Archive for June, 2012
Posted on June 29, 2012 - by ChuckFinder
The invitation was impossible to pass.
Eight Steelerettes, the same number as started this whole business a half-century earlier, were meeting in the Strip District to formulate plans for their 50th-anniversary reunion in October 2011.
The response was impossible to swallow: Fifty years? But none of you are older than 50, are you?
These grand grandmas provided some photos, some fun, some nostalgia — Andy Williams? Pat Boone? — reeling through the years since they and the Cleveland Browns’ cheerleaders were the first to grace an NFL sideline.
The fun bunch had lunch at the Spaghetti Warehouse. (Mrs. Author and I later imbibed in toasted raviolis and the Turin Trio — a detectable Italian flair so far to these interviews, eh?) There was Norreen Modry, Jeanne Rattigan, Marlene Pizutti, Lynn Moran, Diane Rossini, Denise Hughes, Barbara Kruze and Valerie Miller. There were tons of stories (the tell-all a few of them could write) and laughs and good times. You have to bet that, after a little wine, their reunion was a blast.
Modry: “There were eight of us in ’61 at Forbes Field. There were 10 of us in ’62.”
Miller: “The largest group was ’64, when there were 16 of us. The second half of the year [when the weather chilled], we wore corduroy jumpers.”
Modry: “Black leotards with a little pleated skirt. Looked like a [roller-]skating skirt. Gold cummerbund with a gold bowtie.”
Rattigan: “Those were the worst uniforms. Ugly. The bowties went right here [on the left side of the neck]. And they didn’t have black tennis shoes in those days, so they dyed them black.”
Modry: “And your feet would turn purply.”
Miller: “I remember walking up [Cardiac] Hill behind Frenchy Fuqua, and he had that purple cape on. Those costumes he used to wear.”
Of course, the conversation got to Buddy Dial and that cannon — though I interviewed a few of the Ingots, the ill-fated, male cheerleaders who joined the Steelerettes for two years and never even knew they were called Ingots. But we also talked about some of the women who stood shorter than Andy Williams dancing in his Civic Arena show once.
Yes, there are a couple of pages worth of cheerleading memories in this book.
Next “The Steelers Encyclopedia” blog: Wednesday, July 4 — a holiday special about my personal Steelers Buck O’Neil
Posted on June 22, 2012 - by ChuckFinder
By the time you read “The Steelers Encyclopedia starting in roughly 10 weeks), Dan Radakovich hopefully has published his memoirs, entitled “Bad Rad.”
But he was kind enough to share some stories for this book.
If Bad Rad has anything, it is a deep and entertaining supply of stories.
“I was a linebackers coach. I called [Chuck Noll] on the phone. I was at the University of Cincinnati. I was the defensive coordinator going to law school,” Radakovich began, reliving his 1971 arrival. And the Steelers, his hometown team, suddenly needed a defensive line coach.
“I couldn’t live on my salary at Cincinnati. I got him right on the phone, and he didn’t know me from Adam. I hung up the phone, ‘There’s no job there.’ The next day, he called me back. He’s all wired up. I’m talking to a different guy.”
Noll told him of already lining up five interviews the next week. . . ., but Rad drove to Pittsburgh and interviewed the next day, a Friday, prior to the other five guys. “I’m sure Perles was one of them,” Bad Rad recalled. Noll called him back the following Friday: the job was Rad’s.
How much defensive-line coaching had he done in his career to that point? “Only two weeks of spring practice at the University of Cincinnati. I went to Cincy to be the defensive coordinator and coach the defensive line, and I couldn’t do both. After two weeks, I gave it to another coach.”
The Steelers’ d-line he inherited? They would become known as the Steel Curtain that very year: L.C. Greenwood, Joe Greene and Dwight White (Ernie Holmes was on the taxi squad, as it was called then.)
When Bad Rad returned to the Steelers in 1974 — he went back to college, coaching at Colorado, in 1972-73) — he coached the offensive line and won a couple of Super Bowl rings. Then, when he joined Bud Carson with the Los Angeles Rams, he coached against the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV.
More on those stories in both his and my book.
Next “The Steelers Encyclopedia” blog: Friday, June 29
Posted on June 15, 2012 - by ChuckFinder
It’s all because of the blasted cigars.
Ralph Berlin blames and embraces the Chief at the same time.
Art Rooney Sr. is the reason for his expensive habit. Art Rooney Sr. is the reason for his quarter-century of wonderful times with the Steelers, the four rings, the countless memories, the health problems (well, not most of them) and the affinity for fine cigars.
When Berlin came to the Steelers in 1968, while Bill Austin was still coach, he admittedly smoked the cheap stogies. The Chief gave him the good stuff from among the Frank Sinatra collection, the ones that the Chairman of the Board sent expressly for the Steelers’ owner. Talk about your victory cigars.
No wonder Berlin loved the Chief. Didn’t mind Sinatra so much, either.
Amid tales of lighting up and fetching cigars across the street from the Roosevelt Hotel in the Jenkins Arcade, Berlin helped to care and nurture the health of the Steelers through the Chuck Noll administration and into Bill Cowher‘s rookie year as head coach.
“Greatest man I ever knew,” Berlin said of the Chief. “I really feel like he was the father I never had.”
Noll was one of the smartest man he ever knew — more than a championship coach, he sure could suggest the proper wine to give as a gift.
Cowher was a motivator where Noll was a teacher.
And the ’70s?
“I enjoyed coming to work. It was a box of chocolates. Something was going to happen every day.”
Berlin told some tales about so many of the stars of those Steelers years, the tale behind Dwight White’s Super Bowl IX illness, the filming of “Black Sunday” and much, much more.
Behind the scenes, folks relate great stories.
Here’s hoping I don’t get in their way in the book.
Next “The Steelers Encyclopedia” blog: Friday, June 22
Posted on June 8, 2012 - by ChuckFinder
Lunch with Tunch-n-Wolf, nothing could be better.
These two old friends came in together as back-to-back draft picks, fifth round and sixth, in 1980. They played shoulder to shoulder through much of the 1980s. They remain side by side a generation later, on radio broadcasts for their talk show or Steelers games — though WDVE-FM puts Tunch Ilkin in the booth and Craig Wolfley on the sideline. They are the Hope and Crosby, the Martin and Lewis, the Penn and Teller (except talkative) of the Steelers and NFL.
So closely aligned were they as guard and tackle, so close they remain, that their names become pronounced as one.
First, there was the band Steppenwolf. Now there’s Tunch-n-Wolf, side by side in a booth at Sauce — the splendid eatery around the corner from Wolf’s old Bridgeville gym.
Wolf had one of the specialty burgers, Tunch a chicken-marsala special, and the interviewer about four bites of a chicken quesadilla because he was too busy asking questions and then taking copious notes. This book work began with older heads, gents such as Ed Kiely and Roy McHugh who go back, back, back to the World War II years. Still, I was eager to sit down, dine and digest Word Wars with Tunch-n-Wolf, who spin tales of the 1980-plus Steelers like nobody else. One picks up, the other finishes. Chew, swallow, repeat.
Oh, the tasty morsels.
The time Mike Webster climbed from his hospital bed and took a cab to and fro a game he refused to miss. And thought he broke his “freakin’ neck.” And worked on the blocking sled in his front yard around sunrise.
The time Chuck Noll — renaissance man and the coach who coached everyone “including the equipment manager,” as Wolf put it — peered over the shoulder of a airplane mechanic trying to fix the Steelers’ charter.
The time Larry Brown made the mighty Mark Gastineau cry.
Terry Bradshaw‘s first huddle of his final Steelers game. Tunch’s first experience with the Chief. Dan Rooney‘s role as a dealmaker and peacemaker in first, second and third previous labor situations.
Stories and laughs and good food rolled on.
These guys could be a book unto themselves.
Here’s one full tale: Tunch was the player rep and Wolf the assistant player rep — naturally — for the 1987 strike where, as the player rep admitted, “we got our butts kicked.” They were invited to an Allegheny Labor Council meeting around what Wolf called “the biggest boardroom table I’ve ever seen in my life.” They didn’t expect much support from the blue-collars. They got none.
Around the table, one union leader after another spoke about an NFL players’ strike in one of America’s most union-savvy cities. One by one, they started to forcefully proclaim: Sorry, but we cannot support the players.
Wolf raised his voice, their attitude was so contrary to the cause of players — who, in addition to free agency, were looking for better pensions and medical coverage like any of the unions of the folks gathered around that table. Tunch rebuked Wolf in front of the group, advised him to settle down and close up.
Next union official offered something anti-player that rubbed Tunch the wrong way, and next thing he knew his voice and hackles were raised. Wolf yelled at him. The two teammates and friends began to argue.
“It was a mess,” Wolf admitted.
They came out all right.
Next “The Steelers Encyclopedia blog Friday, June 15
Posted on June 1, 2012 - by ChuckFinder
Safety, it’s an interestingly named position when you think about it. Safety. In football? How much safety is there, truly?
Mike Wagner played that position. In fact, he played both safety positions — in a move that surprised him most of all. Yet he played safety with consistency and panache and glee. And from his position at the rear of one of the NFL’s greatest defense’s of all time, if not the greatest, Wagner got quite a perspective.
You should hear him talk about the right side of the defensive huddle always fighting and yelling (he, cerebral Jack Ham, and L.C. Greenwood plus Joe Greene were on the left, quiet side).
You should hear him tell Ernie Holmes stories, and the joy he had both for the man, his eating habits and his Steelers days.
You should hear him discuss various topics.
But here’s one that was intriguing: Joe Gilliam, a onetime Mt. Lebanon resident like Wagner and a teammate whom he befriended. They were both very young back in the early 1970s. Both endured a great deal. And Wagner noticed things far more serious, more mature, than a twentysomething football player normally sees:
“Joe had a slingshot for an arm, which was both a gift and a detriment. He had so much belief that he could deliver the ball, no matter the skill set of the people around him. I saw a lot of the struggles he went through, trying to become a quarterback in the NFL, trying to deal with racial discrimination issues, trying to deal with his own issues.
“We played in Miami late in the year, and Joe Gilliam is starting. [Dec. 3, 1973] And he throws three interceptions to Dick Anderson, two of them for touchdowns. [Wagner, then 24 and in his third year, was just ahead of Anderson for the NFL lead in interceptions] He came out and sat on the bench. I said, “Joe, having a tough night?’ ‘If I can just get it in there. . . .’ ‘Joe, how about throwing it to someone other than Dick Anderson. You’re killing me.’ Dick Anderson and I wound up tied for the interception lead. That’s kind of a selfish story, but I was trying to distract Joe.”
“I was with Joe the weekend before he died. He was in Pittsburgh [for a reunion]. Got a chance to spend some time with him. Really sad what happened.”
Wagner spun more upbeat tales, too. But we’ll save those for later.
Next “The Steelers Encyclopedia” blog: Friday, June 8