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Columnist Ron Cook: Bum Phillips among carvers at Noll's roast

Friday, March 26, 1999

By Ron Cook, Post-Gazette Sports Columnist

A former coach who hates the spotlight has agreed to be roasted at one of the biggest sports dinners in the city's history for the benefit of the good work being done by a man who once sued him for $5 million.

 

It could happen only in Steelers-crazed Pittsburgh.

"I think Chuck agreed to do it because he respects what I'm doing with the kids," Mel Blount was saying.

Chuck Noll will be the man of the hour tomorrow night at the Pittsburgh Hilton & Towers. More than 1,000 people are expected at the black-tie dinner at $200 a pop. The money will go to the Blount Youth Home, which is planning a $3.6 million expansion in Washington County.

"My life's work is fund-raising now," Noll said.

This is different from his long-time efforts for Pittsburgh Vision Services and his alma mater, the University of Dayton. This is to help a former player who continues to give back to the community. More than 600 troubled boys have lived and learned about religion, family, hard work and respect at the Blount Youth Home since it opened in 1990. Another 1,000 have been helped at a facility Blount has operated in Vidalia, Ga., since 1983.

Of course, Noll agreed to help.

Somebody on the dais is going to have a ball teasing Noll about Blount's lawsuit.

That goes back to 1977. The year before, Noll had called the Oakland Raiders' George Atkinson part of the NFL's "criminal element." When Atkinson sued him - unsuccessfully - for defamation of character, Noll testified the criminal element also included Blount, who then filed his own suit. It was dropped when Blount ended a long contract holdout a few days before the '77 opener.

"It was never anything personal," Blount said. "I showed my character by being the type of player I was after I came back. Chuck showed his character by never holding it against me."

It's a tribute to Blount and Noll that so many players and coaches will attend the roast. Hall of Famers Joe Greene, Jack Ham and - yes - Mike Webster will be there. (It would be nice to report Terry Bradshaw, a long-time Noll critic for no legitimate reason, is coming, but he's not.) Lynn Swann and John Stallworth also will be there. Andy Russell will be the master of ceremonies. Myron Cope is sure to tell the story of how Noll, who hated distractions, allowed a practice late in 1972 to be interrupted so Frank Sinatra could be inducted into Franco's Italian Army.

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, especially in this town when it involves the Super Steelers.

Former Houston Oilers Coach Bum Phillips was a big part of that era. Noll seemed amazed when he heard Phillips was coming in from Texas.

"Don't take much to please Chuck if he's excited I'm coming," Phillips said.

There was no doubt Bum was coming.

One, Blount is a friend. "We've worked together in the cutting horse business. Hated him when he played. Like him now. He's a great human being."

Two, Noll is a friend. "He never got the credit he deserved for what he did. A lot of guys have good players, but they don't win. Chuck did."

And three, it's Pittsburgh. Although Phillips will be here fewer than 24 hours - "Don't take long to spend all the time you want in Pittsburgh," he said, jokingly - he'll love every minute. "Those Steelers teams were the best I ever saw on the football field, but the fans were good, too. They were great to me."

Count on Phillips to laugh at himself for failing to beat the Steelers and "kick down the damn door" to the Super Bowl. The crowd at the Hilton will love it.

"I'm just glad we don't have to play 'em this Sunday afternoon."

It's too bad Phillips and Noll can't walk the sidelines one more time. But Phillips is battling heart problems and Noll is recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon. It's too bad Blount, who looks as if he still could play, and the others on the dais can't go out for one more game. It's hard to believe it's been almost 20 years since their final Super Bowl season.

If that doesn't make you feel old, this will:

Blount already is planning next year's fund-raising dinner.

It will honor Franco's 50th birthday.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.



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