Tags: Paul Zimmerman, Dr. Z, football
The painting hangs on the wall outside the office of Art Rooney Jr., the coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers' scouting operations. It's not the kind of thing you'd want your mother or your wife to see. It's what Attila must have looked like while he was sacking a village, or the way a Viking chieftain was with his blood lust up. Only this Viking wears No. 58 and he's dressed out in the gold and black of the Steelers, eyes flashing in a maniacal frenzy; blood flecking his nose; his mouth, minus three front teeth, bared in a hideous leer. Jack Lambert's portrait epitomizes the viciousness and cruelty of our national game. The portrait was done by Merv Corning. It was one of two he submitted to the Steelers' publicity director, Joe Gordon, for possible use as a program cover, and it was rejected immediately. Too scary. Rooney saw it. He called Corning. 'Can I buy the original?' he said. The deal was made, and Rooney hung it outside his office.
. . . The kids in Pittsburgh saw another side of him, though. So did the people who'd get him to make one of his rare banquet appearances -- always unpaid. 'In the old days players would go into a place, tell a couple of locker-room stories, talk about the team, take the money and run,' he said. 'I decided I wasn't going to cheat people.' So he began to talk about drugs, and senseless vandalism, about respect and the pride that he felt when he stood at attention before a game and heard the national anthem played. The audience would stare at him. Is this a put-on or what? Then they'd applaud. At one affair someone asked him what he'd do to the drug dealers. His reply was typically blunt. 'Hang them by their feet in Market Square until the wind whistles through their bones.'