Mel Blount - Winning Attitude

Josh Pontrelli

Many Steelers fans remember 1970 third round draft pick Mel Blount for his interception in Super Bowl XIII that sparked Pittsburgh's offense and led to a touchdown to beat the Dallas Cowboys 35-31. Maybe they remember his size and speed that helped lead the team. Maybe fans remember watching Blount's winning attitude during the five Pro Bowls he appeared in.

Either way, the 57-year-old brings his winning attitude to a youth home he operates in Claysville, Pa., a rural town about 40 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. For Blount, the youngest of 11 children, working with youth came natural.

When I was born, I was already an uncleso I always had a bunch of kids around me in my family, Blount said. There had never been a pro athlete to come out of my town, so when I would go back home, my nieces and nephews would tell their friends about Uncle Mel coming. All the kids would be out there on farm, wanting to take a picture or throw the football. The Lord spoke to me and said you could do more than this.

In 1983, Blount and his brother Clinton decided to start a program housing kids in Georgia.

I would go back and see people with needs. It was not poverty but close to it, Blount said. A lot of kids didn't have the means to get where they want to be.

The program proved to be a success and Mel decided to open his own home in the place where his contributions united a city.

Blount played 14 seasons with the NFL as a cornerback, from 1970 to 1983, helping to lead the Steelers to victory in four Super Bowls. He registered 57 interceptions in his career, returning two for touchdowns, and recovered three fumbles - two for scores. Early in his career he returned kicks, ending with 36 returns for 911 yards and a 25.3-yard average.

When you play 14 years of football, there are plays you remember. You remember interceptions you made and touchdowns you gave up. If you replay them again, you think how you could've done it differently, Blount said. But there is no one particular play that I can hang on the wall and say it was the play that made me player that I was.

But the 1975 defensive MVP, who led the league with 11 interceptions that year, never saw himself playing football as he grew up in Vidalia, Ga.

I didn't grow up on farm thinking one day I'd be playing pro football. Basically I played football to be able to get a scholarship, said Blount, who has a B.S. in physical education from Southern University in Baton Rouge, La. When I got out there, I gained more and more confidence in my ability. It wasn't until junior year I started looking toward the NFL.

Despite his contributions to the game, Blount doesn't consider himself a legend or miss playing cornerback.

I don't think any of the great players who played the game thinks they'll become a legend. I played to compete, sharpen my skills and be the best I could be, he said. But to be honest, I don't miss anything about it. Playing in the NFL, to me, was a job and a great opportunity. What I miss most is the people, like being around the guys, the fun and the locker room stuff.

Blount also served as the Director of Player Relations for the NFL from 1983 to 1990, though he had trouble living in New York.

This was an extension of my football career and one of the best things to ever happen to me. It was a great experience, but I never did adjust to city life, Blount said. I grew up on farm and I'm more at peace in the country.

The same year he opened his youth home in Pittsburgh, Mel was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

When it happened, I didn't get this real high, he said. But as years go on, you really begin to cherish the fact that you were inducted. The older I get, the more I'm beginning to cherish it.

The Mel Blount Youth Home has been opened since 1989 and helps young men between ages 7 and 17 who are victims of neglect and child abuse. About 24 students from the McGuffey School District are enrolled for six to eight months each year.

Using positive intervention to change attitudes, including behavior management and equestrian arts focused on therapy with horses, Blount said he has found a great deal of success in helping youth, though no program is batting a thousand.

Blount cited Aaron Nestor, a former student who enlisted in the army and fought in both Afghanistan and Iraq, who came back to speak at the youth home's annual fundraising dinner.

He talked about how the youth home helped him to survive, like learning things here about following instructions and keeping Christ in his life. He said I was the father figure he never had, Blount said. There are a lot of emotional highs and lows in this. If I can just help kids, just to reach one is worth it. But Aaron's speech was a great testimony and there was a not a dry eye in the house.

Football, Blount said, contributes to his success with the youth house.

Through football you realize you are going to have ups and downs. When you get knocked on your butt, you can't feel sorry for yourself, you have to get back up. The same thing in this business, he said. The skills I learned in football are teamwork, organization and going out with a purpose or game plan. Everything I am and have learned, football has been an intricate part of it. It's a great teacher because when you look at game, it's about who wanted it most and the fundamentals you used to get there. Football is interwoven in life and what I do.

With dozens of awards for his service, including the prestigious NAACP Human Rights Award, Blount continues to garner recognition for his contributions. In fact, Blount will be inducted into another hall of fame - the Cowboys of Color Hall of Fame - on Oct. 20 in Fort Worth, Texas for his involvement in the horse industry.

I'm a big horseman; it's something that's a true love in my life, he said. To be recognized as one of the great horseman is meaningful, knowing the history of the country and the unwritten history of black cowboys. I'm very honored to be part of that legacy for what I've been able to do.

Blount, who continues his mission of helping youth, couldn't be prouder of his impact on the lives of so many.

It'd be hard to find an NFL retired player happier than me, he said. I'm out here on a farm and doing what I enjoy doing. I'm very content with life right now.