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UP CLOSE WITH MEL BLOUNT

By Pittsburgh Sports Report

Tony DeFazio

Mel Blount was undoubtedly one of the finest football players in NFL history and was recently rated as the No. 3 Steeler of all time by the Pittsburgh Sports Report.Blount played cornerback for the Steelers from 1970-1983, using his unique blendof size, speed, strength and savvy to eventually force the NFL to change rules because of his dominance. A member of the Steelers' four Super Bowl champions, Blount was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1989. After retiring from football, he established the Mel Blount Youth Home in Vidalia, Georgia, in 1983, and another home in Washington County in 1989. The Mel Blount Youth Home intercepts wayward kids, and is dedicated to providing them with moral and value leadership in an effort to get them on the right track to becoming productive citizens. PSR caught up with Blount shortly before the holidays to discuss the 25th Anniversary of the Steelers' first Super Bowl championship, the NFL today and other fond memories from the 70s.

PSR: Mel, talk a little bit about some of your memories of the Super Bowl season, or some of the things that led up to that first championship.

MEL: There are a lot of things that come to mind, but first is when we started the playoffs that year, everyone thought we weren't supposed to be there, that we didn't deserve it. But we were really just a bunch of young guys who had begun to have a strong feeling about their ability. We had just started to gel, and realize exactly what it was that we had here with the Steelers. But it wasn't just us as a defense, I think the whole thing really started with Franco. Obviously, the Immaculate Reception is now used as a sort of starting point, and it certainly was. But even the year before, we were out in California playing the Raiders. We were practicing, and all of a sudden there's Frank Sinatra on the sidelines - the whole Franco's Italian Army thing was starting to hit full swing. We knew then that we had something pretty special in Franco. .

PSR: The Steelers' defenses in the 70's were not just good, they were dominant. Because of the rules changes and the shift toward offensive football, is it harder for a defense to dominate the way teams like the Steelers did in the 70s? .

MEL: Well, everyone plays under the same rules at any given time. There's a defense today in Jacksonville that's pretty dominating. I think the Ravens' defense is as good as any defense in the league. So there are still some great defenses out there. It's all about making adjustments. The coaches adjust game plans and strategy and what types of players fit best into systems. You've got to be willing to adjust. .

PSR: You are given credit for changing the rules of the game for corners, as far as the bump and run rules and how physical a defensive back can and can't be. Talk a little about your effect on the rules of the league. .

MEL: Well, I was a different kind of cornerback. As far as my height, size, speed and strength - it was just unique at the time for a guy like me to be a corner. And I guess I do get credit for that bump and run rule change. But football is a team sport, and because of guys like Joe Greene, L.C., Dwight White, Lambert, Donnie Shell and I could go on and on, we as a defense forced the NFL to take a hard look at the rules. But I was a physical corner, though, for sure. .

PSR: I watch games today, and see wide receivers like Randy Moss and Michael Irvin, just to name two, pushing off and using their hands and strength against DBs, and yet every time I see a D-back make what I think is a good play, a flag comes careening across the field. How do you even coach a kid to play the position nowadays? .

MEL: The game is designed for offense. People want to see 70-yard bombs and acrobatic catches and point on the scoreboard. That's what the fans want, so the league is going to make sure that nothing gets in the way of that happening. But I do think that there needs to be more freedom given to the DBs as far their freedom to a play on the ball. .

PSR: Talk about some of the guys you played against - what wide receivers in your day challenged you the most - who did you see across the line of scrimmage and think, "It's gonna be a long day,"? .

MEL: There were a lot of great wide receivers then. People talk about all the great receivers playing in the 80s and after, but there have always been great receivers. And as far as getting up for a particular player, anytime I was in a big game, that was the challenge that I got up for. But, in my opinion, Paul Warfield was the most complete wide receiver that I ever played against. His ability to block downfield, catch the football and then to run after the catch was unparalleled. He did all three as well as anybody, and when you combined the three, he was the best. Then there were a lot of others as well - Cliff Branch with his blinding speed. Isaac Curtis who could just run like a deer, Charlie Joiner was the most beautiful route runner that I ever saw. And I could name a ton more if I thought a little more...Kenny Burrough was just a test of will every Sunday against him...Billy "White Shoes" Johnson is another.

. PSR: How about defensive backs? Who did you watch and admire? .

MEL: Lemar Parrish and Ken Riley from Cincinatti were two of the best I saw in my day. Kenny Houston, who played strong safety and cornerback, had a great blend of skills. Emmitt Thomas, now an NFL defensive coordinator; Lem Barney, Jim Marsalis... .

PSR: You're constantly selected to the all-time lists, and you were just ranked as the third greatest Steeler by this publication. Do you pay any attention to those types of honors? .

MEL: Well, that came as news to me, I just got back into town and saw your list of Steelers, and boy, that is an honor. Any time someone admires your work and rates you like that, it's a humbling and satisfying experience. But I maintain that football is a team sport, and I could not have been any good without a great pass rush, and conversely, the defensive line needed a strong secondary and so on. But most definitely, you appreciate those honors. .

PSR: You are in the Hall of Fame, as are many of your teammates, but there are several who are not in and who probably deserve to be. What are your thoughts on that? .

MEL: There's no question that some of my teammates got overlooked because of the politics of having too many Steelers in the Hall. That whole offense and defense could go in. In particular, it's hard to explain why L.C. Greenwood is not in the Hall of Fame. How can Donnie Shell, who intercepted more passes as a strong safety that any player in the league and has four Super Bowl rings, not be a Hall of Famer? Lynn Swann, as we all know, has been overlooked too many times. John Stallworth, because of his longevity and the things he accomplished over his career, how can he not be in? It's hard when these are people I know, whom I played with and witnessed all they did, to see some other guys get in while my teammates are not. It would make MY whole Hall of Fame experience better if they were in with the others and me. It really diminishes the whole meaning of what is means to be in the Hall of Fame when politics starts to play a role in who gets in. .

PSR: After your Steeler teams won their fourth ring, there was a period of rebuilding that lasted quite awhile. Is there any correlation to what happened then and what is happening now with the Steelers? .

MEL: There is some comparison, sure. But it's a different game, a different era, a different age. There is more money now, and money plays into things in a way that it never did when I played. It affects teams and their ability to keep players and so on. But the Steelers are going through a rebuilding phase, and I think that they know it, as an organization. But the fans don't. The fans expected more, they expected not only the playoffs but also a division championship, and that obviously did not happen. There is an added pressure from the fans and the community, who expect the Steelers to do well and want to see them do well. But I think there is a lot of potential on the team currently, and it'll just take a little time to get back on top. In Pittsburgh, especially with the Steelers, you simply don't accept anything less than a winner. A lot of these expectations currently are built upon what Cowher was able to do when he came in here. I mean, he did an amazing job with this team. So he's become a bit of a victim of his early success. But there's no reason to panic, the team will be fine