While i was watching some of the combine on TV, a.k.a. the underwear olympics, i couldn’t help but do a little time traveling in my noggin, back to the first time i met Chuck Noll at Syracuse University. Chuck had come to Syracuse to scout Art Monk, our great WR and Bill Hurley, a record setting QB. While Chuck was primarily going there to see those guys, he wanted to see me as well.
You see, although they had some version of the combine going back in the spring of ’80, i was so good i didn’t need to go (that’s how you spin it to your kids when they ask why daddy wasn’t invited to the combine). So Coach Noll had flown out to Syracuse for the impromptu workout sometime after the combine was over.
When my head coach at Syracuse University, Frank Maloney, had informed me that Chuck Noll was coming and wanted to see me workout, i was more than a little awed by it. Think about it, THE Chuck Noll his ownself, working one-on-one with me! Big stuff for the kid here, i will tell you.
Chuck was very nice, more than a little intimidating based on the Steelers just having won their 4th Super Bowl and very intense as well. We did a number of drills, including Chuck teaching me the rudiments of learning how to punch during pass protection. I was raw as a blister on a bare-footed marathon runner. I had no concept of the punch and the weapon it was in pass pro.
At Syracuse, we were a primarily run-first, run-last and anything in between run-offense and while i excelled at run blocking, pass protection gave me fits. In the infrequent times that we put the rock in the air, i just tried to head butt and gore anything that moved.
After introducing himself and a little warm-up, Chuck had me do some footwork drills, then moved on to the hand-to-hand fighting that was in it’s infancy stage in the NFL having just emerged from the medieval “hands to the chest” pass blocking techniques that had preceeded it. The footwork wasn’t a problem, but that punching thing was challenging. Plus add in the awkwardness of trying to do the punching drill live on Chuck (Chuck did everything himself), i didn’t want to accidentally knock Chuck out.
During the course of the workout i could see that Chuck was getting a little frustratred trying to communicate the concepts, and truth be told i was getting a little frazzled myself. In a surge of trying to do it right, as Chuck was telling me yet again to do it harder, i let go with a little more power than i wanted.
While Chuck had assumed the role of a defensive lineman pass rushing and making a quick move to my outside Whap! my hand lashed out and i was off the mark by a few inches. Smacked Chuck right in the kisser i did, even bloodying his lip. A flash of anger as quick as a strobe light crossed his face and gave me the briefest of glimpses of the infamous Chuck Noll “Bulldog glare.” A look that over the next decade, i would see many times.
I stood there dummi-fied, transfixed like a big kid who had just gotten pinched for whacking a smaller classmate at recess by a teacher, looking at the offending hand like it had a mind of it’s own. I started stammering and tried to apologize twisting my words like english was suddenly a second language. My mind was screaming “You just punched Chuck Noll right in the mush you idiot, you!”
The Bulldog glare that i would come to know up close and personal receeded as quickly as it came. Chuck slowed, the low chuckle turning into a smile, and said something to the effect that i was finally getting it.
As i slowly walked to the doors of Manley Field House in Syracuse with Chuck after the workout had concluded and despite his casualness about the inadvertent punch to the grill, i couldn’t help but feel that i had eliminated one of my potential job opportunities. I remember that sinking feeling washing over me that if i was fortunate enough to get drafted, it sure wasn’t gonna be in Pittsburgh.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.