Steelers President Art Rooney II referred to his father's role in this as "the instigator," and in a historical sense it was a project that needed some instigating. Chuck Noll's importance to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the National Football League is a story that had to be told, a story that deserved to be told accurately and completely because of the kind of man Chuck Noll was.
"I interviewed Dan Rooney in the early 2000s for 'America's Game,'" said author Michael MacCambridge about his book on the birth and growth of the National Football League. "It was great to hear the witness of someone who had witnessed so much about the history of the NFL. My book came out in the fall of 2004, and a couple of months later out of the blue I get this letter from Dan Rooney. He said that he read the book, he thought it was a good book, and his one editorial comment was that there was not enough about the Steelers in the book. That was the feedback I got."
During a launch today at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, MacCambridge was joined by Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II to talk about the origins of the project and the process required that led to "Chuck Noll: His Life's Work."
A press conference with Steelers president Art Rooney II and author Michael MacCambridge announcing the release of the book "Chuck Noll: His Life's Work."
"My father really was the one who instigated this, and we started talking about who should write the book," said Art Rooney II. "We really wanted to make sure we had somebody who was up to the task. Somebody who really understood the league and might have understood the context in which Chuck did his work, and that really led us to Michael."
Dan Rooney, then the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, pitched the project to MacCambridge.
"Mr. Rooney said, 'Somebody should write a biography of Chuck Noll,'" said MacCambridge. "I was flattered that he thought of me, but I told him, 'Mr. Rooney, I'll look into it, but it's got to be something more than just he was a very good football coach. Dan said to me, 'You look into it. You'll see.'"
MacCambridge looked into it. He talked to some of Noll's former players, some family members. "It was then that it became clear that there was an extraordinary story to tell, and I am flattered and honored to be able to be the one to tell it. That's what brought us here."
MacCambridge's work is the first-ever thorough and legitimate biography of Noll, and Art Rooney II acknowledged that when he said, "I spent a lot of time with Chuck and his family over the years and thought I knew the story. When I read the book, it was fascinating to see the rest of the story that Michael uncovered, and in particular that Marianne (Noll) shared."
The readers of "Chuck Noll: His Life's Work" will recognize the level of Marianne Noll's cooperation throughout this project, because MacCambridge is able to relate events that only she and her husband experienced first-hand.
"What I knew about Chuck Noll was not much more than your average football-silly fan knew about Chuck Noll, which was that he had been extraordinarily successful but that he did not give much of himself away," said MacCambridge. "Among the most important figures of the last 50 years of pro football, I think he may safely have been judged to be the one about whom the least was known.
"For me, the first glimpse was having lunch with Chuck and Marianne over the Fourth of July in 2012. I found not this gruff, stern character that I knew from TV, but a very warm, very affable man. Then, hearing his relatives and his assistant coaches talk about how much he meant to them, how much he meant in their lives, then trying to square that vision of him with what was on TV every week, what was in the press conferences, how little he revealed on a regular basis. The challenge for me was to make sense of those two very different sides – of this very private man in this very, very public job.
"What I came away with was that, like all of us, he was a product of his background and his family, growing up in Depression-era Cleveland, part of a stoic German family. They were not people who spent a lot of time complaining. They were not a family that spent a lot of time dwelling on their misfortune. They dealt with whatever the setback was, they didn't complain, they moved on. That's who Chuck Noll was when he got here in 1969."
It would have been easy for MacCambridge to take the easy way out, to pander to Steelers fans who never seem to get enough about their favorite team's dominance of the 1970s. But he didn't, and that's just one of the reasons why his book is the definitive one written about Chuck Noll.
"You have a tighter focus, you have to go deeper," said MacCambridge about his style, "and you really have to try to spend as much time, and this is a cliché, but putting yourself in the shoes of the person you're writing about. Trying to understand the time and the place. I felt it was necessary. I probably went to the University of Dayton three or four times. I had some of his old teammates walk me around campus and take me to the bars where they went to drink. There's this place in Dayton called Kramer's Party Supply, and it's still standing today. It's still got a bar on one side. They don't take credit cards or anything like that. And that's where the Dayton players used to drink. I can remember one of Chuck's teammates saying, 'We'd all go there. There would be seven or eight guys. Chuck would be with us and we'd have a round. We'd order a second round, I would look around and Chuck's gone. He would be back in his dorm room doing homework.'
"The same thing with the east side of Cleveland, where Chuck grew up," continued MacCambridge. "I had one of his childhood friends drive me around there. It's obviously a much different place, but it helped seeing where he came from. And, going back and talking to people about how he developed. I had to do that to be able to provide something other than just a superficial, 'He grew up in Cleveland and he went to Dayton.' I hope I succeeded in that regard."
The readers of this book will understand that MacCambridge did.
This Sunday, join the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum and University of Pittsburgh Press to commemorate the life and legacy Noll. The event will include a star-studded lineup of Pittsburgh Steelers greats, including Joe Greene, Rocky Bleier, and Tunch Ilkin and Michael MacCambridge. Click here to learn more.