Labriola On

Hall of Fame recognizes Gordon, Parisi

You could stroll right into his office, unannounced, at any time during business hours, which for him always began way before 9 a.m. and lasted long after 5 p.m., and what greeted you was a testament to a love for his job and the incredible skills that made him one of the best ever to do it. He would be sitting at his desk with a phone glued to one ear while his fingers banged the keys of a manual Royal typewriter, and while simultaneously carrying on that telephone conversation and writing a press release, he was holding court with a constant in-and-out of people, all of whom wanted or needed something.

Joe Gordon never lost his train of thought with the person on the other end of the phone or forgot what he was hammering out on that typewriter or forgot which of the visitors asked him something and what the request was about. When that round was over, he would simply take the next call, roll a blank sheet of paper into his trusty Royal, welcome the next round of visitors and do it all over again. Until every question was answered, every release completed, every request handled.

In another part of Three Rivers Stadium, in a glorified storage area off the locker room, there was another man, always wearing a simple white T-shirt with "Steelers" emblazoned across the front, sitting at a desk using different kinds of tools to do a completely different set of tasks in a different atmosphere that also was one of controlled chaos. Part repairman, part inventor, he could be working on a set of shoulder pads, or a pair of shoes trying to get just the right fit, or maybe this time he was trying to create a piece of equipment the manufacturers hadn't yet realized was needed.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers were an Army battalion, Tony Parisi was their supply sergeant, the guy who constantly was searching, ordering, foraging for just the right thing the troops needed to be the best they could be.

On Monday, Joe Gordon and Tony Parisi added another title to their long and distinguished resumes when the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced them as two of the 20 individuals to receive the inaugural "Awards of Excellence" from four groups recognized as being "vital to the game."

The 20 individuals included five assistant coaches, five athletic trainers, five equipment managers, and five public relations personnel. Parisi became the team's equipment manager in 1965, and Gordon was hired to be the one-man public relations department in 1969, the same year Chuck Noll was hired as the Steelers head coach.

"They were both great examples of Chuck Noll's saying, 'Whatever it takes,'" said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "They both would do whatever it takes to get the job done and make sure things were done right. Just extremely, extremely dedicated, hard-working guys. It's great to have people like them who made such important contributions behind the scenes to have them recognized. I couldn't be happier."

Gordon quickly became an important cog in the Steelers front office, a consummate professional who earned the respect of Dan Rooney and the trust of Chuck Noll, both of which were critical for a man responsible for public relations.

"Joe was a real people person, who was able to manage the relationship between the media and the players and the others in the organization," said Rooney. "He brought everybody together and made sure the right stories got told and sometimes made sure the wrong stories didn't get told. He worked tirelessly.

"All he had was a telephone and one of those old-fashioned typewriters," added Rooney. "He didn't have a computer or any access to the Internet or any technical assistance. He just did it. It was amazing."

Gordon helped the Steelers become one of the most respected and popular teams in professional sports. Through the 1970s the Steelers won four Super Bowls and qualified for the playoffs eight times, and he directed the team's media efforts during an era when the popularity of the team and the NFL exploded. Perhaps the greatest testament to Gordon's contributions to the Steelers is that during his PR leadership, 11 Steelers – plus Art Rooney Sr. and Dan Rooney – eventually would be elected to the Hall of Fame. No NFL PR person has worked with more Hall of Famers. Thumb-tacked to a corkboard in Gordon's Three Rivers Stadium office was a single sheet of paper that read, "You never get in trouble for things you don't say."

"As time went on, over the course of the seven days (between games), the media attention got to the point where everybody wanted a piece of the Steelers," said Rooney. "Joe just really protected the players, protected Chuck, and just made sure that he always put them in the best position and didn't let the media burden ever become a burden to them. Chuck was somebody where media relations wasn't his strong suit. It wasn't something that he wanted to spend a lot of time on, and he really relied on Joe to get him through all those situations."

In 1949, Parisi was drafted as a goaltender by the Major Junior Ontario Hockey Association, and he played nearly 900 games in England, Sweden, Italy, Czechoslovakia and with the Pittsburgh Hornets hockey team. After the Hornets folded, he was hired by the Steelers.

"Tony was an equipment manager who, if a company didn't make a piece of equipment that was needed, he made it himself," said Rooney. "If a player had a sore joint or needed a pad in a spot on his body where they didn't make pads for it, he'd figure out how to make a pad for it himself. And he always was one to figure out which were the right shoes to wear in different conditions, and he had the ability to convince players to change their shoes at halftime. He got to be one of those guys that the players just trusted to put them in the best situation to perform."

The ultimate example of that came in the Steelers first Super Bowl – Super Bowl IX, which was played in Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. Anticipating that wet conditions would turn the Polyturf playing surface into a slick track, Parisi ordered 75 pairs of nonskid rubber‐cleated shoes from a Montreal company and had them shipped to New Orleans for the game.

When the surface indeed became slick and Steelers players were having trouble with their footing in the first half of a game in which they held a slim 2-0 lead over the Vikings, Parisi convinced some Steelers to change shoes at halftime. One of the converts was Franco Harris, who carried 22 times for 97 yards and scored a touchdown after changing shoes on the way to a 34-carry, 158-yard day that ended with the Steelers posting a 16-6 victory and him being voted Super Bowl MVP.

"That's absolutely true. A true story," said Rooney, "and it wasn't the only time he did something like that."

The names of the 20 winners of the inaugural "Awards of Excellence" will be placed on display inside a designated area of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Museum in Canton. Award recipients will be invited to the 2022 Enshrinement Week and will be recognized in Canton this August.

Advertising