Mark Madden

Mark Madden

The Super Genius of Pittsburgh Sports.Full Bio



I wrote a column about Bill Nunn Jr. this past January to plug his continuing candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Given the Steelers' helmet-decal controversy, I strongly suggest putting Nunn's name on the backs of the Steelers' helmets. This column tells why:

I grew up loving the Steelers of the ‘70s: Four Super Bowl wins, and right in my wheelhouse chronologically.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame made me hate those Steelers.

Ten players, the coach, the owner and the owner's son/primary designer of those teams are recognized by Canton. Thirteen men. But Yinzer Nation always wants more.

Defensive back Donnie Shell no sooner got announced as a member of the Hall of Fame’s Centennial Class this past Wednesday than the campaign started for defensive end L.C. Greenwood: “WHAT ABOUT L.C.?”

What about the ball boy? What about the crew that worked the chains? What about “Dirt” Dinardo, the groundskeeper? Where does it stop?

But another man contributed to those Steelers teams who belongs in the Hall of Fame, because his contributions went far beyond winning games.

Bill Nunnwas a scout for the Steelers from 1967-69, then the assistant personnel director for the team from 1970-87. After that, Nunn scouted part-time for the Steelers until 2014, passing away that year at 84. He was a great man.

Before working for the Steelers, Nunn was a sportswriter, sports editor and then managing editor for the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the nation’s most influential black newspapers. Nunn was ghostwriter for Jackie Robinson’s column.

The Courier started naming a Black College All-America Team in 1950. Segregation at colleges in the South steered excellent athletes to black schools. Alabama didn’t have an African-American player until 1971. Nunn had deep insight on a source of talent most NFL teams barely knew about.

When Nunn worked for the Steelers, those players got opportunity. Those players got drafted. Those players got signed.

Those players won Super Bowls.

Mel Blount came from Southern University. Greenwood from Arkansas-Pine Bluff.Ernie Holmes from Texas Southern. Shell from South Carolina State. John Stallworth from Alabama A&M. Dwight White from East Texas State. All integral pieces of the Steelers’ dynasty. All in black and gold because of Nunn’s groundwork.

When the Steelers got their first ring by winning Super Bowl IX on Jan. 12, 1975, that team had 27 black players among its 47. Eleven were from black colleges.

The Steelers’ success was part of Nunn’s handiwork. But his greater accomplishment was helping deserving black athletes get proper opportunity. (They didn’t always. Still don’t.)

"He gave us exposure," said Shell when Nunn was inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame in 2010. "You look back at the picture, and a lot of guys wouldn't have made it if not for him. What a great legacy, to have opened that door.

"He had some extraordinary gifts. Along with being a writer and communicator, he had the gift of identifying talent. When Bill was scouting, you'd find some diamonds in the rough in black colleges."

The Black College Football Hall of Fame is a great honor, but not enough for Nunn. It’s like confining Blount’s legacy to Southern University.

Nunn should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He wasn’t just an architect of perhaps the NFL’s greatest team ever.

Nunn was an architect of change. That’s an impeccable qualification for enshrinement.

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