How does one get inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame without playing or coaching the game of football?
When that man is named Bill Nunn, it almost goes without saying. Nunn, who championed the small black college football game like few others as a journalist and then a scout with the Steelers, will be part of an 11-man inaugural class enshrined tonight in ceremonies at the Four Seasons Hotel in Atlanta.
Of all the men through all the years that black colleges have been playing the sport of football, Nunn, a Homewood native who graduated from Westinghouse High School, was selected with the others to join the first class inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame. Nunn was selected as the lone contributor to join two coaches and eight players.
The others are players Buck Buchanan of Grambling, Willie Galimore of Florida A&M, Deacon Jones of South Carolina State, Willie Lanier of Morgan State, Walter Payton of Jackson State, Jerry Rice of Mississippi Valley State, Ben Stevenson of Tuskeegee and Tank Younger of Grambling, and coaches Eddie Robinson of Grambling and Jake Gaither of Florida A&M.
The Black College Hall of Fame cites Nunn this way:
"Legendary journalist and NFL Scout Bill Nunn entered the newspaper business as a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Courier, where he later rose to sports editor and managing editor. After elevating the Courier's Black College All-American team to new heights, Nunn joined the Pittsburgh Steelers' scouting staff part time in 1967 and then full time in 1969. A true innovator, he constructed a bridge between the Steelers and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Five Super Bowl Rings later, Nunn is among the most legendary NFL scouts of all time."
The only thing the Hall got wrong is that Nunn now owns six Super Bowl rings as he continues to work part time as a Steelers scout.
Nunn, 84, was nominated three years ago for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He may not have played football in college but he was a legendary basketball player at West Virginia State where his team went 26-0 his senior season in 1948. He turned down an offer from the Harlem Globetrotters to go to work for the Courier, one of the nation's most prominent black newspapers.
It was with the Courier as sports editor that he popularized his small black college top 10. With the Steelers he mined talent at the small black schools that often had gone overlooked by the pros, taking advantage of the close relationship he had built with their coaches through the years.
Among the players from some of those schools the Steelers drafted or signed as free agents in his early years were L.C. Greenwood (Arkansas AM&N), Mel Blount (Southern), Frank Lewis (Grambling), Dwight White (East Texas State), Joe Gilliam (Tennessee State), Ernie Holmes (Texas Southern) John Stallworth (Alabama A&M) and Donnie Shell (South Carolina State).
In an interview with the Post-Gazette three years ago, Nunn said, "The one doggone thing I'm proud of is the way I might have been a part of opening some doors to pro football for black men, not just as players, but as coaches and front-office personnel. I've been able to see progress."
Former NFL coach Jon Gruden, an ESPN broadcaster, will serve as master of ceremonies tonight. The three inaugural enshrinement ceremony chairmen of the event are Andrew Young, Hank Aaron and Arthur Blank.