Buddy Parker was the Steelers head coach from 1957-64 before being replaced by Bill Austin. No longer coaching, Parker put forward the idea of a scouting cooperative that would collate the data on college players to make draft selection more effective.

BLESTO took its name from the teams involved. Bears, Lions, Eagles, Steelers Talent Organisation. In the sixties, before the days of instant information, this was an innovative concept and with the four teams sharing the expenses, cost effective.

“We have eight full time scouts in the field and they report on promising prospects to insure us of a good crop of rookies,” is how Russ Thomas, director of the Lions player personnel, described the organisation.

“We get better information for less money,” observed Joe Kuharich, the Eagles head coach on BLESTO’s budget of $250,000.

The scouts were allocated a specific area and would watch players in games, practice and if possible, films. The players’ attitudes and backgrounds would be scrutinised before they were evaluated on many counts, physical and mental and given a rating, zero to four.

Zero meant certain to make it in the NFL. One indicated could make it. Two, has a chance to make it. Three, very remote chance.  Four, no chance.

With the draft now taking place later in the year, Steelers Director of Player Personnel Dick Haley believed that it levelled the playing field for teams that were not as well organised in scouting the colleges.


  1.  Ron Johnson (DB) Eastern Michigan 22
  2.  Willie Fry (DE) Notre Dame 49
  3.  Craig Colquitt (P) Tennessee 76
  4.  Larry Anderson (DB) Louisiana Tech 101
  5.  Choice to Green Bay
  6.  Randy Reutershan (WR) Pittsburgh 160
  7.  Mike Dufresne (TE) Nebraska 187
8a.  Rick Moser, (RB) Rhode Island 208 (Choice from St. Louis)
8b.  Andre Keys (WR) Cal Poly 214
   9.  Lance Reynolds (T) Brigham Young 241
10a. Doug Becker (LB) Notre Dame 268
10b. Tom Jurich (K) Northern Arizona 276 (Choice from Oakland)
11a. Nat Terry (DB) Florida State 279 (Choice from Tampa Bay)
11b. Tom Brzoza (C) Pittsburgh 300
12.   Brad Carr (LB) Maryland 327


Ron Johnson of Eastern Michigan became the Steelers first pick in the draft. Coach Noll confirmed that Johnson would be played at cornerback. Selecting 22nd of 28, Noll said, “We were just hoping Ron would be there and we’re happy it turned out the way it did.”

Coach Noll, who scouted Johnson at the Senior Bowl and spent hours watching his college films added, “He runs a 4 or 4.5, he’s a tough hitter and tackler and just an outstanding individual. He hit, he covers and he’s a leader… all the good things.”

Ron Johnson admitted he was “quite surprised” to be taken by the Steelers with their first round pick in the 1978 draft before saying, “I’m pleased that I’m going to Pittsburgh, I’m happy to be with a contending team.”

“I pattern myself after (Oakland’s) Jack Tatum and I really admire Mel Blount,” Johnson revealed. “Tatum gets mad and he plays the game hard and tough,” Johnson said. “I don’t think he ever takes cheap shots. And Blount, he plays all receivers the same – tough. I’m the same way. And the best thing I do is stay consistent.”

Second round pick Willie Fry was just as upbeat as his fellow teammate. “I’m a darn good defensive end,” Fry boasted. “My forte is the pass rush. That’s stems from my quickness. My technique comes from what I know about the rush, but there’s a lot more to learn. I’m just looking forward to getting in there and learning as much as I can.”

Fry was known in Pittsburgh for delivering the tackle that broke the arm of Pitt University quarterback Matt Cavanaugh that cost the Panthers a shot at an undefeated season and a national title in 1977. Fry was impressed with the Steelers defense and said he couldn’t wait to be part of it and learn from the best men in the business.

Defensive back Larry Anderson of Louisiana Tech was selected in the second round, before the Steelers priority need of a punter was resolved with the pick of Craig Colquitt in the third.

Coach Noll confirmed he had no personal aversion to drafting a punter in a high round, but was pleased to plug some defensive gaps before taking a punter. When someone joked that Noll was locked in a closet when the Steelers made the selection, Dick Haley quipped, “We got him in the shower room.”

In effect, Johnson and Fry will replace Dave Brown and Bob Barber, the defensive back and defensive lineman who were the first two players selected in the 1975 draft. Neither made it with the Steelers. George Perles, the Steelers new defensive coordinator said Johnson and Fry are better prospects then Brown or Barber. “We’re very happy with these prospects compare to the other two,” he volunteered.

St. Louis drafted a punter in the first round and Cleveland took one in the second.


“We’re trying to rid ourselves of distractions,” stated Coach Noll before adding, “We can’t have another season like last year. We’ve got to work like hell to get the distractions settled.”

Ernie Holmes was the first part of the peace process put in motion by Coach Noll when he was traded to Tampa Bay for a 10th and 11th draft picks. “He didn’t fit into our plans,” explained Noll. After drafting Willie Fry and trading for Dave Pureifory to add strength to the defensive line, Noll observed, “We have a lengthy list of defensive linemen and we have to thin it out a bit.”

Noll made it obvious that Holmes wouldn’t be missed. “We’ve been trying to trade him for a long time. I don’t think his season last year was up to what it had been in the past.”

Time magazine 1975 Pittsburgh's Front Four
In 1975 Holmes was on the cover of Time magazine along with the other members of the front four.

Holmes fall from grace began when he arrived at the 1977 training camp over weight which led to him losing his starting job, sulking and eventually walking out.


“I seemed to come across a lot of people who said, ‘you’ll never play again,’” Mike Wagner revealed when visiting the Steelers offices. Wagner cracked one vertebra and chipped two others during the Steelers game in Cleveland in 1977 and admitted, “People said, ‘you might as well forget about it; your career is over.’ But I never believed that and I have no reason to believe it now.”

Six weeks later, team physician Paul Steele told Wagner he was completely healed and Wagner had confidence in the diagnosis. Wagner and his wife Cathy made Colorado their new off-season home and he joked, “I confirmed my belief and the doctor’s belief that I was okay by spending all winter falling down mountains.

One reason we went to Colorado was to get away from all the questions. It’s not nice to hear people say, ‘You’re done.’ People don’t really understand what it is to be a football player.”


“I have been drug free for over a year,” announced former Steelers quarterback Joe Gilliam before adding why he was in the Dallas Cowboys free agent tryout camp. “I want to play football. I know I have a contribution to make to the game.”

The head of the Cowboys scouting operation Gil Brandt admitted, “I thought I was seeing things when he walked in.” Brandt conceded it would be hard for Gilliam to succeed because Dallas already had three quarterbacks.


Terry Bradshaw joined 29 rookies and 19 veterans at the end of May for the Steelers rookie camp that would prepare the players for the summer camp.

“It still hurts,” explained Terry Bradshaw talking about his left wrist he broke in Houston during last season. “I just never get over joint injuries. The doctors may say I’m crazy, but the joints never seem to be the same.”

Bradshaw was still wearing a cast and said it wouldn’t affect his play. “It’s the story of my life. You just grin and bear it. It won’t bother me at all. I’m used to it now.” Bradshaw admitted he still has lingering pain from past neck, shoulder and ankle injuries, but just shrugs it off. Twisting his neck, he said, “It feels like there’s a golf ball back there.”

The wrist injury was supposed to take nine months to heal and he feels there’s a chance it will still improve although he believes a bone chip pressing on a nerve that may be causing the pain.
The wrist isn’t as sore as it was at the end of the year. “I couldn’t even dribble a basketball with my left hand last December,” he confessed. On the positive side, Bradshaw confirmed, “My legs are strong and my arm is strong. I still love it like a kid.”

Looking forward to the new season, Bradshaw suggested the Steelers needed to make the running game work better. “We’ll try to get it balanced,” he said. “We never really got the running game going last year.”

Reflecting on the 1977 season that fell short, he was hoping the club could put all the problems of last year behind it. “I’m hoping the team will pull together and play consistent, solid football. We just never played together last year. We played helter-skelter.”


John Banaszak in padsThe Pittsburgh Press revealed the Steelers were holding contact workouts in pads. Behind closed doors with the media excluded the workouts were a violation of the league’s rules that prohibited contact work or the use of pads as part of an off-season training camp.

Much of the work focused on the defensive line where strong competition is expected in the team’s training camp in the summer. Four regulars (Joe Greene, Dwight White, Steve Furness and L.C. Greenwood), newly acquired Dave Pureifory, three injured reserve linemen (Gary Dunn, John Banaszak and Tom Beasley) and rookie Willie Fry (2nd round draft pick) and free agent Fred Anderson will fight for a roster spot.

“Last year we went with six (linemen) and injuries put us in bad shape by the end of the season,” said Banaszak, “So I think they might go with seven this year.”

Confirming pads had been worn, Fry confessed after the workout,, “Well, I’m not sore all over for nothing,”. Having not yet signed a contract, Fry didn’t have to take the hits. “The thought of not coming to rookie camp entered my mind, but I knew it would be best to be here. I’m just trying to make the team now. So far, nobody’s ahead. Everybody’s equal, whether you’re a second round draft choice or not.”

The picture taken by Robert Pavuchak of John Banaszak wearing shoulder pads was also a bit of a give away to the rules violation. The pittsburgh Press published it to run with their story.


Two years ago, the Steelers number one draft choice was Bennie Cunningham, a mammoth and modest tight end from Clemson. When he signed with the Steelers, Cunningham said softly that he realised there were veterans in front of him and thought patience might be trait to emphasise.

Two years later he is the Steelers starting tight end.

Ron Johnson and Art RooneyLast year, linebacker Robin Cole was the team’s number one pick and in contrast was resolute in that he would be starting immediately and would make All-Pro within a few seasons. This season Robin Cole is the favourite to be the Steelers right outside linebacker.

This year’s first round selection Ron Johnson is certain he will be playing frequently in the Steelers’ secondary this season. “I’ve watched J.T. Thomas and Mel Blount on film and I think I have the talent to play with them,” Johnson told the Pittsburgh Press.

“I can’t make too many rookie mistakes,” Johnson acknowledged before addressing the weakness in the Steelers secondary last year. Assistant Coach Woody Widenhofer had described a season in which the Steelers were more vulnerable than usual against the deep pass.

“The films I’ve watched have been mostly highlight films so I haven’t seen many people getting beat deep,” Johnson offered, “but Woody mentioned it to me.”

Johnson added, “Frankly, a secondary is only as good as its defensive line. If that quarterbackhas enough time, it’s always going to be hard on the defensive backs. But I think the line here is tough and it will be better than it was last year. I don’t think it will be a problem.”

Photo of Ron Johnson and Art Rooney by Albert Herrmann Jr.


NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle issued a statement that took away the Steelers third-round selection in the 1979 draft for using shoulder pads in the team’s rookie camp.
Previous violations by other teams had been punished with fines, but an NFL spokesman suggested the commissioner no longer feels fines are an effective deterrent. “Everyone stands up and takes notice when you take away a draft choice,” he acknowledged.

With Dan Rooney and Coach Noll away on vacation, it was left to the Steelers public relations director Ed Kiely to say, “Rozelle’s action speaks rather eloquently for itself. The case is now closed.

A story circulating around the NFL has legendary Paul Brown warning Dan Rooney that, “You guys are getting a rep as cheats.” On his return to Pittsburgh, Mr. Rooney said, “I don’t think we’re getting that sort of reputation. I sure don’t want us to have that reputation and I don’t think we deserve it.”

Mr. Rooney confirmed they were not flaunting authority or acting to break the rules. “We just don’t operate that way,” he told reporters. “I feel we broke the rule by not thinking.”

“Losing a third-round choice is difficult,” he admitted. “There’s a tendency to try to put a dollar value on it, but you can’t. What team would sell a draft choice? For how much?”


In contrast to his last NFL appearance against the Los Angeles Rams in Memorial Coliseum, Joe Gilliam will make his debut for the semi-pro Pittsburgh Wolf-Pak in tiny Valley High Stadium.

Joe Gilliam joined the Wolf Pak of the new minor league Atlantic Football Conference in an attempt to showcase his ability again. Assistant coach and friend of Gilliam, Hubie Bryant, said, “I told Joe, it’s going to be rougher than the NFL. People are going to be trying to test him because he’s Joe Gilliam.”

Gilliam said in reply, “It doesn’t have me worried, but I am very aware of it. I know they’re going to want to get me, but as long as they play the game fair, what can you say?”

Steelers pro scouting director Tim Rooney admitted, “I’m not building my hopes up too high. I just hope that the pressure of football isn’t his poison, as opposed to being his cure. Then the poor guy’s gonna be worse off than ever.”


Rooney insists the Steelers were unfairly criticised when New Orleans coach Hank Stram claimed they were told nothing about the possibility of a drug problem when Gilliam was picked up from waivers. Stram insists the Steelers lied.

Media photo of Wolf PakRooney is adamant that in reply to a questions whether Gilliam had a drug problem or anything else, Stram was told two things, “One is he was either physically sick or that there could have been a drug thing.”

Gilliam was claimed on the Monday and within days he was arrested for the first time. On the Thursday, Stram said the Steelers never told him of a potential problem. Rooney said he notified the league so he was on record.


With the start of the NFL season still weeks away, Gilliam appearance in the blue and scarlet of the Wolf Pak, created a lot of media interest with over 100 media passes being handed out for the game.

Wolf Pak head coach Terry Henne was philosophical about Gilliam’s appearance against the Scranton Stars. “I’m predicting Joe won’t finish the year with us. He’s throwing the ball real well. Just like he used to.”

Admitting that at first he wasn’t completed sold on the idea of Gilliam playing for the team, Henne said, “I had my doubts. I wanted total commitment because I knew he had some personal problems and I didn’t want them to interfere with the team.”

Gilliam confirmed, “I know people will be watching, but all I can do is go out there and try to do my best.”


Joe Gilliam (picture left as a Wolf Pak) completed 17 of 33 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns. One review stated the quarterback gave a poised performance that included a crisp passing game, but several wobbly long bombs. He scrambled well and did a good job picking out secondary receivers.

“It’s good to be back,” acknowledged Gilliam and then revealed he was prepared to play semi-pro for a long as it take. I know I can play in the NFL.”

Gilliam faced pressure both on and off the field. The day before the game, a grand jury in Tennessee returned an indictment that alleged he was in possession of heroin in connection with his arrest in 1976. “It’s in the hands of the gods,” Gilliam granted. “His will will be done.”


The 1978 Steelers season started with 34 rookies and 22 veterans arriving in Latrobe for the beginning of training camp on July 14. The rest of the veterans would arrive a week later. With the regular season increased to 16 games and the exhibition games reduced from six to four, the new format brought more questions than answers.

The Steelers had been against the change. “The 14-game season was a helluva long season physically, mentally and emotionally,” said Coach Noll. The shorter preparation time also concerned Noll, “We won’t have the luxury of working with a lot of people,” he added.

“And the rookies will have to earn the right to play in the pre-season games. It’s a dilemma. But everybody else will have the same problem,” Coach Noll added.

The players’ association reminded veterans they were not obliged to report to camp until 15 days before the first exhibition game, but Coach Noll always suggested those who had been injured the previous season or lacked experience entered camp early with the rookies.

John Banaszak media photoJohn Banaszak observed, “When the man asks me to come to camp, I better be there. If I say no, the players’ association isn’t going to pay me.” Banaszak was a veteran who always appeared to be a rookie and once again was fighting to find a place on the roster.

As a free agent defensive end in 1976, he had to beat out second round draft choice Bob Barber. “It’s the same situation,” revealed Banaszak. “But I didn’t really worry about Bob Barber. I was only in my second year. I don’t worry about anybody else. I’m just gonna worry about making it through training camp.”

Banaszak suffered damage to his knee ligaments and spent the last few weeks of the 1977 season on injured reserve. With the Steelers selected Willie Fry in the draft and Banaszak would once again be up against a second round draft selection.

“There’s always a battle,” Banaszak observed. “Nobody said it was going to be easy. You’re never guaranteed a job, but I accept all challenges from everybody.”

With a touch of realism Banaszak added, “If Willie Fry is better than I am, then that’s it. It’s not like I have to beat out Willie Fry. I want to be the fifth man on the front four and if I go out and play like I can, I should be good enough to be the fifth man.

Everything being equal, L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White have to start because they’re experienced.”


After he was cut by Montreal, the Steelers picked up quarterback Larry Lawrence. “I was going to go through the rest of the league for a job until the Steelers called,” Lawrence revealed. “So I thought I would try the NFL.”

If the Steelers keep three quarterbacks, Lawrence must beat out Cliff Stoudt, a second year man who spent part of last season on the injured reserves.


1978 media guide image Woody Widenhofer“I like a couple of our defensive backs,” noted Woody Widenhofer (picture left) the Steelers defensive backs and linebacker coach, before adding, “Those kids from Notre Dame have shown me something too.”

The Steelers number one draft choice Ron Johnson was one player who had caught Woody’s eye along with two lesser-known prospects, Nate Terry and Larry Anderson. “All three of them are doing well, “revealed Widenhofer although he added nobody had done any hitting yet.

They all have the qualities all coaches desire in a defensive back, Widenhofer told the Pittsburgh Press, size, speed, quickness, balance, body control as well as intelligence and football sense. “We’ve only been working on two coverages so far,” said Widenhofer, “and they seem to have caught onto them pretty quick.”

Reviewing his linebackers, Widenhofer acknowledged, “So far, Doug Becker is doing better than the other linebackers. He’s not as tall as you like your linebackers to be, but he has a lot of other things that you like in a linebacker.

He’s got good straight-ahead speed and he’s strong. His size though might be a problem,” added Widenhofer. “We’re going to have a 15-minute scrimmage today and we’ll get a better idea of what these people can do.”

Becker’s former Notre Dame teammate Willie Fry has been impressive as anyone in camp. “I’m really pleased with Fry’s toughness,” said Widenhofer. “Willie’s a lot tougher than I thought he’d be. On top of that, he’s a very bright guy.


The defensive coach has focused on the new rule change that restricts the blocking of receivers to within five yards of the line of scrimmage. “We have to change everything we’ve been doing,” explained the coach. “We studied our game films during the off-season and most of our jamming was done beyond five yards downfield. We won’t be able to do that anymore.

It’s going to be a real problem for middle linebackers like ours who play three-and-a-half yards off the line of scrimmage. The middle backer is going to have his problems, particularly when the tight end releases inside and breaks downfield.

Last year, Jack Lambert could drop off and jam the receiver as he broke downfield. He could disorient him. No more.”

The answer? “A quicker jam,” noted the coach. “And make sure we come off him. Come off him and run with him. The linebacker’s going to have to run more than he ever did before.”
Widenhofer was enthusiastic about some of the things they were doing, admitting they were a lot better than the things they had done before. “As soon as these fellows learn to do the things we want them to do, we’ll be all right. I have no doubts about that.


Some fans believed Mel Blount’s hold out last season was part of the disruptive behaviour that Coach Noll believed caused the Steelers to lose their focus and create an atmosphere of turmoil.
Blount appeared on time and stated, “I expect good things from this secondary. I don’t think the secondary has any more work to do than the whole team. I don’t think you can pin-point it to one phase. Maybe last year management was weak. Maybe the kicking game was weak. It’s like Chuck Noll always says, ‘You never arrive.’”

Blount acknowledged, “Being out last year was like missing a season. Your mental outlook. It begins right here in training camp.”

Cornerback J.T. Thomas was lost for the season with a disease that prohibits physical exertion while Jimmy Allen has been traded. “It’s gonna be tough,” accepted Blount. “Nobody’s gonna replace J.T. from a mental standpoint. By that I mean not only what he knew about the game, but what he meant to all the players. He’s such a likeable guy.”


Defensive end Jimmy Allen, who played out his option year with the Steelers in 1977, failed to find another team prepared to acquire his rights from the Steelers.

In accordance with the collective bargaining agreement, Allen was sent a contract by the Steelers with a ‘qualifying offer’ he could accept or sign instead to play for 110% of his 1977 salary. The Steelers received nothing back.

Just after he told the media he was reporting to camp, the Steelers traded him to the Detroit Lions for an undisclosed draft choice. Disturbed by the way Allen had walked out on his team, Coach Noll told the Pittsburgh Pres, “We learned from history last year. We had to depend on him and he walked out.

At the time, Allen had told the team he was ‘retiring’ and left the team for two days complaining he should be compensated for his talents.

“We don’t want people looking for retirement funds. We want active players,” acknowledged Coach Noll while Dan Rooney suggested, “I think our people felt it was best that he go elsewhere. I don’t like this, having to trade players, but it’s part of the game.”


The Steelers had relied on Bobby Walden for a decade to do their punting, but with after his retirement with a knee injury, the Steelers picked up Craig Colquitt in the third round of the draft as his replacement.

Coming into camp, Colquitt’s concern was whether he would be able to get Adidas volleyball shoes in Pittsburgh as the one on his right foot is almost a year old? “No problem,” offers Dick Haley, the Steelers’ chief scout.

On a clipboard, Haley writes down the hang time of each punt and how close it was to the goal line at the point it went out of bounds. Colquitt, with his long muscular legs is doing well.

To escape the drudgery of the endless football drills, Colquitt became a punter. “Punting was the easiest part of the game,” he concedes, “and prestigious too; you’ve got pressure on you.”

Unusually, Colquitt is a two-step punter and so far he has not had a punt blocked. “Nothing can demoralise you more than having a punt blocked or returned,” admitted Haley. Colquitt’s hang time which is “excellent” should mean few long returns.

Despite the enthusiasm of Haley, Colquitt doesn’t believe he has it made. “I’m not thinking that way,” he admitted.


With the loss of J.T. Thomas to a blood disorder, the Steelers need to find a replacement at left cornerback. The Steelers number one draft pick Ron Johnson and Wentford Gaines were the leading candidates as the Steelers training camp continued.

A rookie in the secondary can cost a team a touchdown per game was the old football saying so for the Steelers, it was a question whether they needed to trade for a veteran. “I don’t feel any added pressure,” admitted Johnson. “I just go through the learning process and concentrate on what I’m doing. I just can’t make too many rookie mistakes.”

Gaines was more realistic about the challenge. “I’ve just got to get on my horse and do everything correctly to keep the coach’s interest,” he said before confessing, “I have these little doubts, they keep you trying. I’m confident I can do the job.” Gaines was selected in the ninth round of the 1976 draft, but had been on injured reserve for two seasons.

Although he was considered the favourite for the position, Johnson acknowledged he wasn’t making any assumptions. “I’m not counting my chickens before they’re hatched,” he said. “Gaines is a helluva defensive back and I think we’re playing pretty much together.”


Steve Furness media guide photoThe Pittsburgh Press suggested that Steve Furness who replaced Ernie Holmes at defensive tackle during the 1977 season isn’t too broken up about the absence of Holmes who had been traded to Tampa Bay.

“I think Ernie really hurt our team,” Furness told reporters. “With him gone, we have a lot faster guys and we can do so much more.” With a touch of ridicule, Furness added, “You need guys that can run to rush the passer and you can’t run when you’re fat.”

“I think anybody that is a fan of the Steelers knows he wasn’t playing up to his ability,” continued Furness. “When they first played me, I think they were trying to push him a little harder, but it didn’t work.” On the pass rush, Furness suggested Holmes was slowing everything down.”


After Terry Bradshaw was seen punting during training camp, Coach Noll was asked if Bradshaw would be the backup punter. Noll, who the Post-Gazette suggested likes to lift lines from old radio shows quipped, “Who know what evil lurks in the minds of men?”
“Me punt?” Bradshaw joked before adding, “I’ve got this bad wrist.”

Turning serious, Bradshaw acknowledged, “I’m the backup. I’m always the backup unless they draft someone to be the backup and then I’ll relinquish it,” before he admitted, “Not regretfully.”


Vito Stellino wrote in the Post-Gazette that after every morning practice, Jack Lambert takes on the appearance of the Pied Piper of St. Vincent College as he is engulfed in the midst of a crowd of milling youngsters seeking autographs. Lambert patiently signs autographs for 20-25 minutes until he is usually the last player into the dining hall for lunch.

Although signing autographs is not Lambert’s idea of a fun way to spend time, he remembers when he was a kid collecting autographs at the Cleveland Browns camp and how he felt when he was brushed off. “I thought they were rotten,” he says with a smile.

Lambert’s popularity as one of the fans’ favourite target for autographs is a sign that the acrimony from his holdout last season has been forgotten. He was heckled by some fans and the whole experience was a trying one for the player.

“It bothered me the whole season,” he revealed before adding, “It’s a hard thing to put out of your mind. You try to convince yourself it’s not bothering you, but subconsciously it’s there.”
Lambert admits, “I wasn’t happy with the way I played last year. I didn’t play poorly. I still led the team in tackles, but mentally I wasn’t where I should have been.”

Despite all the challenges, Lambert had no regrets about holding out for a contract that made him the league’s highest defensive player at $200,000 according to the NFL salary survey.


Roy Gerela Pittsburgh Press photoSo ran the sports headline in the Pittsburgh Press revealing how good Roy Gerela was when practicing in Mount Lebanon Stadium on the artificial turf before entering training camp. He had kicked five from 45, three from 50, two from 55 and one from 60 yards out before quitting.

 “It’s nothing I haven’t done in the past,” suggested Gerela pictured relaxing during practice, before adding, “I don’t think last year was a bad time.”

With a dig at the media, Gerela said, “Perhaps you made it a bad time for me. When you said the kicking game is off, you should be more specific about which parts. It could have been the kick coverage that was weak.”

In 1977, Gerela kicked 9 out of 14 field goals and the team went five games without Coach Noll calling on his kicker. Gerela suffered from a lymph problem and a groin pull that impacted on his difficulties and the Steelers kicking game suffered.

Gerela admitted that he had been operating at about 75 percent efficiency. “Last year it would take me five or six kicks just to get loose and that’s very, very unusual for me,” he said. “Last year at this time I couldn’t go through any of the agility or stretching drills without something pulling or causing pain. Now I can go out there right now and hit the first kick hard and feel nothing.”

Gerela, who had failed to be among the AFC’s five scorers for the first time in six years, was looking forward to the challenge of a new season. “It feels good. It’s a big difference.”


It’s easy to take fundamentals for granted,” disclosed Coach Noll. The Steelers were putting extra emphasis on blocking and tackling in training camp because it was recognised that tackling, particularly on special teams, had fallen short the previous year.

Coach Noll felt the first two weeks of camp had been productive. “I think it’s been a very good fundamental camp,” Noll offered. “We’ll find out how good they look in the next few weeks. The next real scrimmage is Baltimore.”   


“We can go all the way,” suggested John Hicks the Steelers’ newest offensive lineman. Traded from the Giants, Hicks had been one of college football’s finest linemen, but had not transferred his ability to pro football. When they traded The Steelers were hoping that a change of surroundings and playing on a team that wins its division would revitalise his skills.

“I’ve really been impressed with his leadership on the field,” declared Dick Haley, Steelers director of playing personnel. “He seems to have regained his enthusiasm for the game.”

Hicks felt the Steelers were definite contenders and had the weapons to go all the way. “I haven’t been with a contender, so I haven’t been in this position before,” Hicks revealed. “I never had an opportunity to work with a quality back like Franco Harris. No team is gonna be able to concentrate on one aspect of the Steelers and beat us.”


Two days before the Steelers were to play their first exhibition game, Chuck Noll was asked what his chief goal was in the pre-season opener. “Progress,” he replied before adding, “Oh, we like to win. We don’t like to lose. That’s one of the measures of progress.”

Asked what kind of camp it had been so far, Coach Noll said, “I think we’ve been tackling and hitting pretty good.” Acknowledging the game against the Baltimore Colts was crucial to evaluate the new players during a shortened pre-season, Noll stated, “It’s ended up being a contest between people instead of a gift when somebody screws up.

I have a pretty good feeling about this team right now.”


Reflecting on the troubles of the 1977 training camp with its holdouts, Joe Greene said, “The biggest difference in this camp compared to last year is that this camp is about football – not gossip. Everything that’s happening in this camp is about football. That’s not saying we’re gonna go out there and kick butts, but that’s saying we’re gonna be going about our business, what we’ve been paid for.”

Greene said that Noll, always a strong fundamentalist, had been stressing the basics more than normal and he wasn’t sure whether it was an indication that Noll felt that the basics had been neglected the previous year.

“We’ve gone back to basic football – blocking, tackling, stance, hitting and the weight program,” Greene stated.

1978 Exhibition game 1: The Pittsburgh Steelers at the Baltimore Colts

Cliff Stoudt Pittsburgh Press photoThe Steelers first pre-season game saw Terry Bradshaw suffer a broken nose early as he tried to run through three Colts players rather than taking to the ground after a good run.

The muddy conditions were not conducive to playing good football and a scoreless first quarter was a reflection of two teams struggling with their first meaningful scrimmage of the season.

The Colts managed the first score on a 2-yard run in the second quarter, but the subsequent kickoff was returned 87 yards by Ron Scott to reduce Baltimore’s lead to 7-6 after a missed point after attempt.

The Colts kicked a field goal to extend their lead until the Steelers new quarterback Cliff Stoudt (picture left) hit Reggie Harrison with a 5-yard touchdown pass. Another missed point after saw the Steelers take a 12-10 advantage into the locker room at half time.

A John Stallworth touchdown catch 8-yard touchdown catch from backup quarterback Mike Kruczek in the third period was followed by a 37-yard field goal to complete the scoring and give the Steelers a 22-10 victory.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 22 at the Baltimore Colts 10
Memorial Stadium August 5 1978; 37,437

“I thought a lot of our young people played very well and were able to distinguish themselves. Obviously, there are improvements we have to make, but I think we’ve improved in a lot of areas.”

“Scott, for one, drew attention to himself,” recognised Noll.


“The biggest thing when you’re down like that is to come back,” Roy Gerela said regarding his continued kicking woes in the first preseason game when he had two kicks blocked and a third hit an upright.

Gerela wasn’t the only kicker taking flak. Craig Colquitt had been drafted in the third round to replace veteran Bobby Walden, who had become inconsistent. In Baltimore, Colquitt averaged 33 yards a punt and acknowledged, “I just wasn’t hitting the ball. I’m taking this as lightly as I possibly can. I don’t want to get overanxious.”

Colquitt revealed he wanted to average between 40 and 45 yards with a hang time of 4.8 seconds and explained he had received a lot of moral support from his teammates during the game.


Terry Bradshaw media photo“I’m so used to getting hurt,” Terry Bradshaw told the Pittsburgh Press. “I’d be the first one to tell you that I’d be surprised if I didn’t get hurt.” In 2016 he suffered a broken wrist, before that it was a sprained neck and the sprained wrist, then his shoulder. Now his nose has been shattered, but Bradshaw indicated his sense of humour remains uninjured.

“There goes a Hollywood career shot down the drain,” he laughed. “My nose was about four inches out of place. It was the most horrible thing I ever saw. It looked like somebody hit it with a hammer.”

Looking ahead at the Steelers next exhibition game, Bradshaw said, “I could play Saturday, but I’m not. My goal is for the season.”

Bradshaw was pleased to hear that Mike Kruczek and Cliff Stoudt had performed well in his absence at the game in Baltimore. “It might be a good omen,” Bradshaw offered. “Mike and Cliff need to play. If I was playing, they probably wouldn’t get to play but a quarter or so. My arm was a little tired anyway. It’ll give me a chance to rest.”


After he ignored the play calling from the Pittsburgh Wolf Pak’s sideline in a 12-6 loss to Buffalo, Coach Terry Henne pulled Joe Gilliam from the game. The coach and quarterback had words after the game and owner Bob Baker backed the coach.

“He’s had some problems understanding that he’s a player, not a coach or an owner,” said Baker. “There’s been a wedge between him and the coaching staff the last couple of week.”

Gilliam wanted Henne gone plus he wanted more money than Baker could pay him and he wanted another shot at the NFL. “He just didn’t want to play for the Wolf Pak,” accepted Baker.


Cliff Stoudt media photoCliff Stoudt’s (picture left) first preseason appearance in 1977 saw him drop back and then fall down on his rear end untouched. One year later he did better, throwing six passes with four completions against the Colts in the Steelers first exhibition game of the new season.

“This time, I couldn’t have done any worse,” Stoudt observed. “I don’t think I went out there and did anything fantastic, but I think I was steady.” Reflecting on his embarrassment the previous year, Stoudt said, “I knew that last year my chances to redeem myself were slim and I was anxious to get back in. I know I could do better. I knew I was better than that.”

With Terry Bradshaw out with a broken nose, Stoudt and Mike Kruczek will probably share the quarterback snaps against the Steelers next opponents Atlanta.

Stoudt’s disastrous 1977 season began when rookie Randy Frisch was killed and teammate Dave Grinnaker seriously injured while driving Stoudt’s car back to camp following the Buffalo pre-season game at Three Rivers Stadium.

“I don’t like to make excuses for things, but Dave was my best friend at camp,” admitted Stoudt. “Rand and I and Dave were together all the time. In fact, I drove into the stadium with them. I told them I was going to stay with family, but they could take my car. It hit me pretty hard. It hit everybody pretty hard.”

Coach Noll conceded that the tragedy was bothering Stoudt in the ensuing days and the Steelers finally release the Youngstown quarterback, hoping to sneak him through waivers and then resign him later. Unfortunately the Packers claimed him and put paid to the plan.

Then the Packers traded with Buffalo for their reserve quarterback Gary Marangi, and dropped their claim for Stoudt. When Marangi failed his physical, Green Bay tried to reclaim Stoudt, but the 24-hour period to make a claim had elapsed. “It was the most mixed up two weeks of my life,” confessed Stoudt.

Stoudt went back to Oberlin, Ohio not knowing he had become a free agent and could sign with any team. Chuck Noll didn’t understand why Stoudt had not stayed in Pittsburgh to see what would pan out, but eventually he accepted the Steelers coach’s request to return.

After Stoudt’s rookie year he was feeling more confident and had slimmed down his physique to enable him to be more mobile. “I was way too heavy. Way too slow,” admits Stoudt. “Now I feel fantastic.”

Bradshaw suggested, “He’s been throwing the ball well. He knows what he’s doing now. It’s always easier in the second year. Next year he’ll be even better.”


In the first exhibition game, the Steelers went back in time to dust off a version of their 4-3 defense not used since 1974. The new-old defense, called the Stackover because the left linebacker stacks over the right guard, hadn’t been used since the 1974 playoff game against Buffalo.

In the second playoff game that year against the Raiders, the Steelers witched to their more familiar 4-3 Stunt where the tackle lines up at an angle to the center.

“We were ready to get out of it in one play if we had problems,” said defensive coordinator George Perles of the Stunt, but it was an outstanding success and became the team’s standard defense.

With the opposing teams becoming familiar with it and personnel changes in the Steelers team, it was decided adjustments were needed which resulted in the resurrection of the dormant defensive scheme, which was used 26 times with the Stackover 21 times and a standard 4-3 rush defense 25 times.


If problems with the Steelers game weren’t enough for Coach Noll to grapple with, animosity between veteran kicker Roy Gerela and rookie Tom Jurich added fuel to the duel. Jurich bailed out of kicking in the muddy conditions of Baltimore Memorial Stadium when the Steelers played their first exhibition game telling the team trainer his leg was too sore.

Gerela was told he was playing and missed two extra points in the inclement conditions causing the kicker to wonder if Jurich had decided that playing in the mud was not the ideal place for impressing Coach Noll.

Jurich played golf the next day and Gerela suggested to the Pittsburgh Press that the rookie may have been pulling a fast one, “If he can swing a club, he can kick.” At practice, Jurich did not appear to have any problems so Gerela was intrigued as to why he couldn’t kick. “I don’t have no beef, but it’s interesting he can run all week and then go out there and play golf.”

When the team returned to practice after the game, Jurich’s soreness wasn’t apparent. “He came back here Tuesday and went out there and it was bombs away – bang, bang, bang, bang. I mean, who are you trying to kid,” griped Gerela.

Jurich says of his pregame test, “I hit a couple and it went back as sore as it was before. I was really disappointed. I’m looking forward to the doctors giving me the green light.”


In their next exhibition game, the Steelers faced the Atlanta Falcons who in their first preseason game rallied from a 17-0 halftime deficit to overcome the Jets 20-17 before the game was stopped with less than two minutes remaining by a rainstorm.

With the Falcons playing backup quarterbacks, the Steelers defense would appear to have an easy day while Cliff Stoudt and Mike Kruczek would be facing a tough Atlanta offense.

With the first roster cut to 60 due a couple of days after the game, it would prove to be an apprehensive trial for some of the rookies on the Steelers roster of 67.

1978 Exhibition game 2: The Pittsburgh Steelers vs the Atlanta Falcons

The Steelers defense gave a dominant performance against the Falcons that began early after a blocked punt gave Atlanta the ball on the Steelers’ three. On the Falcons first down, Loren Toews was Pittsburgh’s buttress, on their second down, Mel Blount forced the runner out of bounds. On the third play of the series, Donnie Shell hauled in an interception.

The Steelers put the first points on the board when Tom Jurich kicked a 26-yard field goal in the first quarter. Atlanta scored their only points in the second quarter when Ernie Jackson picked up a Ron Scott fumble and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown. Jurich then kicked a field goal from 22 yards, but he missed short, right on a 45-yard attempt as the half expired.

Cliff Stoudt was at the helm for the first half, passing for 145 yards with 9 completions from 17 attempts. Mike Kruczek took over for the second half, but the Steelers failed to move the chains with any consistency and Jurich failed on a field goal from 43 yards when it was easily blocked.

Jurich had an opportunity early in the fourth quarter to put his woes behind him, but was wide right on an attempt from 35 yards. Despite controlling the game, the Steelers looked as though they were not going to find the end zone when Kruczek’s 25-yard touchdown pass was called back for holding. On the next play, Lynn Swann made a tremendous catch for a 35-yard touchdown that gave the Steelers the win.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 13 vs the Atlanta Falcons 7
Three Rivers Stadium August 12 1978; 46,444

Coach Noll, “My feelings are that iIf you can handle the other teams physically, things will eventually come your way. You just don’t want to lose your poise. You can tear your hair out and you wind up screwing yourself up.


After the victory over the Atlanta Falcons, Pat Livingstone in the Pittsburgh Press was keen to point out Coach Noll’s self-assurance when, on the early goal line stand, the coach sent in two rookies, Willie Fry, the number 2 draft choice and Tom Beasley, a taxi squad player in 1977. I reproduce his article from the August 15 edition of the newspaper because it’s very prophetic.

“It would have been a drama if either of the youngsters had stood out in the successful defense of the goal line, but that didn’t happen. They were merely faces in the crowd, supporting actors in a goal line stand. But, they were no responsible for any breakdowns.

Both Tom Beasley and Willie Fry withstood their first acid test as pros, a factor which will loom in Noll’s evaluation of their talent. As the season develops, it may have been the one big moment in their dream of professional football.

Chuck Noll media photoAnd, that, is precisely what makes Chuck Noll stand out as a coach. His willingness to gamble on people. It has stood him in good stead in the past although he would be the last person to make anything of it.
‘These men are professionals,” is what Noll would say. “They wouldn’t be here if they couldn’t do the job.”

It was not discouraging that, while the Steelers completely dominated the defense-minded visitors, they had trouble getting the ball into the end zone. This early in the season, when coaches are more interested in head-to-head evaluation rather than well-defined strategy, offensive breakdowns are expected and tolerated.

Throughout the game, I had a clear impression that Chuck Noll wasn’t interested in the score. He used so many players, youngsters as well as borderline veterans that he got precisely what he wanted, a solid line on everyone that he was evaluating.

Under conditions, it might be added that placed everybody in a pressure situation. It’s one thing to put in substitutes in a runaway ball game; it’s something else when a team is locked in a 7-6 cliff hanger.
All in all, the 13-7 victory was an impressive outing for Noll’s Steelers. It served notice on the NFL that, while the Black and Gold may have had its problems last year, this is a new season with new faces in the offing.

Summing up the Steelers’ home debut, Noll presented a squad that makes a selfish fan wonder if there is justice to the 45-man limit. Were the Steelers permitted to go into the season with a 60-man roster, they would be odds on favourites for a trip to the Super Bowl, injuries notwithstanding.

But, unfortunately, too many of these promising young players will be gone by September. They will be plying their talents at places other than Three Rivers Stadium.

Noll’s problem as I see it is making sure the right players stay here. If they do, there is little need to be concerned with the team’s success.”


The Steelers had been relativity free of injuries in the five weeks of camp until, two days after trading Frank Lewis because the Steelers were rich in wide receivers, Jim Smith the catalyst for the trade, broke an ankle in a passing drill when he collided with Loren Toews.

The fear for the Steelers was he might miss the entire season so the team would have to begin to look for an experienced receiver. “It’s a shame,” said receiver coach Tom Moore. “Jim was having a super camp.” Teammate Theo Bell said, “It was hard to believe, but I knew it was bad when he couldn’t get up.


With the injury to Smith, the Steelers next exhibition game against the Giants would be an examination of rookie Randy Reutershan. Although the injury to Smith wasn’t as bad as first thought, the team still needed to ensure they had ample depth at the receiver position.

With ten players due to be cut from the roster three days after the game, it would also provide an opportunity for Coach Noll to assess others.

The Giants have proved tough opponents in previous exhibition games, winning 17-0 in Three Rivers in 1976 and 24-7 at Princeton in 1975. With their starting quarterback injured, New York would probably field journeymen quarterbacks Joe Pisarcik and Jerry Golsteyn who were not expected to pose much of a test for the Steelers young cornerbacks, rookie Ron Johnson, Larry Anderson and Nat Terry. Not noted for being generous in his praise, Coach Noll acknowledged that all three players were making progress.

The policy of stressing fundamentals appeared to be paying for the defense. “This is the slowest we’ve ever put our stuff in,” said Woody Widenhofer, linebacker coach. “Usually, we have everything in by now, but we’re still putting stuff in. By going slowly, we’re having fewer mistakes.”

Joe Greene was expected to play extensively in the game to enable the player and coach to gauge how bad a problem his back is.

1978 Exhibition game 3: The Pittsburgh Steelers at the New York Giants

On the second play of the game, New York’s Jerry Golsteyn threw to a wide open Johnny Perkins who burned Mike Wagner for a 78-yard touchdown completion.

Terry Bradshaw started the game for the Steelers completing 5 of 10 for 59 yards in the first half. While the Steelers began moving the ball well, they failed to score. The second quarter saw the Steelers held back by penalties. A John Stallworth 45-yard catch was nullified by a holding call and two defensive penalties hurt the team on turnovers as the Steelers came up short while the Giants extended their lead with a 22-yard field goal just before the half.

Rookie kicker Tom Jurich hooked a 40-yard field goal attempt left in the third period and the Giants took their 10-0 lead into the fourth quarter. With Cliff Stoudt at the helm, the Steelers fared no better and turned the ball over on a tipped pass. Another turnover on a punt return enabled the Giants to kick a 32-yard field goal with 10:50 left.

Mike Kruczek came in at quarterback for the Steelers and they finally got on the scoreboard. Stallworth pulled in a catch of 44 yards and two plays later Thornton scored from a yard out. Jurich’s point after attempt was blocked to confirm a day of missed opportunities and penalties for Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh Steelers 6 at the New York Giants 13
Giants Stadium August 19 1978; 43,339

Cliff Stoudt impressed with 8 completions from 12 attempts for 91 yards.

Rocky Bleier played for the first time in preseason.

Terry Bradshaw wore a cage mask to protect his broken nose.

Chuck Noll admitted, “They out hit us. That was the big thing. And penalties killed us.  It was not an interesting game because of it. The officials think they know what holding is now – that’s the problem.”


Reggie Harrison media photoThe fourth year running back Reggie Harrison became the most prominent name on the list of players waivered by the Steelers

Reporters wondered why the team cut a veteran while keeping rookie Rick Moser, who hadn’t really made a mark during preseason. Harrison was surprised the Steelers retained the rookie and was also surprised they would invest another year in Rocky. “He’s got a leg injury and he’s close to 35,” said Harrison although Bleier was actually 32 while Harrison 28.

Harrison attempted to find some positivity in the situation. “If it was some kind of a roster move, that’s super,” he said. “I just hope I can get something out of the deal. I’ll continue to play ball. Hey, there are twenty seven other clubs and nine Canadian teams. They all pay you in green dollars. I’m gonna play.”

Harrison’s contribution to the team was 631 yards in four seasons and included a 108-yard game against San Diego in 1976. “I’ve had quite a few memorable moments as a Steeler,” he said. “It doesn’t take a 2,000-yard season to be memorable to me.”

Kicker Tom Jurich was also released while Glen Edwards was traded to San Diego for a future undisclosed draft pick. Second round draft pick Willie fry was placed on injured reserve. Fry had torn tendons in his left little finger and the doctor said he might need six weeks in a splint with no guarantee he might require surgery.

Tight end Paul Seymour, brought to the Steelers in the trade with Buffalo for Frank Lewis, was returned to the Bills after failing a physical. When the trade was made, Buffalo failed to tell the Steelers that Seymour had undergone surgery on both feet at the beginning of the year.

“I’m a little upset,” acknowledged the Steelers pro scouting director Tim Rooney, “but I’m anxious to get it settled.” Rooney said the organisation was in no hurry to receive compensation because it will involve a future draft selection and the performance of Lewis with the Bills will be a factor. “First, Frank has to make the team,” said Rooney. “If that happens, then we see what kind of year he has.”

Former Steeler Ernie Holmes, who reportedly turned up in Tampa overweight, was waived by the Buccaneers.


The reason the Steelers keep visiting Dallas in the preseason while the Cowboys don’t return the favour is money. The Steelers rake in more dollars after paying travelling expenses than they would if Dallas played at Three Rivers.

The Steelers have lost three straight exhibition games including an embarrassing 0-30 defeat in 1977. “Doomsday II blitzed the Steelers,” was one newspaper’s take on the game.

The Steelers loss to the Giants the previous week had been plagued by a rash of holding penalties. After reviewing the film, Coach Noll determined the penalties were bad calls. “Steps were taken,” revealed the coach, suggesting he had made a complaint to the league office. “We’ll be on the same page in about three years,” Coach Noll said.

1978 Exhibition game 4: The Pittsburgh Steelers at the Dallas Cowboys

Rocky Bleier newspaper imageBoth teams struggled to move the chains on their first possessions and it was the Steelers who found the end zone half way through the first quarter when Rocky Bleier (picture left) burst through the Dallas defense with a touchdown run of 2 yards. Two consecutive holding penalties moved the extra point attempt back and Roy Gerela missed right.

The Cowboys managed to reduce the deficit with a 25-yard field goal and in the second quarter failed to add to their score missing a 30-yard attempt. The effective punting of rookie Craig Colquitt was a bonus for the Steelers

Penalties were again a problem with a costly one negating a spectacular touchdown catch by John Stallworth after a Wagner interception in the dying seconds of the first half that finished 6-3.

The Steelers extended their lead in the third quarter when Jack Ham tipped a Roger Staubach pass on a blitz and Tony Dungy intercepted it and returned it for a touchdown. While the defense were contributing, the offense was struggling, producing just three first downs in the entire second half against a solid Dallas defense.

With the Texas heat taking its toll, the Steelers defense began to wilt as the teams exchanged possessions. With the game coming to an end, Dallas stole the win when Staubach hit Drew Pearson on a 20-yard touchdown pass and then found Tony Hill in the end zone with a 15-yard scoring pass with 31 seconds left.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 13 at the Dallas Cowboys 16
Texas Stadium August 26 1978; 62,093

“We’re a long way from being a football team offensively,” acknowledged Terry Bradshaw. “I feel terrible. I’m concerned. It’s easy to say it’ll come, but I don’t want to go into the Buffalo game worried about the offense.”


The Philadelphia Inquirer projected the Cincinnati Bengals to win the AFC Central. “We drafted well and have youth, speed, depth and talent – all the ingredients you need for a winning football team,” stated Bengals Coach Bill Johnson.

Of the Steelers, the newspaper said: Chuck Noll is steadily turning over a team that once boasted the toughest defense and strongest offensive line in football. Gone from the defense is tackle Ernie Holmes and departed from the offense is center/guard Jim Clark.

For the Steelers to drive to the Super Bowl, Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood must play back to their years of dominance in the defensive trenches. Holmes has been replaced by Steve Furness, the club leader in sacks and line leader in tackles, The Steelers linebackers are solid with Jack Lambert and Jack Ham.

Terry Bradshaw is again Noll’s quarterback, but can he last through 16 games with his take-a-chance running? When he is sharp, the Steelers have an unstoppable passing game usually involving Lynn Swann or John Stallworth. Franco Harris remains the backfield workhorse, flanked by steady Rocky Bleier.


“I thought we had a good training camp this year, based on good fundamentals and on our young people,” Coach Noll enthused. “It looks good going into the season. It all depends on how we go over the sixteen games.”

“I think we just have to straighten out a few areas and the offense will be all right,” added Noll indicating there were technique problems rather than execution. “We had cadence problems... blowing the starting count.”

Coach Noll was pleased with his defense stating, “We’ve played much more zone than we have in the past, but we’ll get down to things now. We learned a lot. We’ve got something going. Now we have to see how we carry it along.”


Will we see the Steelers who during the last two seasons struggled unbearably the first half of the season? Will we see fumbles, interceptions and penalties? Will we see Noll rip the hair from his head because he knows the team he possesses is better than that?

Or will we from the start see the team which in 1976 assembled a nine game winning streak to make the playoffs? Or the one which last year floundered to stand at .500 near the midway point before rallying to finish 9-5 and slip into the playoffs because of Cincinnati’s misfortunes?

As Terry Bradshaw said, “I feel good about the season. I don’t know if everybody else is hungry. I think they are, but I know I’m starved to death.”

Very soon we will see if, indeed, last year’s distractions were responsible for the shaky start. One thing is certain. If the Steelers don’t perform smoothly beginning Sunday, especially in light of a schedule which has given them an early break, it will not be because they don’t have the talent.
When you run down through the positions on the team, there seems to be only one spot where the Steelers could be weak. That would be in the secondary where first-round choice Ron Johnson takes over for the sidelined J.T. Thomas.

There are other rookies there too now that Noll has traded away Jimmy Allen and Glen Edwards, two problem players from last year. Rookie Larry Anderson is at the opposite cornerback position and Nat Terry, an eleventh round choice the Steelers picked up in deal that sent Ernie Holmes to Tampa is also at cornerback.

It is obvious that Noll has confidence in the rookies, otherwise his memories of 1977 notwithstanding, he wouldn’t have been so bold as to get rid of the veterans who played there. Coach Noll acknowledged, “We’ve been very fortunate to have three young players in the secondary who have played so well.”

If there is a soft spot in the Steeler defense because of inexperience in the secondary, there will be ways to hide it. For one thing, safety Mike Wagner, who fractured his neck last year and also underwent surgery to remove a calcium deposit from his hip, appears to be fully recovered.

The other safety Donnie Shell has improved with playing time and there isn’t a harder hitter on the team. In addition, Tony Dungy, the free agent who made the team last year, is a safety who is very talented at reading defenses and reacting.

Alvin Maxson media photoPlus, if the opponents decide to aim at the left side of the Steelers, they’ll also be attacking defensive end L.C. Greenwood and left outside linebacker Jack Ham.

Offensively, the Steelers appear to be as sound as last year. They will miss wide receiver Jim Smith, who broke his ankle, but last year it became evident there isn’t much difference in ability between Lynn Swann and John Stallworth while Theo Bell returns after a year on injured reserve.

The other offensive surprise could be running back Alvin Maxson. Picked up in an emergency last year, he has developed into a skilled runner and fine receiver.

If third round choice Craig Colquitt from Tennessee can settle down and remain the kicker he was against Dallas, the Steelers should be OK there. Some bugs remain in the Steelers special teams’ coverage, but Noll is confident experience will solve some of the problems.

All in all, the Steelers appear to be the most talented team in the AFC Central. People throughout the league can’t believe the notion that they are anything but loaded.


Coach Noll doesn’t usually gamble, but when he traded Jim Clack and Ernie Pough in April for John Hicks, he was wagering on Hicks living up to the college potential that hadn’t materialised with the Giants.

The Steelers coach admitted it was a mistake and let the player go. “I was impressed with our coaches,” said Dan Rooney acknowledging they were willing to cut Hicks despite the investment they had made in him.

“John had a lot of habits developed in four years with the Giants,” revealed offensive linemen coach Rollie Dotsch. “I’m not saying they were good or bad, but they were different from our system. He was making some progress, but had a long way to go.”

Jack Deloplaine was surprised by his release, but was picked up by the Redskins. Deloplaine had lost some speed after two knee operations and running back coach Dick Hoak suggested, “He really doesn’t have that burst anymore that he once had.” Hoak admitted that keeping only five running backs was a risk.

Coach Noll then gambled again when he put Alvin Maxson (picture left) on the waiver list expecting one of the two running backs to clear waivers. Washington also picked him up and the Noll’s intentions were thwarted. Washington, who only needed one running back, took both players assuming one would be claimed by another club.

When that didn’t happen, the Redskins cut Maxson, but the Steelers were unable to take him back. The rule states a player must dress for one game with his new team before he can re-sign with his former team. Steelers’ officials admitted it was a shame that Maxson is lost because of the situation.

After the idea floundered, Dan Rooney suggested, “We don’t look at it as a real problem. We have an alternative plan.”

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