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.


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.


“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.”


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.”

1979 Exhibition game 2: The (1-0) Pittsburgh Steelers vs the (1-0) New York Giants

Franco Harris AP photoOn a wet and dreary night in Pittsburgh, the fans who turned out to watch the Steelers second exhibition game were warmed by the impact of rookie linebackers Zack Valentine and Tom Graves.

Rocky Bleier was side-lined still with a strained knee and Franco Harris seeing reduced action, Greg Hawthorne was provided with the opportunity to shine. Coach Noll was eager to see the Steelers round draft choice play and he wasn’t disappointed although he only carried twice.

In a defensive battle, the Steelers first drive was their best offensive series and it finished with a 35-yard Matt Bahr field goal.

Graves came up with the biggest play of the game in the second quarter. Graves picked off a pass from the Giants’ first round pick Phil Simms and returned the interception 86 yards for the only touchdown of the game. Valentine contributed six tackles during the sixty minutes.

Terry Bradshaw threw for 200 yards in the first half while Cliff Stoudt struggled in the second half completing 2 passes of 8 attempts for zero yards. The Steelers gained 213 yards in the first half while the Giants could only manage 16 yards.

The second half saw the defenses continue to dominate while the Giants cut their deficit with a 46-yard field goal.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 10 vs the New York Jets 3
Three Rivers Stadium August 12 1979; 46,624

Passing: Bradshaw 12-20-1INT-0TD-200, Stoudt 2-8-1INT-0
Simms 7-14-1INT-124, Besana 4-8-0INT-2, Pisarcik 0-3-1INT-0

Rushing:  Harris 11-16, A. Anderson 5-23, Moser 4-11, Deloplaine 10-9, Hawthorne 2-5

Receiving: Cunningham 2-57, Hawthorne 1-29, Thornton 1-25, Bell 2-37, Smith 2-27, Grossman 1-9, Harris 1-9, Deloplaine 2-7, Moser 2-0

“We’re all upset about our performances,” offered Terry Bradshaw. “We’ve gotta get our offensive line straightened away and we gotta get a pair of running backs and stay with them. We’re playing a lot of kids, but we’re not generating anything.”

“Offensively, we stunk the joint out,” admitted Coach Noll. “Basically, we’ve not doing anything we have to do. We didn’t score touchdowns last week and we didn’t score any this week.”

Roster reductions

Mike Almond, Carlos Lee and Duane Jones were waived.  Russell Davis, Derrick Glasper, Phil Noel, Calvin Sweeney and Willie Fry were put on injured reserve.

Roy Gerela – “What’s to worry?”

“It’s a hazardous occupation,” admitted Steelers kicker Roy Gerela. “What’s to worry? That makes for ill health. You just do the best you can.”

Gerela didn’t have a good season in 1978 but felt he had resolved the challenge. “Wide to the left,” became Gerela’s middle name, but after working on his technique during the off-season he believes he’s put it right.

Paul Uram, the Steelers kicking coach acknowledged, “He’s not hooking the ball the way he used to. If anything, he’s missing to the right when he misses. He’s more accurate. He’s coming through on impact. When you’re pressing, there’s an extra tendency to lean back on impact and you end up pulling the ball.”

The veteran Gerela faces a contest with rookie Matt Bahr. “Whatever happens is going to happen,” he said. “If something happens and I’m not here, I’m sure I can play with somebody.

Greg Hawthorne gets on the field

After his eventual debut for the Steelers, albeit for just two carries, Greg Hawthorne was expecting to feature more for the Steelers when they travelled to New York to face the Jets.

The Steelers number one draft choice admitted he was surprised when Terry Bradshaw called his number on a pass for his first play in the game. Although he thought he would be blocking on his first couple of plays, he caught a 29-yard pass.

“It was a good play we wanted to put it,” suggested Bradshaw. “He showed a lot of ability. He adjusted well to catch the ball.”

Jets quarterback dilemma

Usually, it is the Steelers who are saddled with a quarterback controversy, but it was the Jets who were currently immersed in the challenge. Richard Todd and Matt Robinson were competing for the starting role with the New York team.

“When I think of the Jets,” said Bradshaw, “I think of a team that’s putting together good people and doing a good job of building. In Todd and Robinson, they’ve got two quarterbacks who are only going to get better with time.
The big decision now is deciding who to hand the ball to. Neither one of them wants to sit on the bench and the other guys have to know who is number one. Then the other quarterback would want to go somewhere else and play.

I hated it when we had a two-quarterback situation. First with Terry Hanratty and then with Joe Gilliam. I don’t think Todd and Robinson like it either. They both wanted to play. They don’t want to go out and know that if they screw up, they’ll get pulled.

I personally never liked being in that situation. When you’re the guy who starts, you should be the man.”

Looking ahead at the Jets game, Bradshaw indicated, “We can run the football, we will run the football and we will run the football well.”

After failing to score an offensive touchdown in their previous two exhibition games, the priority will be to establish a running game. “I’d like to see our goal-line offense,” said Bradshaw with a smile.

1979 Exhibition game 3: The (2-0) Pittsburgh Steelers at the (0-2) New York Jets

UPI photo Franco HarrisAfter a scoreless first quarter, the Steelers exploded in the second period. Franco Harris plunged 1-yard for the first touchdown as the Steelers began to dominate their opponents. Roy Gerela followed with a 48-yard field goal before John Stallworth haulled in a 30-yard pass as the Steelers put 17 points on the board in fifteen minutes.

Following another scoreless quarter in the third, the Steelers were poised to increase their lead when Coach Noll turned conservative. The Steelers had fourth and goal on their opponents’ one-yard line. Instead of going for it, the Steelers attempted the field goal chip shot which was blocked and returned 91 yards for a Jets touchdown.

Gerela added another field goal before the Steelers defense gave up a second touchdown with many substitutes on the field.

Tony Anderson finished the scoring for the Steelers with a 1-yard touchdown run as Pittsburgh triumphed 27-14.

Lynn Swann made his first appearance after his absence from training camp.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 27 at the New York Jets 14
Giants Stadium August 17, 1979; 46,159

Passing: Bradshaw 11-22-0INT-1TD-164, Kruczek 2-5-0INT-0
Todd 6-15-1INT-64, Robinson 7-15-1INT-140

Rushing: Harris 11-25, Deloplaine 10-26, Anderson 9-31

Receiving: Smith 3-44, Grossman 3-43, Swann 3-30, Stallworth 2-38

“It was nice to see our offense produce,” said Terry Bradshaw. “We worked hard on our running game all week. We should have scored three or four touchdowns against the coverages the showing us last week, but we didn’t. I wasn’t frustrated. I knew we were going to start scoring.”

This is much more like it,” enthused Coach Noll. “We were more aggressive on offense if not defense, and we showed progress. I saw some good things out there.”

Steelers to win Super Bowl?

“We can still win the Super Bowl with our present talent,” noted Art Rooney Jr., “but we also have to make sure at the same time we’re keeping the team good for the future. About five years ago, a lot of scouts started showing up at our games, and it was a shock to me. It made me feel like a big shot.”

The Jets coach Walt Michaels said he felt like, “I’ve been run over by a truck.”

Tony Dungy’s anxiety justified

As the pruning of the Steelers roster began, Tony Dungy appreciated how anxious the rookies would be feeling.

He lived through the anguish two years ago. He was the longest of long shots, but the coaches had been impressed with the way he picked up the system.

After they decided to take a longer look, he won a roster spot. When he found himself on the field as a quarterback in the fourth game of his rookie season, he won the support of Steelers fans.

Dungy arrived in camp as an established player, but he finds himself competing against J.T. Thomas for the backup safety role. Dungy felt the current situation was more difficult than his rookie season. “I wasn’t sure if I could play then,” Dungy acknowledged. “I didn’t know if I was good enough.”

Two years later, he knows he is. “I’ve had a chance to play and I’m good enough to play and help the team. I’m the third best safety. I think I’m one of the seven best defensive backs.”

Two days later after expressing his fears, Dungy was traded to the 49ers for a draft pick. “It’s a business,” observed Dungy. “Everything’s done for the good of the team.”

The team also put Roy Gerela on waivers. Matt Bahr at 23 would be kicking for the Steelers while Gerela at 31 would be looking for a new team.

Gerela said, “My first reaction was one of shock,” while Bahr admitted, “I was surprised. I thought I was the one who’d been let go.” Bahr said he felt bad for Gerela while adding, “Tony Dungy is such a super person. He was the first veteran who spoke to me when I came here. It hurts to see those guys go.”

The Steelers leave Latrobe

Topps Franco HarrisThe Steelers would leave their training camp in Latrobe and travel to Texas for their final preseason game against old foes, the Dallas Cowboys.

“I like it for the five weeks we’re here,” said Franco Harris about Latrobe. “It’s a good place to get totally isolated, but things aren’t that way in life. It’s good to re-nourish one’s interest in the game, plus you get to be around the guys some more. That’s particularly important with the new players.”

The rematch of Super Bowl XIII was expected to draw a large number of fans to watch the game. “For me personally, it’s an exhibition game,” said Harris. “Sure, you want to win it. You play hard to win it. Over the years, I just noticed that exhibitions had nothing to do with what happens in the regular season.

We’ve had many exhibition seasons in which we lost as many as we won and went on to have good years. We might lose to Dallas in an exhibition and beat them when it counts.”

Joe Gilliam

Joe Gilliam was in a stable condition in a Baltimore hospital recovering from an attack by four men who dragged him from his parked car and beat him over the head.

Police who attended the scene thought he had been shot because the injury was so severe although doctors believe he should be back on the field within two weeks.

1979 Exhibition game 4: The (3-0) Pittsburgh Steelers at the (2-2) Dallas Cowboys

After a scoreless first quarter, the Steelers began the scoring at the start of the second. Bradshaw directed both scoring drives hitting six of eight passes for 96 yards mixing his offense with several short-yard bursts from Franco Harris and Sidney Thornton.

On the first play of the second period, the Steelers finished a 10-play, 80-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown spurt by Harris. Randy Grossman lined up on the right side and went into motion to the left before bursting into the middle of the line, blocking for Harris.

The score was followed on the Steelers next possession by a Terry Bradshaw 8-yard touchdown pass to Jim Smith as the Steelers increased their advantage. When the Cowboys returned a punt 62 yards, it set them up on Pittsburgh’s 11. Roger Staubach fired a 12-yard touchdown pass to Billy Joe DuPree before Rafael Septien missed the extra point that gave the Steelers a 14-6 halftime lead.

In the third quarter, Staubach reduced the Cowboys to one point after connecting to rookie Ron Springs with an 8-yard touchdown pass.

As the game headed towards a Steelers victory, Staubach threw a succession of passes to put the Cowboys into field goal range. Septien kicked a 47-yard field goal to give the Cowboys a 16-14 win.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 14 at the Dallas Cowboys 16
Texas Stadium August 26, 1979; 64,543

An severe groin strain to offensive lineman Larry Brown became a concern for the Steelers with Coach Noll suggesting he might be out at least two or more weeks. The Steelers had already lost Ray Pinney after he was placed on injured reserve suffering from recurrent stomach problems requiring surgery.

“We win the ones that don’t count,” noted Cowboys’ Benny Barnes. “We’re trying hard to change that.”

“This was an important game for us,” said Dallas Coach Tom Landry. “We have not played well all summer and we won despite a relentless attack by Terry Bradshaw.

“I thought it was a heck of a game,” acknowledged Coach Noll. “It was well played in every way. We were pleased with what we saw.”

Steelers looking forward to the 1979 regular season

With the preseason complete, the Steelers could now look forward to their season opener in New England on Monday Night Football. “We will kick their ass,” predicted Joe Greene.

Greene wasn’t the only Steelers player looking forward to the regular season with confidence. “It’s hard to believe, but I really think we’re much stronger this season,” said Terry Bradshaw. “We’re a lot deeper team than we were last year. Our second line players are a lot stronger and getting J.T. Thomas back in the secondary after missing all last year is a definite plus.”

Talking to UPI, Bradshaw acknowledged the only thing that can beat Pittsburgh is overconfidence. “We ran into problems a couple of years ago after we won the Super Bowl. I think some guys felt nobody could beat us. We found out different right away. I think we were 2-4 and we had to eight in a row to make the playoffs.

We can’t afford that kind of thinking this year. I think everybody knows by now that there are lots of solid clubs around who can knock us off if we’re not careful.”

Rocky 's ready for the 1979 season

Rocky Bleier media photoThe Rock quipped, “Don’t bury me yet,” to Jim O’Brien, Pittsburgh sports-writer. After suffering a knee injury at practice before the first exhibition game, Rocky Bleier missed playing all the preseason football.

At 33, Bleier is the oldest starting running back in the NFL. “My outlook hasn’t changed in the ten years that I’ve played,” he admitted. “I know what is necessary for me to play. I don’t have outstanding speed or size. I have to be in good shape. I’ve never had a serious injury and even considering my current state, I’ve been very lucky.

I’ll be out there giving 100%. I’ve never had the luxury of giving anything less. I’ve always had to give something extra. But my conditioning before camp was good and I’ve never been stronger in my life.

In the game of football, you’re an old person if you’re over 30. It comes to a point where people start saying you should go out on top. That’s fine for them to say. Jerry Lucas, the former basketball player says, ‘Why go out on top?’ We’ve always been winners. Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned by no going out on top. Maybe failure should be dealt with.

When you first start out, you take it one year at a time, especially in my case. I never had the luxury of saying I was set for the next four or five years. There was a point in ’76, ’77 and ’78 when I felt relatively comfortable about my chances of sticking with the Steelers. Now it comes to a point when you’re back at the beginning again. You have to take it one year at a time and see what develops.

Probably the greatest realisation I had of how little past season mean was right after the Super Bowl in Miami last January. I walked into the press room and got up on the box in front of the microphones and the first question I was asked was ‘What are you going to do next year.’”

Bleier will approach the 1979 season as he has for nine consecutive years. With confidence.

Steelers final cuts reduce roster to 45

Wide receiver Larry Douglas, defensive end Dwaine Board and linebacker Tom Graves were all waived along with veterans Jack Deloplaine (4 years) and Ray Oldham (7 years.

Hal Bock, AP sports-writer looking ahead to the 1979 NFL season

There ought to be a law against football teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are just too good.

The Steelers play in the tough American Football Conference where the competition includes the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Houston Oilers, Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders – all playoff-toughened and talented teams. But in the AFC, against the Steelers, they are also rans.

There will be no surprises when the AFC representative shows up in Pasadena in January for Super Bowl XIV. It’s going to be the Steelers. Depend on it.

Miami seems to be the best in the East and Denver and Oakland could have some surprises in store in the West, where San Diego and Seattle are knocking on the door to the playoffs.

Steelers turn eyes right, fill gaps with reserves
by John Clayton for the Pittsburgh Press

Mike Webster looked to his right in practice and saw two foreigners invading his offensive line. Lined up at right guard and right tackle were Steve Courson and Ted Peterson working with the Steelers starting unit. Injuries to Gerry Mullins and Larry Brown have created temporary vacancies in practice and these two third-year reserves are the opportunists.

“Seeing these two guys on the right side might make New England go to a five-man line instead of a three-man line,” joked Webster, the Steelers sturdy center. “That’s okay, I’ll make them look good; I’ll play worse than them.”
The elder statesmen on the line were in good spirits yesterday after the Steelers first workout for their Labour Day night opener in New England. All except Brown, the massive tackle who is out with a severe groin pull, and Mullins, the agile guard who is being excused from much of the early workouts because of an elbow injury.

Steve Courson image courtesy Pittsburgh Post-GazetteThus, the right side of the Steelers line is occupied by two players who have one start between them. “People are ailing, and we have to work around the injuries,” observed Courson (picture right). “Actually we (younger players such as Courson and Peterson) need the work more than veterans and it’s good because it gives us more time to work and it gives the injured players more time to rest.”

Brown, who missed the workout at Pitt Stadium may need another week or two of rest. Right tackle Ray Pinney is already out for the season because of a stomach operation. Thus, Peterson will get his first start as a pro.

Mullins did some light work and should be able to play despite the pain. If he can’t Courson will.

Peterson and Courson have a lot in common. Although both lack game experience, they have served two-year apprenticeships. The 6-1, 260-pound Courson is quick enough to be a pulling guard and strong enough to bench press 515 pounds. Peterson, a 6-5, 244-pounder benches “only” 440 pounds but has speed enough to play on special teams.

“I think one of the reasons that the team has been so successful is that the older players help the younger players,” Courson acknowledged. “Offensive line is one of the slowest positions to learn because you have to pick up so many little things. And the veterans are not hesitant in helping you learn these little techniques.

I think what a lot of people don’t realise is playing on the offensive line is a mental thing. First you have to know the down and distance. Then you have to know your opponent. And then you play.”

Three Rivers turf being replaced

The team worked out in Pitt Stadium because the artificial turf was being replaced in Three Rivers Stadium.

Donnie Shell, Rocky Bleier and Tom Beasley all returned from the practice with smiles. They tested their injured legs and were optimistic about their chances of playing against the Patriots.

Punter Craig Colquitt missed the session due to his pending court appearance in Knoxville to face a DUI charge.

Six Fresh Faces Preserve Steelers Youth

Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame image Matt BahrThere are six fresh faces on the Steelers team this season and Coach Noll hopes they represent a change for the better, not just for the sake of change.

The Steelers won their third Super Bowl in five years last January, but to be on the safe side Noll knows continual improvement is necessary to stay ahead of the competition in the NFL.

There are other outstanding teams waiting in the wing to displace the Steelers as NFL champions. Among them are the New England Patriots, their first opponents on the regular schedule. The Steelers play the Patriots on Labor Day in the season premiere of ABC’s Monday Night Football series.

Those six new Steelers don’t figure to play much, but at least there’s a chance the camera could come their way on the sidelines so they can at least say, “Hi Mom!”

They include five rookies and perhaps the freshest face of them all. Thom Dornbrook, a reserve interior lineman from the North Hills who sat out last season on the injured reserve list after coming to the team from the University of Kentucky.

The newcomers include the team’s top two draft picks, Greg Hawthorne, running back out of Baylor and Zack Valentine, a linebacker from East Carolina. Dwayne Woodruff, a defensive back from Louisville and Matt Bahr (picture left) a place kicker from Penn State were both taken in the sixth round. Anthony Anderson, a running back from Temple, was the only free agent to make the squad.

Of all the above, Bahr will be on the spot the most, right from the start. The Steelers are staking much on Bahr’s kicking ability, having cut loose their all-time leading scorer Roy Gerela.

Chuck Noll open to change

“The only thing that is constant is change,” says Coach Noll who hopes to notch his 100th career victory against the Patriots. “The secret is to make sure the change is for the better. We’re trying to bring young people into the organisation to help us improve, to help us get better.

We already have people in that mould, but you keep trying to add to that, to look ahead and to achieve greater things. That’s everyone’s goal; to be the best they can be. It takes a lot of hard work to be on top of your game, every game for 16 weeks. We expect some young people to come in and try to help us in that respect.

We’ll have some high points and some low points as we go along, and we’ll have to come off those low points and come back strong. We’ve come off a training camp in which we did a lot of basic work we can’t do during the season, and we think some of our people have improved themselves. It remains to be seen if we’ve improved as a team.”

The Steelers will have two relatively new faces in their starting offensive line-up Monday night when Ted Petersen makes his pro debut at right tackle in place of the injured Larry Brown and Ray Pinney – take your pick. Sidney Thornton will also be in at running back replacing Rocky Bleier who is returning from a training camp injury and isn’t thought to be ready to resume full-time duty.

Donnie Shell has recovered from a knee injury and is slated to start at strong safety, where he was a Pro Bowl performer last season.

Coach Noll has two tough decision to make regarding starting status on the defensive unit. He has to choose between John Banaszak and Dwight White at right end and Robin Cole and Loren Toews at right linebacker. Banaszak and Cole clearly have the edge right now.

The game in New England could be a preview of the AFC championship game because the Steelers and Patriots are rated among the top division contenders. Oddly, they have met only three times in the regular season and never in the playoffs.

They are paired this season as a result of the NFL’s two-year old system of “position scheduling,” whereby each first-place finisher is matched for five games against other first-place teams.

Jim O’Brien - Pittsburgh Press September 1 1979

Steelers Attempting To Avoid Relapse of Super Bowl Blues

It was a somewhat fitting way to set the stage for the new season last Sunday when Channel 11 replayed the tape of Super Bowl XIII. It gave the Steeler fans another chance to revel in what may have been the team’s finest moment.

But that was the success of last year. This is a new season and a new challenge.

To really give the Steeler fans a chance to appreciate the enormity of that challenge, it might have been more appropriate to show a tape of the Steelers’ 1976 opener at Oakland.

That was the Steelers’ first game the last time they came off a Super Bowl triumph. It has been said time and time again that it is tougher to stay on top than to get there, and that it is tough to avoid the “Super Bowl Blues.”

Yet no one game ever illustrated that point better. It was probably the Steelers’ most celebrated non-Super Bowl game. It was the infamous “Criminal Element” game. The most significant thing though, is that it was the game that started the most inexplicable month of the Chuck Noll era – the 1-4 start.

Avoiding that kind of start, avoiding another outbreak of the “Super Bowl Blues” is the task at hand as the Steelers go to New England to start the 1979 season.

To refresh the memory of the Oakland comeback has obscured the fact of how well the Steelers started that season for the first 55 minutes. They seemed destined to stuff the Raiders. Watching that tape brought it all back.

When they took a 28-14 lead with 6:43 left, Curt Gowdy (sports commentator) said, “They’re a powerful ball club. They are going to be tough again… awfully tough.”

When the Steelers had the ball on the Oakland 20 and a two-touchdown lead with less than six minutes left, it appeared just to be a mop up operation.

Terry Bradshaw was so confident that when he was run out of bounds and booed by the Oakland fans, he held the ball up towards the stands to taunt the fans – a most uncharacteristic Bradshaw gesture. The game seemed to be a laugher.

Then it all unravelled. On the play following Bradshaw’s taunt, Franco Harris fumbled. Seven plays later it was 28-21. A partially blocked punt gave the Raiders the ball back on the Steeler 29.

After three incomplete passes, Stabler ducked Joe Greene on fourth down and passed to Cliff Branch to the two. Stabler scored on the next play. An interception followed and a field goal gave the Raiders a 31-28 win.

It showed once again the fine line between victory and defeat and a pivotal game. Oakland was on its way to a 16-1 record and its only Super Bowl. The Steelers were on their way to a 1-4 start and needed nine straight wins to dig themselves out of that hole.

UPI photo of 1976 AFC Championship game

Steelers play Oakland again in the 1976 Championship game

They wound up fifteen weeks later playing at Oakland again in the AFC title game. They lost again. Sure, they didn’t have Franco and Rocky in that one. But the Raiders point out they had them in the opener. Again, no team has lost an opener and gone on to win a Super Bowl.

There is no such thing as going back to replay a game. But Monday night’s game in New England will be as close as you can get to doing that. If the Steelers expect to be in Pasadena in January; if they still have the drive and determination of a championship team; if they’re going to avoid the “Super Bowl Blues;” if they’re going to avoid the trauma of 1976, this is the kind of game they should win.

New England should be a good measuring stick of how the team stands compared to 1976. It just so happens that their last regular season game against New England was just two weeks after that Oakland game in 1976. It was an instant replay. The Steelers led 20-9 in the third and lost 30-27.

George Perles, the assistant head coach went back to look at the coaching film of the 1976 Steeler-Patriot game this week. “I can’t remember going back three years to look at a film,” he confessed. “Usually, the bad teams change too much and we play the good teams more often than that. I was surprised at how similar the two teams still are. They riddled us. They played well and we didn’t.”

So, the stage is set. The Steelers don’t think it can happen again. They still think they are the best team.”

Vito Stellino Pittsburgh Post-Gazette September 1 1979

The Pittsburgh Post put the spotlight on Donnie Shell

Donnie Shell always seems to be having fun on the football field. This guy, all 5-11, 190 pounds of him, loves to hit. Football is full of hitting and he’s right at home.

He and Randy Grossman are the only survivors of a group of free agents who made the club in 1974 – the year of the players strike. Last season, he played in the Pro Bowl.

Shell started out making a big impression by his zealous play on special teams where Coach Noll named him the first and only special teams captain. In 1977, he beat out Glen Edwards for the starting berth at strong safety.

He had a remarkable season in 1978. He supported the run as well as any strong safety in the business ranking fourth in total tackles on the Steelers with 87. His six fumble recoveries represented a team high. He also intercepted three passes and had three sacks.

In Super Bowl XIII, Shell led the Steelers secondary with eight tackles. In other post-season play he came up with an interception, a fumble recovery and a sack that gained national attention. Howard Cosell loves Donnie Shell and salivates about him on the microphone.

“I didn’t set any goals toward becoming All-Pro,” said Shell now smiling brightly in his sixth season with the Steelers. “I just go out and work hard and give my best.”

“You can never be satisfied though. There is always room for improvement. You have to try to improve. Once you get complacent, you start going downhill. My objective is to get better and better each time I step on the field.”

Rugged Test for Steelers’ 1979 Opener

Pro football people often retell the story of one of Vince Lombardi’s more celebrated locker room talks.

The year was 1966. Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers were opening the season in quest of a fourth championship in six years. The opponent was the Baltimore Colts. The teams had met in the playoffs the previous year when Tom Matte played quarterback with the plays on his wristband. He forced Green Bay into overtime, but the Packers won with the help of a blown call on a field goal attempt.

The opener was scheduled as a show case Saturday night affair as Monday Night Football hadn’t been invented. As Lombardi gathered his troops before the game, he reminded them that this was just an opener. He pointed out the game was being blown all out of proportion; that it was the first game and that it wasn’t for the championship.

But then he added one point in the silent dressing room. “I want you to remember this. You – and not the Lions and not the Bears and not the Colts – you are the world champions. You are the G-r-e-e-n B-a-y P-a-c-k-e-r-s.”
The Packers went out to win that game 24-3 and went on to win their fourth championship and the first Super Bowl.

For the first time since Lombardi’s Packers did it, a pro football team opens a season tonight in quest of a fourth title in a six-year span. That team is the Steelers. They open against New England on Monday Night Football before an audience of millions.

There is no doubt this is just an opener. It will not decide the championship. And Chuck Noll, who was an assistant to Don Shula on that 1966 Baltimore team, won’t give any stirring speeches. That’s not his style, even in Super Bowl games.

But the Steelers are still the champions and Joe Greene for one doesn’t want anyone to forget that. The Steelers tackle was annoyed last week in Dallas when people kept asking him if the Steelers would prefer not to face such a formidable foe in the opener.

“I got a little upset,” Greene said. “I felt they should be asking New England questions like that. Greene feels the championship team should be ready to take on any and all challengers. It is the opponents who should be concerned.

That’s why he finally promised that the Steelers would kick the Patriots butts. He believes that, but he doesn’t want to make a big deal out of it. He just wanted to remind people that the Steelers are the S-t-e-e-l-e-r-s.

Greene feels they can overcome all obstacles. The obstacle in this game is an injury problem. Ted Petersen will start at right tackle replacing an ailing Larry Brown while Sidney Thornton will be in for Rocky Bleier.

Greene feels the injuries will have a positive effect explaining, “We’ve got nagging injuries, but it is instilled in this club that, when someone is not up o par, the weight shifts to the other guys. That’s the type of club we have. We probably play better than average.”

Vito Stellino Pittsburgh Post-Gazette September 3 1979

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