Steelers Football HOF coach with QB Joe Gilliam Circa 1972-75 Original TYPE 1 Photo

Joe Gilliam was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 11th round of the 1972 NFL Draft, the 273rd overall pick. He made his first regular season start on Monday Night Football, during a week 12 game against the Miami Dolphins on December 3, 1973. (The game was a disaster for Gilliam: he threw just seven passes, all incomplete and three intercepted by Dick Anderson, including one for a Miami touchdown.) Prior to the 1974 regular season, Steelers head coach Chuck Noll stated that the starting quarterback position was "wide open" among Terry Bradshaw, Gilliam, and Terry Hanratty. Gilliam outperformed the other two in the 1974 pre-season and Noll named Gilliam the starting quarterback, the first African American quarterback to start a season opener after the AFL–NFL merger in 1970. After a 30–0 win in the season opener over Baltimore, he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Although he was 4-1-1 in the first six games, he was benched in late October for his lackluster performance and ignoring team rules and game plans. In particular, Gilliam ran afoul of Chuck Noll for his excessive number of pass plays. During the Week 2 game against Denver Broncos, he threw a record 50 passes and almost totally ignored the run game, leading to a 35–35 tie. In Week 3, Gilliam delivered a terrible performance with only 8 completed passes in 31 attempts and 2 interceptions, leading to the Steelers suffering the humiliation of a home shutout by arch-rival Oakland Raiders. After fans began demanding Terry Bradshaw's return, Gilliam was benched. He also received numerous death threats, some of them racially charged. Bradshaw returned as the starter on Monday night in week 7 and led the team to a win in Super Bowl IX, the first of four Super Bowl championships with him at the helm of the offense. "He gave me my job back," Bradshaw told sportscaster James Brown on a February 2000 edition of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO. "It's not like I beat him out." The 1975 season was his last on an NFL roster, as the team repeated as champions in Super Bowl X.

Gilliam felt that his demotion was based on racial reasons. In an interview with The Tennessean a year before his death, he said "I thought if you played well, you got to play. I guess I didn't understand the significance of being a black quarterback at the time." Wide receiver John Stallworth recalled that Gilliam's demotion was due to his poor on-field performance, disobeying Chuck Noll's game plan, and substance abuse issues and there was no racial motivation whatsoever on the team's part. He noted that Noll was "completely color-blind" as a coach and not racist in any way. Linebacker Andy Russell said that Gilliam was "immensely talented" as a quarterback, but unable to stay off of drugs.

During 1975, Gilliam only took a handful of snaps and was cut at the end of the season. He battled heroin, cocaine, and alcohol addiction on and off over the next several years and even ended up living in a cardboard box under a bridge for two years.

He was arrested in New Orleans in 1976 for possession of a gun and cocaine.  The New Orleans Saints then signed Gilliam, but he was cut in both 1976 and 1977,  then played with the semi-pro Pittsburgh Wolf Pak, but quit in August 1978, after playing in just six games. He returned to semi-pro in 1979 with the Baltimore Eagles in the Atlantic Football Conference, but his season would take a couple of bizarre turns: first, an abortive attempt to jump to the Alabama Vulcans of the American Football Association ended when he borrowed the Vulcans' owner's Cadillac and failed to return it; then, after Gilliam went back to Baltimore, he was attacked by four men, who dragged him out of his parked car and repeatedly hit him on the head. Gilliam returned to football in 1981, playing quarterback for the semi-pro New Orleans Blue Knights of the Dixie Football League. He played with the Blue Knights for six seasons while working the docks of New Orleans, loading and unloading barges.

In 1983, Gilliam attempted a comeback to pro football in the new United States Football League, but was cut by the Denver Gold, then picked up by the Washington Federals. Gilliam played in four games, starting two of them, throwing five touchdowns and ten interceptions. Gilliam was cut early in training camp in January 1984,  and retired from the sport for good.

Offered is an original 10” x  8” photo from the SPORT Magazine archives showing Joe Gilliam waiting to get into a game while Chuck Noll looks on in a frustrated manner.  Circa 1972-75.

Item: 12661

Price: $99.00
Steelers Football HOF coach with QB Joe Gilliam Circa 1972-75 Original TYPE 1 Photo