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Labriola on Pouncey & AB, Chuck & Mel

Posted Feb 10, 2017

Mel Blount once did something to Chuck Noll that was way worse than Facebook Live.

Ready or not, here it comes:

* One of the early issues of this offseason – and it’s still very early in the offseason – is Steelers management’s alleged dissatisfaction with Antonio Brown to the degree that there’s thought to trading him. One of the few rumors/speculations so far with any details attached has Brown going to Philadelphia for draft pick(s). Or maybe that’s just an Eagles fan with an over-active imagination.

* Anyway, in an interview that aired on Steelers Nation Radio last week, Team President Art Rooney II was asked whether Brown is a distraction. “At times, he’s been a distraction, there’s no denying it. But I think he’s a guy who when Coach Tomlin calls him into the office, when somebody has a conversation with him, he listens. He’s not somebody who gives you the blank stare as you’re having a conversation with him. AB wants to be successful, he wants the team to be successful, and I think he’s somebody you can work with. So we’re excited about having him on the team.”

* Just in case that’s not sufficiently definitive, in case there’s anyone who suspects Brown is unpopular in his own locker room and Rooney is oblivious to that, Maurkice Pouncey stepped up and said his piece. Via his Instagram account, Pouncey paired an image of Brown created by Alay Patel with the accompanying text: “Can't hold my tongue anymore tired of all the hate, bull(bleep) stories!! AB is a team player loved by all his teammates especially ME! You against him you against me! #SteelersNation @ab”

* Evidently, it’s not only management that’s “excited about having him on the team.” One of the unquestioned team leaders, one of the dominant personalities in the Steelers locker room is now on the record, too.

* What fans don’t seem to remember or care to accept is that it’s not always a smooth relationship between team and player, even great players. Today’s perception of Chuck Noll is that he was a disciplinarian, a no-nonsense coach who had no time for sideshows or distractions of any kind. Maybe that stemmed from Noll’s handling of Roy Jefferson.

* Jefferson was one of the NFL’s best receivers at the start of the Super Bowl era after the Steelers made him a second-round pick in the 1965 NFL Draft. In 1966, Jefferson’s second pro season, he led the NFL with a 24.1 average per reception, and in 1968,  he led the NFL in receiving yards and scored 11 touchdowns, one fewer than league-leader Paul Warfield. In 1969 – Noll’s first season in Pittsburgh – Jefferson caught 67 passes for 1,079 yards and nine touchdowns for a team that finished 1-13. In 1968-69, Jefferson caught 125 passes for 2,153 yards and 20 touchdowns. He was a first-team All-Pro for Steelers teams that finished 3-24-1. He was clearly the best offensive player on Noll’s inaugural team.

* By the 1970 preseason, Jefferson was challenging Noll at every turn, and the second-year coach responded by shipping one of the best receivers in the NFL to the Baltimore Colts in a trade that was all about getting rid of Jefferson. The Steelers acquired a fourth-round pick and 31-year-old Willie Richardson from the Colts, and then Richardson was summarily traded for a fifth-round draft pick because he wasn’t going to be able to crack the Steelers lineup.

* Jefferson went on to win a Super Bowl with the Colts, and he was part of the NFC Champion Washington Redskins that lost a Super Bowl to the undefeated Miami Dolphins at the end of the 1972 season. None of that mattered to Noll at the time, because he was most interested in establishing control of the Steelers.

* Seven years after ridding the roster of Jefferson, Noll was faced with another challenge to his authority. During the infamous “criminal element” trial that was precipitated by Noll being sued for labeling George Atkinson and other Raiders players as part of a “criminal element” in the NFL, an attorney for Atkinson got Noll to admit on the witness stand that some Steelers also were guilty of the same kind of dirty play. One of those Steelers mentioned by Noll under cross examination was Mel Blount.

* On July 15, 1977 – while the trial was still ongoing – Blount told reporters he was suing Noll for $5 million in compensatory damages plus $1 million in punitive damages for being included in the “criminal element.” Blount seethed: “There’s no chance at all that I’ll play for the Steelers under Noll.”

* Imagine a player suing his coach and being welcomed back to the team, but that’s exactly what happened with Blount, whose Hall of Fame career continued for seven more seasons, when he retired following the 1983 season with 57 career interceptions.

* Super Bowl LI posted an overnight rating of 48.8, which was down slightly from last year’s 49.0 posted by Super Bowl 50. As far as the ratings in individual markets, it was somewhat surprising that Pittsburgh finished No. 1 with a 57.9. Coming in behind Pittsburgh, which didn’t have a team in the game, was Buffalo at No. 2 with a 57.2, Atlanta at No. 3 with a 57.0. As for the Patriots’ market, Providence was No. 7 with a 54.6, and Boston was No. 8 with a 54.3.

* The most definitive thing about what these numbers reveal is confirmation that Pittsburgh is a football town. Not baseball, not basketball, not hockey. Football.

* The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2017 was announced on the day before Super Bowl LI, and the glaring issue with this group is that it included Morten Andersen but not Paul Tagliabue. A kicker gets in, but not the commissioner at the time when the free agency tied to a salary cap system was created that has led the NFL to the top of the pro sports world.

* There’s something undeniably wrong about that.

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