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"Finest wine I ever tasted," said Allen.
When Noll was a young and underpaid guard for the Cleveland Browns in the 1950s, he used to keep a case of Great Western Sparkling Catawba in the trunk of his car at all times. "In the winter I'd always have a chilled wine on hand," he says.
The Browns used to hang out in a Shaker Heights tavern called The Wagon Wheel. In the basement was a French restaurant, Louie & Etienne's. "We'd be drinking beer and playing cards, and all these people in fancy clothes would have to walk by us to get downstairs." Noll says. "One night I heard a lady say, 'This is going from the ridiculous to the sublime.' So we just decided to see what the restaurant was like, and ever since my first meal there, my first bottle of fine wine, I was hooked."
During the '77 season, Noll complained to me that he couldn't get his favorite wine, Beaulieu Vineyards Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon—particularly the fine 1974 vintage—in Pennsylvania.
"It's selling for 10 bucks a bottle in New York," I told him. "I'll get you all you want."
"Get me a case, and I'll pay you for it," Noll said.
So on my next trip to cover the Steelers I brought along a case of the 74 BV. I tried to carry it onto the plane. Allegheny Airlines had other ideas. I begged, whined, pleaded. No dice. It had to go with the baggage.
At the baggage pickup in Pittsburgh I smelled the wine before I saw it—the telltale spreading stain. Oh, god. Noll opened the case after practice as I apologized profusely. Watching our little show was Jack Hart, the Steeler field manager, a crusty guy who didn't much take to this kind of nonsense.
Noll got the case open. Only one bottle was broken, praise be. He pulled out a healthy bottle, held it to the light and smiled.