The Coach Who Was Cool To The Cafeteria Dude

Aug 4, 2011

An unlikely story has emerged from the world of the NFL, which until recently exported only tales of internecine warfare among millionaires. But first: If you're a football fan — but love to hate the Pittsburgh Steelers — you may want to just click away now. Because what happened recently may diminish your ability to despise the Steel Curtain.

The day before Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton left to become the Arizona Cardinals' defensive coordinator, he stopped by the team complex for some final farewells.

One of the people he spoke to was Maurice Matthews, a cafeteria cook who has reportedly worked for the Steelers for some 20 years. Matthews was also a loyal fan, driving himself to many of the team's road games, writes Darren Urban of Arizona's Word From The Birds blog.

During Horton's seven years in Pittsburgh, the two had regularly joked about two things: Matthews' ability to come out and play some "D" for the Steelers, and his often-made request to borrow Horton's car, a red 1999 Mercedes SL500. But as they said their goodbyes, Horton started acting like he'd forgotten his wallet. And he asked Matthews to help him out.

Matthews gave Horton the $20 he had in his pocket — and Horton yelled, "Sold for $20!"

Then he gave Matthews the keys to his car.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tells the story of how Matthews reacted:

"I'm like, 'Stop playing with me Ray; don't play with me,' " Matthews said. "The other [workers] were looking at me, their jaws dropped.

"Ray said, 'Hey, you always liked the car, you're a good dude, I know you'll take care of it. It's yours."

The following day, Horton had Matthews drive him to the airport in the Mercedes convertible, which had 64,000 miles on it. When Horton picked him up, he handed Matthews the title and proper paperwork to transfer ownership of the car.

"I'm still in shock," Matthews said. "I don't think it has hit me yet. I still pinch myself. I look out the window when I bring it to work and I just go, 'Man, that's mine.'"

As free agents and coaches often remind us, most of pro football is "just business." But that's not what Horton said to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin after he sold his car at a steep discount, according to Word From The Birds.

"I just told Mike, 'It's just taking care of guys who took care of you,'" Horton said.

The sentiment behind Horton's act of generosity might ring a bell with NPR listeners who heard a 2005 story called Be Cool To The Pizza Dude — an idea that, as Sarah Adams explained back then, is based on the ideas of honor and equality.

In that piece, Adams wrote, "I am the equal to all I meet because of the kindness in my heart. And it all starts here — with the pizza delivery dude."

In a way, Horton's gift can be seen as an example of that simple sentiment, writ large.

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