The Pittsburgh Steelers are fortunate to have three head coaches who have each won at least one Super Bowl and multiple AFC Championships at the head of the team.
But far above the lore of Bill Cowher and the prowess of Mike Tomlin stands the giant of Steeler coaching legends in Chuck Noll. A coach who received the coaching opportunity instead of Joe Paterno, Noll would go on to take one of the NFL's worst franchise's at the time and turned them into the best within ten years' time. He was the first head coach to win four Super Bowl championships in NFL history and built the greatest dynasty the NFL has ever seen with his Steelers of the 1970s.
So why was I surprised when he was selected to the NFL's Super Bowl 50 "Golden Team" yesterday?
It makes perfect sense; he drafted more Hall of Fame players with one offseason than any other in NFL history, won four Super Bowls, never lost in the big game and built the only dynasty that could win four Super Bowls in six seasons. While the name, "Noll," commands nothing but respect amongst Pittsburgh fans, in recent years our fan base has often been on its own when talking about Noll in the "greatest coaches of all time" discussions.
Three years ago, ESPN.com created a list of the 20 greatest head coaches in NFL history. You would think Noll would land in the top three easy, but he was listed back at number five behind George Halas, Don Shula, Bill Walsh and Vince Lombardi. Lombardi I can understand because of what he did with the Packers before the Super Bowl era and then winning the first two Super Bowls. However Don Shula coached in the same era as Noll and only won half as many Super Bowls as Noll, and in the early seventies his greatest teams would only barely beat the developing dynasty that was Pittsburgh under Noll. Once Noll drafted Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster, the Steelers wouldn't lose to Miami until the franchise fell off its historic run in 1981.
Walsh built what many consider to be the next greatest dynasty in his 1980's 49ers, but he still only won three Super Bowls.
An argument can be made to say that Noll was not the greatest of all time, but leaving him out of the top three, let alone the top four, leaves Steelers fans and other who respected that era of football scratching their heads.
While one opinion does not a majority make, ESPN.com was not the only major sports media outlet that created a list that would exclude Noll from the top four.
Foxsports.com ranked the 16 greatest NFL head coaches in history and ranked Noll back at sixth. The five ahead of him included Walsh, Shula and Lombardi again, but also Paul Brown and Bill Belichick.
Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic on their highly viewed and successful show, "Mike and Mike in the Morning," created a NFL Coaching Mount Rushmore two years ago. Not only was Chuck Noll not one of the coaches that either of them would name as their top four in NFL history, but he wasn't even brought up in their honorable mentions or coaches who just missed the mark. Even the like of Tom Landry, whom was beaten twice by Noll in the Super Bowl, was talked about over Noll.
There are more lists and discussions like these out there, but the point is that Steelers fans have come to expect Noll to be snubbed by people outside their fan base. That's why it came as a pleasant surprise to see his name on the Golden Team Thursday. The list was made from Hall of Fame voters, the same group that took five years of eligibility to put Jerome Bettis in Canton, Ohio, and has still neglected to enshrine multiple Steelers of those 70s teams that were essential parts of that dynasty and put up legendary numbers.
For one, L.C. Greenwood is the only defensive player to ever record four sacks in a single Super Bowl and won four Super Bowls as part of the most legendary defensive line in NFL history, the Steel Curtain, but sadly never was inducted before his recent passing. Donnie Shell has 51 interceptions, four Super Bowl wins, and is only behind the already enshrined Deion Sanders by two interceptions as well Aeneas Williams by four.
But before any of these players should get respect, Noll should be touted. He wouldn't have it that way, as he always told the press that his players won the game, not him. He was not a media darling, nor was he a high profile coach known to attract a lot of attention unto himself, but he still was one of the greatest that ever lived.
I'm glad that the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters acknowledged Noll with his nod on this fictitious team, but I do wonder why he does not get the same kind of respect across the board.