Steelers PR maven Joe Gordon honored by Pro Football Hall of Fame
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Steelers PR maven Joe Gordon honored by Pro Football Hall of Fame

Longtime public relations expert one of 20 recipients of inaugural 'Awards of Excellence'

Pro Football Hall of Fame. Photo by Matt McGee via Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/pleeker/4875029824/in/photostream/
Pro Football Hall of Fame. Photo by Matt McGee via Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/pleeker/4875029824/in/photostream/

A legendary member of the Pittsburgh Steelers is being recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite never wearing cleats on Sundays. Joe Gordon, the Steelers’ longtime public relations expert, is one of 20 recipients of the Hall of Fame’s inaugural “Awards of Excellence.”

Awardees will have their name inscribed inside a designated area of the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and are invited to attend a series of festivities during the 2022 Enshrinement Week this August, according to Steelers.com.

Gordon, 86, told the Chronicle he was “honored and overwhelmed” by the recognition and credited the Steelers organization with helping him achieve such success.

During Gordon’s 29-year tenure between 1969 and 1998, he worked with 10 Hall of Fame players, one Hall of Fame coach and two Hall of Fame owners. Operating alongside the illustrious group, which won four Super Bowls in six years, was a dream, he said: “I was there at the best of times, and I had the best people.”

Gordon dedicated himself to the Steelers for nearly three decades, but his love of sports developed much earlier.

He was born in Oakland, grew up in Squirrel Hill and was bar mitzvahed at Tree of Life Congregation on June 13, 1949. He remembers that the ceremony was delayed. “It was supposed to be in December of ‘48, but I broke my arm playing hockey,” Gordon said.

After reaching the bimah at Tree of Life, Gordon returned repeatedly. He remains an active member, he said, and attends services to mark the yahrzeits of his parents and brother. He also remains a “sports junkie,” he said.

Gordon played basketball at Taylor Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill and played three years of varsity baseball and a year of freshman basketball at the University of Pittsburgh. After earning a degree in business administration, he spent six years in the Army before returning to Pittsburgh, eventually finding work with the Pittsburgh Rens, a member of the short-lived American Basketball League. Once the league folded, Gordon went into sales before joining the Pittsburgh Hornets, a minor league hockey team. Three years later, Gordon accepted a position with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Finally, in 1969 — the same year Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll was hired — Gordon joined the Steelers as its public relations expert, a one-man operation.

Joe Gordon. Photo by Philip Marcus

The Steelers dominance throughout the 1970s amplified Gordon’s prominence within the NFL and led to countless opportunities to partner with local and national journalists.

“I was very, very fortunate to be at the right place at the right time,” Gordon said.

Between 1970 and 1979, the Steelers made the playoffs eight times and won four Super Bowls.

That success generated a sometimes overwhelming increase in exposure and media demands, but Gordon said the Steelers’ ownership “had a lot of confidence in me.”

Steelers President Art Rooney II told Steelers.com: “Joe was a real people person who was able to manage the relationship between the media and the players and the others in the organization. He brought everybody together and made sure the right stories got told and sometimes made sure the wrong stories didn't get told. He worked tirelessly.”

Gordon considered Rooney’s father, the late Dan Rooney, “like an older brother.”

Gordon praised the organization for its professionalism and for allowing him to enjoy a fulfilling career. Reaching the milestone is a credit to teamwork and the dedication so many people showed throughout the years, he said.

“I told Joe Greene when he called me to congratulate me on getting the Award of Excellence that it would not have been possible without you guys, all the Hall of Famers and the coaches,” he said. “During that period, we had a great relationship, and I think that had a lot to do with the reputation that I have.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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