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.