With the Steelers heading (miraculously!) to the playoffs, I’m reminded of talking with John Stallworth about what it was like after the team won a fourth Super Bowl in 1980.
Stallworth had been on the receiving end of a play that came to be the lasting, iconic image of those 1970s Super Steelers. Late in the game, he had grabbed a 73-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Terry Bradshaw, with the ball passing just beyond the reach of a Los Angeles Rams defender.
Back at the team hotel that night, Stallworth sat in the hotel lobby with this wife as coach Chuck Noll and Bill Nunn Jr. walked over. Despite winning four championships — or perhaps because of it — the players were savoring this particular victory. They knew how much work had gone into winning the game, and to building a dynasty.
Stallworth told me how he will never forget the smile that Nunn had on his face that night. Stallworth’s high school coach had discouraged him from playing football. After playing running back on a high school team that had just two victories in his two seasons, Stallworth then barely received any interest from college recruiters. Even if he had been good enough, he could not have played at the University of Alabama, which remained all-white. Instead, at Alabama A&M, Stallworth had not received any of the attention or accolades that had followed his teammate Lynn Swann at the University of Southern California.
In the end, Stallworth still ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“(Nunn) was proud of me,” Stallworth recalled years later. “He was proud of the black college that I came from, and what he had done for making that happen, and for the Steelers. There’s a look on his face, and it was special to me. I treasure that because it made me feel good about who I was, and who I was to that team.”
This year’s Steelers have a chance. A shot at immortality. At celebrating their own championship. Here we go!