On Nov. 30, 1952, the 3-6 Steelers hosted the 6-3 Giants, then tied for first place in the NFL’s Eastern Conference. The first snow of the season had fallen the night before, and because of the inclement weather, the Giants elected to kick off after winning the coin toss. Chandnois made them pay for the decision by returning it 97 yards for a touchdown, and when the score was nullified by a penalty on the Steelers, Chandnois returned the Giants’ re-kick 91 yards for another touchdown.
Lynn Chandnois, 86, died on Tuesday, April 19.
Lynn Chandnois was a two-sport star at Flint Central High School in Flint, Michigan, and upon graduating he served two years in the Naval Air Corps during World War II. After being discharged from the service in 1946, Chandnois enrolled at Michigan State University where he established himself as one of college football’s top two-way players.
Following his senior season at Michigan State, Chandnois signed with the Cleveland Browns, then a member of the All-American Football Conference, but when the Browns became one of three AAFC franchises to join the NFL in December 1949 that signing was voided. Chandnois was thrown into the pool of players eligible for the 1950 NFL Draft, and the Steelers selected him on the first round, with the eighth overall pick.
Chandnois wasn’t real happy about having to join a team that had posted just four winning seasons in its 17 years of existence, but he came to the Steelers anyway and quickly established himself as an elite player on teams that still lost more than they won.
Jerry Nuzum, a halfback and defensive back for the Steelers during 1948-1951, said this about Chandnois at a 1979 old-timers reunion. “Lynn had everything: size, speed, and shiftiness, but Walt Kiesling was our coach, and he didn’t know how to deal with players.”
During his rookie season, Chandnois averaged 29.3 yards per kickoff return in a year when “Vitamin” Smith of the Los Angeles Rams led the NFL with a 33.7 average. Chandnois would lead the NFL in kickoff return average in both 1952 (32.5) and 1953 (35.2). In 1952, Chandnois was voted to the NFL All-Pro team and became the second Steelers player to be voted NFL Player of the Year by the Washington Touchdown Club, Bill Dudley having been the first in 1946.
“Lynn was one of our great players from the past,” said Steelers Chairman Emeritus Dan Rooney, currently the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. “He was a really good person and a better player than anyone ever gave him credit for being. He is one of those special players that we will always remember.”
At the end of his seven-year NFL career, Lynn Chandnois had played in two Pro Bowls, and he still ranks 17th on the team’s career receiving list. As a right halfback, Chandnois also was used in the backfield and had 1,934 career rushing yards on 593 attempts with 12 touchdowns, and his two kickoff returns for touchdowns in 1952 is still a club record.
Despite being reluctant to come to Pittsburgh in the first place, Chandnois came to enjoy his time with the Steelers, as he explained in a 1995 interview.
“Pittsburgh is a great sports-minded town, long before they won the Super Bowls in the 1970s,” Chandnois said at the time. “I can remember the day we beat the New York Giants, 63-7. We had about three inches of snow that fell the night before the game. When the game started, we had only about 5,000 fans. But at halftime, we had 25,000 or 30,000 in the stands. They heard it on the radio, and they came out to the ballpark. Steelers fans always treated me extremely well. Art Rooney and (Michigan State coach) Biggie Munn are the two men I admire most. They were great to me.”
Added Jerry Nuzum, “If Chuck Noll had coached Chandnois, he’d be in the Hall of Fame.”
Chandnois was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 1987 and the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1992. He is survived by his wife, Paulette, and two daughters, Lynda and Suzanne.