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'79 Steelers: Where are they now?

| Friday, Jan. 21, 2005

The joke goes that it takes 10 Pittsburghers to change a light bulb -- one to change it, nine to talk about how good the Steelers were in the 1970s.

Like it or not, the Steelers of the 1970s will be the gold standard for future teams to live up to -- at least in the fans' eyes -- for the foreseeable future.

The 1979 Steelers team was the last to bring home a Super Bowl championship -- capping off a decade that saw four Super Bowl wins and produced 10 Football Hall of Famers -- nine players and coach Chuck Noll.

Twenty-five years later, many of the members of the 1979 roster still live in the city that made them into heroes. They are entrepreneurs, bankers, lawyers and educators. Some travel the country as motivational speakers. Many are perennials at charity events.

Here's what some of the members have been up to:

L.C. Greenwood, defensive end, 1969-1981

In 13 years playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, L.C. Greenwood never went back home to Mississippi. That's how Pittsburgh quickly became his home.

"I stayed here," said Greenwood, 55, a 2005 candidate for the Football Hall of Fame. "Actually, Pittsburgh became home to me. Everything I did, all I was doing was in the Pittsburgh area, it just became home to me."

When he wasn't on the field as a member of the Steeler's famed "Steel Curtain" defense, Greenwood was working in the off season -- as many of the guys did. When he retired in 1981, he tried education, but ended up in business.

Today, Greenwood operates two businesses: Greenwood Enterprises, a marketing company for coal and natural gas, and Greenwood McDonald Supply, a supplier of construction and electronic materials.

"I don't like to be busy doing nothing. I like to be busy doing something," he said. "I try to keep a lot on my plate and that's why I decided to go into business for myself."

One thing he doesn't do, he said, is watch a lot professional football.

"I watch a good amount, but it's too tough to sit and watch the game without putting yourself in the game," he said. "I try not to watch because it's not good for me mentally or physically. I get all worked up and there's nothing I can do about it."

Rocky Bleier, running back, 1968, 1971-1980

Lucky for Pittsburgh Rocky Bleier wasn't deterred by his first impression of the city.

In 1968, Bleier was drafted in the 16th round. He drove cross country from his hometown in Wisconsin -- his every possession in his trunk.

"I thought, 'I'm going to pack all my clothes' -- I had my golf clubs, I had everything --'I'm going to come to camp and if I make it all right, fine,'" he said. "'If I don't make it, if I get cut then I'm going to go to Florida and see some friends, spend three weeks down there and then decide what I was going to do for the rest of my life. That was my plan."

The rookie navigated Downtown's labyrinth of streets and found the hotel where the Steelers were putting up their players. He parked his car, grabbed one of his suitcases and headed in.

The next morning, Bleier went to his car and found the trunk had been popped -- everything inside was gone.

"My golf clubs, my football shoes, everything. I had to go back in and give a report," said Bleier, 58. "They have me some old shoes to practice in."

Bleier's post-football career has taken him to all 50 states as a motivational speaker and he's also a partner in Wireless Development Group, a company that builds communication towers.

Robin Cole, linebacker, 1977-1988

Despite joining a team that had won back-to-back Super Bowls, Robin Cole still was hesitant when he was drafted by the Steelers in the first round in 1977.

"My dream was to be a part of a winning football team, not a team that had already won," he said. "I didn't think there was going to be another opportunity with a team that had won already once, and a team that wins two -- the chance of going back was going to be way down the road."

Cole was right -- for a year, anyway.

After playing a year for the New York Jets before retiring in 1989, Cole had a few opportunities to work at nonprofit groups, but decided to go into business for himself.

"I always wanted to be in business. I'll work hard for anyone in the world, but my personality always is that I wanted to pursue something for myself," he said. "I'm a hustler. I have to hustle. I can't be confined."

Cole, 49, is a character education speaker and also operates Master Plan Fitness program, which designs fitness centers for high schools and middle schools.

This summer, Cole will operate a football camp for middle and high school students at Robert Morris University.

Franco Harris, running back, 1972-1983

Franco Harris said his commitment to Pittsburgh began the day he was selected in the first round of the 1972 draft by the Steelers.

"I said the city I will go to and play for, I'm going to make that city my home," he said. "I got drafted by the Steelers and decided to make Pittsburgh my home."

After football, Harris, 54, founded Super Bakery, a maker of nutritionally fortified baked goods, now located in Ross.

He's also active in several nonprofit organizations, most recently serving as co-chairman of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum's Champions Committee -- an advisory group for the project.

"I was totally amazed," said Franco Harris. "It just made you realize how special this region is, that this has always been a working- class region, but it has always been first class in sports. You kind of combine the two and it produced some great results in so many ways."

The nine-time Pro-Bowler and Hall of Famer said the Steelers have great fans, but he tires of the comparisons made between the teams of the 1970s and today.

"I don't look at us being different. I really look at us as one family. We're the Steelers family," he said. "We were great during our time and we had some great guys who accomplished great things and now there's a new generation in the Steelers family and they're great and they're doing great things.

"I don't see a comparison. I just see a continuation and it's wonderful to see that."

Ted Petersen, offensive tackle/center, 1977-1983

Ted Petersen had always intended to teach and coach, but after seven seasons with the Steelers, the veteran offensive lineman had lost his way.

"When I was getting out of the pros, I was wondering what I was going to do," he said. "I tried construction, and that was fine, but then for some reason, I thought, 'I'd like to teach and coach kids.'"

Petersen found a job as an assistant football coach at Canon-McMillan High School, and said what he found was inspiring.

"I never made less or enjoyed anything more," he said. "It was so refreshing to see young men playing football just for the pure love of the game. They were so excited to be there and they weren't getting paid for it. It was beautiful."

Since then, Petersen, 49, has worked in numerous coaching positions -- head coach at Trinity High School, assistant at Waynesburg College and Mt. Lebanon High School. He even coached his son's youth league team.

He became Upper St. Clair's athletic director in 2002, building on one of the most successful programs in the WPIAL.

Mike Wagner, defensive back. 1971-1980

Mike Wagner grew up in Chicago area, rooting for the Bears in football and the Cubs in baseball. When he came to Pittsburgh in 1971 as an 11th round draft pick, he quickly learned that his knowledge of Chicago teams wasn't going to cut it in this town.

"People always talk about the old Steelers and I have to say, 'I'm sorry, I didn't grow up here. I didn't pay attention to the Steelers,'" he said. "But obviously if you end up playing for a team like the Steelers for a long time, you end up becoming a Steeler for life."

After football, Wagner earned his masters' in business administration from the University of Pittsburgh. Today, he works with HT Capital Markets, an investment banking firm.

Wagner, 55, said he still gets recognized, although said it definitely depends on the age of the fan.

"The standard kind of eyebrow-raising thing is when some 50 or 60-year-old-man recognizes one of us," he said. "They say, 'That's Mike Wagner," and their grandson or granddaughter sees them so excited and can't really figure out why."

Dwight White, defensive end, 1971-1980

The prospect of playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the early 1970s -- before the Super Bowl wins, before the "Steel Curtain," -- wasn't exactly an enticing one for a rookie.

"Pittsburgh had been a doormat for the league. Everyone had this dismal impression of this cold, smoky, dirty city," said Dwight White, who was drafted by the team in 1971.

"It's a great lesson -- I thought it was the worst possible place to start a football career," he said. "Now 10 years, four Super Bowls, a couple of times in the Pro Bowl -- you never know what life will hold for you. You've got to play the hand that's dealt."

Today, White, 55, is a managing partner at Mesirow Financial, an employee-owned company based in Chicago.

He also serves on the board of Pittsburgh Vision Services and works with the Pace School, Goodwill Industries and the Muscular Distrophy Association.

The wins helped, but White said it was a combination of the era and the shared ethic of the city and its players that led to the relationship between the team of the 1970s and its fans.

"We blended and melted into the communities. Players felt like, 'This is our town,' and fans felt like 'These are our players,'" he said. "They were on a first name basis with us. It was a closeness felt even today. The fans come up to you like they've known you all their lives."

And he has a simple solution for those still waiting for that "one for the thumb."

"We just need to develop a whole generation with four fingers," he said with a laugh. "That way, we don't have to worry about it anymore."

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