Our next featured article leading up to the release of the “Steelers Encyclopedia” by Chuck Finder, is a bit of history and nostalgia to keep filed away the next time you’re at a tailgate, favorite watering hole, or just looking for a sports trivia that most Steeler fans probably wouldn’t know. The oldest living player and coach from the Steelers. Thanks as always to our good friend Chuck Finder from CBS Sportsline for allowing us to share his entries on SteelerAddicts! Look for the book later this summer and stay tuned to SA and the Blitzburgh Radio Steelers Podcasts for more insight from Chuck on not only his new upcoming book but also Steelers training camp!
LAKELAND, Fla. — Chuck Cherundolo, 94 years young, looked over from his senior-citizen recliner — the kind that lifts folks forward so they can ease out — and made a stunning remark.
“You were an education for me.”
No, young man, it was the other way around.
Cherundolo (pronounced “Churr–UN-duh-low) was a pleasant, 2-hour part of a Florida adventure in late June 2011. It was a summer-warm day, the kind where the humidity off the Gulf of Mexico brings some hard-to-drive-through afternoon storms. . . as happened this day. But by the time I walked into the Cherundolo bungalow off the beaten path in Lakeland, Fla., several miles north of where the Detroit Tigers spend their Februarys and Marches, it was all warmth and sunny dispositions. “Want some iced tea?” I demurred, but he wanted some. So he slowly pushed himself out of his forward-lowered recliner and scooted himself in his wheelchair to the refrigerator, helping himself.
Seventy years earlier, he wore No. 21 in Pittsburgh — long before it was famous. He played center for the Steelers long before Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson, Jeff Hartings and Maurkice Pouncey made it hip. After telling his coach with the Cleveland Rams where to stick his career — yes, at 94 he was still extremely colorful — Cherundolo made his way to Pittsburgh, and stuck. An eastern Pennsylvania guy by way of Penn State, must’ve been a gruff, tough, admirable Steeler. Because he retired to move into coaching after his 1941-48 playing career (missing ’43-’44 due to World War II) and coaching from 1949 and into the early 1960s, with a sprinkling of scouting and wine-business work in there.
Some memorable names played around him, coached over or alongside him, or played under him: Bill Dudley, Jock Sutherland, a litany of 1950s players such as Jack Butler, to name-drop a few.
Johnny Unitas? Len Dawson, with whom he crossed paths in the kid’s 1957 rookie season? Yeah, he saw them pass through Pittsburgh. Or hardly pass. Cherundolo: “At that time, you only needed one quarterback. You ever see one run out of halfback in the single wing? Christ, no, we didn’t need [a passer]. I don’t remember him throwing. Of course, I was defense at the time.”
Of Walt Kiesling the coach, he added: “He still living? He’s gone, too? I guess when you get to be 94, they’re all gone.”
1953 COACHING STAFF: EDGAR JONES, HEAD COACH JOE BACH, CHERUNDOLO AND WALK KIESLING, THE HEAD COACH THROUGH WORLD WAR II.
The Steelers’ media guide long has listed Cherundolo as returning to coach, but he and his family maintain that 1957 was his final year of 15 with the club (though newspaper accounts of the day had him scouting and returning to coaching as of 1961). He held up a September 1947 game program and peered at me through those black-plastic, square spectacles while I tried to take his photograph. He’s still pretty sharp, his daughterPatricia noted. After all those years playing center in soft, leather helmets and all these signs that many players exhibit later in life, I noted. . . .
Cherundolo snapped: “You’ve got to have a brain to hurt it.”
I hope I have his mind when I’m at least 70, let alone 80 or 95, which he turned last August.