Sunday, February 7, 2016


The summer of 1974 was a very pivotal moment in the life of  Pittsburgh Steelers player Joe Gilliam. A NFL player strike occurred and the star quarterback, Terry Bradshaw decided to participate. So did the back up quarterback Terry Hanratty.

Gilliam didn't participate and instead he wanted to use this as a chance to stand out from the crowd. 

Coach Noll had him be the starting quarterback for the preseason and the Steelers did well. Even Bradshaw had to admit Gilliam was doing extremely well. He was even featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

More Black people started going to Steeler games Just to watch him play.

During this time Gilliam, like many Black athletes before and after him received hate mail, death threats and people thought he felt entitled.  

Unfortunately Gilliam playing was a little inconsistent and Bradshaw still had the backing of the other players. 

So in October, after six weeks as being the starter, Coach Noll decided to bench him and Bradshaw got his job back as starting quarterback.   

A few months later Bradshaw would led the Steelers to their first Superbowl win. 

Gilliam became depressed. Wouldn't anybody ? Unfortunately he turned to drugs and less than two years later at the age of 25  he was cut from the team.

While Gilliam was struggling with drug addition, the loss of his family, and his home, Bradshaw led the Steelers to three more championships.

In 2000 he, along with other former teammates attended the final game at Three Rivers Stadium. After being on drugs for twenty years he told his former teammates he had been sober for the past three years. People said he looked great and he had a training camp of over 80 kids and since it went well he was planning another.  He was also looking into becoming a high school or college coach.

That never happened. Just a short time later, on Christmas Day he died. He was 49 years old. Relatives thought he may have died of a heart attack but the corner determined cause of death was an accidental cocaine overdose.

A few years prior to his death his father, who was a a former college  football and basketball coach was able to recover his son's Superbowl rings with the help of fans and friends. He was waiting to give them to his son when he thought he was ready. 

Unfortunately that time never came. Gilliam was survived by his father (he passed away in 2012), his wife, three daughters and two stepsons.

Gilliam's story is like a lot of other stories you hear about athletes. He'll probably be remembered for his drug addition but in 1974, for just a brief moment he was a shiny star. 




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