Pittsburgh Steelers: Reporter Needs To Get Facts Straight on Joe Gilliam's Story

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Pittsburgh Steelers: Reporter Needs To Get Facts Straight on Joe Gilliam's Story

Ed Bouchette, the beat reporter for the Pittsburgh Steelers, published a piece of commentary on August 27th I characterize as being inaccurate about the film I am making on former Steelers quarterback Joe Gilliam titled, Joe Gilliam: What Could Have Been But Never Was. 

In a posting titled, Ed: Holes in Gilliam Story Mr. Bouchette suggests there were some inaccuracies in my project, yet he provided no evidence to substantiate his claim.

I pride myself both professionally and personally to be accurate and consistent. When I disseminate information—given the fact I often chronicle controversial subjects and people—I cannot afford to have “holes” in my work to invite criticism.

Therefore, I am compelled to set both Mr. Bouchette and the record straight. After I disentangle the hype of Mr. Bouchette, the public will see I am dealing with facts based on history and not folklore based on his story.

Mr. Bouchette wrote, “Joe Gilliam won the starting quarterback job because Terry Bradshaw was on strike with many of his veteran teammates and Gilliam crossed their picket lines. I did not see that mentioned anywhere, nor has anyone called Gilliam a scab for doing it. Noll was all about loyalty and with Gilliam in training camp and Bradshaw not, he probably felt compelled to start Gilliam ahead of “Terry Who?”

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Here are the facts: Joe Gilliam won the starting job over Terry Bradshaw because he was a better quarterback.  Chuck Noll stated before the start of the 1974 season, “What Joe did during preseason he deserves to start.”

Mr. Bouchette, and others who have adopted legend over fact, clinging to the notion Gilliam got the job because of Bradshaw’s absence. Facts indicate Bradshaw was only on strike for one week and not the whole preseason.  Bradshaw also states in my documentary Gilliam beat him out. 

Here is more proof.  Bradshaw did an interview with Maury Z. Levey of  Playboy in March of 1980 titled, Terry Bradshaw: The Playboy Interview.  Levy asked Bradshaw about losing his job to Gilliam. Bradshaw asserted the following:

PLAYBOY: But you lost your job again, didn’t you?
BRADSHAW: Yeah. I lost it my fifth year. We finished ten and three. Joe Gilliam had a phenomenal preseason; he won the starting job and I lost it. We had the players’ strike, I stayed out a week—he didn’t. He played well and I got the ax.  

Next, Mr. Bouchette wrote the following, “Noll preferred to win by playing great defense and running the ball. His quarterbacks called their own plays and Gilliam couldn't help himself but wing it. It was driving Noll nuts and a 35-35 tie in Denver may have been the final straw.”

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Yes, Gilliam called his own plays and he loved to air it out.  Gilliam had a great game against the Denver.  He was 31-50 for 348 yards and a touchdown. What Mr. Bouchette failed to mention is that the Steelers should have won in regulation. Roy Gerela missed a 25-yard field goal that would have sealed the game. Had Gerela made the short field goal the Steelers would have been 5-0-1 instead of the 4-1-1 when Noll eventually benched Gilliam. 

I have taken the liberty of providing highlights of the game here so Mr. Bouchette and the public can view the facts.

Then Mr. Bouchette writes, “But from what I remember, Gilliam was popular in Pittsburgh. There are always racists but I believe they were drowned out by his supporters.”

Here are the facts: Doug Williams, Marlin Briscoe and Bradshaw suggest the community of Pittsburgh and the NFL were not too comfortable with an African-American at quarterback. With both Williams and Briscoe being African-American quarterbacks who endured racism and Bradshaw being directly involved in the situation, induces me to believe them rather than rely on what a Mr. Bouchette may “remember.”

Furthermore, Gilliam received tons of hate mail. He also had to carry guns to protect himself and his family. 

Was the latter a result of Gilliam being so “popular” Mr. Bouchette?

More fiction from Mr. Bouchette: “It was suggested in the documentary trailer and again in the piece this morning by Rogers that Gilliam turned to drugs after he was benched, and that racism ultimately led to his demise. It's possible it was the other way around, that he was benched because of drug rumours. I don't know but I know plenty of good ballplayers who have been benched during their careers who did not turn to drugs.”

Gilliam himself suggested in the documentary that he started using hard drugs after the third game of the 1974 season against the Oakland Raiders

Again, Williams, Briscoe and Bradshaw assert emphatically how race played a factor in Gilliam’s demise in the documentary.  Therefore your theory of it could be “the other way around” is preposterous.

Where is the evidence?

Furthermore, Mr. Bouchette suggested many good ballplayers were benched who did not turn to drugs. How many of those “good ballplayers” were African-American quarterbacks facing consistent death threats because of race in the 1970’s?

Mr. Bouchette concluded, “Dexter Rogers asked me to participate in the documentary and I declined for various reasons, not the least of which I perceived that he was working on an angle to the Gilliam story rather than just telling the story, which would have been a good one without the insinuations that have no proof to back them up.”

I asked Mr. Bouchette to participate in my project and he declined. When I initially reached out for his participation, Mr. Bouchette suggested he really did not know much about Gilliam and covered him sparingly, therefore he would not have much to offer the project. Now that Mr. Bouchette has viewed the trailer, he suggests I have “holes” in my story.

The ball is still rolling without Mr. Bouchette’s contributions therefore his presence is not needed. Besides, I tend to gravitate towards those professionals who really have something to say and can back up their assertions with facts: Up to this juncture, I cannot say Mr. Bouchette has engaged in the latter to any substantial degree.

In closing, I provided information throughout this commentary to back up the assertions I put forth. Mr. Bouchette has simply documented items he “thinks” may have occurred without reinforcing his assertions with a shred of evidence.  

“Thinking” comes from not really “knowing.”

In closing, I would like to state I tend to only constructively debate with those of similar ability. All others I teach.  

I truly hope Mr. Bouchette has learned something.

Email Dexter directly: drttcd@gmail.com

Follow Dexter on Twitter: @DextersVPoint

Sources:

Joe Gilliam: What Could Have Been But Never Was

Ed: Holes In Gilliam Story

Terry Bradshaw: The Playboy Interview. 

Denver Broncos vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1974 Highlights

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