Tony Parisi swapped his goalie skates for soccer cleats after ending a professional hockey career and joining the Pittsburgh Steelers as an equipment manager in 1965.
But Acton shoes weren’t just any shoes. Made in Canada, they had a reputation for making players competing on Astroturf safer in inclement weather, and that’s exactly what the Steelers encountered on Jan. 12, 1975, when they faced the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl IX at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. The high of the game hovered around 4°C and the playing surface was still slippery from the rain the previous night.
Exactly the kind of condition the shoes were made in. Luckily for the Steelers, Parisi had ordered a pair for each player and brought them from Pittsburgh along with the team’s kit.
“We had all the players changed after the game started. Only (Terry) Bradshaw and Franco (Harris) wore them at the start of the game,” recalled Parisi, a Niagara Falls native, on the eve of his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“They were Acton shoes. I would like to have a pair.
But the 89-year-old got something better than boots from Pittsburgh’s 16-6 victory that day at New Orleans. It was the first of four Super Bowl rings he would collect during his 33-year career as the Steelers’ kit manager.
“I have rings. I have four won championship rings,” he laughed when asked what he cherishes most about his job in the National Football League.
Parisi, who still lives in the Pittsburgh suburb he and his wife Joan bought in 1968, said working for the Rooney family never felt like work.
“They were great people to work for. They never bothered you,” he said. “There was not a day that I didn’t want to go to work.”
Parisi also made lifelong friendships in the Steel City.
“Franco calls here from time to time. Jack Lambert, a few others,” Joan Parisi said. “They’re from the ‘old school,’ as I call it, the 70s.”
His greatest memory in his more than three decades with the Steelers was going to the Super Bowl for the first time after the team went 25-60-5 combined in its first seven seasons. with the team. He recalled that Pittsburgh’s fortunes began to improve after hiring Chuck Noll as head coach in 1969 and drafting No. 1 Bradshaw from Louisiana State University the following year.
“It was well after Terry Bradshaw arrived. We started winning.
Joan Parisi recalls the day her husband, a former equipment manager for the Pittsburgh Hornets of the American Hockey League, switched to football for a living. It was in 1965 that their first daughter, Paula, was born.
“He walked into the hospital room and said, ‘I just got a job with the Steelers,'” she recalled.
After the 1964–65 hockey season ended, the Hornets had no scheduled practice hours, so they did not need an equipment manager.
“He worked elsewhere. He had several different jobs at that time. Then he returned to hockey, during training camp.
During Parisi’s first two years with the Steelers, he would be out in the offseason. It became a full-time job afterwards.
“It got to a point where they worked all year and you were there.”
Joan Parisi does not know if her husband has ever had to sew uniforms.
“He would cultivate it,” she said. “I know my mother did some sewing for him. Different things he designed that would help the team.
These “different things” included making uniforms so they fit tighter and using two-way tape under the shoulder pad flaps, also in hopes of ensuring a tighter fit.
“We thought players from other teams couldn’t pull them that way,” he said.
Parisi made custom shoes for halfback Rocky Bleier, whose right foot was damaged by a grenade blast while serving with the US Army in Vietnam.
“I put an extra cleat on the toe of his shoes so he could have a better grip.”
The hardest part of being in charge of equipment was making sure everything was top notch for the players after being “ripped and kicked” the week before.
“We had to continue and prepare the team to play.”
After all his years with the team, the Niagara Falls Sports Wall of Fame inductee, Class of 2006, does he have a favorite Steeler?
“No, they were all good guys.”