Former players honor legacy of Chuck Noll

Mourners weigh loss to Steelers, fan base

At Sunday night's viewing for Chuck Noll, 82, who died Friday of natural causes, many mourners echoed a similar sentiment: The passing of the Pro Football Hall of Famer who coached the Steelers to four Super Bowl championships in 23 seasons is a tremendous loss not just to the team but to the city and the Steelers fan base.

The viewing, which took place at John A. Freyvogel Sons, Inc., in Oakland, will continue from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. today. Those who came to pay their respects Sunday night included fans in the area and many who had worked with Mr. Noll, including team chairman Dan Rooney, team president Art Rooney II, former linebacker Andy Russell and former safety Mike Wagner.

Jon Kolb, an offensive lineman for the Steelers for 13 seasons, said that although he never expected to be able to play again with Mr. Noll, the "irreversible change" that Mr. Noll's death brought is unsettling to him.

Former Steelers share their thoughts about Chuck Noll

Former Steelers who attended a visitation for Chuck Noll share thoughts about their former coach. (Video by Nate Guidry; 6/15/2014)

"The man who put it all together is gone," he said. "That's irreversible on this side of heaven."

Mr. Kolb spoke of being constantly surprised by Mr. Noll, whom he took to be a very serious, curt man. Mr. Noll knew how to play musical instruments and speak French, and Mr. Kolb recalled team members often trying to come up with topics and items that Mr. Noll didn't know about -- to no avail.

Lynn Swann, a former wide receiver for the Steelers and Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2006, said Mr. Noll taught the players about preparedness, taking care of one another and sacrifice.

"It's not always about the individual. It's always about the team," Mr. Swann said, recalling a lesson that Mr. Noll had taught him.

He said Mr. Noll always wanted to win, despite also wanting to live in the moment. Mr. Swann remembered never being able to rest for extended periods of time, because after each final game of the season, training for the next season would start anew.

It was this mentality that led to Mr. Noll's record-holding four Super Bowl wins in as many attempts as Steelers head coach, according to Mr. Swann and others.

Robin Cole, former Steelers linebacker for 12 seasons, said Mr. Noll was adept at bringing people together, whether it was assembling a large Steelers Nation fan base -- "the thing that's kept all this together" -- or by helping establish a sense of family among the team members.

"I love him for the man he is," Mr. Cole said.

The team became a family when it first congregated in the locker room -- and Mr. Noll was the father figure, Mr. Cole said.

Mr. Noll reminded him always to consider that his actions today will affect tomorrow's outcomes.

Mr. Cole said he would be sure to pass on to his own children this and other lessons that Mr. Noll taught him.

Fans felt similarly about Mr. Noll's role as a teacher and literal game changer. Steelers fan Bill Johnson said Mr. Noll "turned the Steelers around" and brought up the team's defenses. Now, he has heard about many teams with good defenses being compared to the Steelers under Mr. Noll, Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Noll's legacy comes through in the large fan base -- "We're all over the place" -- and in the continued strength and solidity of the Steelers, who have gone on to win two more Super Bowls after Mr. Noll retired in 1991, Mr. Johnson said.

But Mr. Swann thought Mr. Noll's legacy extended a bit further.

He said he believes every part of the Steelers is part of Mr. Noll's legacy somehow, even though he did not found the team and never owned it.

"He built a foundation ... . This entire organization will be a part of his legacy," Mr. Swann said.

The funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland.

Wesley Yiin: or 412-263-1723.

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