Pittsburgh The Heart of the NFL? Yinz Got that Right

At the NFL Scouting Combine, at the NFL Draft and wherever NFL games are played, there’s often something of a Western Pennsylvania reunion taking place.

“Two guys from Pittsburgh walk into the NFL Scouting Combine …”

That sounds like it could be the opening line to a joke, but it isn’t.

At the Combine, at the NFL Draft and wherever NFL games are played, there’s often something of a Western Pennsylvania reunion taking place.

“It’s amazing,” Buffalo Bills General Manager Doug Whaley acknowledged. “I’ve said this every offseason –– I haven’t done it yet –– that I wanted to track the number of NFL people on the grass (players) and in the front office (personnel/football operations/scouting) or in coaching that were either from Pittsburgh or had stops in Pittsburgh or played at Pitt.

“I would say it’s a heavy percentage.”

Whaley checks all three of those boxes (Upper St. Clair, Pitt, former scout with the Steelers).

But if you limit the club to those who grew up in Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas, it’s still going to take a while to call the roll.

They all know each other or know of one another.

It’s a relationship that’s always acknowledged.

And the subsequent discussions invariably involve the last time they’ve been home, and the relative health and well being of their mothers.

Or so it seems.

In terms of NFL pedigree, the Pittsburgh region is about so much more than its history of high-profile quarterbacks (Unitas, Namath, Montana, Kelly and Marino, among others).

“When you see people from other teams, you give the secret Pittsburgh head nod or a, ‘How are you doin’, n’at?’” Whaley continued. “You give the secret speech to ’em, it’s a pride thing. Everybody loves to be from their hometown and someone else from the hometown, you have that backbone where you know what they’re all about and what they’re made of.

“It warms your heart because you know there’s something special coming out of that city.”

Whaley will probably broach that subject this weekend with his old boss and North Catholic High School graduate Kevin Colbert when the Bills host the Steelers on Sunday.

Last Sunday it was Homer City native and IUP graduate Bob McAdoo who did the traveling, returning home as the head coach of the New York Football Giants.

“There’s a tight bond, whether it’s coaches or scouts, personnel guys, from Southwestern Pennsylvania,” McAdoo maintained.

Guys that “take a lot of pride and kind of look out for each other a little bit. There’s a tight-knit group of guys. You share that bond together and it’s pretty strong.”

The Steelers began reacquainting themselves with this unique and unmistakable NFL dynamic in training camp, when they welcomed the Detroit Lions and defensive assistant Matt Raich (Monaca High School) to St. Vincent College for a couple of combined practices.

Since then they’ve come across, among others:

  • Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis (McDonald/Fort Cherry).
  • Eagles guard Stefen Wisniewski (Pittsburgh/Central Catholic).
  • Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (Aliquippa).
  • Dolphins linebacker Mull Hull (Canonsburg/Canon-McMillan).
  • Patriots assistant Ray Ventrone (Pittsburgh/Chartiers Valley).
  • Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee (Upper St. Clair).
  • And Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor (Jeanette).

McAdoo is one of three NFL head coaches from the area, along with Lewis and Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (Greenfield/Homestead Bishop Boyle).

They’re merely following in the footsteps of Mike Ditka (Aliquippa), Joe Walton (Beaver Falls) and Marty Schottenheimer (Canonsburg/Fort Cherry), among others.

“My father’s a coal miner,” McAdoo said. “I married the daughter of a coal miner. You learn that blue-collar work ethic right away and it’s something that’s ingrained.

“I still follow IUP, still follow high school football in the area, it’s a special place.”

Added Whaley: “I don’t want to put it out there that Pittsburgh’s the heartbeat of the NFL, but somebody else could say it and I wouldn’t disagree with them.”


Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section