It's a day many in the Steelers organization, many in Pittsburgh, and many around the NFL, have patiently waited for.
And it was a day that was worth the wait.
Bill Nunn, the legendary Steelers scout, is officially a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame after being enshrined, along with eight others posthumously, during a special ceremony, 'Hall of Famer Forever,' at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio on Wednesday evening. The ceremony will be part of an NFL Network special, "Hall of Famer Forever: Enshrinement Special," that will air on Saturday, May 1, following the conclusion of the NFL Draft.
"It's still a little bit surreal for Bill to get recognized like this," said Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert, who was part of the Steelers contingent in attendance. "Tonight, we will finally come to the realization of how great an honor this is and how great an honor it was to know and work with a man like Bill Nunn. Until you really see it happen, it's not a real feel, but you are picking that up now.
"Bill meant everything to the Steelers organization. It's been documented, the players he was instrumental in bringing to the Steelers and the success they had. We as young scouts were fortunate to be around Bill and try and learn things they implemented when they put those teams together. There were a lot of lessons being taught to us."
Nunn, who worked 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, the first Black Contributor in the 100 plus year history of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
While the ceremony was on a smaller scale than what will take place in August when the remainder of the Class of 2020 and 2021 are enshrined, the emotion, passion and love of the game that Nunn and the others held in their hearts was larger than life and definitely on display.
Bill Nunn is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame
"He is the first African-American contributor in the Hall of Fame," said Hall of Fame President David Baker. "I think the heritage of Bill, he is in here already because he is in the Black College Football Hall of Fame. The Pittsburgh Steelers would turn over every stone to find the best talent, the people who were going to be Pittsburgh Steelers, Donnie Shell, LC Greenwood, Mel Blount, all of these guys came from Historically Black Colleges and Universities."
Nunn's granddaughter, Cydney Nunn, did the honors of unveiling her grandfather's Hall of Fame bust. She also assisted in placing his bust in the Hall of Fame Gallery and was given a Hall of Fame plaque, which includes a swatch of the Gold Jacket that is presented to Hall of Famers.
"I know my grandfather probably didn't think he was going to be in the Hall of Fame," said Nunn. "That wasn't necessarily a goal of his. This has been a huge memorable historic time for our family. We are happy we are able to be here to represent his legacy.
"It's incredible he is the first black contributor to be in the Hall of Fame. He made such a huge impact on this sport as we know it, the way he scouted players and how he opened doors for so many black athletes. Also, walking through the museum, seeing him in the Black College Football Hall of Fame, he is so great he is in there twice."
Nunn was a trailblazer who opened the door for so many to have careers in the NFL, in particular those from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
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 sportswriter, then sports editor, and then managing editor of The Pittsburgh Courier.
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.
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 John 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 team went on to win Super Bowl IX, with 11 players from HBCUs, and the Steelers 1974 NFL Draft Class that included four Hall of Fame players in the first five picks – Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, Stallworth, and Mike Webster – plus another – Donnie Shell – as an undrafted rookie is acknowledged as the greatest draft class of all-time.
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, and Shell from South Carolina State, who will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year as a member of the Centennial Class of 2020.
"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 Shell of Nunn prior to the enshrinement. "And what he did for the Steelers. Look at how many players he brought to the Steelers to help build those championship teams.
"We had side conversations that no one ever knew about. He was a confidant. If I had some issues, if I didn't do well in practice, I would talk to Bill and it wouldn't go any further than that. He would sit me down and say keep working hard and doing what you are doing, you will be fine. When you are young, that gave you encouragement to keep working hard. Nobody ever knew about that.
"I don't know if he realized it or not, but just being around Bill, his professionalism, the way he carried himself in his life, it meant a lot to me and had a great effect on me. He never would have thought that. That is the way he was, unassuming. That was Bill. That is who he was. He made people gravitate to him. You wanted to be with him. You wanted to be in his presence to listen to some of the wisdom that he had."
That was the thing about Nunn. He was unassuming. While he would be honored by his enshrinement, he also would have been beyond humbled, and almost embarrassed by the attention because in his eyes, getting others attention was always more important.
"Bill would be the last one to be seeking any kind of attention," said Colbert. "That's was just his makeup."
The group was enshrined now, doing it in conjunction with the NFL Draft, as a reminder to the players entering the NFL of the men who came before them. For Nunn, who found gems from HBCUs as well as big colleges, the timing was extremely appropriate.
Also enshrined with Nunn posthumously were Bobby Dillon, Winston Hill, Alex Karras, Steve Sabol, Duke Slater, Mac Speedie, Ed Sprinkle and George Young, all members of the Centennial Class of 2020. All will also be recognized in August during the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony in Canton.