Steeler Nation has lost their Emperor.
Chuck Noll passed away last night at age 82. Coach Noll was head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers for 23 years, winning four Super Bowls over that span – a feat which remains unequaled by any other coach in NFL history. Inducted into the Hall of Fame back in 1993, he was one of the chief architects of one the greatest turnarounds in sports history, taking the Steelers from perennial losers to being the most dominant dynasty of the modern era. More than just a football coach, Chuck Noll was revered as a teacher. A cultured man – he once guest conduced the Pittsburgh Symphony – Coach Noll has been credited by scores of former players for shaping them both as football players and as men.
On a personal note, you may have noticed I haven’t been updating this site regularly as of late. The reason for that is my grandmother fell ill a couple weeks back. She ultimately passed away last week. To say that put a damper on my desire to update this silly little football blog would be an understatement. So while I apologize for not keeping everyone updated on draft pick signings and OTAs, I hope my absence is understood.
It’s funny, my grandma has basically nothing to do with the Steelers. The only tangible connection I could make was a story she must’ve told a thousand times where she bumped into Art Rooney coming out of a hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. She asked him, “Mr. Rooney, you’re such a great man. May I shake your hand?” and of course the Chief graciously obliged. Other than that, the only link between my grandmother and the Steelers was the same as it is for most Pittsburghers – she cheered when they won and moaned when they lost but no matter what if you dropped by her house on any given Sunday be it in 1984 or 2014 you would surely find her watching them play. In fact, my earliest football memories are of my dad, grandfather, and uncles gathered around the television at her house watching Mark Malone fling passes down field in a futile effort to dig the Black and Gold out of multi-score deficit.
Chuck Noll was the coach of those teams. He was also the coach in 1989, the year he won his one and only Coach of the Year award and the year I officially became a card carrying member of Steeler Nation. The Steelers lost their first two games that season by a combined score of 92-10 – not a typo – yet Coach Noll managed to right the ship well enough to eventually earn a Wild Card berth. Once in the playoffs, he somehow guided a team quarterbacked by Bubby Brister to a road upset over the Houston Oilers, then went out to Denver and came within two and a half minutes of beating the two time defending AFC Champion Broncos. It was the football equivalent of a Cinderella run in the Final Four and cemented both my love for the Steelers and admiration for Noll as a head coach.
Noll’s run eventually ended in 1991 and he almost completely disappeared from the public eye shortly thereafter. I’m not sure it’s ever been totally confirmed by family but the rumor was his absence was due to his being afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Thankfully, my grandma remained sharp as a tack until the very end although she certainly battled her share of ailments. Just a reminder that getting old absolutely sucks.
Chuck Noll is well-known to everybody reading this blog – either through first hand experience or through the stories passed down from older relatives – while my grandmother was special only to me. In both cases, what we have left of them now are our memories. Really, I don’t know what else describes a life well lived than to say someone will always be remembered.