Bradshaw on Noll: 'We'll never forget' our coach

Terrible Towels were passed out as fans entered the building. They cheered when security ushered Franco Harris to his seat, and shortly thereafter, the chant began.

"Here we go Steelers, here we go."

It could have passed for a fall afternoon at Heinz Field. But it was a Saturday night in June at the outdoor amphitheater at The Meadows Racetrack and Casino, where former Steelers gathered to support Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who performed his "America's Favorite Dumb Blonde" show.

But this wasn't any other night on tour for Bradshaw. Less than 24 hours before he took the stage, former Steelers coach Chuck Noll passed away at his Sewickley home.

Bradshaw took a moment after an opening number to pay respect to his former coach.

"Before I go forward with the show, I wanted to let you know that I am well aware of the passing of Chuck Noll," Bradshaw said. "I find it kind of odd I'm here on the day it was announced that he had passed. It's a strange evening.

"I want to show respect to one of the greatest coaches in the National Football League. I had my moments with him. God knows I did. He took me from a spoiled kid. He slapped me around a little bit. I hated him for it. The bottom line was we won Super Bowl championships.

"I don't have a coach anymore. I don't have my high school coach. I don't have my college coach. And now I don't have my NFL coach. It's kind of an empty feeling tonight. God bless Marianne, Chris and the Noll family. I am going to pay homage to my coach."

And then he went on with the show before 2,700 patrons. Fellow Hall of Famers Mel Blount and Harris were seated in the VIP section along with other former teammates, including Rocky Bleier, Andy Russell, Mike Wagner, John Banaszak, J.T. Thomas and Louis Lipps.

"I'm not even going to look at them because I know they're all laughing at me," Bradshaw deadpanned.

Bradshaw played catch with Harris and others in the crowd. He told jokes, took questions from the audience and sang his country ballads.

Before his final song, Bradshaw sat on a stool, guitar in hand. He recognized his teammates and thanked them for attending.

"Tough day for the Steelers family," he said. "We lost our coach. We'll never get over it and we'll never forget him. I have four rings sitting in a safe, and it's all because of Chuck Noll. Once again, Chuck, we're going to miss you. We have lost someone we love. We lost a great coach and a great gentleman."

On his way out, Bleier called it a "bittersweet" day. For 90 minutes, Noll's former players were able to take their minds off the sadness of the day. They chuckled at Bradshaw's jokes and reminisced about the good old days.

The same players will attend Noll's viewing today and Monday and the funeral Tuesday.

There will be time for mourning. Saturday night they smiled, laughed and enjoyed the show.

"Terry did a wonderful job," Bleier said. "I thought he paid great tribute to Chuck. We haven't been able to be a part of Chuck's life [in recent years] because of his illness and his living in Florida and the Alzheimer's. You want to celebrate his life, not mourn it. And Brad touched on that."

Ray Fittipaldo: and Twitter @rayfitt1.

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