A Front-Row Seat with the Sportswriters Who Sat There

Sit down with host Todd Jones and other sportswriters who knew the greatest athletes and coaches, and experienced first-hand some of the biggest sports moments in the past 50 years. They’ll share stories behind the stories -- some they’ve only told to each other.

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Vito Stellino: “I was Lucky to be in the Right Place at the Right Time.”

Vito Stellino: “I was Lucky to be in the Right Place at the Right Time.”

Vito Stellino has been writing about the NFL since the players needed off-season jobs to make a living. He covered the gambling suspensions of stars Alex Karras and Paul Hornung – in 1963. Hear about that and much more as Vito takes us on a ride through the past 60 years of pro football’s growth. The Hall of Fame writer witnessed the moving trucks depart on that snowy night in ’84 when the Colts fled Baltimore for Indianapolis. Vito puts us there. He also takes us behind the scenes with the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers and explains how one of the NFL’s greatest teams was impacted by the work of the too-often forgotten Bill Nunn. Oh, and besides football, Vito was also ringside for Ali-Frazier I, as well as courtside for Texas Western’s historic ’66 NCAA championship win. He has details. Join us.

Stellino’s distinguished career in sports journalism began in 1963 as a United Press International reporter in Detroit, where he covered the Lions. After a two-year stint in the Army, he rejoined the UPI wire service in New York before moving to newspapers in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Jacksonville. The majority of Stellino’s career was spent covering in the NFL, and his work earned him the Dick McCann Award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989. At one point, Vito covered 40 consecutive Super Bowls. His first was in January 1973 when the Miami Dolphins capped their undefeated season. Vito was a beat reporter covering the iconic Steelers of the 1970s when Pittsburgh won four Super Bowl titles in six years. He later covered two of the Washington teams that won Super Bowls under Joe Gibbs. Before the NFL became a year-round beat, Vito reported on six World Series, the first Ali-Frazier fight, NBA and NHL games (including Gordie Howe’s record-breaking goal in 1963), PGA tournaments and tennis. Stellino is still writing about the NFL, as well as other sports topics on his personal blog “Vito’s Views” at https://vitostellino.com/ . You can follow him @vitostellino on Twitter.

Edited Stellino transcript

[00:00] - Todd

Vito, welcome to our show. It's an honor to have you on as a guest.

[00:00:06.770] - Vito

Good to be here.

[00:00:07.940] - Todd

I appreciate it. Yeah, man, what a career. Let's think about this. You started in John Kennedy was the President when you started writing about sports and you're still riding veto. It's awesome.

[00:00:24.150] - Vito

Yeah. Years have kind of flown by. It's hard to believe it's been that long. Actually, I was in the UPI office the day Kennedy was shot because Bill Ford had a Press conference to buy the Lions and UPI had the first slash on his wire. I wound up doing some Sidebar stuff on that locally.

[00:00:58.350] - Todd

So you wrote about the Kennedy assassination.

[00:01:01.560] - Vito

Think about that. That's right. Yeah.

[00:01:06.930] - Todd

Well, we're going to talk a little more light hearted stuff here. We're going to be talking sports and what a fabulous career you've had and hall of Fame career. I'm surprised, Vito, you weren't in this car showroom in Canton in 1950 when I was born. Yeah, you didn't quite make that. But you are in Canton because the hall of Fame honored you with the Dick McCann Award. They honored you 33 years ago in 1989. Still been writing about the NFL. You're like the Energizer Bunny? I love it. Well, veto the NFL has been your life. And you covered the cults when they left Baltimore, Joe Gibbs, two Super Bowls in the 80s, the dynasty of the Steelers in the 19s 70s. We're going to talk a lot about that. I wanted to start off, though. A lot of people would not realize you're so synonymous with the NFL. But early in your career, you covered all kinds of sports. You worked for UPI in Detroit and New York. You did like six World Series Goldie Howl's, NHL record goal in 10, 00, 19, 63. What was it like being a sportswriter before you got tied up in the NFL?

[00:02:19.570] - Todd

Tell me about some of the things that you enjoy covering back in those days.

[00:02:24.130] - Vito

Well, in those days, the NFL was not very busy in the off season. They had a three day mini camp in the draft, and the draft was nowhere near the time consuming thing it is now. So I covered a lot of other things. Baseball. The World Series covered some tennis at Four Hills before the current complex was built. Bill Badly's first game at the Madison Square Garden. Wow.

[00:03:03.130] - Todd

Well, there's two events I want to ask you about. One is in 1966. You are actually in Pull Field House at the University of Maryland for the NCAA Championship game when all black Texas Western defeated all white Kentucky. A true moment in history for not just College sports. For all sports. What are your memories of that night covering that game?

[00:03:30.730] - Vito

Well, the funny thing is the fact it was an all black team at the time was not a major issue because three years earlier, I always Chicago won the National Championship with four Blacks right? Yeah. They beat Cincinnati, and in their first game, they had to play Mississippi State, which had to sneak out of Mississippi because they were supposed to be banned from playing any credit team. And there's a famous picture of one of the players she can have on civic players. So being there that night, the bigger story was Kentucky was Kentucky and Texas Western. It was a David Glia type story. I think they only played seven players. David Latin was the big star. Pretty much everybody wrote at the time that what a big upset this was, that Texas Western had come out of nowhere and knocked off Adolf Reps in Kentucky. But then as the years that became more and more of a focal point, as there was more integration, the SEC integrated, there was a saying at that time that you played two blocks at home, three in the road and four if you were behind.

[00:05:27.910] - Todd

When you think about the times, literally right in the middle of the civil rights movement. And like you said, maybe the history didn't hit you at the moment. But do you remember anything about the atmosphere in the arena or the game itself that still sticks with well.

[00:05:45.620] - Vito

I remember Coldfield House was packed. It was not in a big Dome Stadium. It was an average College field house. And I just remember Texas Western had a lot of turnovers. They stole the bar from Kentucky, and one of the Louis Dampier was one of them. And then the Pat Riley was a guard on that team, too.

[00:06:17.930] - Todd

That's right.

[00:06:18.510] - Vito

And so they had a lot of steals. But I remember after the game being in the locker room, just sitting down with some of the Texas Western players and just talking to them one on one. I mean, nowadays it's a Press conference of 300 people, and it's a formal press conference and microphones and all that. At that time, you just went in the locker room and talked to whoever you wanted to. And the Texas Western players were interested in story because they were not like highly recruited. So they talked about their background. And I remember that particularly.

[00:08:03.990] - Todd

Did the African American players recognize after the game when you interviewed them what they had accomplished, not just in winning the game, but the statement that it made?

[00:08:14.010] - Vito

You know, they may recognize that, but they didn't talk about it maybe because we didn't ask them about that issue. It was more they were the David Goliath. Their players had not been heavily recruited. Some of them came from New York, going all the way to Texas, which was unusual most days. So the conversations was just more about the background of players.

[00:08:42.710] - Todd

Right. Well, certainly a great moment in sports for the progress of our society and sports in general. And you were there in the arena. You were also there in the arena for another historic moment in sports. And that's in 1971 when Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali fought for the first time in Madison Square Garden. It was then called the Fight of the century. What do you remember about that night in the Garden?

[00:09:15.850] - Vito

Well, I mean, all the celebrities that were there, Frank Sinatra was taking pictures.

[00:09:21.750] - Todd

Wait, Sinatra, he was a photographer that night.

[00:09:25.690] - Vito

Yeah. But what I remember most is that my assignment was the Muhammad Ali press conference after the Matt, which was the cover of the Simon. I wasn't really a boxing writer, but that was the thing to cover because he was such a Mohammed. He was Mohammed Ali, and he was going to say all kinds of things. And so I'm looking forward to you aren't going to be lacking for quotes that night, that's for sure. Well, Mohammed took such a beating in that match, but he did not come out for the press conference. So instead of Mohammed, we got Bandini Brown. So I went from having what would have been a great story to press conference with Bendini Brown talking about the fight. And I don't think people remember that now that Mohammed didn't even come up for a Press conference, which was so unusual for him because he loved the spotlight. But as I say, he may have fought him too soon. The three and a half years, he was rusty. And the amazing thing is he came back and won the other two. But actually, of course, they kept fighting. A toll took on him, and it actually, in the end, became kind of a sad story.

[00:11:08.050] - Todd

You think about that fight was so brutal that Frazier, the winner, was immediately taken to the hospital. He was the winner.

[00:11:16.690] - Vito

Yeah. It was just amazing. They went 15 rounds then, and he finally knocked all the down at one point, I think, late in the fight. But, yeah, it was just brutal and it was such an event. But on the other hand, you have all these second thoughts about the price those guys paid for those three fights. And of course, now boxing, nobody even knows who the heavy champion is. It's really changed.

[00:11:55.500] - Todd

I mean, there was a time when it was all baseball, boxing and horse racing back in those days. And now it's the NFL's world and we're just renting space. And you've been there throughout the growth of the NFL, literally, when you started in 63, before you went into the army for a couple of years and came back in 66 in 63, you were part of the biggest story of the NFL that year, the suspension of Alex Careris and Paul Horning for gambling. And you were working in Detroit, right.

[00:12:34.510] - Vito

I don't know if I was just lucky or not. I just happened to be off and in the right place at the right time. And so the NFL called us to alert us that they would make the announcement, like at say 100 afternoon, I forget the exact time. So I drove out to Kara's House, which, you know, the kind of houses players live in now, this was a block of houses all the same, very middle class. Maybe you can lower middle class neighborhood. And of course, there were no.



[00:13:09.010] - Vito

Well, no, they were separate houses and weren't row houses, but they were very modest houses. And so then I had no cell phone. So then I had to go in a parking lot and call the office to find out what happened before I actually arrived at the house because I don't know what to say. Well, they told me he suspended. So I drive the house and ring the doorbell. And I still remember his wife came to the door wearing a dress. In those days, women wore dresses, even home. And this little girl was like holding the hem of her dress and she was crying. And he had already left for the Stadium. So then I had to get back to my car, drive down the Stadium. And I remember Cherish, he was really furious, although he did a TV interview, which was one of the most ill advised things you can imagine. We virtually said he had gambled, but he gambled small amounts and think it was a big deal. Yeah. Anyway, he was so bigger. I'll still remember the quote he said, I can go back to I think it's in Gary, Indiana, and work on the steel Mills for all the steel I can eat.

[00:14:42.430] - Vito

He was very upset.

[00:14:44.710] - Todd

Well, Horny Horny was at the end of his career, but Carris was like the defensive player in the League that time, right?

[00:14:52.150] - Vito

Well, no, he was still 62 season. He was still at the top of his game. No, I mean, it was like the best offensive player and the best defensive player in the League were being suspended. Now, you can argue maybe he wasn't the best offensive player. I'd say one of the best because obviously Jim Brown was in the League at the time. But we were focused on Carrie so long because he'd go on TV. The Horny thing came out of nowhere. We had no idea that he was even investigated or anything like that. And in fact, we found out later that Rosel called Lombardi to come to New York and he told them, hey, here's the evidence. And Lombardi said, hey, you have no choice. That was kind of like the first major national story that I was involved in.

[00:19:27.810] - Todd

You mentioned at the time very young Commissioner Pete Rosell when Karis and Horning rules suspended and Roselle really shepherd the League through the 60s and into the growth that enjoyed through the 70s. But in 1970, when they started Monday Night Football, that was like a risk, right. You were at the press conference when they were going to unveil this show, basically a Monday night game, but that wasn't like a guarantee. Now it's just part of our culture. But when you were there writing about it, what did you think it was a risk?

[00:20:02.250] - Vito

Well, I wasn't attuned to TV the way we are now. It turned out CBS and NBC turned it down and ABC only took it because Roosevelt threatened to put it in syndication. And ABC was worried that their stations would defect to get that game. So, yeah, we didn't rethink it was that much a risk. We didn't realize the whole implications. In fact, today they announced all the figures. I still remember Roselle. She would not give the figures. He just said it's bigger than a blood box. That was his line. So I didn't know about prime time and all that kind of stuff in those days. So I just took the average of what they got for a Sunday game and then figured time to buy 17. And the great late, great Beno Cook was one of the great characters of all time. He called me up and said, hey, you're way low. They got a lot more than that since prime time. So that's how I learned how valuable it was and had not been. Abc had not been ruined. Arley had not been Howard Cosell. I don't know that Monday Night Football would have ever became the thing it became.

[00:21:36.450] - Todd

Didn't they try Saturday Night Football game in the late 60s and it really just didn't do well.

[00:21:43.890] - Vito

Yes, they had Green Bay versus Baltimore, which at the time was Lombardi versus Shula Saturday night, and it lost in the ratings to the Miss America contest if you complete that. So that's why the networks weren't that eager to give up their regular programming in prime time.

[00:22:09.130] - Todd

Johnny Unitis plan, you have Vince Lagarde on the sideline and it can't be out Miss America.

[00:22:20.270] - Vito

Yeah, it's absolutely amazing. But I don't know that without Arlington Cosell, it became a thing. They arrived in the town, there'd be a lunch. It was an event. And Cosell, half the country hated him, half the country loved him. The very first game was the Jetson, the Browns, Joe Namath. And during the game, gosel said that Leroy Kelly wasn't having a compelling game in those days. You're going to say anything negative in that sentence became controversial. In fact, some of the owners wanted to sell taking off the broadcast.

[00:23:03.970] - Todd

Selling was controversy.

[00:23:06.330] - Vito

Yeah, because everything was all upbeat. But yeah, he made an event. And of course, the pairing him with Don Meredith was perfect. They bounced off each other and then the halftime highlights again, no ESPN, Internet, all that they would show halftime highlights because people hadn't seen the highlights. There were no highlight shows. Maybe the Sunday night local broadcast might run a few clips. And the main thing is Costell would add Lib Dem. He would not write a script. They would run the thing. He would add Libids. And people would get mad at Cosell if they couldn't show clips of all the games. And they had to show the two teams who were on the next week, plus some of the bigger events. And so people would complain to Cosell. He's not showing our team type of thing. Nfl films. They made all the decisions pick the thing. But it's amazing that he could add Lib those highlights like that.

[00:24:33.310] - Todd

Night football. I think Monday Night Football in those days really was the start of where we are today with the League in terms of stranded, Ganza show entertainment. It's so different. But when I look back on when your career began, football was so different. I think there's a city that really embodied how different it was. It was Baltimore and you had Baltimore and the Colts. And later on in your career, you covered the Baltimore Colts when they left town in Indianapolis. Can you give us some context about the love affair that Baltimore had for the Colts before they left?

[00:25:10.330] - Vito

Yeah. Franklin Ford wrote a book about he was from Baltimore, a novel about this kid that somehow got a dozen cold tickets. And he used those tickets like one of them to get into College, to get a job and just how valuable the code tickets were. In 58, they played the famous game against the Giants. United became the face of the League. One of my friends once said the NFL wasn't important until Johnny Knightis made it important, which I think really sums it up. And yeah. And Baltimore up until then was kind of the whistle stop between Washington and Philly and New York. They had lost the baseball to the Yankees. I mean, went to New York and the Baltimore Orioles, the original went to New York, became the Yankees. So they didn't get baseball back till 1954, just a few years before. People don't know this either. In 1952, a team failed in Dallas. They literally went bankrupt and moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania, and finished up the seasons.

[00:26:36.690] - Todd

Football, football failed in Dallas.

[00:26:39.530] - Vito

In Dallas, which in a way led to the formation of the AFL because they would not give Lamar Honda franchise. They were very wary of expanding because they knew about Dallas happened a few years earlier and they were worried about surviving. But anyway, so the Hershey team moved to Baltimore, I think, at 53 and became the Baltimore Colts. So there were still some of the players, like Art Donovan had played. In fact, George Young would later became the general manager of the Giants and one of the iconic figures in League history. He played there, too. And so they moved to Baltimore, and then they start winning, and the city just embraced them. And so the whole decade, from 58 to 72, it was just amazing. But then Kill Rosenbloom made a swap with Bob Bersey, and he got the Rams and.

[00:28:09.910] - Todd

The franchise.

[00:28:18.290] - Vito

Carol was such a maneuver that he wanted to swap them. He didn't want to buy the Rams because if he sold the Colts, he had to pay estate tax or no, what kind of tax, anyway?

[00:28:39.510] - Todd

Some kind of midealth tax.

[00:28:45.430] - Vito

He had to pay tax on the property made on the sale because nowhere near, I think it's sold for, I think paid 16 million, which is amazing today. You can't buy a player for that today. But anyway, and then Earth Day just ran it into the ground. Yeah.

[00:29:07.540] - Todd

So you have Robert Earthday, who takes over this team. That's such a part. It's the fabric of Baltimore. I mean, the players for a long time actually lived in the neighborhood. They worked jobs in the off season. The Colts just became the neighborhood, became the town. And then Ursa comes in and things are changing in the League, and he's a different owner. And next thing you know, it's March 28, 1984, and Robert Arse and Nicolts are literally packing up moving vans and heading out to Indianapolis. And you're there, right? You're there to witness this?

[00:29:47.160] - Vito

Oh, yeah. Well, he had been rumored that they were going to move. In fact, he had a Press conference when I was at the Super Bowl denying that they were going to move. Of course, he had been in Phoenix before, came to Baltimore to deny it. In fact, I wasn't there. And he said, Where's the tall Italian guy? But it was a night, so he was bombed. Anyway, that night, the moving vans start pulling up. The reason that they moved the middle of night was the city of Oakland came up with this idea of eminent domain, that they could take over the Raiders because they moved to Los Angeles and 83, Baltimore got the idea. I'm not so sure Earthly would have moved because he wasn't the shoppers operator in the world. I don't know where he does something that bold. Moving to team then was huge. Hadn't happened a long time. And the Raiders was considered an outlier because it was Al Davis, and he lived by his own rules. But anyway, so we got some calls. Hey, something's happened in the Cool complex. So I go out there and these moving vans were there.

[00:31:30.630] - Vito

It was snowing sleeting. It was kind of a real surreal scene. And these moving bands started moving out, and we didn't know where they were going. But that's why I did it at night. He was sneaking out of town so they couldn't use them a domain which, as a legal theory, never held any water. Anyway.

[00:31:57.110] - Todd

Did word spread that night? Did people show up.

[00:32:00.060] - Vito

Fans oh, yeah, there were some fans there because doesn't moving bad all of a sudden roll down the street. It caught people's attention. So there were people there. They wouldn't let us into the complex. So all we could just do is just wait. And, you know, the drivers, where you go and that type of thing. And of course, they didn't say it. And the people who did the packing were a bunch of College students. I forget who lined them up. And the moving vans. There was the Mayflower. Moving vans did not help Mayflower's business in Baltimore after that, although I bet the vans were not from Baltimore. They had driven down. I forget from where there was a town, I think in Pennsylvania, where they came from. That was just a devastating thing in Baltimore to lose the cold. The NFL did nothing to stop it. And then six months later, the Eagles tried to Leonard Toes trying to move the Eagles to Phoenix, and all of a sudden the NFL sweeps into action, and they managed to block that move. So at a Press conference, I said, hey, wait a second. Six months ago, you couldn't do anything to stop the cops and moving?

[00:33:38.000] - Vito

I didn't realize give some kind of answer, I forget what it was. I mean, I understood Philadelphia was the fourth largest market in the country. Baltimore. For all the excitement Baltimore over the team, it was still a small market team. Well, anyway, a few days later, Roselle calls me at home unsolicited. This is kind of the guy Roosevelt was. And he said, hey, I understand. Just want you to know that if Baltimore gets a Stadium deal, they're going to get an expansion team. Well, what happened was they had a labor dispute with the players, lasted like ten years, and Roselle wound up retiring and they got Taglibo and Goddell, and they wanted to go to new markets. And so they didn't get an expansion team, although the deal they had was so good that four teams were ready to take it. And the Bronze was the first. When the Bronze were willing to move John Moe, who was leading the Baltimore effort, he signed a deal with them on a Friday, and it didn't leak out for about a week. But as I say.

[00:35:18.190] - Todd

Do you think if Rosell had not retired and Baltimore, they would have got a franchise, a new franchise, expansion, which, when you think about it, means Cleveland would have had nowhere to go. Do you think Rosell's retirement led to the Browns leaving Cleveland?

[00:35:39.790] - Vito

It could have been. Although Model was desperate at that time. He had taken over the Stadium, which was an old Stadium which needed millions in renovations, and he was not a good businessman. The budget his someone said the budget was like the checkbook. In fact, the year before, they signed Andreison to $5 million signing bonus, and the banks wouldn't give Model the $5 million he had to really hustle around to get the 5 million. So what would have happened to the Bronze? I don't know. But Baltimore would have got an expansion team, although, as it turned out, they did an expansion team. They got Ozzy Newsom and then they got Steve Vishati as an owner. So they want two Super Bowls. And me, one of the houses struggled. So in the end, and they got this great new Stadium. Also, it affected major League Baseball because had the Colts not moved, they probably would have built a combination Stadium, which was the rage in those days. Philly Cincy, Pittsburgh all had those baseball football stadiums. So because they moved the Baltimore, the Orioles, that, hey, we don't want a combined Stadium. We want our, you know, we want the baseball only Stadium.

[00:37:16.360] - Vito

And they designed camping yards, which changed the Stadium before camping yards with Kaminsky Park, a very bland even though it's a baseball Stadium. And then none of the retro amenities that campaign yards had, which became popular throughout the League. So it also had a huge effect on the Orioles, too.

[00:37:44.610] - Todd

The Colts leading Baltimore has such a cascading effect on, as you pointed out, not just the NFL, but even into baseball. I do think in my mind, the Colts being in Baltimore is that old era. That's kind of for me like a dividing line, because then you started having all kinds of franchises moving to grow for the League. It's a $12 billion annual revenue business. Now, the NFL it certainly wasn't like that when you covered your first Super Bowl, which was, I believe, Super Bowl seven. Is that right?

[00:38:19.460] - Vito

That's right, yeah.

[00:38:24.070] - Todd

The Dolphins completed their perfect season by beating Washington. So it wasn't like that in.

[00:38:33.770] - Vito

No way. Although Dan Rooney once said to me, we are all better off when we were making I forget to figure the teams are making X and the players are making X. He was one of the few owners who did not think that increasing the revenue. And of course, now it's totally out of control. It's all about marketing. Yeah. Rosell used to say to his minions, Remember we kick off at 01:00 every Sunday. The message being we're a football League. The important thing is football and what's good for football now. It's what's good for making money and marketing and all those kind of things. And there's no saying showbiz. You always want them to come back for more. You don't want to say you don't want them thinking this is never going to end type of thing. I think they're getting close to that. The season going on until mid January and that type of thing. And 17 games, they think, oh, that's great. Well, what if you're 115? I'm old fashioned.

But it started to become big in the 70s, too. The 70s was a great era which kind of set the table. You had the Steelers winning four, you had the Dolphins winning two, the Cowboys winning two and then losing two Super Bowls. The Steelers the only time the team of the decade was decided on the field. So it was a decade. The Raiders only won one and they were still an iconic team.

[00:44:13.130] - Todd

Four times.

[00:44:13.870] - Vito

And didn't they got their four and didn't win. So it started to build in the 70s and the Super Bowl became bigger each year. People don't realize, well.

[00:44:29.340] - Todd

Let'S talk about that decade of the 1970s. You covered those Pittsburgh Steelers teams. You were around them daily. They won four Super Bowls in six years. They were the team of the decade. They still might be the best team ever. And did you realize at the time how great of a team that was not just the fact that they were winning, but that you were covering an all time team.

[00:44:59.990] - Vito

Yeah, it's interesting. When they won the first two and I wrote this and it took to offer people in Pittsburgh, I said, to be great, to be considered great, you got to be considered like Lombardi or the Cleveland Browns of the Paul Brown area. Got to win at least three.

[00:45:20.330] - Todd

Never enough dito.

[00:45:25.530] - Vito

So in 76, which they still think may have been their best team, they had like five shut outs. They got off to a bad start, but then they won the last nine Rider season games, just blew up Baltimore and Burg Jones in the first game. But in that game, Franco and Brock, you were both hurt. So they go to Oakland with only one healthy running back, Reggie Harrison, and they lost. And then the next year they had what no called your distractions. They had guys holding out so they didn't win again. So then I started to think maybe it's a two year deal. But then the funny thing is to neutralize the Steeler defense, in effect, in 78, they passed like no bumping received after five years ago. And that was the beginning of opening the game up. Well, the interesting thing about what the Steelers did, they won two with one set of rules and two more with the other set of rules because the last two Branch throwing the Swan, Stallworth, they became much more of a passing team. He threw for 300 yards in the last two Super Bowls. First one, I think he threw for 129 or something.

[00:47:01.010] - Vito

Super bowl nine, but they had the talent to adjust it. Once they won three, then I was saying.

[00:47:15.690] - Todd

Hey, they met beat those standards.

[00:47:18.290] - Vito


[00:47:21.110] - Todd

On a daily basis.

[00:47:29.550] - Vito

The amazing thing about that team, too, is they didn't make the money that they made to make today. The big deal is getting your second contract. In fact, the rookies were making less than sports writers in those days. They're making less than 20,000 a year. It was amazing.

[00:47:51.170] - Todd

That's pretty amazing.

[00:47:56.750] - Vito

I'm not saying I want to win now, but winning was like adding importance in that run. They only lost one game to a team that finished below. 500. I mean, if they were supposed to, they lost Oakland on occasion, but they were supposed to beat you. They beat you. And I remember they lost a game in Cleveland and they took a bus. In those days, Cleveland's not that far. And driving back, I wasn't on the bus, but I was told this story. One of the players said, what's Beato going to say about this?

[00:48:30.890] - Todd

You're like the caution of the Steelers. Those great Steeler teams were led by coach Chuck Knoll. They had nine hall of Fame players. We're talking Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swan, John Stallworth. Those were the offensive guys. And then you get to the defense, and you get the Steel Curtain led by mean Joe Green, and you got guys like Jack Hammer, Bloun, Jack Lambert. Think about it. Think about the talent on that team. And yet it was also different. You were around these guys, like every day and you could just talk to them, right. Unlike today. So tell me what it was like to cover the team on a daily basis.

[00:49:11.730] - Vito

It was amazing. They were still interested in getting coverage. They let you in the locker room before practice. They let you in the locker room after practice. And there weren't all those people in the locker room. So you could go up to Terry Bradshaw and just sit on bed next to him and just chat with him. You're just part of the scene. In fact, one time I missed a couple of days in Bradshaw said, where were you? That type of thing. I'm just so used to you could have one on one chats with them. It wasn't like, I mean, nowadays the quarterback talks once a week. It's all press conference type stuff. And it was just a different feeling. In fact, I don't think they realized themselves what a national team they had become. That's when they became a national team with Fads all over the country, because they were on Monday nights a lot, all the playoff games. But there was still that feeling. The Cowboys became America's team. They were big on, hey, we're Pittsburgh's team, that type of thing. And the guys are very down to Earth type of type of thing. In fact, on the field one time, Male Blood thanked me for writing an article about them during practice.

[00:51:00.070] - Todd

Writing an artist.

[00:51:01.810] - Vito

Yeah, because they had none of the national coverage, that there was no ESPN featuring them all the time. And that type of deal.

[00:51:16.870] - Todd

So he thanked you for writing an article?

[00:51:23.530] - Vito

Yeah. No blank came over. He said, oh, thanks. That was a nice story, that type of thing. This guy's a hall of Famer. Although, as I say, that was early in his career. He wasn't 75. He wins MVP, has ten interceptions. And in effect, they often call the five yard bumping rule the Mel bump rule, because until then, you could hit the receiver all over the field until the ball was thrown. So, I mean, he was fast. He was six three, he was big. He could knock receivers off their routes and that type of thing.

[00:54:21.150] - Vito

He liked being invisible. He would do a Press conference on Monday, and then he would do a Press conference after the game and during the week if you really want to ask him something. But he didn't hold all these coaching press conferences that you have today. His big thing was talk to the players. And because the players were really good talkers, most of them were, except for Franco. And they gave you so much locker room access that we really didn't deal with. No. That much as hard as to believe, because you had so much access to the players. But he just liked to stay in the background. He had no interest in promoting himself. He was claiming he never read.

[00:55:18.510] - Todd

I heard a story once that Noel actually declined to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Is that right?

[00:55:24.330] - Vito

Yeah. Paul Zimmerman did a two part series on him near the end of the run, and he invited them into his home. He understood that if they want to do it, he would cooperate. But then they want to shoot a cover. And he said, no, thanks. Yeah. He had the self confidence that he didn't need you to think he was a good coach. He knew he was, and he was like a teacher. That was his big thing. Bradshaw called the plays because he had been a messenger card for Paul Brown and he preferred the quarterback. He had taught them all week long. And then on Sunday was the exam, and Bradshaw called the place and that type of thing, but they called him in Cleveland.

[00:56:28.130] - Todd

So if Chuck Noel wasn't talking, who was like the spokesperson quoted.

[00:56:34.970] - Vito

In effect, Joe Green was. He was one of the great quotes of all time. You had to talk to Joe Green after every game. I mean, nobody would have a Press conference, but Green would often have be more, much more quotable than Noel Mean.

[00:56:51.560] - Todd

John Green like to talk to writers. That's interesting.

[00:56:54.750] - Vito

Oh, yeah. He could be mean in the pile, but no, he was great with writers. In fact, one time I'm talking to him one on one and he was mad at the officials and he made some derogatory thing. I forget what he said was he got fined for, but I did not have it on tape. He could have denied it. And the next day he said, yeah, hey, I said it. He stood by it, that type of thing. He was a stand up guy. And of course, then the Co commercial made him a national figure. But he was the leader of the team. And in 74, when no started to Gilliam the first six games that could have caused a locker room problem, he stood up for Bradshaw. I recognized Bradshaw was still the better quarterback, and so that helped him get through that thing. He was an amazing team leader.

[00:58:08.410] - Todd

He was the leader.

[00:58:10.390] - Vito

Yeah, definitely.

Vito, there's one guy I wanted to ask you about regarding those unbelievable teams that the Steelers had in the 19s, 70s, and that's a guy that's behind the scenes and doesn't get a lot of attention. But his name was Bill Nunn. He was a scout and later the assistant director of Claire Personnel, an African American gentleman who really, to me a lot of people should know more about. Can you tell us about Bill Nun and a role that he played in putting those teams together?

[00:59:27.790] - Vito

Well, he was a sports writer for a black newspaper in Pittsburgh, and he covered all the black colleges. He was the guru or the Maven knew everything about the black colleges. Dan Rooney reached out to him because until then, the Steelers had not embraced him much and convinced him to become a scout for them. And without going on, they don't want to force Super Bowls, I don't think because.

[01:00:07.250] - Todd

Is that right?

[01:00:09.050] - Vito

Yeah. Well, to start with Stallworth, to begin with, no actually thought Stallworth was better than he's went to draft him first one and they convinced him, hey, Swan is going to go early. We got to take him first and then he gets over on the fourth round and several other players from the black colleges, a free agent, Donna Shell. He became a hall of Famer and he could have signed anywhere. And his coach told him, hey, you go with the Steelers, you'll get a fair shot. Look at the pictures of the 1973 Dolphins and the 1974 Steelers. Six of the Steel Curtain guys were black. Most of the Noname defense, 73 Dolphins were white. They mined the talent in those black schools before other teams did, and that helped them craft and hall of Famers. And Bill Nun played a huge role in that. And it was a very self pacing guy. He was the camp director, like at the front desk. And I remember one year the trainer complained about my story about an exhibition game, no less. And Bill NAN popped up and said, hey, the story is different from the headline, he was a newspaper man.

[01:01:54.940] - Vito

And I guess the trainer just looked ahead what it said, but he didn't like it. And none said, hey, read the story, that type of thing. And he was an amazing guy. It's great. They put him in the hall of Fame because he certainly deserved it.

[01:02:15.130] - Todd

Right? Well, you mentioned John Stallworth. I think he's a perfect example. John Stalwart grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Barbara Bryant, Alabama coach, didn't even recruit him in his own town. Yeah, John Stalwart ends up going to Alabama and build non financing.

[01:02:33.370] - Vito

Yeah. Another good story about that is there was a concern about his 40 time and none got him alone, got a better time on him and scooped up the films from the school and said, I'll bring this back and we'll forward them to the other teams. Well, those things never left the Steeler offices at the time. I think Alabama was integrated by I think they were integrated. But he said they were only taking the best of the best in Stallworth had not been a star high school player. Going to all black school in Tuscaloosa didn't get much attention. But imagine he goes to Alabama and he's the first round drop choice, probably right.

[01:03:37.890] - Todd

John Stallworth was certainly fast enough in January of 1000, 1980, Steeler's fourth Super Bowl appearance, that decade of the 70s. They had one, three, they're going for their fourth, but they're trailing. They're losing to the Los Angeles Rams at the Rose Bull Stadium 19 to 17 with about, I don't know, a dozen minutes to go in the game. It's third and eight, and that sets up a play that means a lot in your memories of Superbowl.

[01:04:06.310] - Vito

Right, 70 slot hook and go, and no sense to play in that works in practice. Well, Swan was hurt, so they're double covering Stallworth, so they went deep. Bradshaw took a deep drop to give stolen time to get to the opposing 30 yard line. So they were like at 28 or so, something on there. So he threw the ball about 50 yards in the air, dropped right into well, you remember the catch. It was on the cover of Si. I still think it got to be one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history and it's been almost forgotten because just another Super Bowl win. But it was just perfect execution. Double coverage, a hall of Famer throwing to a hall of Famer. And also, unfortunately, CBS zeroed in close on Stallworth. Instead of, like, pulling back. It was in the rose ball. Half of the fans were waving terrible towels in the mountains in the background. It was at night. And the last 30 yards, Donald was running alone. Eddie Brown had made a die for the ball, missed it, went to the ground. The last 30 yards, he's just running all by himself. It was like putting the exclamation point on the dynasty.

[01:05:43.900] - Vito

That was like the last hurrah and I just think that was so significant. The blocking had to be perfect for him to take that deep drop in Super Bowl. Tennis threw a grain when he passed and got knocked out by Larry Cole as he threw the ball. That was a 64 yard of Swan. But this was just perfect execution. Good blocking, the perfect throw, the perfect route right in his hands. It was just an amazing play. And for some reason, it gets nowhere near the attention of, say, the helmet catch or the mattingham catch or brothers burger throw in the end zone against the Cardinals. Those plays get but here you're behind in the fourth quarter. It wasn't a drive, one play. It was amazing. And as I say.

[01:07:01.930] - Todd

He was added another touchdown to cement that fourth Super Bowl victory and become really one of the all time legendary teams. She had a Hall Famer throwing to a Hall Famer, and you had a Hall Famer dito Saleno in the press box that night at the rose bowl, documenting history that you did so much throughout your career. I want to tell you, Vito, we thank you for joining us. We've had such fun hearing these great stories. You're there for so many amazing moments. I just want to thank you very much for taking the time to join us.

[01:07:53.890] - Vito

Well, thank you for having me on. Sometimes I get accused of living in the past, but my comment is what it has to spend. I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

[01:08:10.570] - Todd

Well, we've been lucky to have you join us. Thanks again, dito, and we wish you all the best.

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