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Roy Blount Jr.
July 25, 1983
Mel Blount has been a cornerstone of the Pittsburgh dynasty for 13 years, but his roots are in the red clay of his Georgia farm
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July 25, 1983

This Steeler Is Really A Cowboy

Mel Blount has been a cornerstone of the Pittsburgh dynasty for 13 years, but his roots are in the red clay of his Georgia farm

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Hup! How often do we get to watch a black Georgia Steeler cowboy work? Mel Blount, the only such cowboy extant, is up on his cutting horse Straw King, and the two of them, in centaurial concert, are singling a calf out from the rest of a penned-up bunch.

Calf tries a move to his left. Tharomble tharop, rrk, dirt flying, Blount and Straw King are there. Calf cuts back to his right. Tharomble tharop, rrk, clods in the air, Blount and Straw King are there. Calf can't get open! Can't run his pattern! It's a bit like watching a distinguished NFL cornerback cow a receiver. "I've learned a lot from these horses," says Blount.

What, exactly?

He is silent for a moment, as if the answer is obvious. "Ways of moving."

Here in Toombs County, Ga., a few miles south of the town of Vidalia, which is famous for its onions, is where Blount made his first moves in life, and where he now breeds quarterhorses, and where he's starting Mel Blount Youth Home, Inc. The kids at the home, who would otherwise be in reform school, can save money for college by having their own horses to raise.

"I think I was blessed by growing up on a farm," Blount says. "My life has been like a storybook."

The story began two generations back with Mel's maternal grandfather—one-armed Charlie Sharpe, a great man who rated no obituary and seldom wore shoes. When Charlie was born, not far from this farm, he was a slave of the Sharpes, a family of cotton and corn farmers.

This is as far back as Blount's relatives can trace Charlie's line. "They say his mother was part Indian," says one of Blount's maternal relatives, Aunt Cooter, 84, who has a lot of red in her coloring. "White people brought her from foreign lands. And she saw her sister there, at the place where she was being sold, so they brought the sister too."

When Charlie died in 1953, in his 90s (the family has no record of his birth date), he owned around 2,000 acres, the land from which his youngest grandson sprang into NFL history. This season will be Blount's 14th as a Pittsburgh corner-back. He has played in four Super Bowl victories (in two of which he made crucial interceptions), five Pro Bowls (in one of which he was the MVP) and 202 regular-season and playoff games, more than any other Steeler ever. In 1975, when he intercepted 11 passes, he was the Pittsburgh MVP and the AP's NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He has more career interceptions, 53, than anybody else in Steeler history. His career may not have been as extraordinary as that of Charlie Sharpe, but it might well get Blount into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Blount has also been involved in a monumental flap over NFL violence, in the course of which he sued his coach, Chuck Noll, for $5 million. There was another time when he called a Steeler defensive coach "stupid" for pulling him out of a playoff game after Cliff Branch of the Raiders had burned him for several receptions. He has also been through a bankruptcy. But, "All my dreams have come true," he says. "I'm still dreaming."

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