While Darrell Jefferson and the Artistree band were rocking the R&B sounds downstairs at the Wheelhouse Bar and Grill, many of the ‘70s Pittsburgh Steelers were in full force upstairs, March 29, at the Rivers Casino Grand Ballroom. Who could assemble this Super Duper Super Bowl championship team for a fundraiser?
Bill Neal, the president and CEO of Champion Enterprises, that’s who. Proceeds from the event benefited the annual “Toys for Champions” giveaway, which provides toys, clothing and canned goods to families in need, along with its safe summer programs.
“Special thanks goes out to the event sponsors,” said Neal. “And of course none of it would have been possible without the Champions’ executive staff and the many volunteers!”
It was a jammed, standing room only, dressed to impress group who was glad to see familiar faces from the past.
Eight of the all-time greats arrived and received a standing ovation from their fans. The rule changer Mel Blount, J.T. Thomas, Louis “Lou” Lipps, Randy Grossman, Robin “Big Rob” Cole, the legendary Andy Russell, Mike Wagner and “The Judge” Dwayne Woodruff.
“I called my dad and he can’t believe all these great players are here,” said B&E Multimedia Studios model Ashley Parran. “I don’t know all the players but I made sure that I took a picture with all of them.”
Florida State won the national championship in 2014 and Thomas carried the pressure of being the first Black player in FSU history in 1969.
“I was the first Black player at Florida State to play and graduate. I was breaking the color barrier really since junior high school—I was in desegregation mode even then,” said Thomas. “I really didn’t feel pressure after all of that.”
The program opened with “The Talking Machine” Allen Levine, host of Pittsburgh Sportsline, and Neal telling the players to sit down and get ready for the evening that included autographs and photos with your favorite players.
In between Levine interviewing members of the team on stage, the Tim Stevens and Leonard Johnson Project, featuring saxophone superstar Kenny Blake, entertained the overflowing crowd with smooth Jazz.
Most of the crowd was surprised to hear that Russell was not in the NFL Hall of Fame.
“I was the Steeler captain for 10 years and that is a team record,” said Russell. “I never missed a game my entire football career; high school, college or pro and I was a 7 time Pro Bowler.”
The Grand Ballroom was the perfect setting for an event of this magnitude and the celebration included complimentary hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, free parking, free photographs, free autographs and so much more.
Wagner, 65, is the vice president of the Private Banking Group for First National Bank.
“I always wanted to play offense, but I guess I wasn’t good enough. I grew up in Illinois as a Chicago Bears fan and I went to a large Catholic high school similar to Central Catholic here in Pittsburgh. I didn’t become a good player until my junior year in high school and they put me on defense and I been there ever since,” said Wagner.
“I became a Steeler in 1971 and I was the starting free safety from the first game of my rookie season.”
The Steelers of the ‘70s are the greatest team of NFL History. They had the most talent, most championships and most importantly they were a team with the strongest chemistry that was developed through years of playing together.
In the spirit of its motto, “Making a World of Difference,” especially on this night, Champion Enterprises, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Rivers Casino, are proving that the people in this city can stand toe-to-toe with anybody.
Other legendary celebrity superstars who were in attendance included B.B. Flenory, Jennifer Bruce, Myron Brown, Master Jacquet Bazemore, Sly Jock and Chanel Smith.
The sponsors of the event were Highmark, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Penn Avenue McDonald’s, Office of the D.A., the New Pittsburgh Courier and Diversified Municipal Services.
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