Former NFL wide receiver and return specialist Theo Bell, whose 10-year career in the league included a pair of Super Bowl victories with the Pittsburgh Steelers, died Wednesday at age 52 after a long battle with kidney disease.
Bell was diagnosed in 2000 with polycystic kidney disease, a condition in which cysts attack the kidneys. More recently he also suffered from scleroderma, a disease which causes a hardening of the skin and damage to internal organs. The scleroderma had severely damaged Bell's lungs.
Bell, the Steelers' fourth-round choice from Arizona in the 1976 draft, played five seasons in Pittsburgh (1976-80), then signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent in 1981, and played five seasons with the Bucs (1981-85). With the Steelers, he won Super Bowl rings for victories in Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XIV, playing as the team's No. 4 wide receiver and as a punt returner and on special teams coverage units.
In 10 seasons, Bell appeared in 127 games. He caught 136 passes for 2,375 yards and eight touchdowns and returned 189 punts for an 8.0-yard average.
After his career, Bell, who had been raised in a series of foster homes in California, became involved in a number of charitable endeavors in the Tampa community. The most prominent was the GEARUP program, which originated at the University of South Florida, in which a mentor counsels a group of children from middle school and follows their progress through high school. Bell was particularly involved with Blake High School in Tampa.
At the time of his death, Bell was on waiting lists for kidney and lung transplants, but had been hospitalized for two months and was undergoing dialysis three times a week.