Red Devil review & alumni event

0205160813aJust in time for Super Bowl weekend, the latest edition of the Dickinson Magazine has a nice review of The Color of Sundays below.

And for all of my Pittsburgh Red Devil peeps, I’ll be speaking at an alumni club function later this month: Sunday, Feb. 21, at the Clemente Museum in Lawrenceville/Bloomfield. Register here.

0205160813Andrew Conte ’93’s second book delves into the moments that shaped Pittsburgh Steelers’ history, both on the field and in the back room, and led the Steel City to four Super Bowl victories. The Color of Sundays tells the story of how Bill Nunn Jr., Art Rooney and the Steelers’ front office reshaped the franchise. Nunn’s strategy was simple: Scout talent where many other teams had failed, and bring in players from historically black colleges and universities. This period in Steelers history was instrumental in the building of the Steel Curtain defense, as well as the integration of important offensive picks, including the future Hall of Famer John Stallworth. Today the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of pro football’s most successful and prestigious franchises, thanks to the Steelers’ front office having its sights squarely focused on the future.

Cam Newton, black quarterback

Cam Newton is black.

Normally, these days, one wouldn’t make that distinction about the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback. But he brought up the issue himself recently, questioning whether football fans are ready: “I’m an African-American quarterback. That may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to.”

Of course, he’s not the first. Charles Follis became the first black professional football player in 1904. Fritz Pollard in the 1920s played on the league’s first championship team and then served as the league’s first black coach. Willie Thrower became the league’s first black quarterback with the Chicago Bears in 1953. And, of course, Doug Williams, of Grambling fame, became the Super Bowl XXII MVP in 1988 with the Washington Redskins.

But Newton has a point. As much as we want Continue reading

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!

First radio interview — The Fan Steelers pre-game show

First sports talk interview: 10:40 a.m., Sunday, on 93.7 The Fan

starkey-head-shotMy friend Joe Starkey, radio host on 93.7 The Fan and sports columnist (still), received one of the first advance copies of The Color of Sundays. It’s always difficult sending out the book to people I respect. Starkey would be at the top of the list. I mean he still writes because he *wants* to keep writing!

Here’s what Joe had to say…

The great 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers had an edge, and his name was Bill Nunn Jr., who could find football players where others would not look. “The Color of Sundays” tells that remarkable story but also takes us deep into the fascinating, groundbreaking adventures of one of Pittsburgh’s treasured sports figures, from Nunn’s ride to the airport with Roberto Clemente after Game 7 of 1960 World Series to his journeys into the Deep South to find little-known athletes destined to become stars.

Bill Nunn Jr. with four of the six Lombardi trophies he helped the Steelers win.

Bill Nunn Jr. with four of the six Lombardi trophies he helped the Steelers win.

Few sports figures were closer to the center of the sweeping Civil Rights changes of the 20th Century than Nunn, an iconic Steelers scout who doubled as a do-it-all sportswriter for the groundbreaking Pittsburgh Courier. “The Color of Sundays” masterfully weaves Nunn’s personal story — eschewing a spot with the Harlem Globetrotters to work in newspapers at the start of his career — with the social changes of the times.

What was Roberto Clemente feeling in the moments after the 1960 World Series? How did John Stallworth feel after a failed tryout in front of NFL scouts? And what of Jackie Robinson after an uncharacteristic tirade at Forbes Field? The answers might surprise you. Many things from the life of the great Bill Nunn Jr., a key figure in the rise of a 1970s football dynasty, might surprise you.

 

I’m grateful Joe took the time to read the book — and that he liked it. Tune in Sunday morning to hear us talk about the Steelers, Nunn and his living legacy.