Growing up in Coaldale, a tiny speck of anthracite between the ‘I’ and the ‘A’ in Pennsylvania, you didn’t expect to meet people in the outside who’d heard of the place, much less knew the place, much less knew someone from the place. But then, you never expected to meet Art Rooney either.
Still fairly new to
in the fall of 1983, I was assigned to cover the Steelers one day when the regular beat guy was off doing something else. I was working in the press room late in the afternoon when The Chief walked in trailing a burst of cigar smoke. I’d never seen him, except for when they’d given him the Lombardi Trophies after four Super Bowls, and I was more than a little nervous. Closer to petrified, frankly. I was fortunate, I thought, that I was the one guy in there he didn’t know and probably wouldn’t talk to. Pittsburgh
I turned back to my work, but in a second he was next to me.
“Hiya,” he said, “What’s your name?”
“Oh, Hi Art,” I said, as 10 other heads whirled toward me for not calling him Mr. Rooney. “I’m Gene Collier.”
“Hi Gene where ya from?” he said.
Now I was really in deep. Not only had I disrespected him, but I’d probably named the one place he couldn’t connect with.
“Coaldale? Oh sure!” he said. “I knew a priest from there once, and a pretty good punter.”
I thought about that moment again only this past March. My mother had died the previous December, and I’d just packed up my father’s stuff for his move to
, where he’d be closer to my brother and his wife and spend his last days. Indianapolis
Driving out of Coaldale, possibly for the last time at age 56, The Chief seemed to be with me again. It’s said that The Chief knew a priest and/or a football player from every town in
, but I never gave much thought to whether that was true. I only know how good he made me feel about the place. Pennsylvania
- Gene Collier