Archive: Myron Cope on Chuck Noll

Myron Cope is best known for his work as an analyst on the Steelers Radio Network, for his groundbreaking sports talk show on WTAE-AM, and of course as the creator of the Terrible Towel. But Cope also was among the best writers of his time.

In 1963, he won the E.P. Dutton Prize for "Best Magazine Sportswriting in the Nation" for his portrayal of Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay. In 1987, on the occasion of the Hearst Corp.'s 100th anniversary, Cope was named as a noted literary achiever, a group that also included Mark Twain, Jack London, Frederick Remington, Walter Winchell, and Sidney Sheldon.

At its 50th anniversary, Sports Illustrated cited Cope's profile of Howard Cosell as one of its 50 all-time classic articles. Only Cope and George Plimpton held the title of special contributor at that magazine when Cope moved on to radio, in no small part because the station provided the health benefits necessary to care for his son, Danny.

Cope wrote the following piece for Steelers Digest on the occasion of Chuck Noll's retirement in December 1991.

Complicated, unfathomable, mysterious, an enigma never to be solved – Chuck Noll was given all of these descriptions. And when he kept every last member of the media guessing right up to the moment he announced his retirement, he underscored the notion that nobody could plumb his mind.

But he was neither complicated nor enigmatic.

Photos of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame head coach Chuck Noll.

Private, yes, but so what? Is it so unusual for a public figure to guard his innermost thoughts?

Actually, it was easy to decipher Chuck Noll, because once you have identified a man's principles and his willingness to remain largely faithful to them, you know you have a fairly predictable man. But there was this that set him apart from the field: More than any man I have ever known, he possesses the strength of his convictions.

He deliberated, then made up his mind on the basis of his experience and set his course, rigidly.

Many years ago, while reflecting upon Terry Bradshaw's transition from skittish to premier quarterback, Noll said that fear had delayed Bradshaw's emergence – "the fear of not doing something right … He worried more, I think, about failure than he did about going out and doing what he had to do, what he was perfectly capable of doing."

Fear, the Emperor opined, can only be conquered by one day taking it on, as Bradshaw eventually did, and beating it do death.

Yet can you imagine Noll having ever feared the consequences of his decisions? If so, when had he himself conquered fear?

I would not know, because in the 23 years since he came to Pittsburgh, I never saw a sign of fear in him. That absence of fear translated into the strength of his convictions – make a decision and don't look back. Fear not that you will be shown wrong.

To be sure, Noll's decisions often were shown to be wrong, but where other coaches fell to vacillating and panicking and disappearing, Noll pushed ahead through 23 years. He was called stubborn, and he was that, and there were times when his stubbornness practically made my teeth grind, but I would not bet a nickel that his stubbornness did not help bring home those four Super Bowl championships.

Upon Chas's announcement of his retirement – can I now slide back to the nickname I long ago put on him in a time when Charles was abbreviated Chas. and Charleses were sometimes called Chas? – it was written that I was closer to him than anyone else in the media. Perhaps with that in mind, the editor of Steelers Digest asked that I spend this piece relating personal experiences I had with Chas. I jotted down a list of about 30 that rapidly came to mind.

Oh, I could tell you about the time on the road when he and I had to broadcast an interview from my hotel room but my radio engineer found that we could not transmit clearly from anywhere but the bathroom, whereupon I sat on the edge of the bathtub and the Emperor sat upon the throne. Some emperor!

Take a look at the top 10 photos of Steelers former head coach Chuck Noll.

Or the time, during a taped interview, he took strong exception to a question and bored into my forehead with The Glare, for which he was notorious in his early years. "Cope," I told myself, "this kid is three years younger than you. Don't melt."

Or the time, in the midst of a Steelers-Cowboys game in Dallas, when I received word that my wife and daughter had been seriously injured in an auto crash near Harrisburg, and afterward in his postgame remarks to his squad, Chas led his players in prayer for their recovery. They pulled through. Thanks, Emp.

But to recite a succession of personal anecdotes is to trivialize this man's meaning to football, to Pittsburgh, to the Steelers, a franchise that he raised to respectability and much more. No, let's go back to the strength of his convictions.

One of his convictions has been that men must rise on their own guts and merit, or risk falling for lack of same. OK, nothing complicated there. But mind you, when Chas came to the Steelers in 1969 and coached them to championships through the 1970s, coaching was blighted with racial prejudice. Many a coach gave lip service to impartiality but in private expressed doubts about black competence or told racist jokes or at cutdown time gave the benefit of the doubt, all things being roughly equal, to the white player.

Never, ever did I hear Chas Noll utter a word in private conversation that indicated a shred of prejudice.

Nor did he ever utter a word to me that indicated he was crusading for equality. That was not his bag. His bag was giving every player equal opportunity to make it and thereby getting the best player. L.C. Greenwood, a 10th round draft pick, a measly looking stringbean, made it. Donnie Shell, a free agent, made it. Merit and guts – that's all that mattered to the Emperor, in a time when such measurements were not the sole rule of thumb.

You think that had nothing to do with Super Bowl championships?

Now I could tell you about the time in Johnstown that I, a lifelong 36-handicap, humiliated the Emperor on the golf course, but never mind. I rather would say that good luck allowed me to hang around a fearless man.

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