Tim Jansante said it wasn't until he was in high school that his father mentioned that he played for the Steelers.
"He was a very modest man. He rarely talked about it. But he was very proud to be associated with the Steelers organization," the son said.
But Valerio R. "Val" Jansante played on the first Steelers team to be involved in a playoff (a divisional tiebreaker the Steelers lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1947), and one of his receiving records stood until Hines Ward broke it last season. Yet Val Jansante remains relatively obscure because he played in the age before football became married to TV, so his history is hidden in archives and not captured on videotape.
He was with the Steelers from 1946-51, when he was traded in midseason and played briefly for the Green Bay Packers. In those days, players pulled double-duty on offense and defense, and Mr. Jansante was a receiver of note and also a defensive end. He made the NFL All-Pro team one season and was a second-teamer another time in the years of leather helmets that had no logos or facemasks.
As an indication of his versatility, and in an era when the Steelers rarely threw the ball, Mr. Jansante was the first receiver in franchise history to catch 10 passes in a single game, which he did in a 1949 game against the Eagles. By one account, his 10 catches accounted for all of the team's completions in that game. And in 1950, well before quarterback sacks became an official statistic, he would have led the NFL with 8.5 sacks.
Mr. Jansante, 88, of Bentleyville, Washington County, died Wednesday in the emergency department of the Monongahela Valley Hospital. No cause of death was given.
Art Rooney Jr. was a ball boy and equipment manager in the years that Mr. Jansante was on the Steelers.
"Jack Butler was a rookie in 1951, and he told me Jansante had tremendous speed and could catch the ball, and he was tough as a boot. He could have played today. He was one of those guys who was a member of the Greatest Generation," Mr. Rooney said.
After playing football at Bentleyville High School, Mr. Jansante attended Duquense University when the Dukes were a national power. He was eligible for the draft in 1943, but he enlisted in the Navy during World War II. He joined the Steelers after he was discharged from the service.
In his time with the Steelers, he led the team in receiving for five consecutive seasons. No other receiver matched that streak until Mr. Ward led the Steelers in receptions for the sixth time in a row last season.
The Packers wanted Mr. Jansante to stay on for the 1952 season, but he was a Pittsburgh guy. "He was homesick for Bentleyville. He couldn't stand being away from Bentleyville," Tim Jansante said.
Always a member in good standing with the Steelers family, Mr. Jansante was invited for special ceremonies at the opening of Heinz Field, and he was an honorary captain during the 75th anniversary season while participating in the coin toss in a game against the San Francisco 49ers. Mr. Jansante also was on the ballot for consideration when the 50th anniversary and 75th anniversary teams were selected.
After his player career, Val Jansante coached football at Central Catholic, Mon Valley Catholic and Bentworth High School. He also coached baseball, boys' basketball and girls' basketball while serving for 20 years as a school board member at Bentworth.
He is in the Duquesne University Hall of Fame, the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and the Mon Valley Sports Hall of Fame.
Mr. Jansante is survived by his wife, Germaine. The couple had 12 children, three of whom preceded him in death. He also has 16 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Friends will be received at the Thompson-Marodi Funeral Home in Bentleyville from 2 to 9 p.m. today. A prayer service will be held at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, followed by a Mass of Christian burial at Ave Maria Church. Burial will follow in St. Luke Cemetery.
Condolences can be sent to www.thompson-marodi.com. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Bentworth Senior Citizens, 931 Main St., Bentleyville, PA 15314.
Robert Dvorchak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .