The gasps were audible when Lynell Nunn answered the phone Tuesday afternoon at about 1:15 p.m. ET in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker was on the other end of the line to inform the daughter of former NFL scout Bill Nunn that her father had been selected as a Hall of Fame finalist from the contributor committee (of which I am a member) for the Class of 2021.
As Lynell Nunn listened to Baker, she was fighting to hold the back tears as she, her son, Matthew Wilson, and niece, Jessica Nunn, were surrounding her mother, Frances, who is in hospice care. Another niece, Cydney Nunn, was about 10 minutes away,
“Oh my goodness, that is such good news,” Lynell Nunn said. “You don’t know what this means to us. I can’t thank you enough. The three of us are celebrating right now. My younger niece (Cydney) will be here shortly and she is going to be totally upset to have missed this.”
They planned to surprise her, but Lynell Nunn told AllCardinals later she knew before arriving because she had seen it on Twitter.
Lynell Nunn's brother, and the father of Jessica Nunn and Cydney Nunn, was actor Bill Nunn III, who was best known for his role as Radio Raheem in the Spike Lee movie, Do the Right Thing. He passed away in 2016 at the age of 62.
Bill Nunn began his professional career as a sportswriter for the Pittsburgh Courier, an influential publication that served the Black community. He would often write about the Steelers coming up woefully short when it came to scouting the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) for players.
At one point, he was summoned to the team’s offices and was essentially told if he knew these players so well, "Why don’t you scout for us?" He accepted the job, which began a 46-year career that lasted from 1968 to 2014 as a scout and eventually led to being assistant director of player personnel.
He was helping the team prepare for the draft in 2014 when he suffered a stroke and passed away two weeks later four months shy of his 90th birthday.
He was responsible for the additions of numerous players during the Steelers’ glory years, especially HBCU products and Hall of Famers John Stallworth, Donnie Shell and Mel Blount.
Lynell Nunn acknowledged the family didn’t know that much about her father’s accomplishments.
Asked what this honor means to the family, she said, “He worked so hard and he was so humble about it. There were so many aspects of what he did that we didn’t know until going through some of his things and reading articles and talking to Dan Rooney and Artie (Rooney). We’ve always been so proud of him but we just didn’t realize how much he meant to the players that he scouted.
“I went to Morgan State (also an HBCU) and I did know that I would always become so popular when they knew my dad was coming to town. The players on the Steelers, the ones he scouted, it just never ended. Donnie Shell and Mel just always held him in such high esteem. And that’s all you can ask for.”
Shell was elected to this year’s Centennial Class for which the enshrinement was postponed, so he and Bill Nunn will be honored during the same weekend in 2021.
As for her mom, Lynell Nunn said, “We’re surrounding her right now. She’s probably listening to all this laughter right now. You’ve made our day. Were so proud of the legacy that my dad leaves. This call means everything to us.
“He would just be up on the moon and he would be (saying), ‘It’s not about me, not about me.’ He was very humble in that regard. I’m just so honored that you guys honored the foresight that he had. And I’m so thankful that you have included him this year. We’re very, very proud.”
Bill Nunn was also known for always helping anyone he could. One of those was a young pro personnel scout working for the Steelers in 2000, Doug Whaley, who worked for the Steelers until 2010 when he was named general manager of the Buffalo Bills. He was recently the personnel director for the XFL.
Whaley shared an office for 10 years with Bill Nunn, who was 76 years old in 2000, and Whaley was 27.
“He was always willing to impart his knowledge on anyone,” Whaley told AllCardinals. “Not only about the football side, but life. He taught me and anyone that would listen the essence of scouting.”
In a statement, Steelers president Art Rooney II said, "I am beyond thrilled to hear Bill Nunn has been selected a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor. Bill's contributions to the Steelers were extraordinary over the 46 years he was part of the organization. He was a special person that was a close friend and mentor before his passing in 2014. His lessons and stories are still evident in our everyday work.
"I look forward to hopefully celebrating his induction next year at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His legacy and career deserve to be recognized with the greatest individual honor in football. And we are excited he was chosen by the contributor committees as a finalist."
The Steelers are scheduled to play the Cowboys in the Hall of Fame Game that will kick off enshrinement weekend Thursday, Aug. 5. The current plan is for this year’s Centennial Class to be enshrined on Saturday and the Class of 2021 on Sunday. A mega-Gold Jacket dinner, potentially honoring all 28 prospective Hall of Famers, will be on Friday evening.
If Bill Nunn and Dallas wide receiver Drew Pearson, the nominee from this year’s seniors committee, are elected the day before the Super Bowl, at least seven of the 28 Gold Jackets that weekend will be from those two teams: Cowboys safety Cliff Harris and head coach Jimmy Johnson; Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and head coach Bill Cowher.