Labriola On

Labriola on why the doors should open for Nunn

Ready or not, here it comes:

• At the risk of contributing to the Hall of Fame hangover gripping the nation's NFL fans around this time, I have something to get off my chest.

• Bill Nunn deserves to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

• Nunn deserves it, not just because he was the artist behind the greatest draft in NFL history, the Pittsburgh Steelers' 1974 version that produced four Hall of Fame players over the first five rounds and a fifth in the form of an undrafted free agent linebacker turned safety.

• Nunn deserves it, not just because of John Stallworth from Alabama A&M, and Mel Blount from Southern, and L.C. Greenwood from Arkansas AM&N, and Frank Lewis from Grambling State, and Dwight White from Texas A&M Commerce, and Ernie Holmes from Texas Southern, and Joe Gilliam from Tennessee State, and the countless others he was responsible for bringing to Pittsburgh during a six-year period that saw the Steelers metamorphosize from laughingstocks to a dynasty.

• Nunn deserves it, not just because his fingerprints are all over the Steelers' six Lombardi Trophies as their best scout in franchise history, or because he had a symbiosis with Chuck Noll that was summed up in the marching orders Noll gave Nunn when their working relationship began. "You know athletes," Noll once told Nunn, who was a good enough college basketball player to be asked to help integrate the NBA after World War II. "Bring me athletes," added Noll, "and we'll teach them how to play."

• Nunn deserves the Hall of Fame, because he is a historically significant figure in helping to shape the National Football League into the sports powerhouse it is today, and for those who might be suffering from a chronic case of "too many Steelers in the Hall of Fame," the bulk of Nunn's work toward opening the NFL to a group who ultimately included some of the greatest players in league history happened before Dan Rooney ever hired him.

• Bill Nunn Jr. was born into a home where the family business was journalism, at a time when newspapers not only were the primary source of information for most people but also when some newspapers served as watchdogs, as muckrakers when necessary, as promoters of social justice or at least the exposers of social injustice. Nunn's father, William G. Nunn Sr. was the editor-in-chief of The Pittsburgh Courier, which in its heyday boasted a national circulation of 400,000 nationwide, a Pittsburgh-based newspaper with branch offices in New York City, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.

• To its readers, the Courier was recognized as one of the most influential black publications in America, and when Bill Nunn Jr. was a sports reporter and later the sports editor there he became one of the most influential people in the field of identifying professional athletes-in-waiting. And as a sports journalist, Nunn's beat centered around the historically black colleges, most of which are located in the South.

• During the era when The Pittsburgh Courier flourished, Nunn traveled to cover the best football game played between black colleges each weekend, and then at the end of the season he selected what was the definitive Black College Football All-America team. It was a selection committee of one. Having been schooled in the business by his father; by Wendell Smith, who was with Jackie Robinson daily as he integrated Major League Baseball; and by Chester L. Washington, who started at the Courier as a stenographer before working his way up to sports editor and then leaving to become a publisher who created a 13-newspaper alliance, Nunn's influence in sports grew to be significant.

• "When I worked in sports for the Courier, some of my stories were in The Sporting News and the NCAA (publications)," Nunn once said. "I covered so many of the major things, particularly with boxing. I covered Archie Moore, Floyd Patterson, Ezzard Charles. I also was putting together the Black College All-America football team, and so I had a lot of contacts at the black schools."

• One such example of Nunn's influence came in 1952, when Wellington Mara, at the time the owner of the New York Football Giants, instructed his team to use its pick in the 27th round of that NFL Draft on Roosevelt Brown, a tackle from Morgan State College. The story goes that Mara held in his hand a copy of The Pittsburgh Courier's All-America team that Nunn had picked when he pointed to Brown's name and told his people, "Take this guy."

• Roosevelt Brown went to the Giants as a 20-year-old, where he quickly won a starting job. He held it for 13 seasons, was named an All-Pro for eight straight seasons (1956-63) and in 1975 became just the second offensive lineman to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

• In 1961, Nunn alerted the Los Angeles Rams about a defensive end who had played during the 1960 season for Mississippi Vocational College. His name was David Jones, who would come to be known by the nickname, Deacon. It seemed that in 1958 Jones had his football scholarship to South Carolina State revoked because he had taken part in a civil rights protest. After a year of inactivity, Mississippi Vocational offered a scholarship that Jones accepted, but conditions at the school were such that Jones and his African-American teammates slept on cots in the opposing team's gym on road trips because motels and hotels refused them admittance.

• It was typical of Nunn that the sports editor of The Pittsburgh Courier would know about the rare athletic ability and the true nature of a man who had been struggling against racism in the pursuit of a career as a professional athlete. The Rams investigated Nunn's tip and "invested" a 14th-round pick in that draft.

• David "Deacon" Jones played 14 NFL seasons, and he missed just five of a possible 196 regular season games. Jones was a unanimous All-Pro defensive end for the six seasons from 1965-70; he played in seven straight Pro Bowls, from 1965-1971, and was selected to an eighth in 1973. As a member of the Rams' "Fearsome Foursome" defensive line, Jones is the man who first used the term "sack" to describe tackling a quarterback as he is attempting to pass. Jones was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980.

• Back in February 2010, in conjunction with Black History Month that year, Bill Nunn was part of the inaugural class inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame. The other members of that inaugural class included genuine legends of the sport, from Deacon Jones and Willie Lanier and Walter Payton and Tank Younger, to Coach Eddie Robinson.

• Nunn is a legend of the sport, too, and that's why he deserves to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

• Not only because of what he did for the Steelers, but because of what he did for Buck Buchanan, Deacon Jones, Tank Younger, Lem Barney, Roosevelt Brown, Willie Davis, Willie Brown, Claude Humphrey, Johnny Sample, Ken Houston, Leroy Kelly, Ernie Ladd, and for what he did for the NFL by helping open the league's doors for those players and so many others like them.

• Bill Nunn belongs, because the NFL wouldn't be what it is without the work he did. And that alone should be enough to open the doors in Canton for him.

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