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Friday, August 26, 2011

Steelers - The Sixties (1960 - 1969)

Steelers – The 1960’s (1960-1969)

Eleven fewer wins than in the fifties meant the Steelers fans still qualified as long suffering.

Tag Line – The playoffs – sorta kinda…
43-61-6 (.391 pct)
Winning Seasons: 2/10

500 Seasons: 0/10
Playoffs: 1 season

Spoiled with almost annual playoff appearances and lots of Super Bowl appearances, it’s hard to imagine what being a Steelers fan must have been like for losing season after losing season. Pittsburgh was under .500 for eight of ten years in the sixties. Loyal fans had to wonder if they would ever be rewarded for their faith in the Rooneys.

1962 – The Steelers went 9—5, finishing alone in second place in the Eastern Conference. They actually won at the champion New York Giants and only lost to them at home by four points. But lopsided losses to Cleveland (twice) and Dallas kept them from a share of the title.

Back in the pre AFL-NFL Merger days, the two conference champions played for the NFL title. During the sixties, there was also the Bert Bell Benefit Bowl, commonly known as the Playoff Bowl. The AFL was starting up in 1960 and the NFL wanted to showcase its product on national television more. And so was born the Playoff Bowl. The two conference runner-ups played each other for third place. So, we have a post-season game, but it’s not actually a playoff game. After the Merger took place in 1970, the game was discontinued, though there was some discussion of having it played during the off-week before the Super Bowl.

After the 1962 season, the Steelers played the Lions. It was only the second “playoff” appearance in team history. The Steelers were led by three former Lions greats: Bobby Layne, John Henry Johnson and head coach Buddy Parker. Alas, former Cleveland Brown Milt Plum was MVP of the 10-17 Detroit win. Quarterbacks Ed Brown and Bobby Layne were sacked six times and threw two picks. Detroit had massacred the Steelers 7-45 in the season opener, so the Steelers started and finished their season with losses to the Lions.
Ernie Stautner (70) and Big Daddy (76).
Two superstar d-linemen
BIG DADDY – Eugene Lipscomb played in the NFL from 1953 to 1962, spending his last two years in Pittsburgh. Largely forgotten now, he was a dominating player and extremely popular in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. An MVP of the 1962 pro bowl, Lipscomb died of a heroin overdose in May of 1963. He was chosen, along with Ernie Stautner, as a defensive tackle on the Legends Team (a list of the greatest pre-1970 Steelers). Sports Illustrated featured Big Daddy in a long article in 1999. It’s not surprising Lipscomb died a victim of his huge appetites.

JOHN HENRY – The Steelers’ fourth all-time leading rusher is Hall of Famer John Henry Johnson, who played in Pittsburgh from 1960 to 1965. Pittsburgh could have had a lot more from Johnson: they drafted him in the second round of the 1953 NFL draft, but he chose to go to Canada instead of Pittsburgh (heck, the weather isn’t much different…).

Descriptions I’ve read remind me a bit of Earl Campbell. Johnson was an absolutely bruising guy who ran over people, never went down on first contact and also had agility and speed to leave defenders out of position, making it even harder to tackle him. Was Johnson tough? He once broke the jaw of a teammate in an intra-squad scrimmage. Addressing the issue, he said, “What did you want me to do? Kiss the guy or tackle him?” Johnson was a fullback and by all accounts a devastating blocker who completely crushed defenders.

From 1954 through 1956, he was part of the San Francisco 49ers “Million Dollar Backfield,” alongside three other Hall of Famers: quarterback Y.A. Tittle and running backs Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny. When Johnson retired, he was fourth on the all-time NFL rushing list, trailing only Jim Brown, Jim Taylor and Joe Perry. Johnson passed away in June of 2011. He and Perry (who died two months earlier) both donated their brains to Boston University for research into head injuries in sports, as they both suffered from a head trauma related ailment. Johnson was the first Pittsburgh Steelers back to rush for a thousand yards in a single season, doing it twice. actually has some footage of Johnson playing, commenting and being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

MISTER STEELER – An awful lot of Steelers fans don’t know the name Dick Hoak. But even more so than the name “Rooney,” Dick Hoak embodies the Steeler way. Hoak played running back for the Steelers from 1961 through 1970, totaling over 5,000 yards rushing and receiving.

He coached at a West Virginia high school in 1971 and interviewed with Chuck Noll in 1972 to be an offensive backfield coach and got the job. He became running backs coach when Bill Cowher took over in 1993 and finally retired in 2007. He had spent 10 years as a player and THIRTY FIVE as a coach in Pittsburgh. Along the way he turned down offers such as coaching the USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers and becoming Tony Dungy’s offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay.

I have never seen or heard about one negative comment regarding Dick Hoak. Not one grumbling from a former player or coach. I would be stunned if one other player/coach spent forty-five years with one team. He and the Rooneys embody the approach that has made the Pittsburgh Steelers the epitome of a successful NFL franchise.

The aftermath
The Hit
BAD DAY AT THE OFFICE – In 1964, the Steelers hosted the Giants, eking out a 27-24 win. Pittsburgh finished the season 5-9, ahead of only the 2-10-2 Giants. In that game, 6’-7” Steelers defensive lineman John Baker absolutely crushed Hall of Fame QB Y.A. Tittle. The pass was picked off by Chuck Hinton and returned for a touchdown. A Post Gazette photographer took a picture of the bloodied, groggy Tittle kneeling in the end zone. Tittle, concussed, didn’t remember the aftermath of the hit.
The paper didn’t use the photo, but it gained a life of its own and now hangs in the NFL Hall of Fame. Before the explosion of the internet and mass distribution of digital images, this was one of the most famous football photographs taken.

HIGHLIGHT OF FOUR DECADES – The Steelers went a combined 16-9-3 in 1962 and 1963. That would be the best two-year run in team history until the 1972-1973 playoff seasons. But things took a major downturn after 1963. After this mini-success, the Steelers would go 18-49-3 the next five years. Buddy Parker (1964), Mike Nixon (1965) and Bill Austin (1966-1968) were in charge during this disappointing period. Once again, the Pittsburgh Steelers were at the bottom of the NFL. But things would begin to change in 1969, though it certainly didn’t look like it.  

TRIVIA – The black helmet was born in 1962. Republic Steel (based in Cleveland) approached the team that season and suggested they use the American Steelmark logo on their helmets. A bit later, the team got permission from the American Iron and Steel Institute for permission to change “Steel” to “Steelers” on the inside of the logo. At this time the helmets were gold and team management decided to put the new logo on only one side of the helmet, beginning with the tenth game of the season. Wanting to do something exciting for their Playoff Bowl appearance, the team changed the helmet color to black for the game. The Steelers came onto the field with the now famous black helmet with the steel logo on one side only.

SUMMARY – Fans had something to be excited about with the 1962 season, culminating in the Playoff Bowl. But Bobby Layne was pushed into retirement by Buddy Parker following the season. The Steelers never sniffed the postseason for the rest of the decade (fourth in 1963) and they finally abandoned Forbes Field, playing all their homes games at Pitt Stadium beginning in 1964. There were some good players not previously mentioned, like middle linebacker Myron Pottios, wide receivers Buddy Dial and Roy Jefferson, as well as players who would be a part of the upcoming Super Bowl squads like Andy Russell and Ray Mansfield.

Jefferson had back to back thousand yard receiving seasons in 1968 and 1969 (the first ever for a Steeler) but was traded to the Colts because he couldn’t get along with new coach Chuck Noll. Jefferson went on to play in Super Bowls with the Colts and Redskins.
John Henry Johnson, Dick Hoak,
Bobby Layne and Buddy Dial hold
up the pre "er" logo.
But two things happened in 1969 that became the cornerstone of what is now the best franchise in the NFL. A mediocre former guard was hired as head coach and with his first pick in the NFL draft, the new coach took a defensive lineman from North Texas State.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

This is the prologue to the Sherlock Holmes novel I've written a large chunk of but am nowhere near finishing. Some day...

San Francisco, 1895

She lay on her back, naked, eyes closed. There was no trace of motion anywhere on the small platform and she seemed serene, at peace. Her legs extended straight out, hands crossed over her milky breasts. With a little wishful thinking, one might suppose that the hands were joined together in prayer. Her long, dark-brown hair radiated outwards, covering the rough planks like a gossamer cloth. The floor surrounding her was layered deeply with dust and scraps of paper. Odd-sized blocks of wood were scattered about haphazardly, except for a larger pair that had been carefully placed. They were propped up beneath her head, which had fallen slightly to the left. Great care had been taken to lay her out just so. Loving hands must have arranged her in this lonely room.

The shutters were closed, but narrow beams of light filtered through in a few places where the old wood was split and separated by the often seemingly unrelenting rains from the bay. The water had beaten upon the timbers until they had surrendered before nature’s irresistible force. The surrounding gloom caused her body to glow a faintly luminescent white, as if she were a ghost at rest. But there was no sign that she would soon arise. Her breast did not move and no whisper of a breath escaped her parted lips. The woman was absolutely still in her repose. The tower would not be haunted by the sprit of this beautiful corpse.

Once an active member of Emmanuel Baptist Church, the young woman had become the Angel of the Belfry. She had been buried not down in the cold, dark earth, but up in the sky; her sightless gaze towards heaven.