Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Bill Nunn left his imprint on the NFL
By Scott Brown
PITTSBURGH -- The first day of the NFL draft usually has the feel of Christmas Eve at the Pittsburgh Steelers' headquarters because of the anticipation.
It figures to be a little more somber this year following the death of longtime scout Bill Nunn, who passed away Tuesday night of complications from a stroke.
Nunn worked until the end of a life that spanned nearly nine decades -- and probably provided enough stories to fill nine books. He left an indelible imprint on the Steelers, and he is one of the most significant figures in the franchise’s storied history.
The Steelers' success in the 1970s probably doesn't happen without Bill Nunn.
Think about that for a second.
Also consider that Nunn did much more than put the Steelers on a path to greatness by opening doors for them at historically black colleges. Nunn created opportunities for African-American players when he worked as a newspaper man.
As the sports editor of The Pittsburgh Courier, a newspaper that could claim a national following and a social conscience, Nunn put together an annual Black College All-America football team.
Some teams used this as a draft guide back when there wasn't exhaustive coverage of the annual selection process. And when Mel Kiper Jr.’s hair didn't have multiple Twitter accounts.
As Steelers.com’s Bob Labriola wrote in a retrospective, Nunn discovered players such as Deacon Jones before he joined the Steelers in 1967 and helped change the course of a staggering franchise.
He is more well-known for the latter, and in the almost 50 years Nunn spent with the Steelers, he came to embody the spirit of Art Rooney, the Steelers' founder who was affectionately known as “The Chief.”
There certainly were similarities between the two.
Both lived fascinating lives and seemed to know everybody in Pittsburgh. Those who were around both on a regular basis spoke in reverential terms about them in part because of their ability to connect with people.
The social change that Nunn helped bring about in the NFL no doubt influenced Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who hired Nunn and successfully pushed for more diversity in the league after he became one of the power brokers in it.
The so-called Rooney Rule, enacted in 2003, requires teams to interview at least one minority when hiring a head coach or general manager.
Art and Dan Rooney are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for their contributions to the NFL, and hopefully Nunn will one day join them there.
When you look at how he shaped the NFL’s greatest dynasty to the opportunities he created for African-American players and those in NFL front offices and scouting departments, it’s pretty easy to see that there has to be some place in Canton for Nunn.