Chuck Noll, Rocky Bleier and Retirement

In my opinion, Chuck Noll is one of the five greatest coaches in pro football history. My other four are Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Paul Brown, and Tom Landry. Everybody else is second tier in comparison, although I might accept arguments on behalf of Sid Gillman. Noll likely learned exceptional amounts from both Brown, whom he played under, and Gillman, whom he coached with. Interestingly, Don Shula and Noll were teammates under Paul Brown. Noll later worked under Shula as an assistant in Baltimore, absorbing that painful Super Bowl 3 loss. Perhaps that loss still burned in Noll’s stomach while coaching the Steelers, and helped ensure his focus for their Super Bowls. Like I heard NBA champion Kurt Rambis say once, “You’ve gotta hate losing more than you love to win.”

In honor of Coach Noll, I’ve decided to post a story from The Game before the Money that Rocky Bleier shared. Rocky started considering retirement after Super Bowl 14. He decided to he would play one more year.

“I decided the next year, 1980, would be my last. The Steeler motto was ‘One for the thumb’ [a fifth Super Bowl ring.]

I said to Dan Rooney, “I think this will be my last year. I wanted to let you know if you need to make some decisions. Do you think I should tell Chuck?”

I didn’t really want to tell Chuck. Chuck was the type of guy who’d say, “If you’re thinking about retiring, then you’ve already retired. So why don’t you just leave now?”

Dan said, ‘Maybe we should wait.’ [Laughs.]”

Rocky did wait to tell Noll, Although the season ended as a disappointing one for the Steelers, for Bleier it gave him a full year to say “Farewell” to the game he loved so much. Noll coached another decade, through the 1991 season. Unfortunately, the Steelers only won 10 games once under Noll after their 12-4 championship season in 1979.

noll-and-bradshaw

Coach Noll with Terry Bradshaw

Rocky scoring a go-ahead touchdown in Super Bowl 13, just before halftime.

Rocky scoring a go-ahead touchdown in Super Bowl 13, just before halftime.

The Story of the NFL Draft and Recent Super Bowls

Last week we looked at the starting lineups of last year’s Super Bowl teams, wondering how much the draft led to the Seahawks’ and Broncos’ success. We found that while the draft was important, it appears to be equally important to find talent from other sources, likely because the draft is only seven rounds.

Now we take a look at Super Bowl teams (including the Seahawks and Broncos) from the past 5 Super Bowls, plus the first Giants/Patriots game after the 2008 season. Turns out last year’s teams were below the average number of starters to be drafted for the period, although the Seahawks were only slightly under (54.2%). Of the Broncos 22 starters only 10 were originally drafted by the franchise, a figure equaled by the 2011 Giants as the lowest in our survey. The 2010 Packers led all teams with 17 of their draftees in their Super Bowl lineup. Only the Seahawks and Packers won the Super Bowl with more of their draftees in their starting lineup than their opponent.

HOW TEAMS WERE BUILT

About 60% of Super Bowl starters from these 6 Super Bowls were starting for the team that originally drafted them (a total of 157 over 7 years). Although this era is commonly called the “Free Agency Era,” the number of veteran free agents bested the number of undrafted players only by a slim total of 7 players in those 6 games. The 2013 Broncos started 9 free agents, the highest total. No other team started more than 6. The 2011 Patriots started the most undrafted players (8), followed closely by the 2009 Colts with 7. The Colts were the only team we surveyed that didn’t start a veteran free agent on Super Bowl Sunday.  Here is a composite of how these 12 Super Bowl teams were built. Note that some players included in the “Veteran FA Signings” category are also in the “Total Undrafted Starters” category.

FIRST TWO ROUNDS AND THE REST OF THE NFL DRAFT

The first and second rounds dominated the makeup of Super Bowl starters playing for their original team. Those two rounds outscore all other rounds combined, 92-65. The 2008 Patriots and 2012 49ers tied for the most number of their first-round picks starting, with 7. The 2008 Giants had the lowest number, as only 2007 first-round pick Aaron Ross started for them in the Super Bowl. The 2011 Giants, however, started four of their first-round draft choices, as Kenny Phillips (2008), Jason Pierre-Paul (2010), and Hakeem Nicks (2009) joined Ross. All teams started at least one of their first- and second- round choices, but three teams (the 2011 Patriots, the 2009 Saints and the 2008 Giants) lacked a third. The fourth round surprising outscored the third overall, 16-15.

SUMMARY

I found these totals to be fairly consistent with last week’s percentages. The draft remains vital to championship-level NFL teams, but not as much as the hype surrounding the 2014 NFL Draft might lead one to believe. A strong dose of veteran free agents and undrafted players, possibly mixed with a trade and/or waiver pickup, work together as the recipe for success in today’s National Football League.