Updated: Apr 29, 2021
(Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Former longtime Steelers scout Bill Nunn made the Pro Football Class of 2021. Nunn was a sportswriter and editor for the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the largest Black newspapers in the United States, and he selected the Black College All-American Team every year since 1950. The Steelers were aware of Nunn's coverage of players who went to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and at the time, HBCU players were traditionally underrepresented in the league. The Steelers were known as perennial losers in the 1960s and were looking for a winning edge, so they asked Nunn to join the team's scouting department. Nunn accepted a part-time position with the Steelers in 1967 and two years later he was hired full-time when Chuck Noll became the team's head coach.
"I am thrilled that Bill Nunn has been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor," Steelers President Art Rooney II said. "He was not only a special friend and advisor to me, my father, my uncle Art Rooney Jr., but also Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and everyone he worked with during his 46 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. His stories, advice and lessons that he taught all of us are still apparent in our everyday work. He was a true pioneer in helping traditional HBCU players get their chance in the National Football League, and he is so deserving of this extraordinary honor.
"I look forward to celebrating his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with his family this summer in Canton. I could not be more excited for him to receive this recognition."
Nunn would travel all over the South every fall to compile information on players for his All-American team, along with that he built close relationships with coaches and athletic directors at HBCUs. The Steelers had a huge advantage over other teams by having Nunn.
Without Nunn, the Steelers don’t find diamonds in the rough like John Stallworth (Alabama A&M), Mel Blount (Southern), L.C. Greenwood (Arkansas-Pine Bluff), Ernie Holmes (Texas Southern), Dwight White (East Texas State) and Donnie Shell (South Carolina State), all of whom played at HBCUs. Stallworth, Blount and Shell are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Also without Nunn, the Steelers don't win four Super Bowls in six years in the 1970s. His fingerprints were all over the 1970s dynasty.
Teams are fortunate enough if they select one player in a draft class who goes on to have a Hall of Fame career. The Steelers struck gold in 1974, as they would have five future Hall of Famers from their rookie class in Lynn Swann (first round), Jack Lambert (second round), John Stallworth (fourth round), Mike Webster (fifth round) and Shell, who went undrafted. It’s by far the greatest rookie class in the history of the NFL. It’s a feat that won’t happen again. There’s six Hall of Fame members across the league from the 1974 rookie class, five of them are Steelers and the other member is Dave Casper, who was selected by the Raiders in the second round. That statistic in itself just shows how far in advance the Steelers’ scouting department was compared to the rest of the league at the time, and Nunn had a lot to do with that.
In 2014, the Pro Football Hall of Fame decided to add contributor as a category for nomination to make the Hall of Fame in an effort to get more deserving contributor candidates in. With being selected, Nunn becomes the first Black contributor to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Nunn retired from his full-time position in 1987 but he still helped the Steelers as a part-time scout up until his passing in 2014 at the age of 89. In total, Nunn played a role in all six of the Steelers' Super Bowl titles.
Nunn is an inaugural member of the Black College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2010 and is also an inaugural member of the Pittsburgh Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2011. He is now apart of football's greatest honor of being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Nunn paved the way for players to get into the league from small HBCUs, who were overlooked and not given a fair shot. Nunn opened the door for those players and now the doors of the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be open for Nunn.