When Chuck Noll took over the Steelers in 1969, the franchise had been to exactly one NFL playoff game in their more than 30 years of existence. While it took Noll a few years to get to the playoffs and then another couple of years to win his first Super Bowl, he helped to build a team which won four Super Bowls in six seasons and may very well have won a fifth if either Franco Harris or Rocky Bleier had been available for a post-season game.
In that season when Bleier and Harris missed that playoff game the Steelers had gone on one of the most impressive defensive runs in NFL History. The 1976 Steelers were 1-4 and looked to be counted out for dead. In the final nine games of the regular season, they surrendered all of 28 points. And in only one of those games was a touchdown even scored on them.
Meanwhile, Noll helped develop a pretty decent offense as well. Considering how many Hall of Famers were on the team, they were certainly the team of the 1970’s and possibly the greatest dynasty in NFL history. The sad thing is, until Pro Set included them in their inaugural 1989 edition, there was not one Chuck Noll football card issued on a national level during his tenure as Steelers’ coach. In fact, it had been nearly three decades since coaches had their own individual cards (not counting those little inset photos in Philadelphia Gum).
That’s correct, since the 1960 Fleer set there had not been a coach card issued. One of the key differences between baseball and most other sports (Topps made hockey cards of coaches in their mid-1970’s sets) is that managers and even sometimes coaches were featured on cards.
Gil Hodges, Ted Williams, Jack McKeon, Bobby Cox and many of the other mangers of the 1970s wound up on a card whenever Topps decided to do them. But in football, if you wanted a John Madden or a George Allen card you were totally out of luck. I suspect this was because Topps’ research indicated the kids who were buying those football packs wanted players, even if they were interior lineman, over coaches.
Now today, of course, with hindsight, we wish they’d gone against the grain and made them—even every other year. Even today, I can’t think of any current set which includes head coaches and that is a true shame as now coaches are major personalities as well.
There were some regional sets that featured coaches on cards. Local police departments did ‘police’ or ‘safety’ sets that were handed out to area kids in some cities and you can find a Noll card in a few of those as well as cards of Joe Gibbs in the Washington police sets or many of the Packers’ coaches in those still running police issues in Wisconsin.
If you want to go way back, you can find Noll as a player in the 1959 Kahn’s Wieners set and while they make for a really cool (and valuable) addition to your collection, I still think finding a way to get coaches a card of their own is a worthwhile project for any company that produces football cards.