CHUCK NOLL AND THE STEEL CURTAIN | FANS’ REACTION: “WHO’S JOE GREENE?”

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In a move that would forever change the Pittsburgh Steelers, and create the cornerstone for their legendary “Steel Curtain,” a little-known defensive big man named Joe Greene from North Texas State was drafted in the first round. The silence was deafening.

Fans’ Reaction: “Who’s Joe Greene?” — headline from The Pittsburgh Press, January 28th, 1969.

The day before, 37 yr old Chuck Noll, was brought in as Head Coach to brutally retool what was considered to be the worst team in all of the NFL– Yep.  The Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Feb 1oth, 1982, Pittsburgh, PA — Steelers’ defensive tackle Joe Greene displays his number 75 jersey after announcing his retirement. Greene was the foundation (and many argue, the Steelers’ greatest and most valuable player) used by coach Chuck Noll to build four Super Bowl Championship teams. — Image by © Bettmann/Corbis

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Defensive Captain at the time, Andy Russell (with the Steelers since ’63) recalls his first meeting with new Head Coach Chuck Noll–

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Back in the ’60s, the Steelers were– pretty bad. We just could not consistently win games. We would lose games by the most bizarre circumstances– we’d find a way to lose every time. So, it was quite a frustrating experience — and a remarkable change — when Chuck Noll came.

He called me in on the off-season. I’d made my first Pro Lowl in ’68, prior to him coming, and I thought, “Oh, he’s calling me in to congratulate me.” So I went in to see him. We shook hands, but he wasn’t overly friendly. He looks right at me and says–

“You know, Russell, I’ve been watching the game films since I’ve taken over the job here– and I don’t like how you play. You’re too aggressive… You’re too out of control… You’re trying to be the hero… You’re trying to make big plays. I’m going to change the way you play. I’ll make you a better player than you are right now– because you’re not disciplined enough.”

I was just stunned!

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1972 — Pittsburgh Steelers’ coach Chuck Noll beams after Franco Harris scored the winning touchdown against Oakland to win 13 to 7. On the play, Steelers’ Terry Bradshaw passed to Frenchie Faqua. Faqua and Oakland Raider Jack Tatum collided and the ball bounced to Franco Harris. Tatum denied he touched the ball but the official ruled he did.American Football Playoffs — Image by © Bettmann/Corbis

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When we got to our first training camp, Chuck Noll’s first speech to the team goes–

“Look, I’ve been watching the game films since I took the job.  And I can tell you guys that the reason you’ve been losing is not because of your attitude, or your psyche, or of that ‘STUFF.’  The problem is– you’re just not good enough.  You know, you can’t run fast enough, you can’t jump high enough, you’re not quick enough.  You’re techniques are just abysmal.  I’m probably going to have to get rid of most of you– and we’re going to move on.”

And you know– five of us made it from that room to our first Super Bowl following the ’74 season.

–The Steelers’ Andy Russell

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1975, Miami, FL — Members of the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers pose for pictures as the AFC pros opened training.  (L to R)  Franco Harris, Andy Russell, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Ham, Roy Gerela, and Joe Greene relaxing on the sod.  — Image by © Bettmann/Corbis

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QB “BROADWAY JOE” NAMATH | NEW YORK, BROADS & BOLD PREDICTIONS

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From the desk of Contributing Editor, Eli M. Getson–

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Teammate Sherman Plunkett gave Namath his nickname after seeing this 1965 Sports Illustrated cover with Namath standing in front of New York City’s infamous avenue. The Hall of Famer lived up to the name with both his brash fur coats and bold predictions, the most well known coming in 1969 when he guaranteed his 19-point underdog Jets would defeat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. They did, 17-6, and Namath was named MVP.  Photographed by: James Drake for Sports Illustrated

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Try to wrap your head around this–  you’re the quarterback for the New York Jets in 1968-69; leading an upstart team from the counterculture AFL into Super Bowl III against the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts. You’re the poster-boy in the battle of the longhairs and freaks (Jets) versus the ultimate symbol of straight, corporate NFL excellence  (Colts).  You’re young, very single, and beyond sexy — like catnip to the ladies — you own NY.  You have that sense of immortality that comes with being young, rich, and very, very good.

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New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath lounges by the pool with press and fans before Super Bowl III.  Photographed by: Walter Iooss Jr. for Sports Illustrated

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To say it’s a charmed life is the understatement of the century.  Those heady days leading up to Super Bowl III, rewrote the script for the celebrity athlete, the Super Bowl, and the fortunes of an upstart league of misfits, outlaws & free spirits.  No matter what happened afterward, Joe Namath etched himself into our collective consciousness in that first month of ‘69.  We all dreamt of being like Joe–carousing Manhattan’s hottest spots all hours of the night with a blond and brunette as bookends, armed with a bottle of Jack, letting it all hang out– and still having enough to burn the Raiders the next day.  Dick Schaap, Namath biographer (and later co-host of the Joe Namath Show), said he witnessed just this before the AFL Championship that year.  A legendary story celebrated by us fans– the ultimate testament to how cocksure our QB was.  Today he would have been pilloried for his lack of “focus”, back then we celebrated how fun it all was and lived vicariously through “Broadway Joe”.

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Circa 1970– Rome, N.Y.: Jets’ star quarterback Joe Namath turns equestrian for his role in the forthcoming motion picture, C.C and Company. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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We all know what happened next– Miami, The Orange Bowl, the “Guarantee”, and then going out and making it happen.  Miami Beach must have been a helluva good time that week.  New York is a demanding town– you come to be great or be gone.   If you can back up your bravado with action and bring home the prize then we will love you forever, no matter how much you embarrass yourself or us later on.  We owe you that much for the memories alone.

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