The Pittsburgh Steelers once were "the most loved team in America."

"By the other teams," club president Dan Rooney remembers. That was when the Steelers used to finish in the parking lot rather than in the Super Bowl.

Now, Rooney says, "I'm scared to death, hearing all this stuff that we're so good.

They are good because the Steelers have drafted talent wisely. Not a player on the 45-man roster has played for another National Football League team. Thirty-nine were drafted and six joined the Steelers as free agents.

Yet, Rooney acknowledges, the Steelers' evaluation of talent was not always so good. Their first selection ever, running back Bill Shakespeare of Norte Dame, didn't bother to try out for the team in 1936. All-America Bob Ferguson of Ohio State was the No. 1 pick in 1962 and a disappointment.

John Unitas was drafted No. 9 for 1955 and was cut. The Steelers drafted running back Greg Hawthorne of Baylor No. 1 for 1979, though his senior season was cut short by a broken hip. He hurt a leg the first day of the Steelers' training camp, running in shorts.

He is healthy again, but Rooney says he needs a full training camp before a final judgment is made.

"I don't buy the fact that the Steelers once were complete nincompoops in the draft." Rooney says.

"The proof is what you do with draftees after you pick them. You have to develop them, Chuck Noll's big strength is patience. He says 'Players cut themselves' if they don't have it. He says his main job is teaching, so the rookie gets a full chance.

"We once had a financial problem. We couldn't keep a player forever to teach and then judge him. I know we never made any money from 1933 to 1946.

"Ferguson lost 21 days at the College All-Star camp. Our whole offense had been put in by then. We could give him only two plays for our first exhibition. It wasn't fair to him. We helped to form the BLESTO scouting organization about that.

"People talk about us cutting Unitas, but they forget we drafted him. So we must not have drafted so badly in those days."

The Steelers do not have the customary section in their press brochure bragging about "how the team was built." There are photos and biographies of the assistant coaches, but not of the club president.

They are proud of treating players as "people." Rooney, 47, learned to think of them as "big brothers" after being dropped at his first training camp at the age of 6." I learned their problems and those of the coaches," Rooney said.

"The problems of the last decade never become very serious for us -- a lack od discipline, drugs. Noll, and Buddy S. Parker before him, didn't care about a plyer's hair or what kind of hat he wore. They didn't tell him he and to wear a pinstripe suit.

"But on the field discipline meant a lot. Noll is very strict about missing meetings or being late for them.

"I know that before the NLF started its antidrug program, Noll spoke to the team about diet pills, sleeping pills and others. He told them, "With the kind of football I'm going to have I don't think you could play trying to get themselves "up" or "down" with pills.'

"If a player has a problem, we try to back him up. We get them legal help, get them to a hospital, help them financially. I think a lot of the problems of the '70s are over."