STEELERS 1979 TRAINING CAMP OPENS

Entering his eleventh training camp, Chuck Noll reflected on the age of some of his veterans including Rocky Bleier. Noll acknowledged that he had spoken to Bleier about playing and said the player was working out every day. “Working harder than people on this ball club who are a lot younger than he is,” the coach noted.

The aging of the Steelers wasn’t a concern for the coach. “We’re not interested in any kind of transfusions. The thing we’ve been trying to do is bring younger people along every year, so we don’t run into the problem of everybody getting old together.”

Coach Noll felt that he should give more playing time to his young linemen, Steve Courson, Tom Dornbrook, Ted Petersen and Tom Beasley. “If training camp goes well for them, they’ll get their share of playing time this year,” he admitted.

On veteran Terry Bradshaw, Coach Noll reaffirmed what he said after the Super Bowl. "I always felt Terry had the capability to be the best. Last year he did it. Now we have another challenge.”

After the first day of practice, the injuries began to accrue. Second-year defensive end Fed Anderson suffered a broken right hand. Rated eighth of the eight defensive linemen on the roster, Anderson would be concerned for his place.

“He shouldn’t worry,” said George Perles. “We’re not worried. I saw half an hour of Anderson in action and he looked super. He came here ready to go. Anderson is an NFL player. We’re grooming him.”

Anderson would be held out of contact work for a couple of days to allow the swelling on his hand to go down ready for a cast to be put on.

The Steelers top draft choice Greg Hawthorne and guard Steve Courson were also casualties with pulled hamstrings.

MATT BAHR TO CHALLENGE ROY GERELA

The Steelers drafted kicker Matt Bahr as a possible replacement for veteran Roy Gerela with a sixth-round pick. Their contest in training camp should be interesting with Gerela a Steelers’ legend with his own groupies known as “Gerela’s Gorillas.”

Bahr was realistic about the competition he would face. “It will be even tougher on me because I’m seeking a position held by a very popular Pittsburgh Steelers.”

Bahr won three football games with his field goals for Penn State in his final season, but he also sparkled on the soccer field for the Pennsylvania Stoners. “I don’t want to leave them (the Stoners),” he said. “I have never enjoyed sports as much as I have in Allentown as the Stoners try to make a name for themselves.

“But there is the business end of it I have to think about. If I can set myself up financially as a front-line kicker in the NFL, then I have an obligation to myself to do it.”

Although the Steelers had reached an agreement with Roy Gerela on a new contract at the end of last season, he never returned a signed contract to the team. Gerela is required to sign a contract before he arrives in camp with the other veterans.

GREG HAWTHORNE STILL SIDELINED

“You don’t want to see anyone injured,” explained Coach Noll, talking about the Steelers first round draft pick. “You have to roll with these things. We don’t know when he’ll be ready to run. We want to give him complete rest and see what happens. He pulled a hamstring shortly before our mini camp but wanted to keep playing. But it’s like having a cut. If you keep picking at it, it won’t heal.”

Hawthorne understood what his inactivity meant. “Every day I miss, I’m getting that much further behind. I’m not a vet or an older guy who can get hurt and not have to worry about picking up the system.

I need to be down with the rest of the guys, but when I do go back, I don’t want it to happen all over again.”

ROOKIES BRING SMILES TO 1979 TRAINING CAMP

While the Steelers had to deal with a rash of injuries in the first week of training camp, some of their thirty rookies were ensuring Coach Noll and his coaches were still smiling.

Larry Douglas, a receiver out of Southern and Rick Kirk, a defensive end from Denison were displaying skills that coaches were keen to see in camp. Kirk exhibited quickness and a nose for the ball while Douglas was fast off the line.

“Kirk looked pretty good over there in your drills, didn’t he,” Coach Noll inquired of George Perles who was now the team's assistant head coach.

“He sure did,” confirmed Perles. “My, he’s awful quick and he’s always around the ball,” added Perles. “That’s the difference. A lot of people are quick, but they don’t know where the ball is. Kirk knows where it is all the time.”
“That’s what we want,” a smiling Noll acknowledged. “People who know where the ball is.”

Defensive coordinator Woody Widenhofer spent time tutoring the Steelers second choice in the draft, 220-pound linebacker Zack Valentine. Widenhofer showed a lot of patience with the rookie who was hesitant in covering his man.

“Control him. Control him,” shouted Widenhofer to encourage Valentine to handle the receiver rather than allowing the receiver to gain the upper hand. “If you don’t control him,” he’s going to control you,” explained the coach.

CUNNINGHAM NOT SLOWING DOWN

Of the veterans in camp, tight end Bennie Cunningham (pictured left signing autographs at camp) showed no signs of slowing down despite undergoing surgery during the off-season for an injured knee. Cunningham had entered camp with the rookies to take advantage of early drills.

Robin Cole, the team’s first round draft pick in 1977 was also returning after surgery. Cole played all the 1978 season with a broken arm. A calcium deposit that formed over the break hid the damage from X-rays. Every time he made a hit, Cole felt pain, but doctors put that down to a nerve resting on the calcium.

After the Super Bowl, the player underwent surgery to remove the calcium deposit and the doctors discovered the break hadn’t healed. A bone graft was performed to correct the problem.

Cunningham and Cole went head-to-head for the Oklahoma Drill. “It always seems to be me and Bennie one-on-one,” said Cole. “I guess we always know it’s going to be me and him. We enjoy it.”

Both players came out of the drill with no ill effects giving Coach Noll more cause to smile.

VETERANS ARRIVE IN CAMP

The veterans arrived at their Latrobe training camp July 20th in Jeeps, Lincolns, Saabs and a Volkswagen.

Unlike the previous season, they arrived as the champions and Joe Greene observed, “I think we wear the crown pretty damn well. Getting back to being king felt good. I missed it. I’m sure so of the other guys did too.”

The Steelers were enjoying making football history. Only the Green Bay Packers had previously arrived in camp in search of a fourth NFL championship in a six-year span.

Greene was realistic about the challenges ahead. “You don’t defend the Super Bowl during the regular season. You don’t let the pressure of trying to defend it bother you before you get there. That’s how you lose it. You defend it on the turf you won it.

The only thing that can keep us down is injuries. Injuries are always a factor, but we want it and we’ve got the talent.”

OKLAHOMA DRILL ON THE FIRST DAY WITH VETERANS IN CAMP

Before their enthusiastic fans, the Steelers banged heads in the annual Oklahoma drill. When it was put to Coach Noll that it was reminiscent of gladiators in the Coliseum, he joked, “Maybe we should have the fans go thumbs up and thumbs down.”

As expected, it was usually the veterans who came out on top of the rookies. Naturally, it was Jack Lambert who led the way with an aggressive exchange with Thom Dornbrook.

The offensive linemen were generally outstanding. Assistant head coach George Perles praised Rollie Dotsch the offensive linemen coach. “You can see Rollie’s character come out in the offensive linemen,” he acknowledged. “Rollie’s a tough, rugged customer and his linemen are just like him.”

Although the veterans who had played in all three Super Bowls were getting older, Coach Noll likes to think they seem to be aging like vintage wine and getting better.

Roy Gerela signed his new contract and will face Matt Bahr and Rick Snodgrass in a kicking competition.

THE ROCK IS READY

Pro football’s oldest starting running back has second thoughts about retiring. Weary after a long 1978 season, Bleier had intimated his playing days were over. But, refreshed after the offseason, he was ready to go into action once again.

“I don’t remember exactly what I said,” he admitted, “but at the end of the season, you’re tired, run-down, sore, beat-up and you think, ‘oh my gawd, can I do it again?’”

Bleier was keen to play another season. “I don’t have a timetable, but my thought each year is that I’ll play one more season and see what happens.”

Looking ahead, the Steelers selected two running backs with two of their first three draft picks, but Bleier wasn’t ready to move aside. “There are better runners and better receivers,” Bleier acknowledged. “But this game is consistency. You’ve got to put it all together and come up with a consistent game. When you come down to that big game, it’s hard to beat.”

The combination of Franco Harris and Rocky had only seen losses in two playoff games since they have been playing together and both of those defeats saw one of the players on the sideline.

Lancaster Sunday news photo
Franco Harris with fans at camp

Randy Grossman Finds Job Security
Bob Smizik - Pittsburgh Press

Media photo Randy GrossmanAll he did last summer was catch more passes than any other Steeler tight end caught in twelve years. In addition to that, in one game he caught more passes than any other Steeler receiver had caught in a decade. Against Houston, Grossman caught 9 passes for 116 yards. With Lynn Swann and John Stallworth on the team, that was no small accomplishment.

Randy Grossman, who signed as a free agent the day after the 1974 draft, maintains that this year will be no different than the past five. That means the only thing he’s campaigning for is a spot on the roster.

Too many years of looking over his shoulder at bigger, stronger and faster competitors have left Grossman with a case of insecurity that not even his superb 1978 season, when he stepped in for Bennie Cunningham, has been able to erase. Despite his fine play while Cunningham was out with a knee injury, he is once again listed as the team’s #2 tight end.

“This is a tenuous time of year for me,” he said. “I’ll be a little more relieved after the season begins and I can actually see what the situation is.”

When it was pointed out to Grossman that tight ends who catch 37 passes in 10 games usually don’t have to worry about job security even if they weigh only 215 pounds and have ordinary speed, he merely shook his head.
“Look at last year,” he suggested. Grossman seemed to have a lock on the backup tight end position behind Cunningham because he was the only other player in camp at that position. Then, as Grossman puts it, “I looked up one day and Paul Seymour is coming in.”

The acquisition of Seymour from Buffalo indicated to Grossman that Coach Noll’s idea of a tight end is a 240-pound bruiser who runs over people after catching a pass and who destroys defensive ends in blocking situations.

Many believed that if Seymour had passed his physical, Grossman would not have been around to become a hero in the Steelers drive to the Super Bowl.

As he points out, the Steelers did take two tight ends in the draft. “They’ve had a lot of competition here for me,” he acknowledged, “but I’ve always been confident of my skills. If they weren’t good enough to be used here, then they could be used somewhere else.

Some people say I can’t block. Those are people who think if you’re not a great blocker you’re not any good at all. There’s something in between. My blocking isn’t great, but it’s not bad. I contributed as much to our running game as anyone else. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here.

They say I’m too small, too slow and too weak. But I’m like the guy in the decathlon who doesn’t win any individual events, but who ends up winning the whole thing.

I just put everything together and come out with a reasonable excuse for a football player.”

Grossman is a lot more than a reasonable football player. He happens to be a fine tight end who just happens to play behind a potentially great tight end.

Sam Davis: Steeler Portrait of Stability

Soon after the Steelers won Super Bowl XIII, Terry Bradshaw was presented with a portrait of himself. He liked it so much that he commissioned portraits of the Steelers starting offensive line by the same artist. It was Bradshaw’s thank you to the players who helped him win the MVP.

Steelers offensive captain Sam Davis said, “It’s a warm thing on Terry’s behalf. It’s one of the many reasons he’s my hero. It’s what I mean when I tell you we have a special group of guys here.”

I think it’s a little different from what people think we play football and then just go our separate ways. But there’s a team effort, a family effort here. We’re very close.”

As he viewed his portrait, Davis joked, “My complexion looks even smoother on this. He got just the right lighting on my high cheek bones. Nice, huh?” Bradshaw sighed, “He made you better looking than me.”

Davis had an outstanding season in 1978 and played more than any time since 1973 as the Steelers discarded their three-guard system.

As always with the Steelers, there were new candidates in camp seeking jobs at every position. One player making a big impression is Thom Dornbrook, who’s learning to play center, guard and tackle.

“Thom has great attitude and I like that,” said Davis. “He has what it takes to be a good offensive lineman and we’re a unique breed. An offensive lineman has to be strong inwardly as well as outwardly. There are things people don’t see that enter into it. The frustration comes from many directions. You might be in pass protection for instance and nullifying your man.

The man might be slapping you upside your head or grabbing your jersey and doing a lot of illegal things, but you can’t lose your head. You have to keep your proper position and worry about technique, not the other man. Even if he pulls your face mask.

You can’t let it get to you and let it affect you. A defensive man loves to see an offensive lineman frustrated. To keep him off balance you have to have control and confidence and be cool. You want to strike out, but you can’t.”
Davis wasn’t concerned about Dornbrook taking his job. “We have a different brand of athlete on this team.

There’s nobody that’s concerned about whether they’re going to get cut. When you start worrying about that, you’re not a championship player and you’re not a championship team.

Our veterans will help the new guys. They are going to make us a better team. If it were a greedy type situation, you’d tell yourself to lighten up and not help a guy so much. But that’s not the case. The Steelers did a helluva job of finding the kind of people we have.”


Rocky not looking to retire

Weary after the wear and tear of a long season, Rocky Bleier indicated that 1979 would be his final year. “I don’t remember exactly what I said,” he admitted to reporters, “but at the end of the season, you’re tired, run-down, sore, beat up and you think, ‘oh gawd, can I do it again’”

After resting during the offseason, Rocky knows the answer and is eager for another season. “I don’t have a timetable, but my thought each year is that I’ll play one more season and see what happens.”

J.T. Thomas back after a year’s absence through Boeck’s Sarcoid

Side-lined for the whole of the 1978 season with a rare illness, J.T. Thomas was showing in training camp that he was ready to return to the football field. It was although he had never left.

“I’ve never been a doubting Thomas,” he said. “I never doubt myself. I’m not that kind of person. There’s always hope. I live in a world of hope. I can do anything I want if I want to do it bad enough.

Some people think that if one bad thing happens, they’ve had a bad day. I feel that if one good thing happens, it’s been a good day. When I wake up in the morning, that’s my definition of a good day.”

Thomas told reporters that he is like the kid who has been away from the circus for a while and missed his favourite ride. “I’m back on my ride again.” After his long absence from football, Thomas is now even enjoying the boredom that training camp can produce. “It’s the old story about not missing water until the well runs dry.”

Having shown he can still play football at the top level; his next goal is to win back his left corner position from Ron Johnson who had done well in his rookie year. “Ron had a fantastic year and I’m sure he wants to start, and I do too,” observed Thomas.

“I’m sure I wouldn’t be content (as a backup), but I never found contentment even in just starting. I’ve always had goals to do more things, but I’ll be satisfied to be with the club. Whatever my role is, I’ll be contributing the best I have to give.”

Steelers rich in wide receivers

With their veterans Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Jim Smith and Theo Bell still delivering for the team, the Steelers didn’t make adding more receivers a priority. Their fourth-round pick Calvin Sweeny arrived in camp with a broken foot so it appeared their final draft pick, Mike Almond was left to make an impression.

Almond was joined in camp by free agents Larry Douglas of Southern University, Jerry Taylor of Tulsa and Carlos Lee of Concord. The Steelers receiver coach, Tom Moore, was enthusiastic about his new recruits. “The best group I’ve had in the three years I’ve been here.”

At this stage of camp, Moore rated the four players about even. Taylor helped his chances with a 60-yard reception from Cliff Stoudt. “It gives a rookie a little bit of confidence,” a smiling Taylor admitted after making the play.

Johnny Unitas enrolled into the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Johnny Unitas wearing his Steelers numberThe Steelers used their 1954 ninth round draft pick on quarterback Johnny Unitas. They cut him near the end of that year’s training camp. “Johnny Unitas was a miracle,” noted Dan Rooney. “George Shaw had to get hurt for the Colts to call him. They had a habit in those days of bringing in other teams’ late cuts and giving them tryouts. And here Unitas was playing sandlot football at the time. It’s incredible.”

Unitas was working on a construction crew during the day and playing quarterback for the Bloomfield Rams by night for about $5 a game. Unitas went on to play pro football for eighteen years. First with the Baltimore Colts before a final season with the San Diego Chargers.

He completed 2,830 passes from 5,186 attempts for 40,239 yards and 290 touchdowns.

When Unitas was in the 1955 Steelers training camp, his biggest fans were John and Pat Rooney. The youngest phones their father, Art Rooney, and told him they were catching passes on the sideline during practice with the best quarterback in the camp. They had heard that coach was going to Walt Kiesling to cut him so warned their father that it would be a mistake.

Art Rooney didn’t interfere, and the team lost an early opportunity to lose their same old Steelers image. Coach Noll who played against Unitas as a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns, said of the player, “He was a strong-willed guy. He just believed in himself and felt he could get the job done. And he did, more often than not. He wanted to move the ball. He wanted to throw it; he ran it as a change-up.”

1979 Training Camp Update

Russell Davis, who was beginning to shine in camp, broke his arm in a skeleton passing drill. He will be out for six to eight weeks which means he will spend the rest of the season on the injured reserve list.

Jack DeloplaineRunning back Jack Deloplaine came into the 1978 camp while returning to fitness after suffering a knee injury. He was eventually let go and picked up by Washington. When the Redskins cut him, he returned to the Steelers.

This year Deloplaine is making an impression in camp. Coach Hoak suggested, “He looked like he was afraid to cut it at full speed last year, but he’s cutting well this season.”

“I’m very satisfied with my situation and the way things are going,” said Deloplaine. I know I can play in the NFL. I know they drafted a lot of running backs high, but I’m just giving it my best shot. All I have and we’ll see what happens.”

On the final day of public viewing at camp, more than 5,000 fans watched a 20-play scrimmage that saw Mike Kruczek connect with Randy Grossman for a 50-yard touchdown catch.

Coach Noll was one of those enjoying the display. “I’m seeing lots of good things here,” he said. “We’re making progress and that’s what it is all about.”

The offensive line coach Rollie Dotsch was also pleased with the what he was seeing, but noted, “It would be nice though if we could make it just a little better and a little stronger this season.”

Dotsch compared notes after every practice with Steelers assistant head coach George Perles. “We can’t get over the intensity of the workouts so far,” declared Dotsch. “It’s fantastic. The players want to stay on top. They’re coming off a good year. They all want to return and be a part of it, especially the veterans.

Whether they’re working out against rookies or against one another, it’s a war. Sometimes when veterans go against one another they have a non-aggression pact. But not here.

They are in fantastic shape. There’s not one guy with a weight problem. Not one guy dragging when we run those 350-yard laps around the field. We should be fantastic.”

Steelers Season Opener Confirmed

The Steelers 1979 season opener was scheduled to take place in New England, but a conflict between the Patriots and the New England Harness Raceway put the game in jeopardy. One of the options suggested to resolve the situation was to transfer the game to Pittsburgh.

Massachusetts governor Edward J. King, an avid horse racing fan and a former professional football player, was key in the discussions to settle the dispute. The contractual arrangement between the Patriots and the Raceway gives the race track exclusive use of the parking facilities on days when the track is open. The parking facilities are otherwise shared.

“We think it is good for the economy,” acknowledged King on the agreement that will see the Raceway move its harness meeting from the evening to the day. The Patriots’ game, which would be shown on prime-time television game, would remain as an evening kickoff.

Lynn Swann Retired?

The Steelers initially downplayed Lynn Swann’s absence from training camp until Coach Noll replied to an inquiry from the Beaver County Times. “I guess he has retired,” quipped Noll.

Swann was in San Francisco where he, his two brother and a cousin were suing the City for false arrest, false imprisonment, assault and battery and emotional disturbance due to racial slurs.

The lawsuit revolved around an incident in January 1974 when the four were in San Francisco for dinner after Swann had been drafted by the Steelers. They were accused of running a red light.

Swann claimed a policeman broke his watch with a nightstick and beat the men around the knees with it. Swann intimated that he wanted the policemen involved fired. “They thought we were four dumb blacks they could beat up,” said Swann, I just think it is a matter of principal that I stick around for the trial.”

On the question of whether the Steelers would fine Swann, Dan Rooney said, “When he returns, I want to find out what the whole story is. We’ll make that decision then. It’s difficult to make a comment when you don’t know the facts.”

Swann said he had spoken to both Noll and Rooney. “They know where I am.” He accepted that the trial wasn’t the best way to prepare for the season, admitting his timing with Terry Bradshaw would be off when he returns.
In his testimony, Swann described how the four were taken to the police station where they were called “black monkeys” and “black aborigines.” They had to walk a gauntlet of ten to fifteen officers across the parking lot to the station.

The attorney defending the four police officers claimed Swann’s lawyer wanted the trial, originally scheduled for May, postponed because, “Swann wanted to miss the first few weeks of training.” Swann denied the assertion.

As the Steelers’ approached their first preseason game, Swann announced, “I have retired. A lot of things went into it that I really don’t want to get into. It came about for a number of reasons.”

With Swann’s absence becoming public, Coach Noll acknowledged that Swann had called him before the trial seeking permission to report late. The coach refused and told the player that if he didn’t report, he would be retired. Swann asked if Noll wanted him to write a letter saying he was retired, but the coach told him not to bother, adding “We’ll just assume you’re retired.”

Teammates behind Swann

Sam Davis, the offensive co-captain was sympathetic towards Swann’s actions. “If you believe in the Bill of Rights, he’s got to be out there.”

John Stallworth, who would be promoted to the number one receiver joked, “He’ll be back pretty soon because he doesn’t want me to catch too many passes.” On a serious note, Stallworth accepted, “If we were in his position, we’d feel a lot different than we do as outsiders looking in. I imagine it was a very degrading thing to go through.”

The Steelers are concerned that the Swann trial will bring about another “distraction.”

1979 Preseason Begins

“I’ve never been hurt so badly,” Terry Bradshaw told reporters about breaking his nose in a preseason contest against the Baltimore Colts in 1978. “I had a horrible headache and I couldn’t stop the bleeding,” he recalled about the hit he received while scrambling.

“I’d gladly take a broken nose in trade for those kind of results,” said Bradshaw recalling the season ended with another Lombardi trophy. Even Coach Noll could manage a smile when he talked about the injury. “Maybe somebody should punch Terry on the sidelines,” Noll joked.

1979 Exhibition game 1: The Pittsburgh Steelers at the Buffalo Bills

Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier were held out with minor ailments while the Steelers looked at their new players.
Steelers rookie Matt Bahr did his chances of becoming the team’s kicker no harm with three field goals that set up Pittsburgh’s win over Buffalo.

After Mike Wagner’s interception of David Mays' pass, Bahr’s 41-yard field goal led the scoring in the first quarter. The Bills responded towards the end of the second quarter when tight end Reuben Gant made a leaping catch in the corner of the end zone. The Bills took their 7-3 lead into the locker room at the half.

In the second half, the teams exchanged possession with no scoring until Bahr added a second field goal, this one from 39 yards at the end of the third quarter. Steelers rookie linebacker Tom Graves recovered a Bills fumble to set up the opportunity.

The Steelers edged ahead with Bahr’s 25-yard field goal with just 1:14 remaining in the game. As the Bills pressed for a winning score, John Banaszak jarred the ball loose from Mays. Gary Dunn recovered the fumble and returned it 32 yards to give the Steelers a 15-7 victory after Bahr missed the extra point.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 15 at the Buffalo Bills 7
Rich Stadium August 4, 1979; 35,940

Passing: Bradshaw 4-9-0TD-2INT-45, Kruczek 4-7-0TD-1INT-34, Stoudt 4-6-0TD-1INT-60
Ferguson 3-8-0TD-0INT-44, Mays 5-12-1TD-2INT-47, Manucci 0-1-0TD-0INT-0

Rushing: Deloplaine 15 for 45, Thornton 5-22, Moser 11-30, Green 2-3, Stoudt 1-0

Receiving: Bell 2-46, Grossman 2-29, Thornton 2-16, Green 2-14, Smith 3-32, Moser 1-2

“I’m just trying to help the team in whatever way possible,“ Bahr told the Pittsburgh Press before the game adding, “If I’m lucky enough, I might even make the team.” He certainly looked like beating out 11-year veteran Roy Gerela after his performance.


Jack Deloplaine tackles Tony Greene
AP Photo

Joe Gilliam news

In Youngstown, New York, Joe Gilliam threw for 154 yards and two touchdowns to roll over the previously unbeaten Baltimore Eagles 68-7 in the Atlantic Football Conference.

Four rookies released from 1979 training camp

Dexter Green was one of four rookies released by the Steelers. “I enjoyed myself. I can’t complain,” Green admitted. “They let me feel like I had a chance. I appreciate the shot. I can say, ‘Hey, I was with the world champions, and they treated me like somebody.’”

Green couldn’t overcome the handicap of his 5-9 size. He was told by the camp manager Bill Nunn of his release. Despite folklore, players are not told to bring their playbook when informed of their release.

Green said he had no regrets about signing with the Steelers. “I like to play with the best. I thrive on competition.”

Dwayne Woodruff remains

Dwayne Woodruff media photo“I’m still here,” said rookie Dwayne Woodruff with a smile. The sixth-round draft pick from Louisville is hoping to win one of the seven jobs in the defensive backfield. With five positions already filled, Woodruff would be competing with Larry Anderson, Ray Oldham and Tony Dungy for the two remaining spots.

Following the release of other rookies, Woodruff commented, “I try not to think, ‘who’s going to be next.’ You don’t think about being released until it happens, but it’s always in the back of my mind.

The only way for me to make this team is on special teams. I’ve played on enough speciality teams all my life. It was never a dreaded thing for me. I think of it as another duty.”

As well as playing on special teams in the win over Buffalo, Woodruff also played cornerback about a third of time. “If you don’t have speed at the corner, you’ll be looking at the scoreboard a lot because they’ll be putting up six points,” he acknowledged.

“There’s no hiding at corner. Everyone can see exactly what you’re doing. There’s a lot of pressure out there. When you are a rookie, you have to get it right the first time because there aren’t that many next times for you.”

With another round of roster cuts due after the Steelers second exhibition game against the Giants, Woodruff explained, “I look at trying out for a football team like having a long interview for a job. The longer the interview, the better the chances for getting the job.”

Injuries take their toll

Three veterans spent time being examined at the nearby hospital. Rocky Bleier jammed his right knee and pinched a ligament and is expected to miss a couple of weeks.

John Banaszak was accidentally poked in the eye and suffered a cornea abrasion while Ray Pinney was suffering with a viral infection.

Lynn Swann due back in camp

Lynn Swann, who had been in Los Angeles suing City Hall for $2 million, was expected back in Pittsburgh. The player completed six days of testimony and left for Pittsburgh on the understanding that he may be recalled although the Deputy City Attorney didn’t think it would be necessary.

There had been a twist in the trial with two witnesses coming forward to say they had seen three men beating a policeman. The husband and wife produced two colour slides shot from their apartment of the incident.

Bleier’s Fighting Back Again Now That He’s Benched by Hurt Knee
Vito Stellino Post-Gazette August 9 1979

His book was entitled “Fighting Back.”

It seems like Rocky Bleier has spent his entire life fighting back. Now he’s fighting back again.

Bleier, whose heart-warming saga of coming back from crippling Vietnam war wounds is being made into a movie, suffered a knee injury in practice Tuesday.

When a running back is 33, a knee injury is always cause fore concern. He was walking with a cane with his right knee heavily taped when he was taken to a hospital for X-rays yesterday afternoon.

Coach Noll predicted that Bleier would be side-lined for three weeks with a strained knee although coaches are often optimistic about such matters. It means that Bleier’s status for the beginning of the regular season on September 3 in New England is up in the air.

“I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve never had a serious knee injury,” Bleier said yesterday as he fiddled with his adjustable cane. His war wounds were to his leg and foot.

Bleier, who might well be the most popular player on the team, tried to keep things light as he looked over the steel cane. That’s Rocky’s nature. “It’s the only cane in the camp. It can be adjusted for a guy 5-2 or 6-8,” he laughed.

Despite the smiles, Bleier admitted he was in pain. “I don’t know,” he said when he was asked how long he’d be out.

Although he’s the oldest starting running back in the league (“That’s a rumour I started,” he grinned), Bleier is being counted on to play a major role in the team’s drive for a fourth Super Bowl.

He’s one of the “Pittsburgh 22” – the twenty-two players who’ve played on all three Super Bowls. If the injury is serious, it could be a major blow to the Steelers.

The chemistry of Bleier’s teaming with Franco Harris in the Steelers backfield is something that has rarely been duplicated in pro football. They complement each other perfectly.

They were first paired in the seventh game of the 1974 season. The Steelers went on to win 23 of their next 27 games including their first two Super Bowls. It is worth noting that the Steelers have lost only two playoff games in the pair’s five years as the starting running backs and they were both injured in one of them – the 1976 loss at Oakland.

Bleier, who had experienced a slightly pulled hamstring last week, suffered the knee injury while going out for a pass. “I ran a deep route and as I caught the pass, I came down and locked the right knee and J.T. Thomas hit me in the chest,” Bleier explained.

Bleier’s injury and the uncertain status of Greg Hawthorne, the number one draft pick, left the Steelers with only five running backs certain for Saturday night’s exhibition game against the Giants. Duane Jones, a free agent running back, has a pulled hamstring.

Although Bleier’s injury means it is unlikely he’ll play in the exhibition season, backfield coach Dick Hoak said that shouldn’t be much of a setback for the veteran as long as he can overcome the injury.

Considering the record Bleier has for coming back against much higher odds, he must be given the benefit of doubt.

As soon as the knee strain heals, Rocky will be fighting back once more.

‘The Search for Excellence’ Drives Steelers Joe Greene
Pat Livingston August 11, 1979

Joe Greene media photoThe scene was typical of what one might expect to find in the dormitory room of a football team’s training camp.

The beds were unmade. On a desk between the windows at the far side of the room, the TV screen was filled with the intense distressed faces of the characters in a soap opera. Hard rock blared from a stereo that was far too loud for the tiny, cramped room.

Shoulder pads hung from the back of a chair. Joe Greene lounged across the bed, his broad back reclining against the bare, pastel cinder block wall.

“It’s been one helluva ten years,” recalled Greene, his round face lit up by a wide grin in the room he shares with Mel Blount. “If somebody ever writes a book about it, I want to read it – the Steelers of the seventies.”

Joe Greene would enjoy such a book. He would be the central character in it. The man who transported a team from the ridiculous to the sublime. A key character in one of the most remarkable Cinderella stories of our time. “And it’s been one helluva boat ride,” said Joe.

“Bored with Super Bowls?” questioned Joe, surprised that anyone should ask. “How does anyone get bored with success? The more Super Bowls you are in, the more you want that one more.”

I was there to ask Greene, a man who is entitled to wear three Super Bowl rings, what possible could motivate him to make the sacrifice again and again and again.

“It’s the search for excellence,” said Greene. “The ultimate goal of anyone who takes pride in what he does. The Steelers are made up of proud men. Men who want to excel. Men who want to prove to the world they are the best at what they do. They don’t always do it, but man, they always try.”

Was there one Super Bowl which thrilled him more than any other?

“Super Bowl IX was great,” he acknowledged, “but the thrill was nothing compared with Super Bowl XIII. It’s not that it was our third one. What made it so great was that we beat the defending champion the Cowboys, and a damn good champion at that. That Super Bowl was special to me.”

It would seem that one who has played in so many Super Bowls would find a bitter disappointment in a season in which he didn’t go to one. That is not so with Joe Greene, particularly with regard to a frustrating 1976. The year the Steelers, 1-4 after five games, rallied for nine straight victories.

“Ah, 1976. That was a special season,” said Greene, a slight, wry smile flashing across his face as he recalled the Steelers had given up only two touchdowns (both to the Houston Oilers) during that marvellous nine game streak.

“That was fate,” said the 32-old defensive tackle. “It was something that was beyond our control, and if you can’t control something, you can’t worry about it.”

“You know, and I hate to take anything away from Oakland – the Raiders deserved everything they got – but I really believe we could have won that year too if things had gone our way. It was fate that we didn’t win the Super Bowl that year. I believe that.”

That was the year the Steelers lost the conference title to Oakland with both running backs, Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, side-lined with injuries sustained in the opening round against the Baltimore Colts.

“What we did that year, how we came through when we had to, is a memory I’ll cherish forever,” admitted Greene. “In a way, I guess doing what we did meant almost as much to me as the Super Bowl might have meant. It told me something about the character of the people I’d been playing with.”

Can you Steelers win a fourth Super Bowl?

“You better believe we can,” said Greene. “The Pittsburgh Steelers, if they put their mind to it, can do anything they want to do. We’re that kind of team.”

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