Former Steeler, Buc Theo Bell Succumbs To Illness

By Katherine Smith
Updated: June 23, 2006

Theo Bell (83) played for both Tanpa Bay and Pittsburgh

Theo Bell (83) played for both Tanpa Bay and Pittsburgh

TAMPA – Former Steelers and Bucs wide receiver Theo Bell died Wednesday morning at St. Joseph’s Hospital after a long battle with kidney disease and scleroderma.

Bell, 52, had been hospitalized for most of the past two months and had battled the illnesses for more than a year.

Funeral services will be held Monday at 1 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of College Hill.

In 2000, Bell’s doctors diagnosed polycystic kidney disease, in which cysts overtake the kidneys and eventually destroy them. Later, Bell was diagnosed with scleroderma, a disorder that causes a hardening of the skin and damage to internal organs and blood vessels.

His wife, Joan, said the cause of death was scleroderma.

Theo Bell was on the donor list for a kidney and thought he’d be able to receive a transplant from his brother, but because of complications it didn’t work out. Bell was accidentally removed from the donor list, but recently was put back on.

Doctors also said Bell needed a lung transplant.

Former Bucs teammates Doug Williams and Jimmie Giles visited with Bell on Monday at the hospital.

“He was the kind of guy you wanted to have in your locker room,” Williams said. “He just had a fun-loving attitude. When he got to Tampa, and he had been playing a while, every time he caught the ball, he looked like a kid in the candy store.

“He just loved to play. And he was a fun-loving guy. I don’t know that Theo ever met a stranger.”

Bell collected Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1979 and ’80. He was drafted by the Steelers out of Arizona in the fourth round in 1976.

He joined the Bucs as a free agent in 1981. In five seasons for Tampa Bay, he started 13 games and caught 95 passes for 1,470 yards and four touchdowns.

His final season with the Bucs in 1985 was his last in the league.

After his career, Bell became involved in a program that originated at the University of South Florida. The program teaches the value of education, targeting middle-schoolers and following them through high school graduation. The program is called GEARUP – Gaining Early Awareness Readiness of Undergraduate Programs.

Many of Bell’s students came to the hospital to visit him.

“Those kids are going to remember Theo for the rest of their lives,” Williams said. “They’re going to remember the lessons he taught them and how, when things got really bad, how he didn’t complain.

“When things get tough for them, they will be able to look back at how Theo handled himself in tough times.”