Last Friday night after the Steelers completed their first public scrimmage at Latrobe Area High School, I walked around the grounds of St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA which serves as the training camp home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. During that little stroll something occurred to me. It was eerily quiet on this pristine campus dedicated to Saint Vincent. To all untrained observers this might even be a place that the Gods might take a wink or two or even hit the snooze button.
There is no way that any ordinary person might stumble upon this magnificent and sanctified piece of ground and think that it serves as the training ground for what might be accurately defined as; “the most violent team sport” in the world.
The game of professional football can be described as surreal and “other-worldly.” Football is spiritual, yet carnal. Football is deep, yet shallow, happy and sad, with Mt. Everest type highs and Hades type lows. There are many more contradictions that define yet confuse what this gladiator like game means to many, many people.
One of the elements that immortalize the game just well may be one of the men who did not play during the evolution of football from the industrial to the electronic revolution.
One of the timeless and legendary “stone masons” who was and is invaluable to the legacy of the Steelers is Mr. William “Bill” Nunn Jr. The Rooney family is credited and rightly so with having the patience to gut it out with what was formerly viewed as one of the most futile and incompetent franchises in the history of professional sports. Former Steelers Head Coach Charles Henry “Chuck” Noll is considered the architect of the Steelers “mansion” of excellence” but it was Bill Nunn Jr. who provided the building blocks for the Steelers Nation to build the record of excellence on which the team can proudly stand for eternity.
I have written about Mr. Nunn in the past and most of you that know me understand that it has been my opinion for over four decades that if a football “God” exists on this earth then he must be incarnated in the person of Bill Nunn Jr. When I reflect on my experience at the Courier it has been like all of life’s experiences can be filled with moments of angst and glory. Please pardon my “gushiness” but for me to personally know Bill Nunn Jr., well just put it like this; for an African-American football scribe it is unlike any experience I have had in over three decades as a sports journalist. An individual can almost learn as much about professional football in two hours sitting under the tutelage of Bill Nunn Jr. than taking a two year course at any accredited university.
In March, 2012, Nunn told Chuck Finder of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that, “I retired in 1987. I think Dan [Rooney], the only reason he keeps me around—I do some things—is because I’m the only one here older than him. Every year I tell him, ‘I’m going to quit coming in.’ And he says, ‘Nah, you’re not.’”
In February, 2010, he was inducted into the Black College Hall of Fame. He sat down with Steelers writer Bob Labriola and had this to say about the New Pittsburgh Courier. “The Courier was a crusading paper,” said Nunn. “We fought against what we called ‘injustices,’ and not only in sports, but also in the workplace, in the educational system and so on. As a result, I was just proud I was a part of that newspaper. What happened with the Courier, though, was that because we were a crusading newspaper, it affected us with advertising. We could get the beer advertisements and things like that, but the big department stores and some of the big companies wouldn’t advertise because we were fighting against job discrimination, and many of those things were happening at some of those places.”
He went on to say that, “My feeling is that so much of what I did to be a part of this (the Black College Hall of Fame) was done when I was with the newspaper (The Pittsburgh Courier),” said Nunn.
“Getting to the Steelers, of course, also was due to the newspaper. Having dealt with Black colleges for most of my newspaper life, I feel good about that. I picked the Black College All-America football team starting in 1950, and the last one I took part in was in 1974 when I was a scout here and we drafted John Stallworth. So as a result, I felt very good about being a part of that.”
There are many heroes that are woven into the eternal fabric of the New Pittsburgh Courier. Malvin “Mal” Goode, Hazel Garland, Charles “Teenie” Harris, Wendell Smith and Eddie Jeffries have all left an indelible mark upon the world of journalism but Bill Nunn Jr. crossed the chasm of the “unknown” and navigated the treacherous waters of the sacred “man world” of professional football that possibly possesses that highest concentrated level of testosterone in the universe.
We often hear of Jackie Robinson shattering the so-called color barrier in baseball. Willie Thrower was the first African American player to appear in a professional game at the quarterback position in the National Football League. I could go on and on. However, Bill Nunn Jr. actually had an impact far beyond the playing field. His eyes and ears would be the propellants that would launch a franchise tagged with incompetence and failure up into the stratosphere of greatness.
The Holy Scriptures explain to us that there is a time and season for everything. Bill Nunn Jr. has, is and will always be a man for “all” seasons.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-583-6741.)