Saturday, November 26, 2011

“The Search for Al Luccioni”

c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

In this column, I have occasionally written about calling a fictional, neighborhood friend from the Pittsburgh area on my telephone. His name - Al Luccioni.

Al was a character featured in Iron City Beer advertisements during the 1970’s. His profile exuded rugged, yet friendly vibes. Once, I had a sign that carried his image in my own collection of brewery memorabilia. When reflecting on childhood years spent in that region, he seemed to be a proper focal point for personal reminiscing.
He literally looked like a blue-collar dad from down the street.

During each call, Al would typically mention having a plate of kielbasa spaghetti while watching NFL football on television. Our debates about Steelers versus Browns matches were loud and passionate. And he struggled with the idea that I was no longer a teenaged kid from New Kensington:

“The Stillers are goin’ to another Superbowl, that’s all I know,” Al cheered.

“Well, not quite yet,” I said with caution. “You still have to advance through the playoffs.”

“Hah!” he grunted. “Did you see Polomola flyin’ through the air like Superman?”

“Troy Polamalu, you mean?” I said.

“Yeah, Polomola,” he repeated. “Yinz looked like statues out there. He caught everybody by surprise.”

“He’s really surprised me with those commercials for Head & Shoulders shampoo,” I groaned. “A bit strange, really. One step away from Joe Namath in pantyhose…”

“Heyy! Don’t mess with Superman!” he exploded. “Take that back, loser!”

“Okay, okay,” I surrendered. “Sorry.”

“This’ll be ring number seven for the Stillers,” he bragged.

“The Browns have eight league championships,” I said.

“Eight??” he stammered. “Eight in what?? Pee Wee football?”

“Four NFL titles,” I explained. “And four in the AAFC, where they began.”

“You talk crazy,” he growled. “Superbowls, I’m sayin’ – SUPER BOWLS!”

“Pro football has been around for a century,” I said. “The Superbowl is a more recent creation, that’s all.”

“Hey, you sound jealous,” he said teasingly. “Make your excuses kid. Chuck Noll beat anything you had in Cleveland.”

“Noll was born here,” I said with a grin. “He went to Benedictine High School.”

“What???” my erstwhile neighbor yelped.

“He even played for us,” I said. “Being a Cleveland Brown made him what he was…”

“No, no no!” Al whined. “Take that back!”

“Now you have Big Ben Roethlisberger,” I observed. “Another Ohio native. He was born in Lima and grew up in Findlay."

“No, no, no!” he thundered.

“Heck, Bill Cowher played here during the ‘Kardiac Kids’ era, and coached here with Marty Schottenheimer,” I proclaimed. “Ohio made you guys.”

Al was speechless. He sputtered unintelligible curses and oaths.

“Take that stuff back,” he mumbled. “Take that back, take that back!”

“Hold on to your pierogies,” I laughed. “You’re spinning out of control, neighbor.”

“TAKE THAT BACK!” he shouted.

“Okay, okay,” I said at last. “Sorry.”

“You got a big mouth, kid!” he complained.

With each of these episodes, I included a beer coaster scan that appeared on the auction website eBay.

Long after this series of columns had run, I got a surprise, while searching through Internet links. A website mentioned Hogshead Gym, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. It was managed by Phil Luccioni and boasted a young boxing star – his son, Alderico.

Apparently, they were the son and grandson of Al, himself.

Reading the report made me excited, yet embarrassed. For many years, I had believed that this burly figure was created as a promotional trick. To learn that he was a genuine professional athlete made me humble.

I wanted to learn more about his story.

First, I contacted Drew Stevenson, a Facebook friend from New York City. Because he was a native of Uniontown, it seemed likely that he could help. Sadly, Drew only remembered the Iron City campaign.

Feeling frustrated, I returned to my computer.

A second search for information revealed something new. Besides hawking blue-collar beer, Al had also promoted a brand of pizza during the 1970’s. It was available in grocery stores throughout the area, like Foodland.

I couldn’t help feeling a bit nostalgic for the era when NFL football was less about corporate business tactics, and more about serving as a vehicle to express the hopes and dreams of the everyman. When figures like our Brian Sipe adorned promotional glasses from Wendy’s. And when pro athletes, in some sense, still seemed to live in the same universe as those of us punching a time clock.

Sadly, my search yielded nothing more about big Al.

I considered connecting with the Sports Editor from Uniontown’s ‘Herald Standard’ newspaper. It was likely that he could enlighten me in some way about this lost icon of boxing and beer.

Yet quietly, I wondered if my inquiry might seem a bit strange. Across the vastness of cyberspace – comes a small town journalist from Geauga County, Ohio asking about someone from a brewery ad that ran almost forty years ago.

Was that a sane request?

My conclusion, of course, could not be denied. It was a chance I would have to take.

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Blogger Ken Taylor said...

I grew up in Pittsburgh and this x-mas, I received a sign for my man cave. At first, I didn't have a clue who the figure was on my sign. The text on the sign reads, 'Our Iron City Draft Beer approved by Al Luccioni'. "Who the heck is this guy?", I wondered.

As I mentioned, I grew up in the 'burgh, but I was only 9 years old when the Steelers won their first Super Bowl. Clearly, I wasn't paying attention to Iron City commercials yet.

In addition, I worked at Foodland as a teenager. Not only informative, but a small trip down memory lane. And now, I know who Al is too.

7:01 PM  
Blogger Rico Luccioni said...

Big Al Luccioni is my grandpap

4:15 PM  
Blogger Rod Ice said...

Rico - Your grandpa was a real hero to any of us who lived in the Pittsburgh area during that time. I wonder if you know where I could find more info about him? I would love to write a follow-up for my newspaper. Thanks.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Carmen Birt said...

I grew up in Uniontown and can say that Phil Luccioni is my friend. We went to school together and played football as kids. I just saw Phil today for the first tme in probably ten years. I haven't met Rico yet, but Big Al was a great guy. As a kid I remember him dropping Phil off at school in this big, Lincoln.

2:26 AM  

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