by Aubrey Bruce
For New Pittsburgh Courier
The NFL season for the Pittsburgh Steelers is set to kick off the 2020 Monday Night Football schedule against the New York Giants at Metlife Stadium this Monday, Sept. 14.
News flash—the late Bill Nunn Jr., arguably the most successful athletic scout from any professional sports league, is now an eligible finalist as a candidate to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor. He will be profiled during the pregame program. During the program I will be speaking about my experiences with Bill Nunn Jr. and our encounters that spanned more than three decades.
Many so-called football aficionados with “rain man” type tendencies may have to display their full trivia skills to prove themselves worthy to even discuss the exploits and deeds of Bill Nunn Jr. before he began his legendary career as a part-time scout for the men of steel in 1967. When he was hired full-time as the assistant director of player personnel in 1970, the won-loss record of the team was an abysmal 1-13 just the year before in 1969. That was also the year that began the maiden voyage of their future Hall of Fame and legendary head coach, Charles Henry “Chuck” Noll.
Just a decade later, armed with the sharp eye of talent displayed by Bill Nunn Jr. and the coaching and teaching techniques of Chuck Noll, the team had won four Super Bowl Trophies, sporting a 4-0 record in NFL Championship games. Once upon a time the Pittsburgh Steelers were infamous for being incompetent and unstable…now, they’d become a beacon of excellence for the entire sports world to admire.
Before Bill Nunn Jr. joined the Steelers nation, Sunday was just a day off for the Steelers before repeating the long weekly grind. But the team had evolved to provide the raw materials to redefine the game of football and the team now represented a life-changing experience for its fan base and made sure that the world respected their love for the team even after their death.
Case in point: my adopted brother-in-law, George Keith Williams (the Williams family blessed me when I was shunned by my own family years ago), passed away just prior to the Steelers’ 2020 training camp at Heinz Field concluding. The only things that would elicit a bigger smile from George aside from the Steelers was his love for family and music. With a perpetual smile he would always ask me this question; How are the Steelers lookin’ this year, “Brey?” Well, George, they would be looking a lot better this year if you were here to see them.
Another case of eternal loyalty for “dem dere Stillers” was James Henry Smith. In July of 2005, Smith, a Pittsburgh native, died of prostate cancer. Based on his “undying love” for the Black and Gold, his family put together a very unorthodox viewing prior to his actual funeral services and burial.
The Samuel E. Coston Funeral home built a stage in a viewing area and created a replica on how Smith’s home would look on Sundays. His body was placed on a recliner causing him to appear as if here were watching a game. He was decked out in black and gold silk pajamas, slippers and a robe.
Hopefully a bronze bust of Bill Nunn Jr. will soon inhabit a long-overdue place in the Great Hall even if the honor is awarded posthumously.
I have a theory. The spirits of those that are in the Great Hall welcome the ghosts of those that are worthy but have yet to be inducted after the crack of dusk. I can hear Dan Rooney, Chuck Noll and Bill Nunn Jr. discussing some of the current and recent draft choices of the Black and Gold. I can hear Bill Nunn now saying to Coach Noll: “Hey Chuck, I’m glad you decided to bring back that Dobbs kid and I’m sorry you had to let “Duck” go because based on heart there was no one in the league that can compare to him.” Coach Noll, who was always the epitome of practicality, would respond by saying, “You may be right, Jr., but in the end it is more about numbers than heart.”
Well, Coach Noll, it looks as if the NFL may have finally got the numbers straight regarding your partner-in-excellence, Bill Nunn Jr., but tonight, like every other night, there’s a party going on at the HOF like its 1999.