A lot can be said of the unsung members of the front office for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s. while their team was great, and well-coached, it simply cannot be denied that they were utterly loaded with talent. There were games played in the 1970s in which 10 different Hall of Famers all started for one team.
Terry Bradshaw at quarterback, getting the snap from Mike Webster. He hands the ball off to Franco Harris, or tosses a pass to either John Stallworth or Lynn Swann. Meanwhile, on the opposite site of the ball, you have Joe Greene to contend with up the middle, with Jack Ham and Jack Lambert trailing him. As if that were not bad enough, you had to worry about throwing in Mel Blount’s direction, with Donnie Shell lurking anywhere on the field. You had to find him.
And the scouting department had to find these players. Granted, some were easy, high first-round picks. Both Jacks were second-round picks. Blount went in the third. Stallworth was a fourth-round pick. Webster the fifth. Shell wasn’t even drafted.
Bill Nunn gets a ton of credit for scouting and identifying these players, and deservedly so. As the Assistant Personnel Director at the time, he certainly should be in the Hall of Fame. Not enough, at times, is talked about the man to whom he was assistant, however, that back Art Rooney, Jr., The Chief’s son and the brother of Dan Rooney.
Reflecting upon his time in the role of Personnel Director upon the announcement that Shell would be enshrined, Rooney told Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “I heard them bragging about Dallas having eight players in the Hall of Fame off one team when [Cowboys personnel director Gil Brandt] went in last year. Try 10”.
He knows what he and his group did. There’s no reason he should be modest about it. The work that they put in to build what is quite arguably the single most talented football team the game has ever seen should not be undersold by any means.
“Bill Nunn went down to South Carolina State to see him”, Rooney said in sharing a story about Shell. “He was playing inside linebacker. Bill said he really liked him. I said, ‘yeah, right. He’s a midget for an inside linebacker.’ But Bill was very convincing. He said this guy is a top player, tough as can be, a super hitter, very, very smart, with all the speed in the world, a terrific guy. He said Shell could learn to play safety while he was playing special teams. Man, was he right. I’d like to take some credit for it, but getting Shell was all Bill”.
Elsewhere, during one of the many interviews that he has given since the announcement of his enshrinement, Shell acknowledged that he couldn’t catch the ball worth a damn when he got to training camp for the first time. Which only makes it all the remarkable that he finished his career with 51, the most ever by a strong safety. Even Troy Polamalu only had 32.