View Full Version : The Steelers, Steroids, and Profound Misconceptions

08-08-2009, 10:42 PM
The Steelers, Steroids, and Profound Misconceptions
NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers
by Tim SteelersFan

During the NFL annual meetings in 2005, coach Jim Haslett (then of the New Orleans Saints) delivered a series of comments that set off a renewed firestorm about the Pittsburgh Steelers use of steroids in the 1970s. In an article that was carried by both the Los Angeles Times and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Haslett claimed the Pittsburgh Steelers brought the use of steroids en vogue throughout the NFL.

Haslett stated, "It started, really, in Pittsburgh. They got an advantage on a lot of football teams. They were so much stronger (in the) '70s, late '70s, early '80s. They're the ones who kind of started it."

Haslett (an admitted steroid user himself) carries respectable NFL credentials. Yet from his statements, one might construe from his comments that he used steroids as a Steeler. Haslett admits to one year of steroid usage immediately after being drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1979...not as a Steeler.

He got another point critically wrong. The Steelers did not start the use of steroids in the NFL.

Haslett further stated, "You had so many people using them because they were legal." Haslett went on to say "that when he played in the NFL, steroid use was rampant because the league had no policy banning such drugs" and he estimated nearly half the players were taking them. (Haslett says '70s Steelers made steroids popular in NFL).

Jim Haslett fueled misconceptions about the beginnings of steroid usage in the NFL.

Fran Tarkenton recently added to the fire in June of 2009, commenting during a radio interview on 790 The Zone in Atlanta "Were playing the Steelers in the Super Bowl in 75 or 76, and Im warming up with my center, Mick Tingelhoff, whos an eight-time all-pro, Tarkenton said. Hes my roommate hes about 6-2, 245 were on the field warming up, and I see these Steeler offensive linemen with their sleeves rolled up, and theyve got these bulging muscles....Later, we found out it that you know, it was Mike Webster and these guys were juiced Steve Courson these guys were juiced all of them. We talk now about (former baseball stars) Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. But how about the Steelers of that era? Did that make a difference? Yeah, it made a difference. It increased their performance.

Tarkenton was mistaken however in his facts. Courson was in college during that Super Bowl. In the '74 season he referenced, Webster was a rookie at 6' 1 1/2" and weighed only 238 lbs (smaller than Tingelhoff) and didn't play in the game. Ray Mansfield, never linked to steroids, was the starting center. Also, it was the Steelers defense that won the game, not the offense, and no Steelers defenders have been linked (only rumored) to steroids. "At that time we beat them, I would say this, none of our defensive guys did (steroids), ex-running back Franco Harris said. So, if Frans talking about our (offensive) linemen, if they did (steroids), probably only a couple. That would have been it." (Steelers of '70s dismiss Tarkenton's comments). Jack Ham and Jack Lambert absolutely refused to use the drugs.

If the Steelers didn't glamorize steroid usage, or introduce it as Haslett indicated, who did?

Steroid usage was actually introduced by a gentleman by the name of Alvin Roy, strength coach of the then AFL's San Diego Chargers in 1963, seven years prior to the Steelers decade of domination. Alvin went on to introduce the use of steroids to the Chiefs, Cowboys, and the Raiders, spreading the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) throughout the NFL.

Alvin Roy was a veteran of the United States Army, having fought in the Battle of the Bulge, winning four battle stars and a bronze star. While serving in the Army, Roy was assigned to be an aide for the US Weightlifting Team in Paris for the World Championships in 1946. This is where he became associated with Bob Hoffman, coach of the team. Bob was also the owner of the York Barbell Company and published a weight training magazine back in the United States and is renowned in the history of US weightlifting.

After serving in the Army Roy returned to his native Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1947 and opened a weight training studio, one of the first in the country. While running the studio, he continued to be involved with the US Weightlifting team, serving as their trainer for the 1952 Olympics.

In 1954 in Baton Rouge, Billy Cannon (a 168 lb sophomore high school football star) began his strength conditioning at Roy's studio. "By the time Billy entered LSU two years later, he was up to 193. By his sophomore year when he began varsity play, he weighed 200 and pressed 270, which was only 12 pounds off the Olympic record at the time.

Coach Paul Dietzel (LSU) was so impressed that he sent his players to Alvin's studio since LSU had no weight room of its own. Roy never asked for compensation from the university. What he created is considered the first weight training program at any university and contributed greatly to the Tigers' 1958 National Championship success. Roy eventually opened 27 gyms around the country." (LSU Tigers Hall of Fame). Cannon won the 1959 Heisman Trophy.

Coincidentally, the 1950s is essentially when steroids began to make their impact on sports. According to ESPN's article, "Pumped-up pioneers: the '63 Chargers" (Pumped-up pioneers: the '63 Chargers), scientists had begun experimentation with steroids in the early part of the 20th century. In the 1950s, Soviet weightlifters were using steroids. In 1954, "John Ziegler, who worked with the U.S. national weightlifting team, was at the world championships in Vienna and had drinks with a Soviet doctor at the hotel bar. That doctor told him the Soviet lifters were using testosterone. Ziegler, according to historian John D. Fair, tried injecting Western athletes with it for years, but was discouraged by the results.

In 1958, the Ciba pharmaceutical company in Geneva developed an artificial form of testosterone called methandrostenolone. Ciba called it "Dianabol" and sold it in pill form. Ziegler started experimenting with it and, before the 1960 Olympics in Rome, he told his friend Bob Hoffman, the coach of the U.S. weightlifting team, that American lifters should start taking it if they wanted to catch up to the Soviets. Hoffman had his doubts, and the lifters themselves weren't sure there was any point to taking a pill, either. So they competed clean, and were crushed. The Soviets took five of seven possible gold medals; the United States took one. From that point on, the U.S. team used Dianabol as part of its training. The trainer on that team was Roy."

While there appears to be no proof that Roy was using Dianabol with the LSU Tigers and Billy Cannon, the timing is very close. Roy was the US weightlifting team trainer and had been associated with the program since 1946. John Ziegler had been trying to introduce the use of Dianabol to American weightlifters since the drug was released in 1958. LSU won the National Championship that very season, and the following year Cannon won the Heisman Trophy. However, the earliest documented proof that Roy was using Dianabol as a part of his strength training regimen at his studio in Baton Rouge was in 1962.

08-08-2009, 10:43 PM
It was also in 1962 that the San Diego Chargers of the AFL suffered a dismal 4-10 season. Legendary coach Sid Gillman, the Chargers coach, was frustrated and looking for a way to change the fortunes of his team. Gillman took his team to Rough Acres for training camp, a ranch east of San Diego and introduced the league's first strength and training program and coach, Alvin Roy.

Per ESPN's article, Hall of Fame offensive tackle Ron Mix states, "I still remember his speech, almost verbatim....He said, 'Because you're going to be lifting weights in addition to working out twice a day, you're going to need more protein.' And he said, 'When I was a trainer for the U.S. team in the Olympics, I learned a secret from those Rooskies.' And he held up a bottle of pink pills, and he says, 'This stuff is called Dianabol and it's going to help assimilate protein and you'll be taking it every day.' And, sure enough, it showed up on our training tables in cereal bowls." Per Ron Mix, the team that year made it "mandatory" that the players took Roy's pills with each meal.

"I think less than 5 percent of the guys never took them," says Paul Maguire, a former linebacker and punter and longtime announcer who now works for ESPN. "No one really understood what it was supposed to do for you. They just told you if you use this and lift weights, it will all come together. But if you weren't going to lift weights, you weren't going to take the pills."

Translation: 95% of the Chargers were taking the roids.

In 2005 at a Dole Institute speaker series discussion on steroids, former Chargers quarterback John Hadl was a panel member. "Our strength coach (with the Chargers) was a guy named Alvin Roy. We called him the medicine man. He gave guys little cups with these pills in them. None of us knew what they were, but I later found out they were steroids. About 10 of us didn't take them...They weren't illegal back then, but I know a lot of guys who did take them...But two months after taking them, they were huge. The guys who didn't take them, well, they weren't huge. And that's the problem. Do you risk your health to succeed in your sport?" (Bill Althaus, The Examiner).

The results of "The Medicine Man's" impact were immediate. In 1963, his first season with the team, San Diego finished 11-3 and won the AFL Championship destroying the Boston Patriots 51-10. Roy served as the strength coach in San Diego for another five years. The team played in three AFL Conference Championships during this time, and won the city's only professional sports championship with the 1963 title.

In 1968, Roy became the strength coach for Hank Stram and the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that had gone 9-5 in the 1967 season. In Roy's first season as coach, the team improved to 12-2, losing in the divisional round of the playoffs. In 1969, the team fell a game to 11-3. In 1970, the Chiefs won Super Bowl IV.

In 1972, Roy was lured to Dallas by Tom Landry to become the Cowboys' strength coach. He remained through 1975. The Cowboys won the Super Bowl that season, giving Roy his 3rd Championship ring.

In the late 1970s, Roy became the strength coach of the Oakland Raiders. He died of a heart attack in April 1979, while still in tenure with the Oakland Raiders. That upcoming season, the Raiders won the Super Bowl, which would have been Roy's fourth ring. He undoubtedly had left his mark on that franchise as well.

The question then becomes, just how pervasive were the use of steroids in the 1970s? The resounding success of steroids had made an impact on players throughout the league. The use of steroids by the 1970s was widespread. By 1964, players on other teams were aware of the Chargers quick turn around and championship success. Adoption began on other teams that season.

The late Steve Courson, former Pittsburgh Steeler offensive lineman (who wrote a book about his days with the Steelers and steroid usage), presented his case in front of Congress in 2005. Courson admits to having begun the use of steroids in his college days at the University of South Carolina, before he was a Steeler. His use of them continued and was at its highest at the end of his career in Tampa Bay in 1985.

"By 1963, Courson wrote, steroids reached the San Diego Chargers through strength coach Alvin Roy, who worked before with the U.S. Olympic weightlifting team. When Roy later joined the Chiefs, Cowboys and Raiders, steroid use followed in his wake, eventually reaching the Steelers dynasty and every other NFL team, according to Courson." "By the time of our dynasty, it was pretty widespread throughout the league," he stated.

The evidence supports his claim. Steroid usage was rampant in the 1970s. In September of 2008, the San Diego Tribune did their own "Mitchell Report" on steroid usage in the NFL dating back to 1962 (A Detailed History). The list of names is large, encompassing 18 teams and countless players. It's important to note that these are based only on players who have confessed or documented cases (limited) where players were fined for usage. Without any formal testing, evidence of usage was and has been difficult to come by. I've included the list (players from the 60s, 70s, and a 80s) as an appendix to this article.

It's important to remember that steroid usage was during this time period both legal in the United States and not banned in any form by the NFL. It was not until 1983 (20 years after the Chargers began using them) that Pete Rozelle and the NFL wrote specific language banning the usage of steroids. It wasn't until 1987 that the NFL began testing for steroid usage. And it was only after the Ben Johnson Olympic controversy that the U.S. began debating adding steroids to the Controlled substances act. Two years later, anabolic steroids were added to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act in the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990 (27 years after Roy introduce them to the NFL).

As long as a person had a prescription, using steroids was both legal in the United States and not against league rules. Similarly, cocaine was legal prior to the 20th century, and found in Coca-Cola and health tonics, and could be used "as a matter of choice" by the individual. Steroids were similarly a matter of choice for the individual.

With competition pushing players and teams to win, steroid adoption was logical and its use was rampant. Alvin Roy had clearly demonstrated with his multitude of successes the impact steroids could have.

By the 1970s, steroids had already been glamorized and were in wide consumption. Not by the Pittsburgh Steelers. But instead by Alvin Roy, a man who helped four different NFL teams win titles, helped one college team capture an NCAA Championship, and help build a Heisman winner.

Steroids aside, Roy was admittedly a great man and an innovator. He was a decorated war veteran. He was a pioneer in desegregation. And he had the right intent and philosophy regarding health and conditioning. He unfortunately lived during a time of steroid ignorance and adoption.

As the late, great Paul Harvey so famously coined - and now you have "the rest of the story."

The Lakelander
08-09-2009, 12:13 AM
Thanks for the read mesa. That was informative and interesting. It's easy to fall into the trap of putting the face of steroids upon the Pittsburgh Steelers. But this article sheds light on the truth of that.

Those allegations are and will always be water over the dam as long as I'm a Steelers fan. Those Super Bowls in the 70's came at a price ... and it wasn't steroids. It was relentless hard work under the nose of a very tough disciplinarian head coach and extremely gifted scouting of talent.

It was a perfect storm of talent meeting opportunity!