1976: "Mean Joe Greene and Bennie Cunningham"
Thursday night, the NFL’s annual player selection meeting — a.k.a. the draft — will commence at 8 p.m. in New York City and probably before the 10 p.m., the Steelers will have added their newest member — a young man who, not only will the team have high hopes for, but so will Steelers fans from Ross Township to Rome, Italy.
And sometime within the next week or so, this newly minted Steeler (and soon-to-be millionaire) will be trotted out before the local media at the team’s headquarters on the South Side for a news conference.
He’ll be introduced by Art Rooney, Kevin Colbert or Mike Tomlin, answer the perfunctory questions, and pose for a picture holding a Steelers jersey with his last name on it and the No. 1 in honor of his draft position. And if the last 10 to 20 years are any guide, he will likely be wearing some kind of a conservative suit, blazer or at the very least a polo shirt with the team logo on it.
He will almost certainly not, however, be wearing anything nearly as garish as what 1976 Steelers first-round pick, tight end Bennie Cunningham of Clemson, wore on his inaugural visit to the Pittsburgh: puka shell necklace, half buttoned, patchwork denim butterfly-collared shirt with matching bell bottoms (with flares so wide they could envelop a small dog). And to boot, an Afro that would make Questlove envious.
But that’s nothing compared to Mean Joe Greene’s sportcoat. Thankfully, this picture is black and white because that jacket is so dizzying that in full color it might induce a seizure to an unsuspecting epileptic.
In this picture, Greene welcomes Cunningham to town, one No. 1 pick to another.
Writing in the April 24, 1976, Post-Gazette, Vito Stellino said of Cunningham, “A 6-5, 255-pounder … Cunningham seemed eager and almost awed at the thought of joining the Steelers.”
Cunningham said: “It’s a little tougher to make it at Pittsburgh than with any other team. There’s not much room for improvement. I know even the first-round pick doesn’t even always make it.”
Though never a superstar — few tight ends were in that era — Cunningham would go on to have a solid 10-year career with the Steelers and was named to the franchise’s 75th anniversary All-Time Team.
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