(Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Legendary Steelers "super scout" Bill Nunn was nominated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2021 on Feb. 6. It's an honor that's way overdue.
This past Tuesday, the Steelers partnered with the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) to host a panel discussion about the legacy of Nunn and his impact on the Steelers' franchise, the future of scouting and the NFL's connection to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
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.
Without Nunn, the Steelers don’t find players 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.
Nunn retired from his full-time scouting 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 the first Black contributor to ever make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This virtual panel was introduced by Nunn's granddaughter, Cydney Nunn, and was moderated by NMAAHC's Curator of Sports Dr. Damion Thomas. The four panelists were Brandon Hunt, Steelers pro scouting coordinator, Donnie Shell, former Steelers safety and 2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, Jarrett Bell, NFL columnist for USA Today Sports and James "Shack" Harris, co-founder of the Black College Football Hall of Fame.
"I was honored to be a part of this group discussion to talk about one of my mentors and friends, who meant so much to my life," Shell said via Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. "I don't know if he realized it or not, but just being around Bill, his professionalism, the way he carried himself in his life, it meant a lot to me and had a great effect on me. He never would have thought that. That is the way he was, unassuming. That was Bill. That is who he was. He made people gravitate to him. You wanted to be with him. You wanted to be in his presence to listen to some of the wisdom that he had."
Being a scout, Nunn had a profound impact on Hunt's life, but it was about more than just football.
"All of us had relationships with Nunn, were pieces of his life, but this is the first time we have come together to talk about him," Hunt said. "What he meant to me as a mentor, it's beyond words. Football is, 'oh by the way.' It's the platform that put us together. But the mentorship was family, faith, education, financial and more. He used football to get in your ear, and now that he got you, you are going to get everything. I still save the way he taught me in 2005. He was always about saving your money. He was big on saving because he never lived in the 401K world. He would save it in mattresses and shoe boxes. He would encourage us to let our money grow for us.
"He would plant a seed that might not be relevant at the time, but then down the line would be the eureka moment. He was like a visionary. He was able to almost see the future for so many of us."
You can read Varley's entire article about the panel discussion on Nunn's legacy in the link below.