Bleier on Noll: 'I believe in him'

Sunday, September 7, was designated Chuck Noll Day by Pennsylvania's United States Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey.Noll died on June 13, 2014 at the age of 82. The Steelers will honor Coach Noll's memory when they host the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field on Sept. 7, for the first time wearingthe helmet decal they will wear all season to honor Noll. *All week will also honor Noll's memory, including his former players sharing lessons they learned from him, what it was like to play for him, and in this feature stories about what Noll was like.

Joe Greene was there from the ground floor. As Chuck Noll's first draft pick in 1969, Greene experienced the lean times under Noll that came before the glory years in the 1970s.

When Greene arrived in Pittsburgh, he came to a team that had never really won anything. And his first season, it was the same thing. The Steelers went 1-13, but they did it with a hope that things would soon change.

"My first encounter with Chuck was at a team meeting when I came out of my holdout my rookie year," remembered Greene. "Chuck said my goal is to win a Super Bowl. There were people in the room chuckling. One person in the room in particular I saw chucking, and he was gone the next day."

Greene would witness Noll's no nonsense approach many times during his Hall of Fame career, at times seeing Noll's stoic demeanor aimed at teammates, but at times at him.

There was one time in particular during training camp at Saint Vincent College. The team would have two-a-day practices, with the schedule being practice, lunch, back to the dorms, and then back to prepare for practice again. Greene didn't like all of the back and forth, so made an attempt to cut off one of the steps. Noll wasn't happy.

"I kicked the door down in the equipment room because I wanted to get my equipment in between practices," recounted Greene. "I came from lunch, went to get my equipment and the door was locked. I broke the door down, got my equipment and went to my dorm room.

"Sometime later Chuck came and knocked on the door. He came in and said that will be $500 and he walked off."

Chuck Noll wasn't the type of coach to have a close relationship with his players. It was all business, with him rarely letting the players see any other side of him.

Until Christmas one year, the most wonderful time of the year when everyone seems to be in a good mood.

Lynn Swann hosted a Christmas party at his house for some of his teammates, and the players decided to share the fun and head out Christmas caroling.

"We went to Art Rooney Sr.'s house, Dan Rooney, Art Rooney Jr. and then we finally went to Chuck's house," said Swann. "We weren't sure if he would open the door or not. His son Chris was there and he opened the door and (his wife) Marianne was there. Chuck was there and he invited us in. We are singing these Christmas songs and Chuck was always stoic. He didn't warm up, kept you at a distance in the locker room and on the field.

"He invited us in, was singing Christmas songs, playing the ukulele and I thought great, I have broken the barrier, Chuck is going to be more personable, we are going to be friends, buddies and pals, not just a head coach."

The players left, happy, enthused and looking forward to what the next day at practice would be like.

"I came in the locker room the next day thinking he would be different," said Swann, "and Chuck was exactly the same."

Rocky Bleier played 10 seasons under Chuck Noll after he returned from combat in Vietnam in 1971. And one thing he learned right away was if you were looking to get praise from Noll, for a pat on the back, you better look elsewhere. 

"Chuck was not the kind of guy who put blame on you," said Bleier. "It was always a team effort, a team win. He praised the opponent as well."

Bleier remembered a game in 1974 against the Kansas City Chiefs, when the team had a good game and he was waiting for the team meeting a few days later to hear some praise.
"He said the reason we won this game wasn't because of our success, but it was because of the lack of preparation by one player and it caused a weakness in their offensive line," recalled Bleier. "It was an All-Pro player, and because of bad habits it allowed us to do what we did defensively. It wasn't because of how we played. The theory is you play the way you practice, you practice good habits and we will continue to practice good habits every day. That is what carries you over in a game when it's the third or fourth quarter, if it's raining, sleeting or snowing, you don't think; all you do is react. How do you react to that situation, you react to the habits you created in practice every day of your life. That's what gets you through."

Bleier paused, as emotions took over for a few seconds. Then he continued.  

"I thought if he took this victory all the way down to this detail, I don't care what he says, I know he has done his homework and I believe in him."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.