While the Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans are all quite excited this offseason about the fact that both head coach Bill Cowher and safety Donnie Shell were voted into the Hall of Fame—and more good news could be coming for safety Troy Polamalu (especially) and guard Alan Faneca—for some, it may help remind them of yet another name that is unjustifiably absent from Canton.
That would be Bill Nunn, whose credentials have only been strengthened with this Centennial Slate process. Nunn, a newspaper reporter for the Pittsburgh Courier, was critical of the team for not paying enough attention to historically black colleges and universities.
Instead of pushing back or ignoring him, the team brought him in, and he began scouting these colleges. He found Hall of Famers in mining these depths that many teams overlooked, including John Stallworth out of Alabama A&M in 1974. Though undrafted, Shell came out of South Carolina State that same year.
Imagine finding two Hall of Famers out of HBCUs in the same year. That’s what Bill Nunn helped the Steelers do. That’s just one of the reasons that he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He wasn’t just a ‘black college scout’ by any means, either.
He was fired hired, brough in by Dan Rooney, in 1970, serving as Assistant Personnel Director under Art Rooney Jr. He held that post until 1987, at which point he went into semi-retirement, yet remained a scout for the team all the way up until 2014 on an informal basis. He passed away that year.
There is no question that Nunn had an immense impact on the Steelers’ personnel during one of the greatest dynasty periods of any major American professional sport. He oversaw the drafting of nearly every one of their great players from their greatest era, short of Joe Green in 1969. He changed the way they scout, and where they scout, and what their priorities are.
He remained a fixture at training camp all the while. There is a bench where he always sat that has been commemorated in his honor. The Steelers’ draft room is named after him. The organization understands just how big of an impact he had.
I still believe it’s only a matter of time, even if it takes quite a while yet, before the Hall of Fame does as well. After all, he served under Rooney Jr. during a period in which they drafted or signed as college free agents ten Hall of Fame players, including Rod Woodson in his final draft as Assistant Personnel Director.
If you’re responsible for drafting that many Hall of Famers, it’s hard to overlook the fact that you should be in there with them. Perhaps it’s the ‘assistant’ part of his title that holds him back, but then—Art Rooney, Jr. should be in as well, as his father and his brother are.