Steelers' legends are honored

They are Steelers legends.

Their impact on the team, the organization is well known.

They are a key part of the Steelers rich history.

And now they are a part of the Steelers Hall of Honor, the second class to be enshrined.

The individuals who are part of this unique fraternity this year include, in alphabetical order, Rocky Bleier, Buddy Dial, Alan Faneca, Bill Nunn and Art Rooney Jr.

“It’s something very special,” said Bleier, a 16th round draft pick who played 12 seasons for the Steelers, including being a member of four Super Bowl teams. “To be compared to all the great players who played for the organization, and have your name attached to theirs, is a great honor. In this game, everybody does a job and does it well. You like to get recognition, and I got a lot playing on those teams and winning the Super Bowls. That was enough for me. To be able to be a part of this distinction is truly a wonderful honor for me.

"Seeing this display. This is really special."

Last year the team introduced the Hall of Honor, an idea that came from Steelers President Art Rooney II, along with late Chairman Dan Rooney. The Hall of Honor was established to recognize former players, coaches, and front office personnel who played an integral role in the success of the franchise, from the beginning in 1933 until now. To be considered, a player must be retired at least three years and played a minimum of three seasons for the Steelers. Former coaches and contributors had to make significant contributions to the team and community.

“The Steelers have always taken care of their own and praised their people in front of crowds and behind the scenes,” said Bleier. “Within that confine a gesture like this is really special to honor players for what they have done for the team and community.

“Just to play professional football is a dream come true, no matter when you played. As you look back, when you plan your life you say I want to play professional football, you think what would that look like? No one would ever say you would be a part of the greatest dynasty that won four Super Bowls and you played with all of those Hall of Famers. You were a part of that tradition.

“What better organization would there to be a part of than the Pittsburgh Steelers. I am proud to be a part of what they are today.”

The first class included the team’s Hall of Famers, as well as a select group of individuals. They were Jerome Bettis, Mel Blount, Terry Bradshaw, Jack Butler, Dermontti Dawson, Bill Dudley, Joe Greene, Kevin Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Dick Hoak, John Henry Johnson, Walt Keisling, Jack Lambert, Bobby Layne, John McNally, Chuck Noll, Arthur J. Rooney Sr., Daniel M. Rooney, Andy Russell, Donnie Shell, John Stallworth, Ernie Stautner, Lynn Swann, Mike Webster, and Rod Woodson.

This year’s class is significantly smaller, which will be the norm moving forward. And to be a part of the Hall of Honor is something that means the world to Faneca, who has been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame the last three years, and was recently announced as a nominee for the Hall of Fame Class of 2019.

“Being in the Hall of Honor, being in with the great players that came before me and the reputation the Steelers have. That is what hit me first,” said Faneca. “It is humbling. It hasn’t been that long since I played. It seems like a lifetime ago, but I have only been done playing seven years. It’s an honor.

“Art called me and informed me. It caught me off guard. You don’t get those phone calls from Mr. Rooney every day. I knew something was up. I was excited.

“The Steelers are special. You get drafted, go somewhere, and looking back I realize how lucky I was to come to Pittsburgh. If I could go back to me at that point and let myself know how lucky I was to be a part of the Steelers, it would be amazing. Not knowing it at the beginning but learning it along the way was fun.”

And what Faneca learned along the way is that the Steelers are like no other.

“It’s like something in the water there,” said Faneca. “It’s so special. It has always been that way and it keeps getting passed along. It’s the people there, the people that work for the team, play for them, coach, the front office. It’s a family run business and that feeling permeates through the players and they put their heart and soul into the team.

“You see some teams have a ring of honor for just the elite of the elite. It’s not many that get that honor, and more deserve it. The way the Steelers are doing it is great. It’s the Pittsburgh way, the family way. We are a family and encompassing a broader group is a great way to do it. It’s why the Steelers are special.”

Steelers legends celebrated as part of Hall of Honor Class of 2018.

Two long-time members of the Steelers scouting department, who were among the engineers of building the teams of the 1970s, are among the inductees in Art Rooney Jr. and the late Bill Nunn.

Under the leadership of Art Rooney Jr., the team’s personnel director from 1965-86, and Chuck Noll, the Steelers drafted nine future Hall of Famers, and helped build a dynasty that won four Super Bowls in six years.

“A friend of mine who was an editor at Sports Illustrated took a scouting trip with me at one time and said, Art, you are on a quest,” said Rooney Jr. “I didn’t know what a quest was. I did find out. A quest is an honor and a privilege. It was just that. My dad gave me a job in the organization that I thought was the most important job, just like everybody should think their job is. You can lose if you have good football players. But you will never win if you don’t have great football players. I spent a lot of effort, but it was a labor of love with my dad, and my brother Dan.

“I saw a team picture one time at Heinz Field. My dad was in the middle, Walt Keisling was next to him, Dan was next to him. The other side of dad was Johnny Blood McNally, and I was next to him. I looked at it and said, dad, Walt, Dan and Blood are in the Hall of Fame. Now that I am in the Hall of Honor, I belong with those guys. It’s a tremendous honor for me.”

Rooney Jr., who said he learned so much about scouting from Noll, took great pride in the fact that so many of the players on those Super Bowl teams of the 70s were all home grown, something that is almost impossible in this day of free agency.

“Chuck Noll was a great teacher for me,” said Rooney Jr. “I was one of his main students. You had to have the great athletes. They had to have the intangibles too. They had to have smarts. They had to have team values. Those were things that I learned from him and they got through to all of us in the scouting department. To know we won with home grown talent, that was something I was so proud of.

“But it was never I, it was we. That is what made it special, doing it with that group of guys. We all had the same desire to get the job done.”

Nunn, who in addition to scouting the traditional schools, also broke into scouting the Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU), opening the doors for thousands of athletes through the years.

“I always admired his work from a distance,” said General Manager Kevin Colbert. “I got to know him as I got in the business. He was a veteran scout, I was a young scout. Any time you ran into him on the road, you always wanted to be able to plug in and ask him questions, just try to learn from him because he had done so much in the business already.

“What Bill was able to do with the HBCU’s was well documented. He opened a lot of doors that were tough to get open. He was able to find players others weren’t able to. He was a scout at all levels.”

Even after his retirement from the team’s scouting department, Nunn stayed with the Steelers as a part-time scout, his contributions more valuable than ever.

“After Bill retired he kept working,” said Colbert. “He was with us working after he retired longer than he worked for the team. He still worked part time up until his passing. He loved the business, but he also loved the Pittsburgh Steelers. He gave us so much time, even to the year he passed. He was so involved with our draft preparation. To have him here in our meetings was a great enhancement of our efforts.”

* * *

The Hall of Honor Selection Committee consists of Steelers President Art Rooney II, Joe Gordon, Bob Labriola, Stan Savran, Andrew Stockey and Tony Quatrini.

Hall of Honor Bios:

Rocky Bleier: Running Back (1968, 1970-80)
Football often is compared to war by the overly-dramatic. Rocky Bleier knows the difference. A 16th-round draft choice by the Steelers in 1968 as a halfback out of Notre Dame, Bleier also was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1969. Eventually shipped overseas, Bleier was wounded in combat during the Vietnam War. Awarded the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his military service, Bleier then began the arduous rehabilitation process on his foot that would enable him to return to professional football. Known primarily as a blocker, Bleier finished with 3,855 yards rushing, including 1,036 in 1976 when both he and Franco Harris finished the seson with over 1,000 yards rushing. Still ranked ninth of the team’s all-time rushing list, Bleier also finished his career with two touchdown receptions in the playoffs, including an acrobatic one in Super Bowl XIII.

Buddy Dial: Wide Receiver (1959-63)
If average yards per catch is used as the criteria, Buddy Dial was the foremost big-play receiver in franchise history. Dial played his first five NFL seasons with the Steelers, and he amassed 4,723 receiving yards on 229 receptions (20.6 average). He was the first receiver in Steelers history to post a 1,000-yard receiving season, and he did it twice (1,047 yards in 1961 and 1,295 yards in 1963). His 20.6-yard average is the highest in team history, and he added 42 receiving touchdowns to his Pittsburgh resume. Upon leaving the Steelers for Dallas following the 1963 season, his 42 touchdowns were a team record. Dial was voted to the 1962 Pro Bowl.

Alan Faneca: Guard (1998-2007)
During the days leading up to the 1998 NFL Draft, Jimmy Johnson was surveying the pool of talent. Then the Dolphins coach, Johnson had much draft-day success when he built the Cowboys championship teams of the early 1990s. “The guy most ready to play in the NFL,” Johnson told a reporter, “is that kid Faneca from LSU.” The Steelers picked Alan Faneca in the first round of the 1998 draft, and he deserves to be recognized as one of the best offensive linemen in franchise history. Faneca was a six-time first-team All-Pro during his years with the Steelers, and he was voted to nine Pro Bowls overall. In 2003, Faneca exhibited uncommon versatility by playing nine games at left tackle when injuries ravaged the line. He was named a member of the Steelers All-Time Team, and a member of the NFL Team of the Decade (2000s).

Bill Nunn: Scout, Assistant Director Player Personnel, Senior Scout (1968-2014)
Before accepting Dan Rooney’s job offer in 1968, Bill Nunn was a newspaper guy – first a sports writer, then the sports editor, then the managing editor of The Pittsburgh Courier during an era when it was one of the most influential black publications in America. Starting in 1950, Nunn personally selected the annual Black College All-America Football Team for The Pittsburgh Courier, and in the course of performing that duty he developed relationships with players and coaches at those colleges that would serve him well during his career in the NFL. Before the rest of the league caught on to the wealth of talent available in the programs at the Historically Black Colleges, Nunn helped the Steelers add many players who would go on to fill integral roles in the four Super Bowl championship teams of the 1970s. Included among those were L.C. Greenwood from Arkansas AM&N, Mel Blount from Southern, Frank Lewis from Grambling State, Dwight While from Texas A&M-Commerce, Ernie Holmes from Texas Southern, Joe Gilliam from Tennessee State, John Stallworth from Alabama A&M, and Donnie Shell from South Carolina State. For his decades of service, Nunn was enshrined as a member of the Inaugural Class of the Black College Football Hall of Fame.

Art Rooney Jr.: Personnel Director (1965-1986) ; Vice President (1987-Current)
During Buddy Parker’s eight-year reign as the Steelers coach from 1957-64, the team posted five winning seasons while showing a complete disdain for the NFL Draft. Parker traded away the team’s draft picks in droves, and during his tenure that included four first-round picks and five second-round picks. Of the top 40 potential draft picks during his eight seasons as coach (Rounds 1 though 5 each year), Parker traded away 40 of those. That changed when Parker was fired in 1965, and it was the start of the Steelers turning to the draft as their primary method of roster-building, a philosophy that continues to this day. It also was when Art Rooney Jr. was hired as the team’s Personnel Director. When Chuck Noll became the coach in 1969, he teamed with a Scouting Department headed by Art Rooney Jr. to draft nine Hall of Fame players, in addition to adding 11 more (nine draft picks and two undrafted rookies) from 1969-74 who would earn four Super Bowl rings with the team during the 1970s.

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