This Week in Pittsburgh History: Chuck Noll Conducts the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

After Chuck Noll led the Steelers to four Super Bowl championships, he “coached” 101 classical musicians through “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

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Football collided with classical music Aug. 9, 1989 when Steelers head football coach Chuck Noll stepped off the field and onto a stage to “coach” the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

The orchestra traveled to St. Vincent College during the Steelers’ summer training camp to perform a benefit concert as a tribute to Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr., who passed away the year prior. Noll conducted the grand finale, leading 101 musicians, not to a Super Bowl championship as he had done four times prior, but through John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” 

The performance took place in front of 5,000 people under a tent set up on a patch of grass next to the team’s practice field, though it may as well have been at Three Rivers Stadium — Noll wore his usual coaching attire: a white Steelers golf shirt and black trousers.

With a conducting style that included making faces at violinists and imitating trombone players, Noll may have seemed out of his element. But Andrea Delfs, the orchestra’s conductor, who gave Noll a few pointers backstage beforehand, commended his performance.

″He did wonderfully,″ Delfs told the Associated Press. ″He’s very musical, perfect tempo. He’s a real American, so he hit the real tempo.″

Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise — aside from coaching football, Noll also enjoyed snorkeling, boating, piloting planes, and relishing fine wines. A fan of classical music and Stan Getz jazz, he said conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was easier than coaching the Steelers.

″That’s what happens when you have a good team,″ Noll said. ″There was nothing to it. It was good fun.″

Learn more about the city’s past at The Odd, Mysterious & Fascinating History of Pittsburgh Facebook page.

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