Gold Jacket Spotlight: Hard Working Mel Blount

For two decades in organized athletics, Mel Blount made (and remade) himself with a simple formula: No one, he declared both publicly and privately, would outwork him.

That work ethic began on his family’s farm in southeast Georgia roughly 70 years ago. It reaped its 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 opposing
offensive players in Pittsburgh.

Mel’s journey from the Deep South to the hills of southwestern Pennsylvania are recalled this week in the Gold Jacket Spotlight.

A self-professed “farm boy,” Mel offers this advice about the life he still leads on more than 300 acres in Washington County, Pa., home of his working farm and the Mel Blount Youth Leadership Initiative: “If you don’t want to work, don’t own a farm.”

By any measure, 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 blend of size, speed and strength. He was selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1980s, the NFL’s 75th 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 13th for all NFL players. At the time of his retirement after the 1983 season, he was among only three Steelers to play 14 seasons and had appeared in a franchise-best 200 regular-season games, missing only one due to injury.

He traced that durability back to the farm, too.

“I was always physical,” said Mel, whom 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. Sometimes cutting hay.

By the time Mel turned pro, he was in such good condition, he considered the summer training camp regimen “easy” to complete.

“I was used to working in the sun and doing physical work,” he said.

That’s not to say there weren’t some bumps along the way, like his first two years at Southern University. Recruited as a wide receiver, Mel found himself stuck behind two All-Americans.

“Thank God some 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 junior year, I was starting to kind of figure out that 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 over technique, he struggled his first year and even more in 1971, when he admitted that thoughts of quitting crossed his mind. He eventually learned the nuances of zone coverage and developed into a complete player.

Everything came together 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 that season by winning the second of his four Super Bowl rings.

In his Enshrinement speech, Mel reiterated the value of hard work.

“It is a great opportunity for my family and young people throughout the country to see exactly what can happen when you are willing to pay the price and when you are willing to make a commitment and when you are willing to give it all you can.”