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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Here We Go Stillers, Here We Go!!

With regard to where I am in my story, the tradition of playing Renegade at an opportune time in the second half of a Steeler game, is new.  You can see how this song, along with video highlights on the Jumbotron of Steelers knocking opponents on their asses, gets the crowd and the team fired up.  Can you imagine being a member of the other team when this is transpiring?  I've been there.  It is very cool.

I was also there back in the bad old days of our Stillers.  My first game attended was at Pitt Stadium, with members of my grade school football team, the Blue Devils.

At that time, there were several Steelers who came to the local park to workout in preparation for football camp.  This is where the kids went to the swimming pool.  After their workouts, some of the players would hang around to play basketball and touch football with the kids.

Two such players were John Reger and George Tarasovic (a great name for a Steeler player).  Those two would play basketball against 5 kids.  Tarasovic was a giant, with knuckles that dragged on the ground.  He would play defense and get all the rebounds, then pass the ball to the other end of the court to the cherry picking Reger.  We didn't care, we were in Stiller Heaven.

One day, there was a young quarterback there.  He played touch football with a gang of us.  He was going to be the constant quarterback.  He would switch teams to always be on offense.  I guess he wanted to work on his passing accuracy and timing.

What I remember about that game, was that the first time my team was on offense, he told me to run downfield 15 yards, then cut to the left and look for the ball.  When kids are throwing the ball, you make your cut, get some separation from the guy who is covering you, the QB sees the separation and then throws the ball.  By the time it gets to you, the guy covering you has time to recover, if he is quick enough.

I ran downfield 15 yards, made my cut, got my separation, looked for the ball and it was about 4 feet from my chest.  I was not ready and it bounced off my chest, BOINK!  That was a lesson for me about how the pros throw the ball.  He threw the ball to a spot where he told me to be and he threw it long before I got there.  By the way, you may have heard of this rookie Steeler quarterback.  His name was Len Dawson.  He had the misfortune of being there during the Buddy Parker/Bobby Layne era.

Along came Chuck Noll.  Please tell me I don't have to say anything more about that.  

All this transition from NFL doormat to NFL dynasty was happening during the 70s, when I was building my flying career.  It was a truly magical time.  One of my students had season tickets and when he could not attend games, he gave them to me.  What a blast to go there and make fun of guys like Billy "White Shoes" Johnson as he walked to the locker room at half time.

Chuck Noll along with being a football coach and saint, was a pilot.  He flew at Allegheny County Airport and eventually bought airplanes.  He started with a Beechcraft Bonanza, then a Beechcraft Baron and eventually a Beechcraft King Air C-90.  All great airplanes.

The Bonanza was famous for its V-tail design.

But I think Coach Noll had a straight tail version.


King Air C-90

Chuck Noll's instructor brought him to our little airport to take his check rides with Wild Bill McCowin.  Bill gave us all a heads up and we got to meet him.  That's like dying and going to hog heaven in that part of the country.

Later, I bumped into Coach Noll at the Pittsburgh FAA General Aviation District Office at Allegheny County.  He assured me the Stillers were going to go the the Super Bowl and win AGAIN!!  Ha, it was a great time to be a Burgh Boy.

One day, the women in the office told me I would be flying a trip that night in one of our new Seneca IIs and it would be with Rocky Bleier.  

Long story short.  Rocky was one of the starting running backs.  He had been drafted by the Stillers out of Notre Dame and gone to Viet Nam.  He was injured and there was a question about whether he would walk again, let alone play football.  When he came back, he worked extremely hard to get back on the field.  He had a prosthetic made for his damaged foot.  He was the guy who threw the lead blocks for Franco Harris.  He also ran for 1000 yards during a season when Franco did also.  

Franco with one of his biggest fans.

Rocky was going to a speaking event for people who worked in the industry that made prosthetics.  I flew him for one more such trip.  He was a great guy and we spent lots of time talking about inside team stuff.  Of course, I cannot reveal any of that.

Once, as we arrived at the site of the speaking engagement, a crowd of people, with big smiles on their faces, were approaching us.  I turned to him and said, "Hey Rock, these people are going to be asking for my autograph.  I hope you don't mind."

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