scoring plays – Willie Parker’s 75 yard run and Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward stand out.

  • But those touchdowns bookended an even bigger play that ensured their relevance.

The Steelers were leading 14-3 in the middle of the third quarter when a Ben Roethlisberger interception gave the Seattle Seahawks new life. The Seahawks scored a touchdown. Seattle began the fourth quarter by marching down to the Steelers 19 where they threatened to take the lead. On 3rd and 18 Matt Hasselbeck got greedy and tried to hit Darrell Jackson deep.

The knock on Ike Taylor was that he couldn’t hold on to the interceptions. In his entire career, he picked off NFL quarterbacks 17 times. But three of those came in the post season, and none was more important than his interception of Matt Hasselbeck.

The play grounded the Seahawks rally, and set up the Steelers insurance touchdown that secured One for the Thumb with the Steelers win in Super Bowl XL.

Super Bowl XLIII – James Harrison’s Pick Six

Super Bowl XLIII will forever be remember for Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes, the drive that preceded it, and Larry Fitzgerald’s touchdown that made such heroics necessary. Fair enough. Both Fitzgerald and Holmes touchdowns could easily make “Top 10 Super Bowl Touchdown lists.”

But it says here that James Harrison authored an even bigger touchdown (available as of 2/4/16):

Why does Steel Curtain Rising rank James Harrison’s touchdown higher than Holmes?

  • Simply math settles the question.

Aside from James Harrison running the length of the field, the Cardinals were at least going to score 3 points on that drive. Looked at in that light, Harrison’s touchdown amounted to a 10 point swing in the Steelers favor in a game the Steelers won by four.

The play also revealed Silverback’s incredible discipline, instincts and sheer will power.

Super Bowl XLV – Alejandra’s Return to Health

Steel Curtain Rising missed Super Bowl XLV because it wasn’t shown in Porto Galinhas, Brazil. But by game time that was a secondary consideration. You can read the full story of the tremendous generosity of the staff at the Tabapitanga here, but in a nutshell, my wife suffered a herniated disc, experienced intense pain, and could barely walk. The trip back to Buenos Aires was a harrowing affair, and was followed by three trips to the ER and two hospitalizations.

  • Fortunately, Alejandra made a complete recovery – or at least as close to a complete recovery as one can make from back injuries, and is doing extremely well.

I even forgot to record the game, and never saw Super Bowl XLV. Some things are not meant to be.

Sure, the Steelers loss disappointed, but my wife’s injury and recovery serves as a reminder that the outcome of a football game pales in comparison to what is really important in life, which is why it makes this list of the greatest Steelers Super Bowl plays.

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8 Steelers on Super Bowl 50 Golden Team Confirms Steelers of 70’s Best Ever Status

Sometimes even the most scrupulous Steelers fan gets greedy. “8 Steelers Make Super Bowl 50 Golden Team” read the headline. A short while latter, Ed Bouchette’s tweet followed:

The initial reaction was that seeing Lynn Swann, Franco Harris, Mike Webster, Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Mel Blount and Chuck Noll honored was nice, but it begged the question: “What about Steelers from Pittsburgh’s second Super Bowl era?”

Less = More for Steelers on Super Bowl 50 Golden Team

After all, Ben Roethlisberger would be too much to hope for, but Troy Polamalu, Alan Faneca and perhaps James Harrison would have strong cases for their inclusion in any all-time Super Bowl team. For Steelers fans to “Go there” would be incredibly greedy for one simple reason:

  • The NFL Hall of Fame selection committee didn’t make “any” all time Super Bowl team, it assembled one definitive Super Bowl 50 Golden Team.

Let’s tip our caps to the NFL Hall of Fame selection committee for what they achieved in constructing the Super Bowl 50 Golden Team – this is a bare bones team that limits itself to the best of the Super Bowl’s best. This cuts against the grain. These “All Time teams” such as the NFL’s 75th Anniversary team generally cast as wide a net possible both to spur fan interest and to drive Google clicks.

  • The Super Bowl 50 Golden Team moves in the opposite direction

Here’s the NFL’s description the Super Bowl 50 Golden Team’s composition:

The Super Bowl 50 Golden Team roster consists of one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, two offensive tackles, two guards, one center, two interior defensive linemen, two defensive ends, two inside linebackers, two outside linebackers, two cornerbacks, two safeties, one kicker, one punter, and one return specialist. One head coach has also been chosen.

The only concession to the change of the game is including 4 down lineman and 4 linebackers. Other than this, the Hall of Fame selection committee in Canton plays this one strictly by the book. Here’s a complete look at the depth chart of the Super Bowl 50 Golden Team.

Super Bowl 50 Golden Team Depth Chart: Offense

Quarterback: Joe Montana; San Francisco 49ers (1)
Halfback: Emmitt Smith; Dallas Cowboys (1)
Fullback: Franco Harris; Pittsburgh Steelers (1)
Tight End: Jay Novacek; Dallas Cowboys (2)
Offensive Tackle: Larry Allen; Dallas Cowboys (4)
Guard: Forrest Gregg; Green Bay Packers (1)
Center: Mike Webster: Pittsburgh Steelers (2)
Guard: Art Shell; Oakland Raiders (1)
Offensive Tackle: Gene Upshaw; Oakland Raiders (2)
Wide Receiver:  Jerry Rice; San Francisco 49ers (2)
Wide Receiver:  Lynn Swann; Pittsburgh Steelers (3)

Super Bowl 50 Golden Team Depth Chart: Defense

Defensive End: Reggie White; Green Bay Packers (2)
Defensive Tackle: Mean Joe Greene; Pittsburgh Steelers (4)
Defensive Tackle: Randy White; Dallas Cowboys (5)
Defensive End: Charles Haley; San Francisco 49ers (3), Dallas Cowboys (6)
Outside Linebacker: Lawrence Taylor; New York Giants (1)
Inside Linebacker: Jack Lambert; Pittsburgh Steelers (5)
Inside Linebacker: Ray Lewis; Baltimore Ravens (1)
Outside Linebacker: Jack Ham; Pittsburgh Steelers (6)
Cornerback: Deion Sanders; San Francisco 49ers (4), Dallas Cowboys (7)
Cornerback: Mel Blount; Pittsburgh Steelers (7)
Strong Safety: Ronnie Lott; San Francisco 49ers (5)
Free Safety: Jake Scott; Miami Dolphins (1)

Super Bowl 50 Golden Team Depth Chart: Specialist and Head Coach

Place Kicker: Adam Vinatieri; New England Patriots (1), Indianapolis Colts (1)
Punter: Ray Guy; Oakland Raiders (3)
Kick Returner: Desmond Howard; Green Bay Packers (3)
Head Coach of the Super Bowl 50 Golden Team: Chuck Noll, Pittsburgh Steelers (8)

Super Bowl 50 Golden Team Reveals Special Super Steelers Were

Some Steelers fans have groused about the absence of Terry Bradshaw and John Stallworth, the only two Hall of Famers from the Super Steelers not on the roster. To that, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had the perfect response:

Yes, like Montana, Terry Bradshaw is the only other 4-0 Super Bowl quarterback, and he and John Stallworth authored one of the greatest plays Super Bowl history with Super Bowl XIV’s “60-Prevent-Slot-Hook-And-Go,” but their absence is what make the Super Bowl 50 Golden Team so special – it focuses on the best of the best.

  • In the process, it is also reveals just how special the Super Steelers were.

Lynn Swann had to beat out Michael Irvin to earn his spot. The committee chose Franco Harris over Walter Payton. Jack Lambert got the nod over Ray Nitschke. Mel Blount made it in over Darrelle Revis and Rod Woodson. Joe Greene never won a Super Bowl MVP award but passed over Richard Dent who did.

  • And of course Chuck Noll beat out media darlings like Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs, Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick

In looking at the depth charts above, one can also not help but notice that the Super Steelers stand alongside several of the men they beat to either get to win those Super Bowls. Super Bowl 50 Golden Team marks a truly elite team of Super Bowl greats, and it confirms that, with 8 members of the team, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the ‘70’s were truly the greatest of all time.

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Chuck Noll Day: 23 Facts about The Emperor

The US Congress has declared September 7th as “Chuck Noll Day” in honor of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers championship coach, who was taken from us in June of this year.

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Chuck Noll at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe at Steelers training camp. Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

As part of the celebration, Steel Curtain Rising has prepared 23 facts about Chuck Noll and the Pittsburgh Steelers squads he led.

1  Noll had 1 son, Chris Henry Noll
2  The unlikely duo of Chuck Noll and Mark Malone paired for two victories over Bill Walsh and Joe Montana
3  NFL teams employed Noll’s service as a coach – the AFL’s Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers, the Baltimore Colts, and Pittsburgh Steelers
4  Super Bowls in 6 years, a record no one else has ever matched
5  Noll ranks 5th among all coaches in total playoff victories
6 Versus Tom Landry, Noll had six victories, including Super Bowl X and Super Bowl XIII
7  Noll ranks 7th among all coaches in total victories at 209, including both playoff and regular season
8  Noll notched 8 over time victories; his overall record in overtime was 8-3-1
9  AFC Central Division Championships
10  Noll is one of only ten coaches to win at least 3 Super Bowls and/or NFL Championships
11  Hall of Famers drafted by the Emperor- Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Mel Blount, Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mike Webster, Rod Woodson, and Dermontti Dawson.
12  Playoff Appearances

steelers 2014 uniform season chuck noll decal memorial

13  Quarterbacks started for Chuck Noll – Dick Shiner, Bradshaw, Terry Hanratty, Joe Gilliam, Mike Kruczek, Cliff Stoudt, Mark Malone, David Woodley, Scott Campbell, Bubby Brister, Steve Bono, Todd Blackledge, and Neil O’Donnell
14  Regular season games were won by Noll’s 1978 Super Bowl Championship team, a team record that stood until Ben Roethlisberger’s arrival in 2004
15  Winning seasons under Noll
16  Playoff victories
17  points were scored by Noll’s Steelers as he closed his career with two final two victories vs. Wyche’s Bengals and Bill Belichick’s Browns
18  points were scored by Noll’s defenses and special teams via safeties – that’s not a stat you see every day!
19  The jersey number “19” was only issued once during Noll tenure, when David Woodley wore it.
20  Noll’s 20th win came in November of 1972, vs. Bud Grant’s Minnesota Vikings, the same team he would defeat in Super Bowl IX
21  Different people held the title “head coach” for the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Houston Oilers during Noll’s tenure in Pittsburgh (interim head coaches excluded.)
22  Different schools supplied Noll with his first round draft picks, Baylor was the lone repeat alma mater for Greg Hawthorne and Walter Abercrombie
23  Years coaching the Steelers; 23 years in retirement until his passing.

For more about Chuck Noll and his incredible accomplishments, click here to read Steel Curtain Rising’s extended tribute.

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Immaculate Reception Untouchable as Steelers Greatest Play; Harrison’s Pick Six Strong Second

This year ESPN is filling the void before training camp by polling fan bases on the greatest play in their respective franchise history. As Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain points out, for Steelers Nation there is no debate.

  • The Immaculate Reception simultaneously ended 40 years of losing and was the Big Bang that created Steelers Nation.

Everything else takes second place – including games that end in presentation of the Lombardi.

But that leaves a lot of doubt about choices 2-4. The truth is, ESPN’s poll is a little too slanted towards the contemporary period. Unlike the Patriots, Ravens, and Seahawks, the Steelers have won Super Bowls in years that begin with “19.” For the record, the three choices on ESPN and BTSC’s poll are ‘Tone’s Toe Tap in Super Bowl XLIII, James Harrison’s 100 yard pick six in the same game, and Ben Roethlisberger’s shoe string tackle in the ’05 AFC Division playoff game.

  • All worthy plays certainly.

But there are other plays that merit consideration, even if one limits selection to Super Bowls. Here are only a few:

If you expand the list to the playoff games, Troy Polamalu’s pick six in the 2008 AFC Championship Game must be included, not only for how it incredible it was, not because it came at a crucial moment in the game, but because it slammed the door shut on another AFC Championship home loss.

A similar, sentimental nod, can be given to Randy Fulller’s pass defense at the end of the 1995 AFC Championship game.

All of these are worthy candidates. Each involved players putting them into position to harness their talents in exactly the moments their team needed them to.

  • But in the final analysis, the Steelers second greatest play must go to James Harrison.

Harrison gets his pick six brought the total package –

  • It was an unscripted play born out of tireless preparation
  • It involved tremendous athleticism
  • It came at a critical time

Thanks to end game drama on the part of Larry Fitzgerald, Big Ben and ‘Tone, the impact of Harrion’s interception is largely forgotten. It shouldn’t. Arizona was about to score. Sliverback’s pick prevented 3 if not 7 points from going on the board, and added 7 more amounting to a 10 or 14 point swing in a game decided by 4.

Franco Harris’ place in Steelers lore will forever be safe – men who hustle on every play enjoy such privileges – but James Harrison will be equally difficult to dislodge from his perch at number two.

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Chuck Noll Biography – Understanding The Unassuming Steelers Legend

How do you summarize a legend’s life in a single article? Steelers Nation’s scribes faced just such a dilemma with the passing of Chuck Noll.

How to tell the story of someone so accomplished, yet so humble; at once intelligent but unassuming; demanding while soft spoken; so devoted to singleness of purpose yet dedicated to a variety of pursuits.

How else to explain a an who sits among the greatest NFL coaches yet is frequently forgotten when “The Greatest” conversation starts because he actively deflected credit for himself? Preparedness was Pittsburgh’s calling card under Noll. So how do you explain how he was home for dinner every night while his contemporaries slept on couches in their offices?

It is a daunting task. To perhaps the key to decrypting the cryptic Chuck Noll it is best to start with the “exceptions,” or moments where he departed from the script. Click on the links below to see how those “off script moments” formed the foundations of Noll’s defining moments with the Steelers.

1. “Losing has nothing to do with geography.”
2. “They think the just won the God damn Super Bowl.”
3. “Go for the big one.”
4. “Sidney Thornton’s problems are great, and they are many.” – The Emperor in Winter
5. “Potentially, we have a good team.” – The Emperor’s Lash Hurrah
6. “Time to smell the flowers….”But first….
7. The Emperor Is Dead – Long Live Steelers Nation

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Chuck Noll was one of the most enigmatic figures to don the NFL head coach headset. Photo credit: Walter Iooss Jr., Sports Illustrated via MMQB

“Losing has nothing to do with geography.”

When you think of “Attitude” and “Steelers” you usually think of a young Joe Greene tossing the ball into the stands in frustration, or Greg Lloyd’s “Just plain nasty,” or perhaps Joey Porter calling out Ray Lewis.

  • The mild mannered Noll, it would seem, was the antithesis of attitude.

Except he wasn’t. Of Chuck Noll’s many contributions to the Steelers, perhaps his most important was attitude. And he made it on his very first day as Pittsburgh Steelers head coach. When asked about taking over a Pittsburgh team that had excelled at losing  40 years, Noll’s response was a concise as it was penetrating.

“Losing has nothing to do with geography.”

With a single statement, Noll erased four decades of mindset. The team’s bad habit of trading away draft picks had ended. Noll pledged to Dan Rooney to build the team up from the ground, to replace those players not good enough, and even dared to remake Pro Bowlers such as Andy Russell in his own image.

  • Likewise, losing would neither be accepted as normal, nor incite outrage, but rather serve as a tool for teaching players to improve.

Make no mistake about it, a lot of things changed in Pittsburgh when Noll arrived, but it all began with a change in attitude.
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“They think the just won the God damn Super Bowl.”

Noll didn’t do pep talks, ala Vince Lombardi or Bill Cowher. He didn’t go out for emotional hand holding the way Joe Gibbs would. Nor did he attempt to belittle his player’s with barrages of criticism like Bill Parcells.

  • No, Noll wanted players who were self-starters.

You were playing professional football, and that should serve as motivation enough. Yet perhaps his best off script moment came before the 1974 AFC Championship game. This story made it into almost every Chuck Noll obituary.

The Oakland Raiders had defeated the Dolphins, and afterwards John Madden exclaimed that, it was a great day in football when the two best teams played and it was a shame one of them had to lose.

As Ray Mansfield recounted, Noll walked into the Steelers locker room the next morning fuming, “They think the just won the God Damn Super Bowl. But let me tell you something, the best football team is sitting here right in front of me.”

Dwight White remarked, “It was like getting a blessing to go out and beat up on someone.” Andy Russell later recalled, Joe Greene stood up and proclaimed, “I am ready to play right now.” For his own part, Joe Greene said that was the one game that he entered where he knew he was going to win.

  • As it turned out, Noll’s bit of bravado worked.

The Steelers ended the half tied, after the referee had disallowed a John Stallworth touchdown. Nonplussed, the team filed off into the locker room, with no frustrations evident. Nor did panic set in when Oakland took a 10-3 lead into the fourth quarter. Lynn Swann scored one touchdown while Franco Harris rumbled for 2 more.

Noll’s stoicism was no act, yet The Emperor was savvy enough to know when to press buttons.
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“Go for the big one.”

Football, Noll repeat time and time again, was about blocking and tackling. While his contemporary Chuck Knox was known as “Ground Chuck,” Noll could have just as easily earned that nickname.

  • When in doubt, Chuck Noll ran.

But the Steelers became victims of their own success on the other side of the ball, and that prompted another off script move by The Emperor.

Mel Blount simply covered receivers too well. The NFL never has nor never will see another more physically intimidating cornerback. The NFL took notice, and took notice of the fact that TV Ratings and passing go hand in hand, and enacted the “Mel Blount Rule” making it harder to cover receivers downfield.

  • This put an already aging Steelers defense at a disadvantage.

Noll however, transformed advantage into disadvantage, by unleashing Terry Bradshaw’s arm and making full use of the talents of Swann, Stallworth, and Bennie Cunningham. Yes, the Steelers still ran. Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier and Sidney Thornton rushed for a combined 4184 yards in 1978 and 1979.

  • But it was Noll’s decision (and ability) to attack through the air that kept the Steelers ahead of Landry’s Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII.

A year later, with the Steelers trailing in the 4th quarter of Super Bowl XIV, on third down at their own 27 Noll ordered Bradshaw to “Go for the big one” calling “60-Prevent-Slot-Hook-And-Go.

The play hadn’t worked all week in practice, and Noll had relentlessly preached that if you couldn’t perform in practice, you’d fail on Sundays. Again, Noll knew when to make exceptions to his own rules – and 73 yards later John Stallworth put the Steelers ahead with a touchdown.

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“Sidney Thornton’s problems are great, and they are many.” – The Emperor in Winter

Had Noll retired after Super Bowl XIV the national press would have had no choice to accept Chuck Noll as the greatest coach of the modern era. But he didn’t retire, and instead coached the Steelers through a decade were they barely topped .500.

  • Here again, the root cause can be found in Noll’s decision to go off script.

In 1969, Noll had no only committed the Steelers to building through the draft, but committed them ed to taking the best player available, regardless of race, school, position, or who was currently on the roster.

Bucking the rest of the NFL, Noll insisted on colorblind drafting, and with Bill Nunn’s guidance aggressively scouted the Historic Black Colleges. Terry Hanratty had been high second round pick in 1969, yet Noll didn’t hesitate at taking Bradshaw at number one in 1970. Frank Lewis and Ron Shanklin were good receivers for the Steelers in 1973, but Noll drafted to great ones in 1974. And so on.

  • But as Lombardi trophies started stacking up, the team got away from that philosophy.

Instead of taking the best player on the board, the Steelers would try to project guys who fell for one reason or another and who they thought would better fill roster holes. The decision was a disaster. As the 80’s arrived the oldest of Noll’s players reached retirement, and their replacements were lacking.

Sidney Thornton, a second round draft pick in 1977 who could have been Franco Harris’ heir apparent, once so frustrated Noll with his off the field antics, which included treating cuts with urine, that he remarked “Sidney Thornton’s problems are great, and they are many.”

Other factors contributed to the Steelers poor drafting and subsequent struggles in the 80’s, but getting away from their bread and butter was the most prominent.

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“Potentially, we have a good team.” – The Emperor’s Lash Hurrah

Telling and retelling the 1989 Steelers story is a labor of love at Steel Curtain Rising and need not be repeated in detail here. Yet, for those unfamiliar, it may have been Noll’s finest coaching job.

In 1988 the Steelers had finished 5-11, their worst since 1971, and for the first time ever, Noll had been forced to fire assistants. Nonetheless, Noll convened training camp by saying, “Potentially, we have a good team.”

  • The Steelers then promptly went out and lost their first two games, divisional ones at that, to the combined score of 92-10.

Afterwards, Noll quipped “Either we just played the best two teams in football, or we’re in for a long year.” As, I believe it was Gene Collier recalled on the day of Noll’s retirement, “The once unthinkable question was on everyone’s lips. And it wasn’t ‘Will Dan Rooney fire Chuck Noll’ but ‘How long will he wait?’”

  • Again, time had done nothing to mellow Noll’s attitude to pep talks.

Yet, he did something better, as Behind the Steel Curtain’s Michael Bean documented with Merril Hoge back in 2010:

He revisited the things that were going on in the media about us. And if I remember right, he kind of wrote some things up on the board, showed us some clips. Then he stood in front of us, paused for a second and said, ‘I believe in you.’

Hoge says that the hair still stands up on his arm when he remembers that statement. As well it should, the team rebounded to make the playoffs, upset the Oilers in the Astrodome, and came within a bad snap of doing it again vs. Denver.

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“Time to smell the flowers….”But first….

When the ’89 Steelers  season ended, Noll commented “This team is on the way up. He doubled down during the off season, talking about the “Championship caliber” talent his team had.

Yet a playoffless 9-7 season in 1990 and a mediocre 7-9 season in 1991 led even the Steelers Digest to question Noll’s assessment of the Steelers talent.

History vindicated Noll on the talent question, as Dermontti Dawson, Jerry Olsavsky, Neil O’Donnell, John Jackson, Greg Lloyd, Carnell Lake and Rod Woodson formed the backbone of Bill Cowher’s 1995 team the fell just short in Super Bowl XXX.

However, history also vindicated Noll when he decided it was time to “smell the flowers,” as he declared the day he retired.

  • But in hanging it up Noll added a punctuation mark on his greatness in his own understated way, and one that was in no way apparent at the time.

Noll’s final game took place at Three Rivers Stadium on December 22, 1991 vs. the Cleveland Browns, and the Steelers won 17-10 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Not only did Noll win his final game, but in doing so he defeated Bill Belichick the man who 23 years later is still trying to tie his record of our Super Bowls….

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Thanks Chuck

When NFL Films asked him to reflect on his time with the Steelers of the ‘70’s, Chuck Noll simply said, “It was fun. It really was fun.”

  • Yes it was fun, even for those just barely old enough to remember.

The Emperor is Dead, but Long Live the Steelers Nation he founded!

Thanks Chuck!

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Chuck Noll, Former Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach, Passes Away at 82

Former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, Chuck Noll has passed away at the age of 82 in his home in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. According to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Ed Bouchette, Chuck Noll has suffered from poor health for a number of years, battling Alzheimer’s, a heart condition, and severe back pain.

Chuck Noll was known as “The Emperor.” While he may not have negotiated contracts or dabbled in the business side of the sport the way coach/GM’s such as Bill Parcells did, Noll had total control over the football operation, from coaching decisions, draft picks, to final roster choices.

  • Noll’s record speaks for itself.

When Noll arrived in Pittsburgh, the Steelers had appeared in post-season only once, and they had never won a game. By the time he retired in 1991, the Steelers and won 209 games, 16 post-season contests, 9 AFC Central Division Championships, and were the first NFL team to win 3 and then 4 Super Bowls.

  • 23 years later, Chuck Noll is still the only NFL head coach to have won four Super Bowls. 

As a coach, Noll never fathered a cadre of assistants as Paul Brown did, nor is he credited with establishing any innovations such as Tom Landry’s “Flex Defense” or Bill Walsh’s “West Coast offense.” Unlike Vince Lombardi, he left no legacy for his fire and brimstone motivational tactics.

  • No, Noll wasn’t about that because he was a fundamentalist through and through.

Noll wasn’t interested in flashy performers or super stars, although he coached plenty of the later, he wanted good athletes to execute their role in a system, and to do it predictably. And Noll did innovate – the famous “Tampa Cover 2” defense that Tony Dungy popularized was the same defense the Steelers developed and used under Noll, Bud Carson and George Perles.

  • Noll was also a master talent evaluator, arguably the best of all time.  

Drawing on the work of the Steelers scouting department headed by Art Rooney Jr., Dick Haley, and Bill Nunn, Chuck Noll selected 11 NFL Hall of Famers, in the form of Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, Terry BradshawFranco Harris, Mike WebsterLynn Swann, John Stallworth, Rod Woodson, and Dermontti Dawson.

  • But if Chuck Noll struck gold with these high profile players, he was also the champion of the little guy.

Noll saw himself as a teacher, first and foremost. During his time as coach, the Steelers practice without numbers – this was because Noll wanted all of his players to be treated equally – if an All Pro ran a bad route, he didn’t want anyone to hesitate to correct him. Under Noll, late round picks and undrafted rookie free agents got a fair shake and an honest shot at the time, as players like careers of L.C. Greenwood and Donnie Shell

Upon his retirement from the Steelers in 1991, Chuck Noll maintained the title of Administration Adviser, but in truth he served in no official capacity with the Steelers. Noll had pointedly stayed out of the limelight as head coach, and thought that all of the credit that Bill Cowher enjoyed following his tenure, should belong to him.

Noll could occasionally be seen in the press box during the occasional game at Three Rivers Stadium, but split his time between Pittsburgh and Florida, but was seldom seen and even more rarely heard.

Chuck Noll is survived by his wife Marianne and his son Chris.

Steelers Nation has lost its greatest champion and the City of Pittsburgh the man who made it the City of Champions. He will be missed. Steel Curtain Rising asks you join us in offering your thoughts and prayers to Noll’s family.

Note: Steel Curtain Rising will have a more complete obituary on Chuck Noll over the weekend. Please check back soon.

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Whether Its Podlesh or Wing, Should Pittsburgh Pray for Its Punting to Stink?

Steelers Nation’s reaction to news that the Pittsburgh Steelers had signed punter Adam Podlesh ranged from ho-hum to derision as documented by Behind the Steel Curtain.* Some of this is logical, as Adam Podlesh’s punting averages were actually worse than both Mat McBriar and Zoltan Mesko.

  • But the more refined response is: Who cares?

Seriously. Assuming he can avoid blocked kicks, how much impact does a punter have anyway?

Sure, I am sure Pro Football Focus has some saber metric that reads like this:

  • “Analysis shows that pass defenses on teams with a favorable gross/net punting ratio enjoy a statistically significant “passing yards per attempt allowed” advantage.

Or something.

Maybe Pro Football Focus has no such stat. Even if they do, it says here that the Steelers have won more Super Bowls than anyone else, and it further says that in that respect, good punting doesn’t count for squat. Read on:

Steelers punting super bowl miller colquitt walden
Does good punting = grim harbinger for the Steelers? Hum…

Number don’t lie fellow citizen of Steelers Nation. Let’s take a closer look for those who remain unconvinced.

Bobby Walden handled the punting duties for the Steelers in Super Bowl IX and Super Bowl X. The Steelers ranked just above the middle of the pack and in fact were right about average in terms of punting.

  • Very little was average about those 1974 and 1975 teams laden with NFL Hall of Famers.

No offense, but the presence of players like Joe Greene, Franco Harris, and Jack Lambert explain a lot more about the 1st two Lombardi’s than does Walden.

Craig Colquitt took over the chores for Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XIV and the Steelers punting performance perked up just a tad. Now Pittsburgh’s defense was in decline by that point, and perhaps better punting put them over the edge.

The Steelers 6-10 ’86 season stands as an aberration. Harry Newsome had arrived, but the Steelers still ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in terms of punting. Newsome picked his performance by 1988, and the Steelers led the NFL in punting.

  • They also had their worst post-1971 finish.

Legend has it the Bubby Brister scrawled “Playoffs 1989” on the chalk board to open training camp that summer, but it’s doubtful that Pittsburgh’s punting advantage in Newsome inspired him to do so.

In 1995 Rohn Stark filled the gap between Mark Royals and Josh Miller and the Steelers were the third worst punting team in the league. Nonetheless, the Steelers came heart breakingly close to “One for the Thumb” vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXX.

Josh Miller was a fine punter, and during the “My buddy’s the cop” phase of Kordell Stewart’s starting tenure he became somewhat of a cult hero and Baltimore’s legendary Purple Goose Saloon and yours truly was one of his prime promoters. Yet in 2003, Miller had the Steelers punting ranked above average, but they still had a 6-10 record.

  • The Steelers replaced Miller with Chris Gardocki, who punted on in Super Bowl XL, but One for the Thumb Came in spite of a 22nd ranking punting game.

And of course the Steelers attained further glory in Super Bowl XLIII despite the having the second worst punting game thanks to Mitch Berger and Paul  Ernster.

Rounding it out you have 2010 and the loss to Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV, a season in which the Steelers broached the top 25% in punting.  Could getting on the other side of that 25% mark have negated Ben Roethlisberger’s interceptions, Mike Wallace’s ghosting, or Mendy’s fumble? Count me a skeptic.

Prayer’s and Shout Outs

Of course this analysis only looks at punting average, and not inside 20 numbers or anything like that. And of course crappy punting can hurt you, just remember the Oakland game. But let’s repeat it:

  • Number don’t lie

In the “Post Immaculate Reception Era” there is no correlation between good punting and winning Super Bowls. In fact, if anything the data suggests something quite the opposite.

So whether Brad Wing or Adam Podlesh wins out, perhaps its best to pray for Pittsburgh’s punter to stink.

*Full disclosure. I also write for BTSC. And by complete happenstance (on my honor as a Life scout), it I saw that their Tony Defeo, a good friend and soul mate, had the same idea and beat me to the punch. Check his out here.

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Steelers Nation Bids Farewell to LC Greenwood; The Steel Curtain Stands at Quarter Strength

Pittsburgh was never always synonymous with “Defense.” Chuck Noll began to changing that in 1969.

Noll inherited the 4th pick in the 1969 NFL draft thanks to Bill Austin’s “error” in not allowing him to pick O.J. Simpson. The Emperor picked Joe Greene instead in the first round.

  • Piece one of the Steel Curtain was in place
  • Nine rounds later he added piece two:  L.C. Greenwood

In 1971 he added Dwight White in the 4th round and then Ernie Holmes 4 rounds later.

And in an ironic twist of destiny, the good Lord has decided to take them back from us in reverse order.

Art Rooney Jr. Finds the Man with the Yellow Shoes

Chuck Noll employed many means in transforming the Pittsburgh Steelers from doormat to dominance. But one often overlooked aspect is his total colorblindness when it came to selecting players.

  • Noll didn’t care if you were black, white, yellow, or purple, he only cared if you could play.

With Noll’s attitude and Bill Nunn’s connections in the HBC network the Steelers uncovered gem after gem in the drafts of early 70’s while many other teams handicapped themselves with color quotas.

Art Rooney Jr., head of the Steelers scouting department, fully embraced this philosophy, having fought Noll’s predecessors who refused to pick African American players simply because they had already taken two of “them.”

And so it was that Art Rooney Jr. found himself on the campus of Arkansas A&M in late 1968. He was down there to check out some halfback whose name history has forgotten. He was also interested in looking at a defensive end named Clarence Washington.

But while he was watching tape of Washington, some other kid caught his attention. The kid was 6’6”. Rooney had noted that the kid was too tall for his position. Defensive ends that tall aren’t supposed to have leverage.

  • But this kid had leverage, and nothing stopped him in getting to the quarterback.

The Kid’s name was LC Greenwood, and he became the second most recognizable name on famed Steel Curtain Defense.

Unlike Greene, Greenwood didn’t start immediately, but when he did break the Steelers starting lineup in 1971 he made noise, quickly. Greenwood:

  • Forced five fumbles in 1971
  • Lead the team with 8.5 sacks in 1973
  • Notched another 11 sacks in 1974
  • Batted down two Fran Tarkenton passes in Super Bowl IX
  • Sacked Roger Staubach four times in Super Bowl X

When Greenwood was cut by the Steelers in 1982 he had 73.5 sacks, then a franchise high and still the number two mark.

  • Steelers Digest described Greenwood as “Cool. Confident. Smooth.”

How confident?

Shortly before the 1974 AFC Championship game, Greenwood sat in the hallway outside the lock room in the Oakland Coliseum watching the Vikings and the Rams duke it out for the NFL crown. Gene Upshaw walked by and asked, “Whatta watchin LC?”

  • Greenwood deadpanned:  “Just watching to see who we’re going to play in the Super Bowl.”

Greenwood was also a leader both on and off the field, and one of the first Super Steelers to find commercial success. His Miller Light commercials were legendary.

But like so many of the Super Steelers, Greenwood’s off the field success was not simply a bi-product of his on the field fame. Chuck Noll wanted self-starters and hard workers on his team, and those traits carried the Super Steelers to success off it.

Greenwood was no exception, founding Greenwood Enterprises, which operated out of West Main Street in Carnegie and worked in engineering, coal, natural gas and highway operations. After that he led Greenwood-McDonald Supply Co., Inc., which supplied of electrical equipment to retail outlets and manufacturers.

The Steel Curtain a Band of Brothers

The quartet of Greene, Greenwood, White and Holmes started out as teammates. They grew to be friends and ultimately brothers, sticking close together long after their playing days ended.

Dwight White’s wife recalled Joe Greene being so upset he could not even speak when he learned of “Mad Dog’s” death. And the first two people at White’s funeral were Greene and Greenwood.

White of course had gone into the hospital for back surgery, and ended up dying of a lung clot. As reported by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, the normally upbeat Greenwood told Joe Greene he was apprehensive about his own back surgery due to what had happened to White.

But Greenwood, hobbled by a back injury, in pain and walking around on a walker and needed the surgery. Midway through the Steelers embarssing 0-4 loss in London to the Vikings, Greene got a call from Mel Blount informing him that Greenwood had died of kidney failure.

Now only Joe Greene remains, and the Steel Curtain permanently stands at quarter strength.

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Fans Name James Harrison’s 99 Yard Pick Six as Steelers Favorite Super Bowl Moment

All things must eventually draw to a close and in the case of this blog that includes our “Steelers Favorite Super Bowl Moment” poll.

Born during the Steelers 2010 playoff run, the poll got deleted by mistake after the Steelers 2010 AFC Championship victory over the New York Jets when it had at least 500 votes.

The poll immediately went back up, and was kept after the disappointment of Super Bowl XLV as sort of a rallying cry.

However, in the fall of 2012 Google Blogger’s polling function ran into problems, and votes began disappearing from polls. While Blogger fixed it, the patch did not seem to apply to older polls, as this one had close to 1000 votes on it in October, and it closed at 800 and change.

So its time has come.

James Harrison’s 99 Yard TD Tops List

And what was the favorite Super Bowl moment of the Steel Curtain Rising faithful? See for yourself:

There’s little wonder why. |
James Harrison made one of the most dramatic game-changers in the history of the Super Bowl. Ben Roethlisberger’s final drive in Super Bowl XLIII comes in second on this list. The only other two moments to get any real “love” were the Lombardi Trophy presentation to Art Rooney Sr. following Super Bowl IX and Lynn Swann’s acrobatic catches in Super Bowl X.
Thanks to all who voted. Steel Curtain Rising is always running a poll of some sort, so if you found this page via Google and have read this far, please scroll up and vote!

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