Archive for July, 2012
Posted on July 27, 2012 - by ChuckFinder
You know, the Bobs of Robert Morris U.
Joe Walton founded the program, nurtured it from its infancy as a bag of balls and a converted closet, even picked out the spot for a field. Which, of course, was named for him. When John Banaszak left Division III Washington & Jefferson, Walton ultimately gave him a new home in Division I-AA and the head coaching job when Walton retires. Together for a sitdown, they’re a load of laughs. Together at football, they’re a half-century of NFL experience and another combined quarter-century of college football.
Together, one day last August, they spun Steelers stories. The tape goes an hour and a half. We could’ve talked for days.
Walton remembered his father, Frank, coaching under the stern taskmaster Jock Sutherland — whom Joe still calls “Dr.” — in 1947, the one true, successful playoff season in franchise history until 1972 came along. Walton remembered Steelers quarterback Bobby Layne waiting at a popular Manhattan watering hole for the Giants he vanquished that afternoon, then buying them drinks. Walton remembered the Chief, Art Rooney Sr., giving him some of Frank Sinatra‘s cigars.
He remembered getting picked up at the Pittsburgh airport for his job interview as offensive coordinator not by a limo driver, not by a Steelers lackey, but by Chuck Noll himself. Walton looked out the window at the cold, rainy, dreary weather he forgot having been away in Washington and New York all those years and moaned aloud about it. Noll replied with a wry smile, “Beats Cleveland.”
“We had that in common, too,” Banaszak interjected about the hometown he shared with his stern coach.
“The ultimate teacher. Loved to teach. Chuck would roam from one group to another group to another group. I can remember George Perles saying, ‘OK, here comes Chuck.’ And he’d roll his eyes. And Chuck would say, ‘I think your stance needs to be a little bit wider.’ He’d say something to L.C.[Greenwood]. Then he’d move on to Joe Greene and have something that he saw on film the day before. Then Chuck would move onto the linebackers, and George would say, ‘You guys can forget everything Chuck said.’
“The best thing Chuck did was have those assistant coaches. And he let the coaches coach. That’s why he hired them.” To hear Walton and Banaszak talk about staff meetings, they were truly legendary.
Banaszak recalled an incident when he got blocked into the Colts punter in the 1975 playoffs, his rookie season. Fifteen-yard penalty.
“I’m laying in the middle of Three Rivers Stadium in the Steelers insignia, the yellow flag is next to me, and there’s 60,000 fans screaming, and I hear one voice – it’s Chuck. ‘Banaszak! Banaszak!’ I’m done. My first playoff game, I know I’m going to get cut. He could melt you.”
Banaszak breaking down each member of the Steel Curtain, plus other teammates, and Walton’s perspective are both filled with gems. But, again, that’s in the book.
Next “The Steelers Encyclopedia” blog: Aug. 3
Posted on July 20, 2012 - by ChuckFinder
The instructors at the West Allegheny High football camp in honor of the late Pitt, Temple and Notre Dame line coach Joe Moore? They constituted a virtual Who’s Who from Pitt in the NFL.
Dan Marino showed on Saturday. Among the coaches were the Bears’ Jimbo Covert of the College Football Hall of Fame, the Jets’/Seahawks’/Steelers linemen Jim Sweeney of the South Fayette High staff and Canton enshrinee Russ Grimm of the Arizona Cardinals coaching staff. Each starred under Moore at Pitt, learned his way into the NFL. Sweeney and Grimm went on to play and coach with their hometown teams.
After their mid-June camp broke, they adjourned for the North Star.
Well, it was a religious designation on this particular Sunday, a pilgrimage. . . for a sandwich and beer at a lounge/restaurant outside Imperial, Pa. It was also a nice, cool, relaxing place to share some Steelers tales.
Sweeney, whom I knew from his playing days, recalled a neat story about how Art Rooney Sr. used to “hang around” with his late grandfather, who happened to be an Irish Catholic policeman in Pittsburgh. Given the Chief’s proclivities, Sweeney added, “I’m sure [my grandfather] helped.”
Grimm, whom I knew from his coaching days with the Steelers, talked about his Western Pennsylvania football ruts and the early-2000s Steelers’ penchant for losing in AFC Championship games. Here’s where I wish I could’ve joined him in dining and thirst-quenching, but alas I left the camp crew mostly to themselves and left after the interviews.
“I think if you get close and get denied, you have a better chance of getting [to the Super Bowl regularly] than just lucking out and winning one,” Grimm said of the Pittsburgh persistence this century. “When you get a taste of it, it’s a lot easier getting back there.”
Then, as if on cue, he sipped his beer.
Next “The Steelers Encyclopedia” blog: July 27
Posted on July 13, 2012 - by ChuckFinder
Lunch was only a bowl of tortilla soup for me, a bowl of vegetable and a fancy grilled-cheese sammich plus a brew for him.
But it wasn’t about the food.
The most delectable fare was Bill Hillgrove spinning yarns of Myron Cope.
The joy of yoi. Which would make a wonderful title for a chapter on Cope. Yes, the book had to include a chapter on Cope. The only problem was trying to keep it shorter than Chuck Noll’s chapter or any of the Hall of Fame players. After all, the little man grew into such tall tales. Even Mike Wagner had a good Cope story to tell.
Of course, I’d lunch with Billy even if the discussion topic was the Venezuelan economy. The man can entertain. But his Cope stories, because he lived them for four decades, came from the heart. (And, truth be told, it was the first interview in my 30-plus years of writing that I ever broke out a computer for a one-on-one — as I told Hillgrove, I wanted to get down his words immediately and not miss a letter.)
Hillgrove was a WTAE radio and TV staple when the station went out and hired this free-lance magazine writer — one of Pittsburgh’s greatest writers in history. But with that voice?
The electronic media guy knew all about Cope’s wit and savvy and ability to charm the athletes and coaches. But you get to know a fella even better when you sit next to him for hours on end and improvise, relate drama, broadcast football.
“I was priviledged,” Hillgrove began. He corrected himself. “I was blessed to work with him for 11 years. But people forget the 12th. Johnny Sauer got sick in 1983 [with a heart problem], and I had the joy of working with Cope that [Pitt football] season. He’d call the house: ‘Rose, it’s Myron.’ She’d look at me like: I know it’s Myron, you don’t have to identify yourself. And if something was wrong with your family or something, he was the first to call.”
* Working alongside Cope, already an AM talk-show and TV newscast-commentary star, “That’s when I realized I was dealing with an instant lexicon. [Pitt safety] Tommy Flynn returned a punt for a touchdown against Louisivlle. He went [WRITER'S NOTE: in perfect Cope imitation] ‘Zoo-ee, he went up that sidelines.’ I went, ‘Zoo-ee?’ ‘I can make up words.’ ”
* “His daughter [Elizabeth] bought him a computer. Apparently, whoever came out to his house was ordered: ‘Don’t plug that into the wall. I don’t want that internet. I just want to type on it.’ That lasted half a day. Then he was back to his old typewriter. He marveled at technology. But he didn’t understand it.”
* “In those days, they would put Steeler games on Voice of America overseas. We got a note once: The Russians were jamming the signal. When they heard Cope’s voice, they shut off the jamming signal – they wanted to hear his voice. They couldn’t believe a voice like that was on the radio.”
Let’s save some for the book.
Next “The Steelers Encyclopedia” blog: Friday, July 2o
Posted on July 4, 2012 - by ChuckFinder
LAKELAND, Fla. — Chuck Cherundolo, 94 years young, looked over from his senior-citizen recliner — the kind that lifts folks forward so they can ease out — and made a stunning remark.
“You were an education for me.”
No, young man, it was the other way around.
Cherundolo (pronounced “Churr–UN-duh-low) was a pleasant, 2-hour part of a Florida adventure in late June 2011. It was a summer-warm day, the kind where the humidity off the Gulf of Mexico brings some hard-to-drive-through afternoon storms. . . as happened this day. But by the time I walked into the Cherundolo bungalow off the beaten path in Lakeland, Fla., several miles north of where the Detroit Tigers spend their Februarys and Marches, it was all warmth and sunny dispositions. “Want some iced tea?” I demurred, but he wanted some. So he slowly pushed himself out of his forward-lowered recliner and scooted himself in his wheelchair to the refrigerator, helping himself.
Seventy years earlier, he wore No. 21 in Pittsburgh — long before it was famous. He played center for the Steelers long before Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson, Jeff Hartings and Maurkice Pouncey made it hip. After telling his coach with the Cleveland Rams where to stick his career — yes, at 94 he was still extremely colorful — Cherundolo made his way to Pittsburgh, and stuck. An eastern Pennsylvania guy by way of Penn State, must’ve been a gruff, tough, admirable Steeler. Because he retired to move into coaching after his 1941-48 playing career (missing ’43-’44 due to World War II) and coaching from 1949 and into the early 1960s, with a sprinkling of scouting and wine-business work in there.
Some memorable names played around him, coached over or alongside him, or played under him: Bill Dudley, Jock Sutherland, a litany of 1950s players such as Jack Butler, to name-drop a few.
Johnny Unitas? Len Dawson, with whom he crossed paths in the kid’s 1957 rookie season? Yeah, he saw them pass through Pittsburgh. Or hardly pass. Cherundolo: “At that time, you only needed one quarterback. You ever see one run out of halfback in the single wing? Christ, no, we didn’t need [a passer]. I don’t remember him throwing. Of course, I was defense at the time.”
Of Walt Kiesling the coach, he added: “He still living? He’s gone, too? I guess when you get to be 94, they’re all gone.”
The Steelers’ media guide long has listed Cherundolo as returning to coach, but he and his family maintain that 1957 was his final year of 15 with the club (though newspaper accounts of the day had him scouting and returning to coaching as of 1961). He held up a September 1947 game program and peered at me through those black-plastic, square spectacles while I tried to take his photograph. He’s still pretty sharp, his daughter Patricia noted. After all those years playing center in soft, leather helmets and all these signs that many players exhibit later in life, I noted. . . .
Cherundolo snapped: “You’ve got to have a brain to hurt it.”
I hope I have his mind when I’m at least 70, let alone 80 or 95, which he turned last August.
Next “The Steelers Encyclopedia” blog: Friday, July 13. Happy holiday.