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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The date: Feb. 11, 1980. We are driving through a light snow to Chuck Noll's house in suburban Upper St. Clair, south of Pittsburgh. It is starting to get dark, and the streets have an Old World look as we climb through Dormont and Mt. Lebanon, past the lights of stores open late, gliding over the still-used trolley tracks. Upper St. Clair is half an hour from the Steeler offices at Three Rivers Stadium, less if you take the main highway, but Noll's wife, Marianne, says he likes to go through the towns. Noll says he once made it home from his office in 15 minutes.
"That's my record," he says.
"What's your slow record?"
"Two and a half hours," he says. "Through a blizzard."
We drive in silence for a while. We pass a frozen pond.
"What do you think of when you see that?" Noll asks. I tell him I think of our pond at home and my kids skating and the way it looks in the late afternoon, with the mist starting to come in.
"A poet. You see it as a poet," Noll says. "What fascinates me is the science of it. Frozen on top, strong enough to support weight, yet warm enough on the bottom to maintain life. The miracle of life."
He stares out the window again. The pressures of the long season, of a Super Bowl that his friends say created more pressure for him than any game in his 11 years as the Steelers' coach, seem to have almost disappeared. He spent a week at Hilton Head after the game, and he tells a story about the day he was out on the driving range, hitting golf balls.
"The pro came over and watched me for a few minutes," Noll says, "and then he put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Relax. Calm down. The season's over.' "
The Steelers had pulled out the 31-19 victory in the fourth quarter when their big-play people came up with the big plays—two long passes from Terry Bradshaw to John Stallworth, and a deep interception by Jack Lambert, who swooped in from centerfield, a place where middle linebackers don't normally live. "Chuck's basic strategy is to make them stop our big-play people," Andy Russell, the retired linebacker, once said. Big-play people. High draft picks and good draft picks for the most part, matured and nurtured on the fertile teaching ground of the practice field and the film room, the products of day after day of "good learning experiences," as Noll would say.