Bill Nunn and Lloyd Wells, two Unsung Heroes that Delivered HBCU Stars to the NFL

By Lenny Moon

With Super Bowl LIV on the horizon, LennyMoonSports reached back and procured an earlier article we published about two gentlemen that contributed mightily to their respective NFL franchises during the 1960s and 1970s. Although both have transitioned, their contributions are permanently etched in the annals of America’s Pastime. (originally published on Sept 7 2018)

Anyone that’s had the privilege of visiting the Voting Rights Museum (at the base of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Al), one can’t help but to notice the special tribute paid to the “Foot Soldiers” and their contribution to one of the most significant pieces of legislation in the history of our union. The Foot Soldiers would accommodate the functionality of front-line figures such as Dr Marin L King Jr, Hosea Williams, Diane Nash, John Lewis and others as foundational components in their quest to overcome a barrier that was deeply embedded into the fabric of our country.

 

A similar sentiment can be established for two notable journalists from the African American community that made “game changing” contributions while remaining in the shadows of two highly successful pro football franchises. One was from the north, the Managing Editor of the Pittsburgh Courier whose publication was widely respected throughout the nation. The other from the south and served as a renowned columnist and photographer for Houston’s Informer, Defender and Forward Times publications. Both had direct ties to Black College campuses and brought value to the world of pro football as liaisons to the largely untapped talent toiling on those mostly southern landscapes.

Bill Nunn was hired as a scout for the National Football League’s Pittsburgh Steelers to lure some of the talent that had been gravitating to the upstart American Football League (Cleveland and Pittsburgh moved to the AFC in 1970). He had established himself amongst Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) by implementing the Black College All-American Team that brought with it deserved notoriety from his nationally distributed newspaper. Retired USA Today sports writer Roscoe Nance offered “Bill was a giant when it comes to Black College Football as a journalist and talent evaluator. His contributions to the Steelers Super Bowl teams of the 70’s are unparalleled. He was directly responsible for the likes of John Stallworth (Ala A&M), Ernie Holmes (Tx Southern), L.C. Greenwood (Ark-Pine Bluff) and Donnie Shell (S Carolina St)”.

 

It did not stop there with the West Virginia State product, who once led his basketball team to an undefeated 26-0 record in 1948, and had an offer to play with the Harlem Globetrotters but opted to join the staff of the Pittsburgh Courier. Other players delivered by Nunn to the Steelers were Mel Blount (Southern), Frank Lewis (Grambling), Dwight White (E Texas State) and Joe Gilliam (Tennessee St). In the case of White, Nunn was once quoted as saying that he wasn’t exclusively restricted to HBCU’s but would also scout Black players that played for smaller white schools that quite possibly would have been overlooked. The Homewood, Pa native (35 miles NW of Pittsburgh) would earn six Super Bowl rings with the Steelers. He passed on May 6, 2014 at 89 years of age.

Lloyd Wells, a Houston Fifth Ward product, not only was a well respected sports journalist and photographer among HBCUs around the country, he was also a huge advocate for Black College and high school athletes in the south. Known as “The Judge”, Wells would organize football and basketball all-star games for Black high school prospects and invite college coaches to create exposure that would have likely been overlooked in the 60’s during segregation. The Texas Southern University alum also utilized his journalistic platform to break down discriminatory seating practices with the Houston Buffs and Houston Astros.

 

Shortly after the Dallas Texans departed for Kansas City and became the Chiefs in 1963, Wells connected with team owner Lamar Hunt and was hired to their scouting department. Shortly afterwards, he used his persuasion to convince Grambling’s Buck Buchanan to sign with the Chiefs (instead of the NFL) and became the first Black number one pick ever in a pro football draft. Other notable contributions by Wells include Otis Taylor and Jim Kearney (Prairie View), Mack Lee Hill, Robert Holmes and Frank Pitts (Southern), Willie Lanier (Morgan St), Gloster Richardson (Jackson St), Jim Marsalis and Nolan “Gnat” Smith (Tennessee St), Emmitt Thomas (Bishop) among others. The Judge’s shining moment occurred during Super Bowl IV when Kansas City defeated the highly favored Minnesota Vikings 23-7. That Chiefs squad was comprised of a large contingent of players that Wells had delivered from HBCUs. Wells protégé (Otis) Taylor’s dazzling 46-yard touchdown reception in the second half sealed the victory for coach Hank Stram’s underdog unit. Wells passed on September 12 2005 at the age of 81.

 

Both Nunn (2010) and Wells (2016) are members of the Black College Football Hall of Fame as contributors.

www.lennymoonsports.com

  • Winston Hill-Tx Southern, 4-Time All-Pro starter on New York Jets upset victory the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III
  • Harold Carmichael-Southern, 6-8 WR/ 4-Time All-Pro that earned slot on the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team
  • Donnie Shell-SCST, 4-Time Super Bowl Champion (IX,X,XIII, XIV) that’s a 5-time Pro Bowl performer, Steelers All-Time Team       

 

Winston Hill…………Texas Southern University…….(Jets 1963-76, Rams 1977)
Harold Carmichael..Southern Univ……….(Eagles 1971-83, Jets ’84, Cowboys ’84)
Donnie Shell…………..South CarolinaState (Steelers 1974-1987)

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