Legends Series: Gerry Mullins
Gerry Mullins was a player who would have perfectly fit the bill for what Coach Mike Tomlin preaches … position flexibility.
Mullins, the Steelers fourth-round draft pick in 1971, played guard, tackle and even tight end on short yardage situations before settling in as a starting guard in 1974 and playing on all four Super Bowl teams in the 1970s.
"We didn't realize how good we were," said Mullins of the group that won Super Bowl IX, X, XIII and XIV. "It was a process, growing together as a unit. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work, making the whole better."
Mullins helped to block for an offense that was filled with Hall of Famers in quarterback Terry Bradshaw, running back Franco Harris, and receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. He said it was those teammates and others, the people in the organization, that hold a special place in his heart, more than any win ever will.
"What stood out in my mind were the people, my teammates, coaches, the ownership and especially Art Rooney, Sr.," said Mullins. "They cared about me as an individual. The victories were great, but the people were what was important.
"The highlight of my career was Super Bowl IX seeing Mr. Rooney get the Lombardi Trophy after all of the years of frustration. He was a great individual. He cared about the players. He visited the locker room every day. You wanted to give your all to him. He was a big part of motivating guys to the next level."
Another person who motivated Mullins to the next level was Ray Mansfield, the legendary center who took him under his wing.
"He was a veteran when I got here as a rookie," said Mullins. "He and Bruce van Dyke were veteran players. I heard stories about veteran players not getting involved with rookies. It was just the opposite with those two guys. They took me under their wing. I got to be one of the guys when I was a rookie. They were trying to help me pointing out things to help me in my game.
"Ray gave me insight on how to analyze film, breakdown the opponent's game. We were always working to perfect minor details that would be overlooked. You need somebody to show you the way and he was really important in that."
Also showing him the way was Joe Greene, who Mullins had to face his rookie season in the famed Oklahoma drills.
"My first experience we had to do the Oklahoma drill the first day of practice," recalled Mullins. "I was a tight end in college and there was a group of us out there being filmed, offense vs. defense. They randomly called an offensive name and a defensive name and unfortunately for me I got called with Joe Greene my first time out. I thought I might get cut before my first practice. I figured Joe was going to kill me.
"I said give it your best shot. I came off the ball and hit him pretty good and the running back went through. A lot the guys on the offense were going crazy because I handled Joe Greene. I turned around because you only had to do it once. I was walking back to the group of offensive guys and everyone got quiet. I see this big hand come around and grab my facemask and say you aren't done rookie, we are going to do it one more time. I said I know I am going to die now.
"I sort of neutralized him. I think I gained a little respect. That helped me out throughout the rest of my rookie year. I thought maybe I do belong."
Pittsburgh is definitely somewhere Mullins felt comfortable, enough so to make the area his home since his playing days ended after the 1979 season. He is the president and owner of Industrial Metals and Minerals in Saxonburg, Pa., a small company that sells raw materials to make glass and steel.
"My first year in Pittsburgh it was really depressing," said Mullins, who grew up in Southern California. "I didn't know anybody. I got out of town as soon as I could after the season. My second year I learned more about the city, felt better about teammates. After three or four years going back and forth to the West Coast, Pittsburgh grew on me. I have lived here since 1975 and love it.
"I think it's the people more than anything. I like the outdoors. I have even grown accustomed to the winters here.
"Through my business I met a lot of great people. It's sort of laid back, like being an offensive lineman. It's not high pressure sales. My customers have been with me a long time. As long as I am still having a good time, I will keep plugging along."