For two decades in organized athletics, Mel Blount made himself (and remade himself) with a simple formula: no one, he declared both publicly and privately, would outrun him.
This work ethic began on the family farm in southeast Georgia about 70 years ago. He reaped his greatest harvest with a Hall of Fame ring, bronzed bust and gold jacket in Canton in 1989 and continues to this day not far from where he dominated opponents.
offensive players in Pittsburgh.
Mel’s journey from the Deep South to the hills of southwestern Pennsylvania is recalled this week in the Gold Jacket Spotlight.
A self-described “farm boy,” Mel offers this advice about the life he still lives on more than 300 acres in Washington County, Pennsylvania, home to his working farm and the Mel Blount Youth Leadership Initiative: “ If you don’t want to work, don’t own a farm.
In an interview with a Pittsburgh television station a few years ago, Mel said, “You have to work. You are going to have ups and downs. You’re going to struggle, but those who stick are usually the ones who succeed.
By all accounts, Mel succeeded. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility after a 14-year career with the Steelers as a cornerback with an atypical mix of size, speed and strength. He was selected to the 1980s NFL All-Decade Team, the 75and Anniversary All-Time Team and the NFL 100 All-Time Team.
Mel finished his career with 57 interceptions, still the most in franchise history and tied for 13and for all NFL players. At the time of his retirement after the 1983 season, he was among three Steelers to play 14 seasons and had played in the franchise’s top 200 regular season games, missing only one due to injury.
He also traced that durability back to the farm.
“I’ve always been physical,” said Mel, who many observers called the best athlete of his era. “I tell people that I’m the youngest of 11 kids…and we all grew up on a farm. It was work every day. »
Sometimes in a tobacco field. Sometimes in a cotton field. Cut hay sometimes.
By the time Mel turned pro, he was in such good shape that he considered the summer training camp regimen “easy” to follow.
“I used to work in the sun and do physical labor,” he said.
That’s not to say there weren’t bumps along the way, like his first two years at Southern University. Drafted as a wide receiver, Mel found himself stuck behind two All-Americans.
“Thank goodness a coach was smart enough to put me on the defensive side of the ball,” Mel said. He dedicated himself to the hard work of learning a new position and “by the time I got to my freshman year, I was beginning to understand this position and how to play it.”
He would become a two-time team MVP and an All-American as a senior.
Drafted in the third round in 1970, Mel started 10 games as a rookie, but relying almost exclusively on physical talent rather than technique, he struggled his first year and even more so in 1971, when he admitted that the thought of quitting had crossed his mind. He eventually learned the nuances of zone coverage and became a complete player.
It all fell into place in 1975, when Mel led the NFL with a career-high 11 interceptions. He was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, a first for a cornerback. He capped off that season by winning the second of his four Super Bowl rings.
In his entrenchment speech, Mel reiterated the value of hard work.
“It’s a great opportunity for my family and young people across the country to see exactly what can happen when you’re ready to pay the price and when you’re ready to commit and when you’re ready to give it your all.”