changed Steelers perception of draft|
By Dave Ailes
Pittsburgh paid much attention to the National Football League draft in the
early to late 1960s. Including the Steelers.
It wasn't until Chuck Noll
made Joe Greene his first choice that the draft became a cause celeb in the
Before Noll's arrival,
after the 1968 season, the franchise had a long ritual of either trading away
draft choices or picking a bunch of stiffs. Or both.
Their scouts had a
virtually unblemished record, missing nearly 100 percent of the time. Scouting,
of course, wasn't a science in the old days. The Steelers used to make their mid
to late-round picks from articles in magazines.
If the pool of collegiate
talent had been reduced to Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath, they'd have drafted Jim
Finks or Gene Mingo.
Here's how bad it got:
From 1960 through 1968,
only one of their first round draft choices made the starting lineup for the
Steelers. The lone exception was Paul Martha, a defensive back from the school
across town, Pitt.
Martha's playing career
lasted from 1964-69. As pro hockey executives go, he was a good football player.
Martha wound up in the front office of the Penguins. He was a good DB, never a
Compared to the other No.
1 picks by the Steelers, again from 1960 through 1968, Martha was the second
coming of Jim Thorpe.
Check these lesser
1960, Jack Spikes of TCU.
He never made the Steelers.
1961, choice to San
1962, Bob Ferguson. He
was glorified as an All-America running back who never lost a yard during a
great career at Ohio State. He never gained a yard for the Steelers. He was
waived his second year.
1963, choice to Chicago.
1965, choice to Chicago.
1966, Dick Leftridge.
Like Ferguson, Leftridge ran like a bull at West Virginia. He looked like a bull
with the Steelers, but ran like a lamb. They could have sold his hind quarters
to feed the masses in China. He was cut after his rookie season.
1967, choice to Green
1968, Mike Taylor. An
offensive tackle from Southern Cal, Taylor had one problem in the pros. He
wasn't crazy about contact. He was waived his second year.
That's why it wasn't a
revelation in Pittsburgh when the new head coach, a former NFL obscure
assistant named Chuck Noll, announced his first draft choice in the spring of
1969. Only a handful of media types bothered to document the selection of a
football player from tiny North Texas State.
Mean Joe Greene was his
Who is Joe Greene?,
long-suffering fans of the Steelers wanted to know. They wondered why the
Steelers would pick a player from an obscure southern school, especially a
defensive lineman? The Steelers needed help on offense, having scored less
than two touchdowns in six games, going 2-11-1 in 1968.
The rest, as the cliche
goes, is history.
Noll kept his promise to
build the Steelers through the draft. Instead of trading draft choices for
mediocre talent from other teams - a system employed, in particular, by coach
Buddy Parker from 1957-64 - Noll turned the NFL draft into the biggest, most
anticipated sports event each year in Pittsburgh.
The following were
Noll's choices in the 1970s.
1970, Terry Bradshaw, a
quarterback who was Super Bowl MVP twice. He's in the Hall of Fame.
1971, wide receiver Frank
Lewis. Started for the Steelers through 1977, owner of two Super Bowl rings.
1972, Franco Harris, a
running back who holds nearly every all-time team record for rushing and
scoring, and was on the receiving end of the Immaculate Reception, one of the
most famous plays in NFL history. He's in the Hall of Fame.
1973, J.T. Thomas, an
outstanding defensive back who played for the Steelers from 1973 to 1977 and
again from 1979 to 1981.
1974, Lynn Swann, a wide
receiver whose acrobatic catches were responsible for elevating the team's pass
offense to among the best in the league through the 1970s.
1975, Dave Brown, a
defensive back who was lost to the expansion Seattle Seahawks after his rookie
1976, Bennie Cunningham,
one of the most productive, pass-catching tight ends in the history of the
1977, Robin Cole, an
outstanding linebacker for a decade. A solid team leader.
1978, Ron Johnson, the
first cornerback in the team's history to start as a rookie. A productive
Steeler for six seasons.
1979, Greg (see you in
the whirlpool) Hawthorne, the first flop as a No. 1 pick by the Team of the
Decade. Maybe it's only a coincidence that the team's slip from the NFL mountain
coincided with Hawthorne's selection. And maybe not.
The Steelers have made
several outstanding picks since Hawthorne (taking Louie Lipps in 1984 and Rod
Woodson in 1987), and they've made some bummers (Aaron Jones in 1988 and Huey
Richardson in 1991). Richardson might have been the worst pick of all time, at
a time when the Steelers spent big bucks to evaluate college talent.
Fan Interest in the
draft might have abated, slightly, since the 1970s. Still, fans of the
Steelers annually regard the pick like expectant fathers - waiting impatiently
for the birth of another All-Pro.
of district fans, there are only three seasons:
Steelers season, draft
season and the off-season.