Donnie Shell deserved his invite to Canton

He made it!

Yes, “Torpedo” has been elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Former Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Donnie “Torpedo” Shell received the good news from Hall of Fame President David Baker via a phone call Wednesday evening.

Shell is the fifth member of Pittsburgh’s 1974 rookie class to get that joyful call over the years.

When Shell and I talked during the Steelers Alumni Weekend in November about his chances of being elected, he said, “I’m hoping I get selected but if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world. I still had a good career. I played with a great group of guys and for a wonderful organization. I consider myself very blessed. It would just be the icing on the cake.”

Thursday morning on the NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” show, Shell said, “I keep telling people, don’t give up on your hopes and aspirations. I believe God created everybody and gave them certain talents and gifts. Some had to work harder to make those gifts come out. I was one of those people.”

Shell arrived at Steelers training camp in the summer of 1974 as an undrafted free agent alongside some very heralded Steelers rookies; future Hall of Famers Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster. There were 17 rounds to the draft in those days, but no one was willing to take a chance on this linebacker from South Carolina State. Steelers scout Bill Nunn, who was responsible for prompting the Steelers to draft Stallworth, kept pushing Pittsburgh to give Shell a chance.

“Without Bill Nunn’s persistence, I wouldn’t have gotten a chance,” said the Whitmire, South Carolina native. “He saw traits in me that he thought would enable me to make the transition from college linebacker to pro safety. I owe so much to Bill Nunn and Chuck Noll.”

As head coach, Noll kept his eyes on the Steelers special teams. He was continually looking to upgrade the team’s special teams. Noll liked what he saw in the hard-hitting Shell. Shell was consistently the first player down the field on punts and kickoffs. His physical play could not be overlooked.

As a testament to his hard work, Shell was named special teams captain in 1976. The following year, he stepped into the starting lineup at strong safety when Pro Bowler Glenn Edwards departed.

By the time he hung up his helmet after the 1987 season, Shell had set the NFL mark for career interceptions by a strong safety with 51, which is still the NFL standard. He also recovered 15 fumbles and played in five Pro Bowls. More importantly, he was a member of the Steelers’ first four Super Bowl championship teams.

“When you retire, you get a chance to think back on the awesomeness of it and to reflect on it,” said Shell. “When you’re playing you can’t see it. We did some awesome things and I played with some awesome people. They were not only great athletes, they were great people. I still have relationships with some of these guys from more than 40 years ago. Other guys I haven’t seen in 40 years, but that relationship still exists.”

During his playing days, Shell worked in the offseason to earn his master’s degree in guidance and counseling which he put to good use in his post-playing days.

“I was director of Player Development and Community Relations for the Carolina Panthers,” Shell said. “We had some of the best programs in the National Football League for which we won honors. I did that from 1994 to 2009. I coordinated community programs, internships and family assistance programs. I really enjoyed doing that. I was helping the athletes to transition from when they were done playing football into regular, everyday life.”

“After playing 14 years, I was only 35 years old when I retired. You have the rest of your life to work. It’s important to get that degree,” said Shell with emphasis. “That was my number one task when players came into the Panthers’ organization. I wanted to make sure that if they didn’t have a degree, that they got it. The second thing was for them to do two or three internships. That enables you to determine the field, or type of work that you like to do, or that you don’t like to do. That is very important.”

Shell liked playing football. He was very, very good at it. That ability, coupled with hard work, enabled him to get the long-awaited phone call last Wednesday.

Good things do happen to good people.


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