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Arts, Sports & Culture

Remembering Chuck Noll and A Turning Point for Pittsburgh

Zennie Abraham

Last Friday night, former Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Chuck Noll died in his home of natural causes at the age of 82.

Noll coached the Steelers for 23 seasons and transformed the team from a long-standing joke to a championship dynasty, becoming the only coach to win four Super Bowls.

It can also be said that he transformed the city of Pittsburgh into a football town; with Franco’s Italian Army, the whirls of yellow at each game in the form of Myron Cope’s Terrible Towels, and the one play that's been viewed as the true turning point in Steelers history "The Immaculate Reception."

Noll was there for all of this and the driving force behind it all.

Mark Madden, long-time Pittsburgh sports talk show host wrote today,

“Noll was important. Not just important to the Steelers. Important to Pittsburgh. Without Noll, those Steelers don’t happen. Without those Steelers, Pittsburgh isn’t what it is today. Noll coached the whole city. A tremendous positive trickle down started with Noll.”

Former Steelers linebacker Andy Russell saw the Steelers before and after Noll became the head coach. He said that Noll got the players' attention from the very first meeting.

"In '69 they hired Coach Noll and he told us what was wrong. In his first speech he said, I don't know the exact words but what he said was, 'I've been watching the game film since I took the job and I can tell you guys why you've been losing.' You could have heard a pin drop in this room," Russell explained.

"[Noll] said, 'The reason you've been losing is you're not any good. You're not fast enough, you're not strong enough, you're not quick enough, you're not smart enough. I'm going to have to get rid of most of you.' Well five of us made it from that room to the Super Bowl in '74."

Even after his first season, when the Steelers lost 13 straight games, the players did not criticize or blame Noll.

According to Russell, "He always spoke the truth, and it was really important that he did so. We learned so much from him and then of course, what happened that changed everything was the incredibly terrific drafts we had...and that changed everything."

Russell refers to the drafting of Steelers greats such as Joe Greene, Lynn Swann, and Terry Bradshaw.

Noll is survived by his wife, Marianne, his son, Chris, and two grandchildren, Katie and Connor.

How Chuck Noll Changed Pittsburgh

An Essay By Paul Guggenheimer host of Essential Pittsburgh

The city of Pittsburgh has lost one of its great leaders. He wasn’t a politician but rather a football coach named Chuck Noll. Some would say that, with the possible exception of David Lawrence, Mr. Noll did more for this city’s self-esteem than any office holder in Pittsburgh’s history. Before Chuck Noll took over as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969, we were known for steel and uh, well, not much else unless you count air pollution. Just five seasons after his arrival, the man Myron Cope nicknamed “the Emperor” had led the Steelers to a Super Bowl championship. And then another, and another, and another. From 1974 to 1980, Pittsburgh won four Super Bowls and the Steel City had a new identity. It was now the Steelers’ City, the home of the greatest football team the world had ever known. Noll, who died Friday of natural causes at the age of 82, remains the only coach to win four Super Bowls. In 23 years as the head coach of the Steelers, he compiled an overall record of 209 wins, 156 losses and 1 tie. But more than the wins and the trophies, it’s the words and deeds that he’ll be remembered for. Former Steelers linebacker Andy Russell, a well-seasoned veteran by the time his favorite coach arrived, remembers Noll telling him “I’ll make you a better player in your 30s then you were in your 20s.” And Noll was right. I had an opportunity to meet Noll while covering the 1992 Super Bowl for National Public Radio. The game was being played in Minneapolis and I was walking through the press area deep in the bowels of the old Metrodome when I spotted him walking down the corridor. He was there to do the coin flip, less than a month into his retirement from the Steelers. There were a lot of pro football luminaries in the house including John Madden and I tried to be professional whenever I encountered them. But when I saw Chuck Noll, all of my composure went out the window. I sidled up to him and told him how I had grown up in Pittsburgh, and was a big Steelers fan, and what those Super Bowl victories had meant to all of us children of the 70, and would he please take a picture with me? It’s amazing he didn’t just keep on walking. This was in the days before you could take photos with cell phones. So we’re not talking about a selfie here. I was carrying a small camera and I didn’t know any of the folks milling around in the immediate vicinity. Noll flagged down an acquaintance of his and asked him to snap the photo. He even moved us to a spot where the light was better. That’s the kind of guy Chuck Noll was. On Tuesday, Coach Noll will be laid to rest in a city that will forever be grateful for all the things he gave us.