One of the builders of the original Steel Curtain receives a high honor tonight. He's a man well-known and loved in the Black community and among insiders in Steeler Nation. And he's not well known among the general public, certainly not outside of Pittsburgh, even though he personally owns six Super Bowl rings.
Bill Nunn is among eleven greats being inducted into the inaugural class of the Black College Football Hall of Fame. The ceremonies are in Atlanta.
The class includes Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Buck Bachanan, Willie Gallimore, Deacon Jones, Willie Lanier, Ben Stevenson, Tank Younger, Coaches Eddie Robinson and Jake Gaither, and Bill Nunn.
Pretty fast company, huh? Especially for a guy who never played a down of college football.
Our man Bill was a serious hoopster in college, on an undefeated West Virginia State team in 1948, and turned down an offer to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. Instead, he went to work as a sportswriter for the Pittsburgh Courier. In the days of segregation, when white folks would joke that Grambling was "gambling college," Bill would cover those small black colleges and he developed a lifelong network of friends and confidantes among coaches, players, and knowledgeable fans.
The Chief, who had a black player on his first team in 1933, and who hired the first black assistant coach and broadcaster (Lowell Perry was both), hired Bill Nunn as a part-time scout in 1967. By 1969, Art Rooney persuaded Nunn to work for the Steelers full-time, and the results can be found in the NFL history books.
The Black College Hall of Fame describes his efforts this way: "A true innovator, he constructed a bridge between the Steelers and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Five Super Bowl Rings later, Nunn is among the most legendary NFL scouts of all time."
Among the players from some of those schools the Steelers drafted or signed as free agents from the historically Black colleges in his early years were L.C. Greenwood (Arkansas AM&N), Mel Blount (Southern), Frank Lewis (Grambling), Dwight White (East Texas State), Joe Gilliam (Tennessee State), Ernie Holmes (Texas Southern) John Stallworth (Alabama A&M) and Donnie Shell (South Carolina State). Wow.
That's three-quarters of the Steel Curtain, from schools that few people had ever heard of. And the best damned cornerback to ever wear the Black and Gold. And Stallworth, whose draft story is one of the great tales of scouting skullduggery. Stallworth was timed by a group of scouts (including Nunn) on a wet field in ill-fitting shoes, and had a terrible time in the 40. Nunn, who knew from his network of friends and informers that Stallworth was special, had already "misplaced" game film of Stallworth and didn't share it with other teams. He then "caught a cold" and stayed behind an extra day to time Stallworth and work him out on a dry field. The Steelers were able to get John Stallworth in the fourth round, thanks to the work of Bill Nunn.
And there were so many more. Don't think Bill Nunn didn't have major input in the choice of Joe Greene!
As the P-G article points out, the Black College Hall of Fame actually understates the resume of Bill Nunn. It speaks of "five Super Bowl Rings late," when Bill actually has six.
That's because he continues to work part time as a Steeler scout, at age 84.
A true gentleman, he resists the temptation to call Coach Dad, "young fella."
Congratulations to Bill Nunn from a proud and grateful Steeler Nation!