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Mullins pans for black & gold in Saxonburg these days

December 27, 2012
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Jim O’Brien: Mullins pans for black & gold in Saxonburg these days

By Jim O’Brien From the Pittsburgh Business Times         

Saxonburg is not Pittsburgh, but it suits Gerry “Moon” Mullins just fine.  For one thing, he doesn’t have to wear a suit to the office.  Every day on Saxonburg’s Main Street is Casual Friday.

“I usually wear a golf shirt, sometimes a sweater, jeans and a baseball cap if it’s cold,” said Mullins, looking at ease behind his big desk.  “I’m getting a little thin on top.”

Mullins wore the black and gold uniform of the Pittsburgh Steelers for nine seasons (1972 to 1980).  He was a starting offensive guard most of that time and earned four Super Bowl rings.  Alas, he was also the first of those Steelers from the four league championship teams to be cut, the last casualty of the 1981 training camp.

Then he was traded to the Cleveland Browns, but he decided he’d had enough.  “The body can only withstand so many bumps and bruises,” he said.  “I was pretty beaten up by then.  And I wanted to stay in Pittsburgh.”

He walks a little gingerly these days.  “I’ve got the usual occupational aches and pains,” he said.  “But I can’t complain.  I’m proud to have played for the Steelers and I’m still a Steeler.”

That was quite a switch from when he first came to a Steelers’ orientation camp in January of 1972.  He was a California boy and had played his college ball at Southern Cal.  “It was cold and gray when I got here,” he recalled, “and I wondered what I’d gotten myself into.”

He shared a pad with teammates Terry Bradshaw and Mike Wagner in an unfinished apartment building near the Squirrel Hill Tunnels and it was a bleak beginning.  But it got better.  He went from blocking for O.J. Simpson at USC to blocking for Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier at Three Rivers Stadium.

“I was lucky to be with a team that accomplished some special things,” said Mullins.  “People recall us fondly from those teams and it still makes you welcome at most gatherings.”

Mullins took a year off after his football career came to an abrupt halt, and then he got into his “life’s work,” as his coach Chuck Noll always referred to it.  Legendary Pirates’ broadcaster Bob Prince, of all people, boosted him as a worthy candidate to a next-door neighbor in Upper St. Clair who was seeking someone he could groom to eventually succeed him as president and owner of Industrial Metals & Minerals Company then located in South Fayette, just over the border from Bridgeville.

Bob Keaney took Mullins under his wings and worked with him for 14 years before turning over the company to Mullins in 1995.  “He did a masterful job of preparing me for heading the firm,” said Mullins.  He’s been at it ever since.  “It’s funny how things work out; it really has been my life’s work.”

Now 63, Mullins has moved the company to Saxonburg, just below Butler, and about a 45-minute drive to Pittsburgh.  “I get dressed up in a suit when I have to make business calls,” he said.  He sells raw materials to industrial companies.  “Saxonburg is Small Town America…a couple of stop signs…and that’s fine with me.”

Mullins says the business isn’t as strong as it used to be, like most companies involved in heavy industry, but he makes a good living.  “It’s like playing football,” he said.  “You have to be self-motivated.  Like football, you’re reluctant to let go.  You have to know when to say when.”

He has not tapped into his NFL pension or Social Security, and doesn’t plan to do so until he is 65.  “I have a good life out here,” he said.  “I live just four miles from my office.  Joan is my second wife. She has a good job and we’ve been together for 17 years.  Our kids have gone to college and are out on their own.”

His office is a second floor suite in a quaint two-story white building in Dinnerbell Square.  “I have to be here to answer the phone and write orders.  I’m like a fireman waiting for the alarm to go off and I respond to it.”

There is no Steeler stuff in his office: no trophies, plaques or pictures.  “That’s at my home,” he said.  Instead, his walls are adorned with antlered deer and elk, mounted game fish and birds, and a collection of colored glass bottles and vases behind his head.  He had gone out the day before on the first day of deer hunting in Pennsylvania.  He was one of the Steelers from his era that used to shoot clay pigeons at the Millvale Sportsmen’s Club.

He has gone from being a California beach boy to a Pennsylvania outdoorsman.

“I was always kinda laidback, but I’m not afraid to work.  I had to work hard at football.  I operated out of fear; I didn’t want to incur the wrath of Chuck Noll.”

Author Jim O’Brien has a new book out,” Immaculate Reflections: A Pittsburgh View of Sports.”  His website is www.jimobriensportsauthor.com

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