A Chuck Noll story

I’m still a young Steelers fan, and when I was first introduced to the team as a kid it was the Bubby Brister era of the late 1980s. By the time I attended my first regular season game as an 8-year-old in 1992, Bill Cowher was already the coach (it was actually Bill Cowher’s first home game in Pittsburgh. Barry Foster ran for 190 yards against the New York Jets. I still remember it, especially since I had a cold and didn’t tell my mom because I REALLY wanted to go to the game — sorry, Mom).

So my memories of the Chuck Noll era Steelers aren’t the same as people that grew up with the team or followed them in the 1970s when he was building the best damn team in NFL history.

I can barely picture a Steelers game with Chuck Noll on the sidelines. But I do have a story that still cracks me up to this day.

It was the 2003 season, just as the Tommy Maddox era was beginning its quick downward slide into chaos, and the Steelers were 2-4 coming off of a bye week. The season was starting to slip away and pretty much everybody knew it. The St. Louis Rams were in town and it was not only a huge game because the Steelers absolutely needed to win to keep their playoff hopes alive, but it was also the 1,000th game in franchise history. So anybody that was anybody in the organization, past and present, was in the stadium that day for a halftime ceremony.

That turned out to be the highlight of the game.

The game itself was miserable. The Steelers lost, 33-21, thanks to 375 yards passing from Rams quarterback Marc Bulger and three touchdowns from Arlen Harris.

Making matters worse was the fact that the game was played in a three-hour torrential downpour that never let up from the team we arrived in the stadium until we left. This always makes things miserable. Sitting in rain at the stadium for three-and-a-half hours isn’t great when the team is winning. But when it’s a two-touchdown loss that pretty much ends your season, well that’s just a pisser.

As we’re leaving and starting to walk down General Robinson Street just outside the stadium, we ended up getting stuck in the middle of a pile of people. Shoulder-to-shoulder, front-to-back, and nobody was moving. Everybody was wet. Everybody was mad. People were yelling (about the game, about the rain, about the crowd … everything).

Then, all of a sudden, a voice to the rear started screaming “MAKE WAY FOR THE EMPEROR. CLEAR OUT. MAKE WAY FOR THE EMPEROR.”

As the crowd slowly started to split, and every person in the vicinity shut up, a golf cart came driving through carrying a man and a woman. As the cart came to within an arms length of me it was obvious that the cart was carrying none other than Chuck Noll and his wife to a side parking lot where Stage AE currently sits.

Nobody said a word to him. Or to anybody. It was almost as if time stood still at that moment. The only sound that I recall hearing during those 30 seconds was some guy in the background yelling at the top of his lungs, “WE LOVE YOU CHUCK.”

I’ve heard people describe encounters with the pope in a similar way.

And then the cart started to disappear behind a fence, my Dad turned to me and said, “Hey! That was Chuck Noll!”

Indeed it was.

They should put the Chuck Noll statue at that intersection.

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  • David

    My favorite quote from him was when he inherited the team and basically said, “The reason why you lost so much is because you are not very good.”

    And Rocky’s story about Noll talking about the squirrels cracks me up.

  • Rob D

    Love that story,Adam! Noll was a legend…the comments from ex players really tell the tale. There’s a mixture of awe, confusion about his sometimes cryptic fables and Zen like aura…(he was Phil Jackson before PJ), and utter respect for the life lessons he bequeathed to them. It can sound corny, but the sincerity is rock solid and genuine when they talk about passing along his teachings to their families and incorporating it into their life’s work. He’s underrated in almost every respect: as a football mind, as a first rate teacher of fundamentals, and as a drafter of talent. Mostly because he was not a self promoter, which is out of step with the hypercharged marketing environment we have come to know and love/hate that co-exists with modern sports. He kept his privacy and the STeelers honoured his wishes. Now’s the time to celebrate a guy who refused to celebrate himself…He’s just as important as Halas was to the bEars and the sainted Lombardi was to the Packers. A statue is just the start…The put it up and I am coming down to see it…

  • Rob D

    A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
    –Lao Tzu

    (someone posted this at CNNSI..in reference to Noll..I’ve read it before but my goodness, does it EVER fit Chuck Noll’s legacy to a tee.

  • Rob D
  • Cols714

    Nice story!

    Off topic, but I’m going to head to Pittsburgh in October to either go to the Monday night game or just hang out in Pittsburgh for the evening. Any ideas of where I should stay?

    • Rob D

      I’d be interested in replies to Cols query as well…

    • EasyLikeSundayMorning

      What’s your criteria for picking a hotel? For example, do you want to be in walking distance from Heinz Field?

      • Cols714

        Walking distance to bars/restaurants and Heinz Field would be ideal. I want to be able to park the car and not have to get it in again until it’s time to head back home.

        • Randy Steele

          The Renaissance, but it may be pricey. It fits all your criteria. Beautiful downtown hotel. Close enough to the Strip to walk. Heinz is just over the bridge.

          • Cols714


          • Cols714

            Although, it is really pricey. I’m thinking of maybe the Sheraton at Station Square. Take the boat over and then walk back bar hopping.

          • Randy Steele

            I’ve seen the Sheraton and thought about staying there, too. It looks nice, plus it’s fairly close to the Strip. If you go to the Strip, I think Primanti’s is a little overrated, plus the lines can be horrific on game day, but save room for a No. 7 sandwich (aka the Rothlisberger) at Peppi’s. (It’s near 17th Street.)

          • Cols714

            Peppis? Got it. I’ve had Primanti’s already so I can always try a different place. Maybe I’ll do both.

          • Eric

            FWIW the Sheraton in St. Square is a nice hotel.

        • BossJen Gooch Menichini

          All hotels Jack their prices on game weekends. Try Northshore, there is the Hyatt. The residence Inn and Springhill suites. All in walking distance. There are a few restaurants and pubs all right there and located by PNC filed as well!

    • Gretz

      I don’t think to put Hotel information in here, but I put this together before last season about going to a game at Heinz Field and being on the North Shore. Maybe I’ll do another one to focus on where to stay for out of towners. http://www.steelerslounge.com/2013/09/steelers-lounge-visitors-guide-heinz-field/

    • Rob D

      I’m scared if either Taylor goes down or he suddenly hits the wall (some people think he’s already hit it..lol) and gets benched. Taking him out of the equation this year would mean instant emergency…they’d have to go out and sign someone IMO..Cortez is a fave of mine but I dont’ know if he could be a No. 1…I don’t believe for a second some of the talk about “we have good players at CB on this roster already”..(ie) Blake or Green. I don’t know if Flowers is the answer but like you, Cols, I’m antsy about our depth..and the possibility of Taylor being done like dinner.

  • Cols714

    They really should be looking into signing Brandon Flowers. That would give us a guy we could plug in if Taylor is toast.

  • Eric

    Football Outsiders with an analysis of catch radius featuring A. Brown and M. Wallace:


    • Rob D

      That was very interesting, Eric…thank you

  • Rob D

    Which player do you think will have a break out year, much like Worilds did. I’m going with Wheaton…why? Because he has to. We very much need him to be the player everyone seems to think he is. EArly reports are good..mangled finger and all.

  • Rob D

    I’m excited every year ..but this collection of players has me very intrigued… a lot of quality youth on this team now and if a few more of the unknowns break out…look out. It could also be a “fits and starts” type of deal too..That scares me a little because I truly believe Tomlin could get canned with another disaster start like last year. When you have a franchise QB..you get judged a little more harshly by mngmt.

  • Rob D

    Jaws ranks BB sixth on his QB rating list. So there’s that..