Chuck Allen, Steelers Linebacker, 1970-1971
First, can you let readers know what you have been doing with yourself since the NFL?
I retired from the NFL as a player at the end of the 1972 season. I spent 1973 and 1974 as an assistant linebacker coach at the University of Washington.
In 1975, I was hired by the new Seattle Seahawks franchise as a Pro Personnel Director. I was responsible along with Mark Duncan, the Assistant GM, to prepare for the supplemental draft whereby Tampa Bay and Seattle would take three players from each NFL team after they froze thirty players from a certain number of players. I was also to begin a grading system of all teams and players in the NFL.
I helped sign free agent players and some of the draft choices. I also handled league liaison with player contracts and stadium operations with the NFL. I retired in 1995 after twenty years as Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Football Operations.
Since 1995, I have been spending my time with my wife Linda (of fifty-two years), my five children, and our grandchildren which now are twelve in number. I have caught up with a lot of fishing and hunting time in Washington, British Columbia, Canada, Alaska and Mexico.
You were drafted by both the AFL and NFL (Los Angeles Rams) in 1961, and ended up playing for the Charges in 1961/ Why did you choose the NFL over the AFL and how did you end up in San Diego?
In 1961, I chose the San Diego Chargers over the Rams. The contracts were the same – $1,000 signing bonus and $10,000 base. Los Angeles had Myron Pottios, Les Ricter and Maxie Baughn (I was a 6’1″, 205 pound linebacker, enough said!).
The coaches in San Diego were Sid Gilman, Chuck Noll, Al Davis, Joe Madro and Jack Faulkner. The weather was fantastic and they were going to build a new stadium,
You played with Coach Noll when he was an assistant in San Diego. What was he like as an assistant coach and what were some of the greatest experiences playing for those Charger teams?
Chuck Noll was an outstanding coach from day one. He was meticulous in scouting opponents – their strengths and weaknesses. He always kept his players mentally prepared.
The early Chargers teams drafted and signed some great players. For example, Lance Alworth, Keith Lincoln, Paul Lowe, John Hadl, Ron Mix, Ernie Ladd, Emil Faison, just to name a few. We won several division titles, but the 1963 championship over New England was the highlight of the 60′s.
Coach Noll traded for you in 1970 after he became the Head Coach in Pittsburgh? Why did he trade for you – and how difficult of an adjustment was it for you?
Coach Noll went on to Baltimore then Pittsburgh. He traded for me before the start of the 197o season. He told me that he was a little concerned about my past injuries but I might be able to help him out and help turn things around in Pittsburgh.
He wanted players who would pay the price mentally and physically. He wanted players who would put the team first.
How different was that Steelers team from those championship San Diego teams and what ideas and strategies did you see Coach Noll take from those San Diego teams and utilize in Pittsburgh?
Coach Noll was smart and intense and had little time for players who showed any resistance. In other words, “My way or the highway.” Noll believed in the draft. Joe Greene, Bradshaw, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Ham, Franco Harris and Mel Blount. He also knew the value of seasoned veterans like Andy Russell, Rocky Bleier, Ray Mansfield and Dick Hoak.
Noll had good training from his playing days and his early coaching experiences with coaches like Paul Brown, Sid Gilman and Don Shula.
You suffered an injury and were released in ’71. What happened – how did you suffer the injury and what did the team say to you when they released you?
In 1971, near the end of the season, I received a severe knee injury. My spirit was willing but my knee was weak and my speed was slower. So just before the last preseason game of 1972 they placed me on waivers.
At that same time, Coach Khayat in Philadelphia got two linebackers hurt so I was claimed on waivers. Philadelphia flew me in to Buffalo to play in their last preseason game. I went over their defenses on Friday night and played most of the game on Saturday. When we returned to Philly Coach Khayat told me to bring my family in from Pittsburgh. I would likely be starting versus Dallas on Sunday.
I opened the season in Dallas and it was about 117 degrees. The next week, our middle linebacker got healthy so I was only a spot player plus special teams player for the rest of the season. The best part was I received another year’s salary and another year’s pension.
How is your health now? Has the NFL done enough for you and your generation of players in overcoming football-related injuries?
My health is pretty good for a 72 1/2 year-old and twelve-year veteran of the NFL. My dad was a coal miner for about thirty years and not too many jobs were tougher. So why should I ever complain?
I’ve always adhered to the saying “Toughness is a quality of the mind.” When I start hurting from some old football injuries I just think of how my dad had to tough it out.
What do you think of the changes to the game the NFL has recently implemented – specifically in the hitting and stressing of the passing game?
There will always be hitting and injuries in football. The NFL is making strides to change rules to make the game safer, to see if new technology can be applied to changes in equipment and the increases in pension benefits certainly helps old veterans.
What are your best memories of your time in Pittsburgh?
My best memories of my time in Pittsburgh are that they were all good. The fans, the city and the ownership.
My second year, when I returned to our apartment from training camp, I found out that Roberto Clemente and his family were our upstairs neighbors.
The Rooneys let my wife and I use one of their boxes at the stadium to attend the World Series game. Art Rooney Sr. lived only a couple of blocks from the hospital where I had my knee surgery. I had sent my family home to Washington and Mr. Rooney brought me books to read about past Steelers greats.
Mr. Rooney asked my opinion of Coach Noll. My response was just “Give him a little more time, he just needs a few more players.” Jack Lambert was Noll’s pick two years later. Little did I know the turnaround would be so soon.
Anyway, when I was to get out of the hospital, Mr. Rooney said he would have someone drive me to the airport to return me home. He did – it was his brother who was a priest! How many owners would do this today?
Any last thoughts for readers?
I believe my association with the game of football was part of mission in life. I sure hope so, or I have wasted a lot of time!
God has been very good to me in football, with a great family and great friends. And you’d be surprised how many Steelers fans are here in Washington!