By Tim Hayes
It’s been quite an interesting week for longtime icons and exciting new faces. A week that, at least for me, has brought the old “circle of life” theme around again and placed it center stage.
Last night, the news came that legendary Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Chuck Noll had passed away in his sleep. That’s probably how he always wanted to go. No other NFL head coach had more success in such a short amount of time. No other NFL head coach ever won four Super Bowls since Noll’s Steelers did it in the 1970s.
But even beyond those outward signs of unparalleled success, the thing that I always admired about Chuck Noll – as my beloved Steelers smashed everyone else during my formative teenage years – always came back to his no-nonsense approach with his team. Noll coined the phrase “self-starter” and had no time or patience for professional athletes who needed rah-rah pumping up from their coach. He considered himself a teacher first, foremost, and only. He was known as a wine connoisseur and a well-versed student of history.
He never did endorsements or self-promotion. He reluctantly permitted his personal friend and Steelers announcer Myron Cope to refer to him as “The Emperor Chaz.” The guy won more championships than any of his peers, yet outside of Pittsburgh, people continuously got him confused with Chuck Knox, another NFL coach. Noll didn’t care. His sense of self and humility remained the foundation of his life. He set a tremendous example for his players, his friends, his family, and millions of Steeler fans like me. Sorry to see him leave us, but I know that the Emperor and the Chief (Steelers founder Art Rooney, Sr.) are having a great time talking football, cigars, and wine up above the clouds today.
Then there’s the distressing news about another teenage idol, “American Top 40” radio host Casey Kasem. A family disagreement between Kasem’s wife and children over his medical care has become public, casting a shadow over what should be a private matter. But beyond that, it’s sad for those of us who grew up listening to “Casey’s Coast-to-Coast” weekly survey of the most popular records each week.
That unmistakable voice filled three hours of radio each weekend with song intros, trivia about the performing artists, and at least one “Long Distance Dedication” song – a tune outside that week’s Top 40, usually requested by some lonely-heart through a letter. The format may not sound like much, but driven by Kasem’s friendly, earnest narration, it became something you just couldn’t miss as an American teenager.
Casey has been incapacitated for some time, according to the reports, and his final days may not be very far off. He hasn’t been on the air live for years, but they still play old “American Top 40” shows on satellite radio, to remind listeners of what music filled their lives way back when. His traditional sendoff phrase is one we wish for him now: “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.”
And finally, to balance things, this week the Pittsburgh Pirates welcomed Gregory Polanco to their ranks. This young right-fielder has been tearing up the minor leagues, and this city has salivated, waiting for the Buccos to bring him up to the team.
He arrived earlier this week, and has performed to expectations. In fact, he smacked a game-winning home run in the 13th inning the other night. From the Dominican Republic, Polanco’s English is pretty good. He looks like a happy, confident, centered young guy who can play baseball like nobody’s business. And he’s playing right field for the Pirates.
Remind you of anybody? Can you say, “Clemente?”
That remains to be seen, but the lesson here is that the parade of personalities never stops. Life offers up such a rich buffet of people from whom we can learn, and about whom we can find things to admire. Comings and goings, all the time.
Copyright 2014 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting