Chuck Noll would have been the first to resist the idea, but in reviving Pittsburgh’s football team, he set the stage for reviving Pittsburgh’s spirit.
Let’s leave the sports analysis to the sports experts, who will determine where, in the pantheon of NFL accomplishment, ranks Charles Henry Noll, who died Friday at the age of 82. But a few statistics are still needed to describe the Hall of Fame coach and his work at Three Rivers Stadium.
In 1969 Mr. Noll took over a hapless, dreadful team — owned even then by the Rooneys, but not known for the winning ways that would later become synonymous with the family and its franchise. During a six-year stretch in the 1970s, Mr. Noll and the Steelers won four Super Bowls, something no other NFL coach has accomplished. In 23 seasons, his teams won 209 games and erected a football dynasty.
In those gridiron glory days Pittsburgh became known for more than the steel industry that began crumbling to rust all around it. Later, in the 1980s, as more and more expats found themselves taking jobs in places like Charlotte and Phoenix and Dallas, Terrible Towels waved in Steelers bars across the country whenever the black-and-gold took the field on Sunday afternoons or Monday nights.
Back home in what was eventually proclaimed America’s Most Livable City, the dour mood of many Pittsburghers who were still struggling to find their next opportunity was lifted by the grit, skill and dominance of athletes who played with championship style. You didn’t even have to like football to notice the lift that Chuck Noll’s teams were giving a region that was in economic recovery.
Coach Noll was the teacher who expected nothing but excellence from his students. Deliver your best or get on with your life's work was the message — words to live by for anyone in Pittsburgh.
But make no mistake. The rise of the Steelers was not the resurrection of the region — that would come in countless steps taken by many leaders and average folks. Chuck Noll and his teams provided the example that comebacks are possible and, by demonstrating that on a national stage, they offered a calling card for the new Pittsburgh.
The rest is history. But no one should underestimate the impact of one remarkable coach on a moribund team and a community that was searching for hope.