"Well, I came through it, and now I'm much closer to him. He's very loyal to his players and the people who work for him. He's the most loyal human being I've ever met."
The relationship with Bradshaw is a hard thing for Noll to discuss. The end product is there for everyone to see, the greatness of Bradshaw as a player and a competitor, but it was one of the few times Noll's ability as a teacher was strained. "I always wanted Terry to be a leader," Noll says, "but you can't just tell someone to go out and lead. You become a leader by doing. The trouble is, in our society many political leaders lead by talk, by air. That's why football's so different. You can talk all you want, but whatever you say means nothing until you've done something."
The same philosophy carried over into the way Noll raised his son. He wanted Chris to learn and grow by experiencing things. Scuba diving, bird watching—they were all methods to bring the family closer, to give them common experiences. Chris played a little high school football and kicked extra points for a while at Rhode Island, but then switched to soccer, which he coached this season. Noll never pushed football on his son, never urged him to compete, but he didn't deliberately try to steer him away from pressure situations.
"Chris might have had a problem living with my image as a successful coach," Noll says, "and he might also have had a problem being an only child. When you have a brother and a sister, there's a natural competition. When you don't, then you compete with your mother or father. It makes it tough for a parent to keep from being overprotective, from trying to remove pressure situations.
"I know people who say, 'I want to keep my kids from ever being in a pressure situation.' What a terrible thing to do to a kid. You wind up with someone who's leaned on other people to make the decisions for him. All of a sudden he's an immature kid of 26 who's never solved a problem in his life. We don't try to keep our son from stressful situations."
In his home in Rhode Island, Chris pointed to an old Steeler poster in his room and a Steeler mirror next to it. "It's funny, until this year I couldn't put them up," he said. "I'd always known my father as, well, Dad. We had fun together, even though discipline around the house was tight. I think I must have resented what he was. I'd be introduced to someone in high school and they'd say, 'This is Chris Noll.' And two minutes later, 'He's Chuck Noll's son.' I think that's one of the reasons why I went to Rhode Island and not Penn State.
"I'd ask my father football questions from time to time, but they were only fans' questions. I think I had trouble handling who my father was. When I was little, I'd resent his coming home late every night. I'd eat at six o'clock. I wouldn't wait for him. It used to bug me that during games David Shula would stand next to his father on the sidelines with a clipboard, while I'd be down with the ball boys. I asked my father about it, and he said, 'Because David has an interest in football.'
"But in the last year I've been able to see my father as a whole person; I've been able to appreciate his accomplishments. Do you know that when his sister's husband died 17 years ago, he took on responsibility for the whole family? I'd bring friends to the house and they'd say, 'Gee, he's just like anybody else.' I can understand how his whole life has been devoted to sharing everything with his family. Once, after I'd just borrowed some of my dad's favorite stereo records, I told my cousin, 'I feel bad. I take his music, his wine, his money, everything he has.' My cousin said, 'He wants to share with you.' Once, on my birthday, my father opened a bottle of 1966 Ch�teau Margaux; I found out later that he had a cold and couldn't taste it, but he never let me know. I can bring people over and he'll open any bottle of wine he has in the house—except his 1970 BV Private Reserve Cabernet."
People who haven't been around Noll long have trouble understanding the paradoxes. At times he'll show the utmost patience, at other times he can move swiftly and decisively, almost ruthlessly. After Noll's first season in Pittsburgh, he got rid of Roy Jefferson, one of the team's few stars, because he read Jefferson as a disruptive influence. The same with Preston Pearson five years later. Yet, he could look the other way when Cornerback Mel Blount threatened to sue him for slander in 1977; the affair was smoothed over, and Blount is still making the Pro Bowl as a Steeler. And when Ernie Holmes took a shotgun and a revolver out on an Ohio highway in 1973, fired at passing trucks and a police helicopter and was arrested for assault, Noll drove to the Mahoning County Jail in Youngstown the next morning to try to straighten things out; Holmes later was a key performer in Pittsburgh's first two Super Bowls.
People who are aware of Noll's absolute control of the Steelers are surprised to find he runs an open operation. When Keating joined Pittsburgh in 1973, he couldn't get over the fact that everything was announced at the team meetings—all the squad moves, the personnel changes, everything. Says Keating, "Chuck would stand up and say, 'We picked up so-and-so on waivers today. We feel he can help the club.' When I played in Oakland, in Pride and Poise Country, the only way you'd know about a move was to read it in the papers."