Sunday, June 15, 2014

To Absent Friends - Chuck Noll

By now, everyone with even the remotest bit of interest in the subject is aware of the death of former Steelers Head Coach Chuck Noll this past Friday night at the age of 82.

I am not going to use this space to regurgitate the facts and figures of Noll's career - the 209 wins, the four Super Bowls, and on and on.  If you are a Steelers fan and a football fan, you know all of that.  However, if you are a Steelers fan and are under the age of, say forty or so, know this:  none of the tradition and the history of your favorite team would be what it is today were it not for Chuck Noll.  The Steelers Dynasty of the 1970's and the "Steelers Tradition" and the high standards to which the franchise holds itself to the very day, none of it would have happened were it not for Chuck Noll.

I highly recommend that you read the excellent book about those dynastic Steelers, "Their Life's Work" by Gary Pomerantz.  It will give you the picture of just what a towering presence Noll was to those Steelers teams, not only while he was coaching them, but also in the effect that he had on so many of those players' lives well after their football days were over.

I also recommend that you read the terrific special "wrap-around" section in today's Post-Gazette sports section that pays tribute to Noll with stories and columns by Ed Bouchette, Gene Collier, Ron Cook, Gerry Dulac, and Dan Rooney.  It is worth saving.  John Mehno also wrote an excellent column in today's Beaver County times.

One of my favorite Noll stories, which was also an example of his sharp wit and way with words was a quote of his when reporters asked him about the playing status of running back Sydney Thornton.  "Sydney's problems are many, and they are great."  Can't see Jim Harbaugh saying something like that, can you?

I will close with my own encounter with the man.  It was July 1992, and I was playing in the Pirates Alumni Golf Outing at Churchill Valley Country Club.  In addition to all the old Pirates who were the "stars" of the Outing, one of the other celebrity guests was the newly retired coach of the Steelers, Chuck Noll.  At one point shortly before the groups were to gather to be sent out to play, I found myself walking across a parking lot and coming towards me was Chuck Noll himself.  I introduced myself, congratulated him upon his retirement, and thanked him for all he did for the Steelers.  Then I said something inane like, "would you rather be up at St. Vincent's today than here playing golf?"  He smiled, and said "not a bit."  He couldn't have been nicer or more gracious.

When you play in that Outing, you are given a baseball that the participants will autograph for you during the day.  I have that ball, and it is signed by lots of old Pirates heroes, but the signature that makes that ball REALLY special, in my mind, is the the one that simply says, CHUCK NOLL.

RIP Chuck Noll.  The Steelers and the NFL will not see your like again.

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