Chuck Noll died today. He was 82 years old. For those of us who live in western PA, this is personal. It is personal because we all have a Steelers experience. I have many. Here is my Chuck Noll story, even though I never met him. And it is a doozy.
When I was young, I attended Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Saint Vincent is a small, liberal arts college and also a seminary (it is a Catholic school), a church, and an arch abbey. The arch abbey part, that means it is a monastery. Lots of monks running around there. But don't you dare call it an abbey. The monks get pissed. It is an ARCH abbey. Saint Vincent is Benedictine order, founded by Boniface Wimmer, from Germany. The German roots are still there. The gristmill. The architecture. The cirriculum (they concentrated on business and the sciences, they were so proud that the founder of modern genetics was a Benedictine monk, studying peas). They used to brew their own beer, way back when, before they sold the recipe to Rolling Rock, but in return, they got free beer in perpetuity. The monks had an AWESOME taproom!
Saint Vincent College was (and still is) the location of the training camp of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers used to be the joke of the NFL, the perpetual losers, the lovable losers. Do you know why the Steelers only have a logo on one side of their helmets? They could not afford both sides. Art Rooney famously saved the team way back when, well, he bet on the horses to make the payroll (and fortunately for us here, he won). Saint Vincent is the training camp for the Steelers because they needed one desperately, and Art Rooney's brother was Father Dan Rooney. The legend is that he helped arrange the training camp.
So what does any of this have to do with Chuck Noll? Let me explain. Please be patient, I am getting there, I promise.
My mother was driving down route 30 just past Greensburg and she saw a broken down car, with steam flying from underneath the hood. There were two men there. Naturally, she pulled over. Naturally, that is, for my mom. Route 30 is a really busy highway, but nobody else stopped. I used to bitch at my mom for doing things that this, but I gave up. Mom was Mom.
The men told my mom they had to be at Saint Vincent College right away, they were late. They wanted her to go somewhere and call; they would give her the phone number. “Just get in, I'll take you!” That was not just my mom. That's a Pittsburgh thing. If you are not from here, you won't get this.
Imagine. Imagine my mom, in her beat-up, old car, driving these two guys to Steelers camp. She told me that she talked the whole way, telling them about her son who was a student there. She was so proud. I'm sure that she told them more than they wanted to know. About how I was the first in my family to go to college (also to graduate high school). She probably told them about how I was working full time and going to school full time. How I supported her and my little brother after my dad died, and how much I was determined to get my degree after that.
My mom told me this story. I felt bad for those two guys.
My mom told me that she dropped them off on campus and one of the men asked for her address, telling her he would send her tickets to a Steelers game. My mom protested, telling him that she did not want to get him into trouble. He laughed and told her, “It's okay, I'm pretty high up in the organization.” He finally talked her into it. But still, my mom worried. She hoped that she did not get that nice man into trouble.
The tickets came in the mail. They were freaking awesome. Right over the dugout (this was in Three Rivers Stadium, which was shared with the Pirates) in the front row. The most awesome thing? The seats were directly behind the opposing team, where they could hear you. One of them freaked out on my brother-in-law when they heard him making rude comments. Is that awesome or what?
My mom was not there. She had to work. She never saw a Steelers game, not even a Super Bowl. Especially a Super Bowl. She was a waitress. She worked through every game. She did not recognize anyone on the team, although she brought us back autographs from people that she waited on (other people who worked there clued her in when there was a celebrity, a sports or movie star, she worked in a NICE restaurant).
The guy who gave my mom the tickets? He did not get in trouble. I'm sure that you know by now it was Chuck Noll. I am so impressed that he would do such a thing. And the other guy, well, Mr. Rooney was always such a nice man.
Chuck Noll is gone. I will miss him.