Marshall Cropper, Steelers Wide Receiver, 1967-1969
First, can you let readers know about the Hawk Voice Educational Foundation and how you got involved?
The Hawk Voice Educational Foundation was built simply as a means of giving back to young people in the community. It was established with University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Maryland State alumni. Colleagues like Art Shell, Mack Alston, Bill Thompson, Irving Williams, and Carl Hairston here at UMES, to name a few, and many more athletes who would subsequently come together about once or twice a year to give back to our university.
We had to make sure that when people donated, they would get the right feel about making their donations and would know that it was all going toward giving back to the young people in the form of scholarships. That’s it in a nutshell. Art Shell is our major sponsor. He has led us to a number of people to talk to who are just like us. Leslie Donaldson, he wasn’t pro but was always there to work with us. Pat Alexander and Eleanor Turner was always there to help us as well.
You won the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education award in 1995. Can you tell readers what that was for?
It was a distinguished alumnus award. I was nominated by my alma mater, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, as a graduate who “rose to lofty heights in my profession and who used my skills to enhance and better my community, the nation, and the world at large.” It was a great honor.
You’re also an instructor at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Athletic Center. What are you teaching/coaching there, and do you find yourself falling back on any coaches and coaching lessons you had as a player?
I teach golf for business to faculty and staff as well as to community people who are interested. It’s a course that also has to do with exposing young people from the ages of ten through twenty-four to the fundamentals of golf. For junior or seniors, or any student for that matter at UMES, it is a two credit hour elective.
During the summer, we teach it to young people who come to summer camps on campus. We break it down so that they can understand that golf is about networking as well as extracurricular activity. It is a life-long activity, and for me it has been very, very rewarding. It has helped this university grow into an accredited PGA golf program. In fact, we are the first Historically Black College or University to ever be distinguished in this manner. And it came about because of the colleagues who worked along with me . . . people like Dr. Ronald Forsythe, vice president for technology and commercialization; Dr. Thelma Thompson, then president; Dr. Ernest Boger, chair of the Department of Hotel and Restaurant Management, William Dillon, director of the Professional Golf Management Program; and Chris Prosser, lecturer in the Professional Golf Management Program, to name a few.
Of course, there are many more I could name who has helped make this a successful program.
We can’t say how appreciative we are because of all that has happened. It has helped this university be second to none in terms of providing an outstanding and well-rounded education to young people.
You came to the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in ’67. Why did you choose the Steelers and what did they tell you to convince you to sign with them?
I came to the Steelers in 1967 as an undrafted free agent. To me it was the greatest opportunity in the world at the time because they were one of a couple of teams who were willing to give me the opportunity to play the game. Of all the teams who were pursuing me, the Pittsburgh Steelers stood out.
You were also a terrific baseball player in college – why did you choose football?
Baseball was my love from the day that my Dad introduced me to the idea of hitting and throwing around a ball. I chose football because baseball in those times required a longer period of training before you could go professional. And of course, I was interested in becoming a professional athlete in either sport.
I was blessed to have the talent to do both, but I could only use one in the professional world at that time.
Who helped take you under their wing as a rookie and helped you adjust to the NFL – on and off the field? And how?
There was a scout by the name of Bill Nunn. He recruited me from college. He helped me get acclimated to the NFL, and he helped me get housing in the community of Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh at the time, there was a lady that was taking in roomers. Her property was right off of Avalon Street down from the University of Pittsburgh. I believe her name was Kathleen Holloway. I stayed with her the whole time I was in Pittsburgh.
You started under Coach Austin. How was he to play for and what was the root of the struggles of those 60’s teams, from your experience there?
Coach Austin was an outstanding individual. I enjoyed my experience with him. He was like any other coach, he just wanted to win.
The biggest struggle and the root of the struggle for those 60’s teams was that we needed to play together enough to establish teamwork. We needed to spend enough time together to make good decisions.
How did you and the rest of the team adjust to Coach Noll when he first became coach – what did you make of him when he first started and what were some of his first actions as coach?
Whenever there’s a new coach, it always means a big change. Coach Noll was one who came in and made the necessary adjustments and changes that best suited the team. He always had good work ethics, and he really worked us. He made us work, and we knew the end result would be good because we put in the work.
Who were some of the biggest characters of those Steelers teams and what made them so. Any examples?
There are too many to name! Teammates are teammates, and the long and short of it is that what happened in Pittsburgh in the ‘60’s stays in Pittsburgh.
You left Pittsburgh after three seasons. How hard was that for you and what was the reason for you leaving?
I was released on waivers and went to Washington D.C. with the Redskins.
What are your best memories of your time in Pittsburgh?
My best memories are centered around the opportunity to play in the National Football League. It was a very unique experience, coming straight out of college and going to the pros. Some of the best memories were being able to ride downtown through the streets of Pittsburgh and through Latrobe, Pennsylvania and say that I was a Pittsburgh Steeler.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I am grateful for this opportunity to reminisce about my days in the National Football League.