Gene Mingo, Steelers Kicker, 1969-1970
First, can you let us know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL?
I have done many things since I retired from the NFL – I’m helping people with alcohol and drug addictions as a counselor and doing interventions. When time permits traveling, bowling, going to baseball games and basketball games and visiting my grandchildren.
You started your career with the AFL’s Broncos in 1960 and actually scored the first ever points in Mile High Stadium (18 yard field goal). What brought you to the AFL and was a football career something you expected to realize for yourself?
No, my first love was baseball – my uncle played in the old negro league and taught me how to be a catcher. I could throw you out from on second base without coming out of my catchers stance. What brought me to the AFL was my wanting to play some kind of sport. I wrote a letter to the Denver Broncos and they signed me to a contract for $6,500.00.
How important was it to you at the time being the first African American placekicker in American football. Does it mean more or less to you today, and why?
I just wanted to play the game, but being the first Black field goal kicker was wonderful. It was a joy having people come up to me and say that they had never seen anyone like me – I didn’t look at me being difference from any other player though. I was a PRO and that was all that mattered – even today people come up to me and say how they enjoyed seeing me kick and play football.
When the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs … before he passed away Lamar Hunt looked me in my eyes and told me he told his sons that “Gene helped save the AFL.” Coming from him that let me know that I had accomplished a lot and contributed.
You were really a three-way player then – you were the halfback, return man and kicker for the Broncos. You had the first punt return for a touchdown in the American Football League and still hold the record for the longest touchdown run by a Denver Bronco (82 yards). Of your three roles, which did you enjoy the most and do you feel today that you are appreciated by the Broncos ownership and fans for all of those accomplishments?
What I have to say about this is, I know the fans were upset with me for getting in trouble in Oakland and being traded back to them really hurt. But when I came back to play them the Broncos fans booed me until I asked for more and those boos turned into cheers. Then I knew they still loved me.
As for the Denver Broncos owner I don’t know what to say about the way he has treated me. Yes the fans think I should be in the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame for my accomplishments for the team. The owner – he really doesn’t know me and doesn’t care to.
You found yourself in Pittsburgh in 1969. How did you find yourself in Pittsburgh and what were your impressions of the team then?
After my problems in Oakland I was there a year and a half then in Miami for the same time. There was one game with the Washington Redskins – I got hurt on the opening kickoff with a concussion and played the entire game. I did everything I was supposed to not knowing I was coaching the other players during the game and it was working and it upset the coaching staff.
After the game I ended up in the hospital for two and a half days. That one mistake seemed to follow me where ever I went. It wasn’t because I had played a bad game. It was just coach Otto didn’t want me around.
Who were some of the biggest characters on that team and what made them so? Any examples?
I have to say that on all of the five teams I played on I enjoyed them all – I felt we got along well together. I will not use names but the word characters is right on each team we had a few.
As a ten-year NFL veteran, how did the rest of the team welcome you to the Steelers – both on and off the field. Who were the players that helped you most to adjust to life as a Steeler, and how did they do so?
Now this I can talk about. As stated above we had a lot characters on all the teams, but the Steelers were just great to me Ben McGee, Chuck Hinton, Sam Davis, Bobby Walton the punter, John Brown, Joe Green…and there was Dick Hoak – what a man. Ray May Andy Russell, L C Greenwood and there were so many more I can’t name. And I do miss them all.,
You arrived the first year Chuck Noll took over as coach. What were your impressions of Coach Noll – and of how the team responded to his way of doing things?
I can only say that he gave me the chance to come back and play the game I loved. It was not his fault I got hurt and did not perform as I knew I could and as he wanted me to. He was a no nonsense coach. That’s why Pittsburgh has four Super Bowl’s under him, I think.
Being so active as a player representative, what are your thoughts on the new CBA - especially as it relates to the way the NFL and NFLPA help veteran players?
All I can say is the young players of today needs to be thankful for us OLD 50’s, 60’s, and 70 players for the hard work we put in to the game. We had poor equipment and we didn’t have the doctors they have today.
And they are reaping the benefits today of all of our injuries and they don’t care.
What are your thoughts on today’s NFL – both with today’s players and the rule changes?
The game has changed so much that I don’t go to them much anymore. The owners have made it impossible for me to enjoy pro football. They are making money and the fans are being fooled.
What is your greatest memory of your time in the NFL in general and your time with the Steelers, and what makes them so?
What can I say? What I have shared with you and the people of Pittsburgh is that I loved it there and I’m sorry I didn’t do more to stay there. To all of the Steeler Nation thanks. As for my years in the AFL/NFL – thanks for the opportunity.
Any last thoughts for readers?
Thanks for letting me vent some of my feelings. I hope in a few months my book will be out. Then you will all be able to read more about who I am.
Gene Mingo # 21 GoldenToe