Here we go! Steelers’ shot at immortality

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.

January 28, 1980 Sports Illustrated Cover. Football: Super Bowl XIV. Pittsburgh Steelers John Stallworth (82) in action, making catch and scoring game winning touchdown vs Los Angeles Rams Rod Perry (49) at Rose Bowl Stadium. Pasadena, CA 1/20/1980 MANDATORY CREDIT: Walter Iooss Jr./Sports Illustrated SetNumber: X24127 TK1

January 28, 1980, Sports Illustrated.

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 SB XIVfrom 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!

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Thanks for being awesome

First Heinz Field Steelers game with my daughter. As they say, Go big...

First Heinz Field Steelers game with my daughter. As they say, Go big…

Thanks to everyone who made The Color of Sundays such a success this fall. Because of the book, I have met so many interesting people, heard so many important stories and learned a lot about myself. I’m really grateful to be surrounded by a loving family and so many terrific friends.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Andy

City Paper’s take on The Color of Sundays

Author event — 6 p.m., Thursday, 10/29 @ Point Park University. Registration: https://colorofsundays.eventbrite.com

Pittsburgh City Paper has a great take on The Color of Sundays… The reporter Jodi DiPerna took the time to read the book, talk with me and understand the nuances of the narrative. Check out the full review here.

CityPaper“Pure football fans will learn how Nunn found key pieces of those dynastic Steelers teams…

“But the book is also about race in America and race in sports. It’s about the Pittsburgh Courier. And it is about the segregated era of the NFL (1934 to 1946), an era that many fans are unaware of and that the NFL is happy to keep swept under the carpet.” 

Author event: From Civil Rights to the Super Bowl

Updated Front CoverI will be talking at Point Park University on the evening of Oct. 29 about the Steelers’ secret strategy for finding black players that other teams could not see. This will be a chance for me to tell about the process of writing The Color of Sundays and to put the story into the context of the times. Bill Nunn Jr. lived at an interesting time — and he had a front-row seat. Also, I expect to have at least a couple of special guests in the audience.

When: 6 p.m., Thursday, Oct 29

Where: Point Park University’s Lawrence Hall, Room 200

Registration required: https://colorofsundays.eventbrite.com

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‘His impact on the Steelers is immense… ‘

BN at Forbes FieldThe challenge of writing about history is making the information as accurate as possible — but also relevant to a contemporary audience.

When I first thought about doing this book, I started out by meeting with Samuel Black, the director of African-American Programs at Pittsburgh’s Senator John Heinz History Center. He had put together a detailed exhibit on the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper and that gave me a lot of insight.

It was important to me, then, to get his take on the finished product. I sent Sam an advanced copy of The Color of Sundays, and here’s what he had to say…

Samuel Black

Samuel Black

“It was a great read because I am a fan of Bill Nunn Jr. … His impact on the Steelers is immense and I am glad you were able to get inside that history and bring it out. This book reveals a man’s journey through 20th Century American sports – highlighting Black College football and the professional ranks as well. His quiet journalism and eye on society helped to integrate much of professional sports and paved the way for open opportunities for players, coaches, and front office staff.”

Launch Party — 6 p.m., Tuesday, Oct 6 at the Clark Bar & Grill

The Color of Sundays: Draft day at Three Rivers Stadium

Presales of The Color of Sundays have started, in advance of the Oct. 1 publication date. We are working to set up several signings and lecture events around Western Pennsylvania. Details to come. Soon, I think.

76_Draft_Nunn_Misc_2

This is one of my favorite photos from researching the book. It’s a rare shot from The Pittsburgh Steelers archives. From the draft room at Three Rivers Stadium. Bill Nunn Jr, on the left. Dick Haley, director of player personnel (and father of Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley). V. Tim Rooney, a nephew of the chief, standing. And Art Rooney Jr., team vice president.

Here’s another shot. The original wooden draft tables are still in use at Steelers headquarters on the South Side. And, yes, they are pockmarked with burns from cigarettes and cigars. Where could that have come from?

76_Draft_VRooney_Nunn_ArtRooneyJr1

 

 

The Color of Sundays pre-order

Updated Front CoverI’m pleased to announce that my latest book, The Color of Sundays, will be coming out October 1. Pre-sales have started, and we are working to set up several signings and lecture events around Western Pennsylvania. Details to come.

Bill Nunn Jr. never wanted me to write this book. But he ultimately gave me his blessing and for that I am grateful. Bill was first a pioneering African-American athlete. Then he ranked among the nation’s best-known black sports writers — and became the first to sit in the press box at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field baseball stadium. Ultimately, he turned into the secret weapon that brought the Pittsburgh Steelers from decades of failure to unmatched championship success.

Bill Nunn Jr. Journalist and Steelers scout

Bill Nunn Jr.
Journalist and Steelers scout

The Color of Sundays tells this story against the backdrop of American football, the nation’s struggles over Civil Rights and the Steelers’ emergence as a premier franchise. Along the way, the book uncovers details that have been lost to history: Branch Rickey, the Dodger’s general manager who integrated Major League Baseball, played football in 1904 with the first black professional football player. And Jackie Robinson, the African-American baseball player Rickey signed, played football at UCLA with the two men who reintegrated the National Football League after World War II.

When Nunn said he didn’t want this book, he meant that it shouldn’t just be about him. He challenged me to learn about the other men who had come before him and who stood beside him. He meant that I should seek the larger story. And in the process, I uncovered a rich American tale about men who struggled to rise above — and who exceeded beyond their dreams.