View Full Version : Villages football fans debate history-changing coin flip from yesteryear

08-20-2009, 08:12 AM
Villages football fans debate history-changing coin flip from yesteryear

Earl Watson

Special to the Sentinel

August 20, 2009


Heads or tails?

A flip of the coin after yet another dismal season 40 years ago for the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers was a turning point in changing the gridiron fortunes of the once-hapless franchise as legions of Steelers and Chicago Bears fans in The Villages and surrounding communities are keenly aware.

The coin flip to determine the first draft pick was necessary because the Steelers and Bears finished the 1969 season tied with league-worst records of 1-13. The Bears opted for heads, and, to their misfortune, the 1921 silver dollar came up tails.

The rest is history. Pittsburgh selected Louisiana Tech quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who would go on to become a Hall-of-Famer, leading the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories. The fortunes of the two teams are front and center again as training camps are wrapping up in preparation for the regular season, which begins next month.

"Sure, Mr. Rooney was excited over the acquisition of Bradshaw," recalled Jerry Boeh of The Villages , a longtime friend of Steelers owner Art Rooney, who was affectionately known by family, friends and players as "The Chief." "I remember him telling me, 'Now we have the player who really can take us to the top.'"

Famous defense
Bradshaw, a fiery team leader, delivered in the 1974 season, capped by a Super Bowl victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Pittsburgh hadn't won a title in the four previous decades of NFL history.

"Of course, it was Coach [ Chuck] Noll who was the master builder, block by block, player by player," Boeh noted. "Another of Noll's early acquisitions was 'Mean Joe' Greene, who anchored the famous Steel Curtain defense."

For 47 years, Boeh operated a floral shop "around the corner from the Rooney residence" on Pittsburgh's north side. The business is now run by his son.

"Mr. Rooney, by the way, was always loyal to the neighborhood where he did all his shopping. He'd stop in my shop maybe two or three times a week," Boeh continued. "I frequently drove him to the night thoroughbred races at Waterford Park."

Boeh attended North Catholic High School when two of Art's sons Dan and Art Jr. were there. Dan, eldest of five sons, is president of the Steelers and was recently named ambassador to Ireland by President Barack Obama.

Bad news for Bears
Boeh says he's been a dyed-in-the-wool Steelers fan "from the early days at Forbes Field" and admitted there wasn't much to cheer about. But the 1970s marked the dawning of a new era for Steelers football.

Chicago fans can only speculate what might have been had the Bears won the famous coin toss.

In Chicago during the Bradshaw years (1970-83), the team owned by NFL pioneer George "Papa Bear" Halas had two of the best rushers in the history of the game: Gale Sayers and Walter Payton. Sayers' career was shortened by a knee injury in 1971 while Payton ran wild from 1975 to 1987, retiring as the NFL's all-time rushing leader.

Connie Rogers, who is "Da Mayor" of the 500-member Chicago club in The Villages, knows her football she's been a Bears fan "since day one" and concedes Bradshaw's arm would have given the Bears much-needed offensive balance.

"Walter Payton what a great player. I'd see him running up and down Nickol hill (in Chicago's northwest section), always looked in great shape," Rogers recalled. Added Phil Cook, a member of The Villages Chicago Club who also had resided near the Bears' premier running back: "Payton worked out at Nickol hill rain or shine."

'Great quarterback'
In his memoirs, Halas recounted the momentous coin flip: "In the league meeting in 1969 when the Bears and Steelers shared the cellar, Terry Bradshaw was the top draft choice that year. We both wanted him. We both needed him. We flipped a coin and Art won."

Like all Bears loyalists, Cook can only dream what might have been had Halas won the coin toss. But he wasn't so sure Halas would have complemented the Bears' aerial game with talented receivers.

His point: Quality receivers are vital, and Hall of Fame receiver Lynn Swann did wonders for Bradshaw. It's all speculation, but as the Steelers prepare to defend yet another Super Bowl championship their sixth Pittsburgh fans are left with warm thoughts of the glory days of Bradshaw.

Villager Dallace Meehan said Bradshaw personified what the Steelers are all about tough and rugged.

"He has the attributes of a great quarterback and team leader," Meehan said.

Copyright 2009, Orlando Sentinel

08-20-2009, 08:47 AM
Great post Mesa......Yea Brad was rugged all right......He sure could toss the ball along way......I bet nobody in the history of the NFL could toss it far as him......He could throw it 90 yards if he wanted to........