Nunn earns his spot in the Hall of Fame

When you make a difference, when you have a huge impact, when you are a trailblazer who opened doors for others, the door deserves to be opened for you.

And finally, the door has opened for Bill Nunn.

Nunn, the legendary scout who served in multiple roles in the Steelers personnel department beginning in 1967 in a part-time role, and then in a full-time role from 1969-2014, was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Contributor as part of the Class of 2021.

"I am thrilled that Bill Nunn has been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "He was not only a special friend and advisor to me, my father, my uncle Art Rooney Jr., but also Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and everyone he worked with during his 46 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. His stories, advice and lessons that he taught all of us are still apparent in our everyday work. He was a true pioneer in helping traditional HBCU players get their chance in the National Football League, and he is so deserving of this extraordinary honor.

"I look forward to celebrating his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with his family this summer in Canton. I could not be more excited for him to receive this recognition."

Nunn becomes the first Black Contributor in the 100-year history of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"It's especially exciting because he never changed," said his daughter Lynell Nunn. "He was always so concerned about diversity with the players, coaches and front office. That goes back to the time I was young. He was always looking for that, during his pre-Steelers time and after that. It was always important to him and he instilled that in us. To see the progress that has been made, and he had a fairly big part in that, means a lot. I am really proud of the legacy that he left."

Nunn, who died in 2014 at the age of 89, joined the Steelers organization in the scouting department after a career in the newspaper business where he started as a sports writer, then a sports editor, and then managing editor of The Pittsburgh Courier.

"Bill Nunn has done so much for the league over the years, not only for the Steelers but also when he was a reporter by going to the Historically Black Colleges and Universities and finding all of the talent there and letting the NFL teams know about that talent," said Donnie Shell, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2020. "And what he did for the Steelers. Look at how many players he brought to the Steelers to help build those championship teams."

Starting in 1950 he selected the newspaper's annual Black College All-America Team, developing relationships that benefited his scouting career and opened the door for Black players who weren't getting a lot of attention from professional teams.

"Bill was a very smart, intelligent guy," said Hall of Fame wide receiver John Stallworth. "He knew what to look for in the scouting area. He did a great job writing reports and talking about specifics for individual players.

"Bill in my mind was a game-changer for guys in my era who went to Black colleges. Bill was a force in the room for us. Most of the guys who came along before us, didn't have anyone to talk about their pedigree, how good they were, what their capabilities were, their talent, what kind of man they were. Bill was a voice in the room for guys in Black colleges in the early years. He paved the way for a lot of guys with the Steelers and other teams to have an opportunity to come in and show what they could do. It opened the door for a lot of guys who came after us."

Nunn, a member of the Inaugural Class of the Black College Football Hall of Fame and a 2018 Steelers Hall of Honor selection, helped the Steelers find talent from HBCUs that other teams largely ignored, including L.C. Greenwood from Arkansas AM&N, Mel Blount from Southern, Frank Lewis from Grambling State, Dwight White from Texas A&M-Commerce, Ernie Holmes from Texas Southern, Joe Gilliam from Tennessee State, Stallworth from Alabama A&M, and Shell from South Carolina State.

The last Black College All-America Team Nunn selected for the Pittsburgh Courier was in 1974, and a member of that team happened to be Stallworth. Nunn scouted Stallworth, along with other BLESTO scouts who at that time would travel together, on a wet track at Alabama A&M, and the wide receiver didn't time well in the 40-yard dash.

The group was leaving Alabama the next morning, but Nunn said he felt ill and was staying, and would catch up with them on the road. What he did, though, was go back and time Stallworth on a dry track and he got the results he wanted. Also, through his relationship with HBCU coaches, he was able to obtain the only game film of Stallworth that existed. He promised to return the film to be shared but never did. The rest, as they say, is history. That 1974 Steelers went on to win Super Bowl IX, with 11 players from HBCUs, and the Steelers 1974 Draft Class that included four Hall of Fame players in the first five picks – Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, Stallworth, and Mike Webster – plus another – Shell – as an undrafted rookie is acknowledged as the greatest of all-time.

"I don't know that I would have gotten the opportunity that I did, certainly I don't think I would have been a Pittsburgh Steeler, had it not been for Bill Nunn," said Stallworth, the team's fourth-round pick in 1974. "He brought my name to the table. The story that folks tell about Bill and my game films in college, how he hid those game films away, it's amusing.

"I appreciate Bill. I appreciate his dedication. He could have been like so many others who came through and (Alabama A&M) was just a stop, they weren't going to find anybody. They were supposed to stop there, and so they did and moved on. Bill stopped, had a sense of wanting to find talent, and knew there was talent there. I don't know if I am a Pittsburgh Steeler if that didn't happen."

Photos of Bill Nunn, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2021

He isn't the only one who felt that way.

"He came down and signed me," said Shell. "I was getting ready to teach high school. I remember us talking. One thing he said that impressed me was that Chuck Noll didn't care where you came from, he will give you a fair chance. I had chances to go to Denver and Houston, but that convinced me. All I wanted was a fair chance. He sold me on that."

Nunn is one of the few people to earn six Super Bowl rings with the Steelers, after coming out of retirement to return to the team on a part-time basis.

"You can't write the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers without Bill Nunn," said Blount. "When you look at the Steelers of the 1970s, none of that would have happened without Bill Nunn."

Nunn will join Alan Faneca in the Class of 2021, and they will become the 28th and 29th members of the Steelers' organization in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the team's 25th and 26th major contributors per the Hall of Fame.

The Class of 2021 will be enshrined, along with the Class of 2020, the weekend of Aug. 5-8. The Class of 2020 includes former Steelers Troy Polamalu and Donnie Shell and Coach Bill Cowher.

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