Former Steelers offensive lineman Gerry “Moon” Mullins shared what training camp was like when he played for the Steelers from 1971-79 under Hall of Fame Coach Chuck Noll.
What was training camp like under former Coach Chuck Noll?
“It was scary because I had to go across from Joe Greene most of the time and he was a pretty nasty individual back in those days.
“My first experience we had to do the Oklahoma drill the first day of practice. I was a tight end in college and there was a group of us out there being filmed, offense vs. defense. They randomly called an offensive name and a defensive name and unfortunately for me I got called with Joe Greene my first time out. I thought I might get cut before my first practice. I figured Joe was going to kill me. I said give it your best shot. I came off the ball and hit him pretty good and the running back went through. A lot the guys on the offense were going crazy because I handled Joe Greene. I turned around because you only had to do it once. I was walking back to the group of offensive guys and everyone got quiet. I see this big hand come around and grab my facemask and say you aren’t done rook, we are going to do it one more again. I said I know I am going to die now.
“I sort of neutralized him. I think I gained a little respect. I was apprehensive thinking I might have to go a third time. Joe made his own rules. We got through it and Joe and I became close friends. During my time with the Steelers I had to go against Joe Greene every day.”
“In Chuck’s era we used to go full speed. In a lot of cases I used to think it was easier to play in the game than go up against our Steel Curtain guys.”
What was Chuck Noll like during camp?
“You always had to be on your toes. We practiced two-a-days always in pads. I remember It was always hot and a lot of humidity and pain. It was hard getting out of bed the first week. We learned a lot. Chuck was a great coach. You had to pay a price to be good. He got the best out of us.”
What were some of the best training camp battles you witnessed?
“There was always a battle. Every day. There was a lot of competition going. My teammates were all interested in winning and had to be at their best to be able to win. They brought in good guys to try and take your jobs so they were battling every day. Chuck had the ability to instill the fear that nobody was safe. Everybody fought hard.”
What made Chuck Noll as Myron Cope called him, The Emperor?
“I was always fearful of him, afraid. As a teacher, if you did your job you didn’t have a problem with Chuck. There was always that fear of having to cross paths with that, biting the lower lip. I did my best to stay out of his cross hair.”
Did he ever get you?
“My first game as a rookie we were playing Miami in an exhibition game and all the veterans had taken me under their wing and said if you want to make the team you have to stand out on special teams. It might have been the first play of the game and I was on the kickoff team. I was running down and I will never forget it because Mercury Morris was catching the ball around the five-yard line. I had gotten through the initial wedge and was going straight for him thinking I am going to make myself a hero the first play of the game. All of a sudden out of my peripheral vision I see this white flash coming and boom. I was ko’d. I didn’t play another play that game.
“Back in those days the first thing we did after a game when we got back to training camp Chuck would go over the special team’s film. The whole team was there and he was showing the replay of the play and he said in front of the whole team, ‘Moon you are not a football player when you sell out like that.’ That stuck in my mind for the next nine years of my career. I never let that happen again.
“It was ironic, seven or eight years later Jim Mandich, a long time Dolphin was on our team and we were sitting at lunch and I was saying to the group the worst hit I ever had in my career was that play. I said whoever it was that was the hardest hit I ever got. Mandich was sitting across the table from me and said that was me. He said if you think you were hit hard, I spent a week in the hospital with a severe concussion.”