Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades – Order Today!

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Takeaways is now available via Amazon and Barnes and Noble – order today!

takeaways

Andy Russell: “Ron Lippock has collected an amazing number of outstanding comments from some of the top NFL players.  They are responses to very good questions, making those top players have to think before answering.  The comments are extraordinarily candid, informative, some emotional and often very detailed, giving the reader an inside view of what it’s like to play in the NFL.”

John Banaszak: “I thoroughly enjoyed Steelers Takeaways.  Reading the stories of the players that wore the Black and Gold before me and the stories of the Steelers that played after me was very interesting.  The common thread through all the decades is, anyone that played for the Steelers was very proud to put on the uniform.  The memories and stories of my teammates and coaches took me back to my playing days.  Great book, Great read.  Every Steeler fan will get an idea of what we went through no matter what decade they are from.  “

Frenchy Fuqua: “I think the book is great. It hits the point for readers!”

This book approaches the Steelers organization and players in a way no other book has – spanning across seven decades of Steelers players, the book is comprised of personal and on-field stories. Author Ron Lippock has conducted over 400 interviews with former Steelers – from those that played in the 50’s, through ones that have just recently retired.

These stories and memories are amassed not only from the household names like L.C. Greenwood, Donnie Shell, Antwaan Randle El, Rocky Belier, and Tommie Maddox, but also from the hundreds of players who fought just to make the practice squad. Their contributions and struggles, successes and failures, all helped to define the Steelers as an organization just as much as the many Hall of Famers.

These players discuss the adversity they faced – the physical impact of the game, the stress of making and keeping one’s position on the team, mentoring younger players even as they sought to take their roster spot, moving from team to team, and more.

Players reveal the humor behind the game and how it affected them – from the jokes teammates played on one another in the locker rooms, meeting rooms, and hotels, to the on-field pranks and antics fans are otherwise not privy to.

This is the insider’s history of the organization, a very personal view shared from the players’ perspectives. There is something for every Steelers fan here – and these stories simply can’t be found elsewhere.

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Marvin Philip. Steelers Center, 2006-2007

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First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL career – what you’ve been doing and how you got started in this new line of work?  

I currently work for  start-up technology company (Domo, Inc.) based in Utah.  I also started my own business (where I work full time as well) after my career ended.  My company Empee Solutions manufactures innovative, high-quality products that help simplify life. One of our products the “Lifter Hamper” was featured on SharkTank last year, and really helped us hit the market.

I recently reached a licensing agreement with one of the biggest housewares companies to manufacture and distribute the Lifter Hamper and all future products.   It has been quite an adjustment going from football my whole life, to the real world working a 9-5 and sitting in a office.

What about your experiences in the NFL have helped you so far, and how so?  

I think football teaches you many great things. The discipline, dedication and work ethic that it takes to play in the NFL is something that is so priceless.  These traits are a great foundation for success in life after football.

You served on a mission for two years, interrupting your college career, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  How did faith impact the way you approached the game of football and how did you see it impact that Steelers when you got there?  

I was definitely older! On a serious note, the experiences I had as a missionary not only prepared me for football but for life.  This is where I really had to learn how to be a man, and learned all the traits I mentioned earlier to be successful.  I really had to mature, learn responsibility and that prepared me for all things that come with being in the NFL.

You were drafted by the Steelers in the 6th round in 2006. Were you surprised to be drafted by Pittsburgh and how nervous were you when you realized guys like Faneca, Hartings, Kenoeatu, Simmons and Colon were already on the squad?

It was a pretty loaded interior line already….   That wasn’t something I was concerned with.  For one I was grateful to be drafted, and secondly I thought of it as an opportunity to learn from these guys.  Willie Colon and I were in the same draft class so we were both just trying to make the team.  Willie and I were roommates so we talked about it all the time.  So when we both made the 53 man roster that year we were both pretty excited.

What was your biggest adjustment to playing in the NFL, and how helpful were the veteran linemen in helping you make that adjustment?  

There are a few.  You’re in a new city, with people you’ve never met before which puts you out of your comfort zone.  So it really helps when the veterans take you under their wings.  This was the one thing I noticed that was different about Pittsburgh than any other place.  The vets in Pittsburgh really take care of their guys.  Joey Porter had a condo that I lived in my rookie year.  Chris Hoke would invite me to his home and feed me.  Troy Polamalu, Chris Kemoeatu, and Shaun Nua all took care of me too.  Maybe because of the Polynesian connection.

Who did help mentor you most and helped you adjust to the team and city – both on and off the field – and how did they do so? Any examples? 

The good thing about playing in Pittsburgh is that I felt I was apart of a “family.”  So I hung out with everyone all the time.  Troy Polamalu, Chris Kemoeatu, Shaun Nua, and all my O-Line brothers helped me and gave me rides when I didn’t have a car.

Who were some of the toughest guys you lined up against both in practice and on game days? What made them so?

Aaron Smith and Bret Keisel were guys I battled with constantly.  They went hard everyday like it was a game so you had to bring your “A” game every day.

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George Jones, Steelers Running Back, 1997

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First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing since you’ve retired from the NFL and how you got started in these new ventures?

Usually,  I’m with my kids. I have three kids, eight, six, and three.  My six-year old has Down’s Syndrome, so I spend most of my time in therapy, driving him around, volunteering at school… A lot of my other time is spent with my eight-year old, coaching his football team.

How did your time in the NFL influence your coaching?

I try not to tell him what to do. I’m not on the field – he has to learn to be instinctive. I help him when he comes off the field if he makes any mistakes – give him tips…but I let him go on his own natural ability as a runner.

As a former player, how did you prepare for life after the NFL and how hard was that adjustment for you?

I didn’t prepare. Lot’s of guys don’t. I just had to move on to something else – I didn’t have a problem – no depression like most players. I knew it was a privilege to play and I accomplished my dreams. When it was over I moved on to other stuff – it wasn’t a big transition for me.  I knew it wasn’t there forever.

I did miss the structure.  Everything was structured – early practice, lift weights, film sessions…then the structure was gone. You have to put your own life together afterwards. Maybe if I was married and had kids then it would have been harder, but I had no dependents then.

During the season, we had Tuesdays off.  Otherwise it was training on Mondays and film correction in the early part of the season. We knew every day what we were doing Monday’s through Saturdays. In April it was OTAs. It was all structure.  It was good – then one day it’s done.  And like most Americans then I had to get my own day going. But with no kids and wife, it wasn’t as tough.

You were drafted by the Steelers in 1997 in the 5th round – where you disappointed in not going higher after such  great career at SDSU where you broke many of Marshall Faulk’s records? Why do you think you weren’t drafted higher?

I was suspended a couple of games in college because I took extra benefits. I’m sure teams were worried about character issues and figured they’d risk a later pick on me. I knew it would probably happen. I was upset at it then but now, I’m older and wiser and am happy just to have made it. I got to do what most people would give their left arm to do. It wasn’t as long as I wanted but I got to do it.

At that time they Bettis and McAfee on the roster. How hard and frustrating was it for you to get your shot in camp and on game days, and how much did those guys help you?

McAfee wasn’t so much an issue – he was a special teams guy mostly. I started as the third down back and came in when the game was out of hand – if we were winning or losing by a lot. McAfee was a special teams star. He helped me more on playing special teams – how to block on returns, …that I needed to play well on special teams if I wanted to stay in the league. I didn’t play on special teams in college…

Jerome was encouraging. He told me I needed to be scrappy – to fight for everything. You don’t know who was watching…

Were you at all frustrated?

I was frustrated  But I knew the reality. I was behind a top five rusher. I was frustrated but confident. And in my heart of hearts I knew the guy in front of me was better. You have to live with it and make the best of your opportunity.

I didn’t get to play on first and second downs, but I played on third downs. It is what it is. The offense was a power offense – it wasn’t a good fit for me. I was more of a scat back – a change of pace back. I liked open spaces to run in – I needed that. But I was grateful for the opportunity.

As an “undersized” back (5’9″), how did you learn to use that size to your advantage both in college and the pros, and what was your biggest adjustment to the NFL?

I had to alter my game in that scheme. If I played in a system with a guy like Brady or Manning with one back and a spread offense – that’s what I was built for. It was difficult for me in a two tight end offense like Pittsburgh’s. It was a power offense and they wanted you to run downhill.  They didn’t want you to dance and reverse field – they wanted you to get positive yards and keep the chains moving. But I was drafted where I was drafted. I stayed positive and did what I could do.

How much did humor play a part on those Steelers teams, and how so? Can you give a couple of examples of some funny things that occurred, on or off the field?

Jerome – and his partner in crime Tim Lester were joined at the hip. If Coach Hoak got on me for something they’ve laugh at me and tell me I wasn’t in San Diego State anymore! Thigpen was funny too – I used to watch the veterans on game day to see how they dressed. It was always funny.

In training camp they made me try and sing my school fight song. I had to tell them I didn’t know it – I really didn’t! So I had to make something up – it was crazy. We also had to do a comedy skit. I made a fool out of my self but it was cool. I didn’t think it was cool at the time – I  just didn’t like being unprepared.

’97 was supposed to be a down year for the team after losing so many players the prior season and the team stating a new QB, but the team made it to the AFC Championship. How did the team make those transitions so well, from your perspective, and what was the mindset of the team after the loss to Denver?

It was really due to the maturation of our defense  at first and Jerome carried us. Kordell matured too – he went from Slash – option running back and receiver – to starting quarterback. He put it all together. He threw well and ran well when he needed to.  I remember he won the game for us against Baltimore. He ran for 60 yards or more to win the game. He carried the team to the AFC Championship Game.

How tough was that game for you?

We beat Denver in the regular season. You’d think if you beat the team already and you’re playing them at home we’d win. But Kordell didn’t have a great game. The defense didn’t have a great game either. Overall the team didn’t play very well. Kordell didn’t play as well as needed, It was his first year as a starting quarterback so maybe that had something to do with it. He just didn’t put it together. It was terrible – we were one game away from a Super Bowl against Brett Favre in San Diego. It would have been nice playing in San Diego where I went to college. Football’s a strange game…

You had one of the great running back coaches in Dick Hoak. How did he help you and what was his approach to coaching the running backs then?

He was a cool running back coach. He was always on the younger guys. He’d tell us to follow the older guys – to watch them practice and how they studied film.  To see what they did and why they did it and how they kept their bodies fresh through the season.

Bettis and Lester were good examples to follow.

You were released after that ’97 season. What did the coaches tell you then and how difficult was that for you?

I knew it was going to happen when they drafted Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala.  He was built just like Jerome. They tried to trade me to Kansas City but it just didn’t go through – they didn’t get what they wanted I guess. I was released and picked up on waivers by Jacksonville. The fit just wasn’t there in Pittsburgh, they said. The fit was better with Chris. I just kept healthy – I knew it would happen – was just a matter of time.

Any last thoughts for readers?

If any of these readers have kids -I’d just let you know that as parents try to teach your kids to be dreamers. Don’t tell them what they can and cannot be. Just give your kids love. And football is not as dangerous as people say of played the right way. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.

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Dwayne Woodruff, Steelers Cornerback, 1979-1990

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First, you’re a judge in Pittsburgh – why did you decide to become a judge and how did you get started on that path?

I was always thinking of my future – I had a family since I started in the NFL. three-to-four years into the league I started going to law school at night. It was different then – not like now where your football salaries pay for everything. Then you needed something else to do.

Why law?

I wanted something that was challenging and exciting and law fit in that. I knew some lawyers and liked the competition in the court room. I applied to Duquesne and Louisville and got into both. Since I had moved to Pittsburgh I took the night program and prepared for my future.

The Lord led the way really. I was watching a PBS program on TV when I was in Louisville and there was an ad for an option for LSAT courses. It was a sign – I did well on the exam and the rest is history.

How hard was that transition for you from the NFL to a career in law?

The transition was not that difficult. I studied for four years while playing. I was a veteran on the team then so I didn’t have as much additional studying like other players so had the time. I was in the mode of studying as a player so it helped me off the field studying too. I was aware of the benefits of additional preparation and physically, I was always in shape so that was never an issue. One helped the other. I didn’t have time to stray and do other things – so I was able to be successful in both arenas. I also had time to practice law my last two years in the league and had a job so it wasn’t totally brand new to me. The transition was easier for me.

You were drafted by the Steelers in the 1979. Were you surprised to be drafted?

I was surprised to be drafted, Louisville was not a powerhouse then. There was only one guy there people thought would be drafted. ESPN had just started so there was not much news on players. Mostly the guys out of the elite schools were the ones drafted, but some teams like the Steelers scouted the smaller schools. I wasn’t even invited to the combine. My roommate, Nathan Poole, was the only guy that was expected to be drafted from Louisville. He would get calls from teams asking him to work out with them and I went with him. That’s how scouts saw me. THe Louisville head coach was also selected to coach the Blue-Grey game, and he was allowed to take players with him and he took me and Nathan to the game. We were 14 point underdog but won the game and I had a good game. A defensive back got hurt in that game, and he was supposed to play in the Can-Am game a week later, so I played for him instead. I had an interception in that game, and had a good game in general, and the team started to wonder how I could run with those wide receivers. I had a slow 40 time. So the Steelers came to Louisville and asked me to run again for them. They had a 4.7 time on me but I was a 4.4 guy. I had hurt my knee when I ran it the first time and that was why there was a big variance in the time. So I was late in the process when I got noticed, and that’s how I got drafted.

How did you find out you got drafted?

I was listening to the draft on the radio with Nathan and the Steelers had the last pick in the sixth round. The time on the radio program had just run out before that sixth pick. We didn’t hear who was picked and neither one figured it was us. We were walking out the door when the phone rang and the person on the phone said the Steelers just drafted you. I thought it was a prank because everyone knew the radio program had just turned off before the pick, so I hung up on them. The phone rang again, and the defensive coach George Perles was on the phone and told me, don’t hang up on me this time! That’s how I got drafted.

I was excited. I was going to the NFL. But then I started thinking about the team I was drafted by. Teams then kept seven defensive backs. I knew they had Mel Blount, Donnie Shell, Mike Wagner, who were all pros. They had Ron Johnson who was the rookie of the year. And Larry Anderson, who led the league in kick off returns. They also had Tony Dungy and Ray Oldham who played all positions. And they actually had another guy – J.T. Thomas – who was a starter but was out the year before due to a blood disorder. So they actually had eight guys already, and then me. I couldn’t figure out why they drafted me. I didn’t see how they needed me. So my excited lasted for five minutes. Ten minutes later, Nathan Poole and I started working out. We needed to be ready.

Who helped mentor you as a rookie, both on and off the field, and how did they do so?

It was a unique team. It’s easy to see why they were so successful. There were so many things I didn’t know – things like learning techniques for man-to-man coverage. You’re now going up against the best athletes in the world. It was eye-opening.

Mel Blount was the number one guy who mentored me. Ron Johnson was the same way. They wanted you to be the best so you could beat the best. Starter or not, they wanted you to be the best player you could be. I was tutored that way, and as a starter myself I did the same thing for the new guys coming on the team. That attitude existed from Mel Blount to Terry Bradshaw.

You were one of the leaders on the team for years in interceptions. What made you so successful?

I had good role models. I would watch Mel Blount who was one of the greatest defensive backs to have ever played the game. I watched his approach and tried to mirror things. I never wanted to go into a game not prepared. I was always prepared, I always knew the down and distance – what teams liked to do, if it was third and eight versus third and two. I knew how they liked to attack a defense. If a coach coached in Houston and then next year coached in Cincinnati, I would go back to watch his Houston film to see what they did, especially if they played Pittsburgh the year before. I was always well prepared, and let the physical part take care of itself.

I passed that down to other players. I remember Rod Woodson and I shared a locker and at halftime would watch film just to be ready to go for the second half. As you get older, you have to know those things. You look at the games that you play well and you look at the games that you’ve gotten beaten in. You put in the work or you’re not in the league very long. Talent alone doesn’t get it done.

If you don’t make a difference in the game, your’e gone, they will find someone else. Batting the ball down isn’t’ enough, you have to make teams pay for throwing at you. You take it personally. You have to prove that they were wrong for trying to throw it at you, and show them they should have known better than to try to throw the ball here.

What enabled you to get playing time as a rookie?

I was fortunate that I had good athletic ability. It was the mental preparation that was needed. How to watch film and recognize roots, knowing down and distance, and stretching my limits. I did things that if I thought about it I never would have thought I had the ability to do. Going up against Lynn Swann, John Stalworth, Jimmy Smith, and T-Bell tested me every day. Mel Blount saying that I could do it, that I just needed to let my physical ability take over, really helped. You do your best and that’s all you can do, and if you make the team you make the team. The level we played on in college – that never makes it in the NFL, you need to step it up. You’re not really challenged much in college, but every guy in the NFL is a player.

How hard was it for you to mentor guys as a veteran that you knew were out to take your job?

It wasn’t hard at all. The egos are huge with players and there are two things that we have to remember: you want the guy playing next to you to be good, and you want to be good as well. It’s frustrating if the guys next to you can’t get the job done. You want to win. I can’t imagine going year after year and not winning, and some players have gone through that. The only way to do it is to make everyone better. It’s not a secret. You still the guys your’e going to be the starter. It’s not hostile, it’s just the nature of the game. You learn to swim or die trying, and I treated the guys the same way I was treated.

In 1986 I missed the year before because I had my knee reconstructed. The team thought I couldn’t play anymore and drafted Rod Woodson, Delton Hall, and a safety later. They didn’t think I would be able to come back. Rod Woodson held out early, but I worked with Delton Hall. Even then I had that confidence and a chip on my shoulder. The team acted like they didn’t think could play again, but I was going to be the starter. Players have a different way of thinking about things, but you can’t get any closer to people in such a short period of time as you can in the NFL. You need all 45 guys to be on the same page to win, and there are no other guys you’d want to go to war with.

Tell me a little about humor in the locker room. How did it affect you? And can you share some fun stories from your time in Pittsburgh?

You have to have humor, and we had funny things happening almost every day. That’s the hardest part when you retire, not being in the locker room. You miss those funny activities. One funny memory I have is of Terry Bradshaw. He used to wear a toupee and one day we tied him up and rolled him into Chuck Noll’s office with his toupee tied on backwards.

I also remember Keith Willis who set the record for sacks a year before. The next year I remember him running into Chuck’s office yelling that someone messed up his new shoes. Now Chuck was a no-nonsense guy, but he came back into the meeting saying Keith Willis was very upset that someone had put Red Hot in his shoes. He had gone through the trash with Keith to find his shoes and he must have thought they were made out of alligator or something, but they were just Hush Puppies. So Chuck Noll told the team that Keith Willis was very upset but that he could understand why you put Red Hot in his shoes and messed them up.

That doesn’t sound like Chuck Noll. Why do you think he did that?

You don’t run to the head coach. That was a message. Chuck Noll felt like the guys should handle it on their own. We didn’t even want the coaches in the locker room, that was our time. Chuck understood that and respected that and he wanted Keith to know that you don’t run to the head coach for a problem. I also remember went the team tied Rocky Bleier to the goal post and left him there. We forgot he was there. An hour later the grounds crew had to come and untie him from the goal post.

Another story I remember …. we had just hired a new coach from Minnesota named Jed Hughes. We were in practice and it was freezing out and he had this really nice coat on. You could still see the Minnesota Vikings’ emblem on it, plus it was purple. No one would listen to him. Everyone ignored him like he wasn’t there. Finally, Jack Lambert approached him and asked him how we were supposed to listen to him when he was wearing that coat. He tried to get the linebackers to do the drills but finally he had to leave the practice because no one would listen to him.

You’re very involved in various charities. What drives that and how much of that is due to your faith?

My wife and I are Christians, as is the rest of my family. We believe we’re here for a reason: to help our fellow man. I’m not just here to live life, we’re all responsible for everyone. We believe that children and education are vital. We’re only as strong as our weakest link. You can’t leave kids behind, so we work to help kids educate themselves and be productive. That’s what both of us are always involved with – education and children – and our faith drives that.

On May 30th, the Do The Right Thing program takes place. We are co-chairs of that. We expect 4000 kids to be involved this year. They do writings and songs, and they have to be 500 words long. They are asked three questions: What are the causes of violence? How does it affect your school? And what can be done about it? Then we have a big banquet and choose two winners that go to Washington, DC to meet other winners. There they meet congressmen and learn how they can make a difference. It’s a great program and we’re excited to be a part of it.

Any last thoughts for readers?

All over the country I can’t thank Steeler fans enough. They are the greatest fans in the world, and they are all over the world. Playing for them and living in the city with them as well has been amazing.

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Brandon Torrey, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 1996-1997

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First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing since being with the Steelers?

After I left the Steelers I played for five more years winning a Super Bowl with the Giants, and officially retired in 2012.  After retirement I became the definition of an entrepreneur, and have been leading a project for franchising in my home state of North Carolina. And now that the groundwork has been laid, I’m looking to get into something that suits my goal-oriented nature and success driven personality; for me it’s Pharma or bio tech sales.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting a few great people from a company called Bioventus.  And after meeting with about four people from the company, I realized that I truly have a passion to work in that field.  I really enjoyed the culture of the company and people, and the actual devices they make are beneficial to a lot of individuals.  Overall my plan and goal is to bring the success I had on the field to a company like Bioventus.  So since, I left school early to pursue my NFL career I plan to return and finish my last 17 credits and possibly intern or shadow in the Pharma or Medical Device field and then jump into the industry and make a name for myself.

How hard was it for you to adjust to life after the NFL and how did you do so?

It wasn’t hard but it was a bit of a process. I will say it helps when you’re able to put things into perspective.  I doubled the average career for an NFL player and accomplished something very few players have done in the NFL – win a Super Bowl.  And not just winning any Super Bowl but winning under conditions that made others think our team could not defeat an unbeaten New England patriots team.  Also I was lucky enough to have met people who helped prepare me for life after football.  I had a great mentor in former Steelers Pro-Bowler Duval Love aka “one Love”, who played from 1992-1994 with the Steelers, and on top of that when I officially retired I immediately started working with people like Charles Horton who is Founder/CEO of Professionals Helping Professionals, a legacy creation firm that works with individuals and small to medium size businesses to help them achieve their maximum success through their integrated services model.  And William Blackmon who runs Apogee – he is a small business entrepreneur leading various consulting partners to service strategic customers in social media audits, marketing campaigns, social selling, brand development, and corporate training workshops.  William consults and trains students and professionals at networking groups, educational institutions, and government agencies that elevates product and personal brand development for career growth and awareness.  And last but not least Samantha Kleinman with the NFLPE has also been a key in the transition from the field to a more corporate environment.

You signed on with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2006 after some time in NFL Europe. Why Pittsburgh and how did NFL Europe help prepare you for life on the NFL?

Pittsburgh was one of three teams that expressed interest in me.  Dan Rooney, Jr. who I still thank to this day (thank you for your belief in me Dan) was the only one that went from being interested to believing in me enough to give me a chance.  Dan wanted me to take all 270 pounds of myself to NFL Europe to get bigger and stronger, because in the NFL 310 pounds might have been the smallest lineman I’ve seen.  NFL Europe helped me do just that, I got bigger.  And I got to experience what was a very similar image of the lifestyle off the field and honestly an exact replica of some of the politics that are involved in the NFL.  The experience was invaluable and I came away with a great mentor and still to this day have a great friend in Duval Love.

Especially entering the NFL after playing at a small college (Howard) what was your biggest adjustment to the NFL?

That’s a difficult question to answer.  I’m not sure how to answer that.  I think there is a huge adjustment from college to the NFL in general, so I don’t think I had bigger adjustments to make than someone from a division 1A college.  I will admit to being in awe of some of the facilities but that’s about it.  Other than that the biggest obstacle I had to overcome was the perception of not being as talented as someone that went to a division 1A school because I chose to go to a division 1AA.

What Steeler veterans helped mentor you as a young player – both on and off the field – and how did they do so? Any examples?

I was actually fortunate enough that a lot of guys mentored me;   Willie Parker, Max Starks, Joey Porter, Marvel Smith, and Alan Faneca just to name a few.  And it’s funny it probably took a whole month for Marvel to even speak to me but one day before practice he came over to me and helped me out with some techniques and shared some words of wisdom, same thing with Alan.  Joey Porter taught me how to practice and not only that but how to use my competitive nature to overcome disadvantages of height or strength.  And last but not least I have to say one of my best friends still till this day was Max Starks, on and off the field.

How much did humor play a part in that and on the team in general – can you offer some examples of the hijinks or funny occurrences?

Humor played a huge part on the team in general, any time you have grown men that have made a living playing a kids game, you have a recipe for pranks,  constant jokes, and trash talking.  I will personally not incriminate myself or anyone else, on how childish we can be in the locker room… .  But I will say, you get a wide array from “yo mama” jokes, to coach impersonations, to elaborate pranks that take days to plan.  In general imagine your favorite funny movies and some of the hijinks involved and multiple that ten-fold.

You played for nine teams across three leagues over your six year football career. Including being waived and re-signed by the Steelers. How hard was that for you and how do you deal with that uncertainty as a player?

Not many young people 21-27 years of age get to experience being hired and fired and hired.  What you take from that is an even deeper belief in yourself and an ability to cope with adversity and disappointment being level enough emotionally to deal with the highs and lows.

Who were some of the toughest players you lined up against and what made them so?

I always tell people at the NFL level the difference between a starter and a back-up is so small that most of the time it’s just about opportunity, or timing, or luck, or sometimes politics. BUT those guys that are Pro Bowlers there is a clear gap, those guys are on another level.  Like James Harrison who was Joey Porters back-up at one point in time, the most complete player I’ve ever played against power and speed short and low to the ground.  Then you have Joey Porter a four time pro bowler, who doesn’t like to lose, and his competitive nature gives him something extra that can’t be measured or timed.

Michael Strahan a Hall of Famer already, enough said.  Osi Umenyiora for 260 pounds his speed was unreal, I think the game where had six sacks in one game speaks to how fast he can get of the line.  Also, Justin Tuck probably the most solid and powerful player I went against, was just a headache every time we hit each other.  And these last two guys I’ll just give you there stats and that should explain what made them so tough.  Terdell Sands the biggest man I’ve ever went head up against at 6’8” or 6’7” and 350 pounds.. And then Tommy Kelly at 6’6” 340, that was rough also.  I can keep going but I’ll stop there, so I can point out the fact that no one on this list every got the best of me OVERALL, just to be transparent and clear.

So you watch the NFL now? What do you think of the way the game has changed now?

Yes even though I’m done playing I still enjoy watching the games.  I haven’t had the experience that some of my teammates have where it’s painful to view a game.   I will say I do find myself cheering for certain teams to lose that I might not have had the best experience playing for… .  But the league has officially changed into pass a heavy league.  It’s funny because as a line man I love teams that run the ball.  Ground and pound, but where I exceled at in the NFL was pass blocking protecting the quarterback.  So it’s a little conflicting to see the NFL turn into a pass heavy league.

What advice would you give you players today?

If you want to accomplish something be ready to put the work in and have the resolve to see it completed, along with balance emotionally, socially, physically and mentally.

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Eugene Bright, Steelers Tight End, 2009

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First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing since you’ve retired from the NFL and how you got started in these new ventures?

Since my playing days came to an end, I decided to take time to relax with family and friends. I spent so many years away, trying out and playing for different teams, working with different strength coaches, trying to keep the dream I had for as long as I can remember alive. You sometimes lose track of the people that matter the most. The last couple of years haven’t been all fun in the sun. I put myself out there looking for work, which took awhile and involved a lot of hearing no before hearing yes.  I kept the faith.

Currently I am working for Remax as a Buyer’s Agent in the Philadelphia area, and am very pleased with the opportunity to help people find their dream home. I work with a great team, after playing in Pittsburgh that bar is set really high.

How hard was it for you to adjust to life post professional football, and how did your time in the NFL help you to do so?

It was very hard to adjust to post football; I missed playing, missed my teammates/coaches, and missed Steelers Nation. I applied to over a hundred jobs and went on a dozen interviews, every one ending with “come back when you have more experience.” My time in the NFL helped me take that rejection and keep moving forward. Football isn’t a easy game. When you’re down Latrobe at training camp doing two-a-days in 100 degrees in full pads and the coaches woke up on the wrong side of the bed, the thought of quitting passes through everyone, but it’s not an option – not at Latrobe and not when facing life obstacles. I will carry that mindset everywhere I go.

You signed with the Steelers in 2009 after signing on with the Eagles earlier that season. What made you decide to sign with Pittsburgh – especially when they had Miller, Spaeth, and Johnson there?

When I got to Pittsburgh I was still new at the tight end position. I had only been playing it for my brief time in the NFL which was about half a year. When the Steelers offered me I knew that I had a chance to learn from great players, great coaches in a great organization. The choice was easy. They brought the best out of me every day I showed up, which is what great people do.

Who helped you to adjust to life in the NFL -and as a Steeler – and how did they do so? Any examples?

Brent Celeck has a great work ethic, loves the game, and I was lucky to start with him and Matt Shoebel in Philly and follow that with the Heath, Matt, and DJ in Pittsburgh.

These guys are true professionals, which is what I think I was during my time. They put in extra work before and after practice, and still manage to thank the fans whenever the opportunity presented itself.

The team had just come off a Super Bowl win. What was the mindset of the team, from your perspective? How was Tomlin pushing the team to avoid a “Super Bowl hangover” mentality?

I think Coach Tomlin stayed constant; he knows how to lead. It wasn’t our best season, but like a good leader he made his adjustments and put us in position to take home another Lombardi Trophy.

What surprised you most about the team and the tight end group then?

How welcoming everyone was, from the cooks in the kitchen all the way up to Mr. Rooney, they make you feel a part of the team from day one. The tight end group lead by James Daniels provided an awesome place to learn and enjoy the game.

How much did humor play a part on that Steelers team, and how so? Can you give a couple of examples of some funny things that occurred, on or off the field?

Humor played a major part throughout the day. Will Gay had a weekly runway show, showing off his latest outfit during the team meeting… trash can basketball.

What was life like on the practice squad for you – what were your day-to-day responsibilities – and how stressful was it for you being “on the bubble”?

The practice squad is a big part of preparing the team for the upcoming opponent. I took the responsibility very seriously. It also allowed me to show what I could do against the first string defense. Being on the bubble takes patience, you know you can play, you know you’re close, you just have to wait for your number to get called. Coach Tomlin would always say the standard is the standard -one day you can be on the practice team, the next day you’re expected to perform.

How did you deal with that stress?

I stayed optimistic, and just kept working. The competition was high and I wouldn’t want in any other way.

What advice would you give to players today entering the sport?

Stick with it, especially when it gets hard. In that moment you character is being built, that same character will give you the edge you need life.

Who were some of the toughest guys you faced then- both in practice and on game days – and what made them so?

James Harrison is a block of muscle. There was a play that called for me to come from the full back position and take him head on,  and after the play was over, my face masked was crushed in and I was seeing double. We had one of the best defenses in the NFL, going up against those guys made everyone else feel like a walk in the park.

Any last thoughts for readers?

The harder you work the luckier you get.

Thank you!

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It hasn’t been 56 years since Pittsburgh pro team has won a championship in final game at home

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By Jim O’Brien

Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers or everything you hear on your favorite sports talk shows.

Memorial Day was a delightful day for sports fans in Pittsburgh who were pleased to see the Pirates crush the Miami Marlins in South Florida, 10-0, with Gregory Polanco hitting a grand slam, something Andrew McCutcheon has yet to achieve, and Jeff Locke pitching a three-hit complete game shutout.

But please don’t call Francisco Liriano by “Frankie” or say “Happy Memorial Day.”  When a guy has a great name such as Francisco or Roberto you don’t spoil the day by referring to him as Frankie or Bobby.  And Memorial Day is a day of reflection not celebration.

One of the radio sports talk shows dwelt a good deal last Monday on the story line that if the Penguins were to win the Stanley Cup in five games – as many local pundits are predicting – or even seven games it will mark the first time since 1960 that a Pittsburgh pro sports team will have won a championship at home.

An official in the front office of the Penguins had peddled the story line that there had been a 56-year drought between a Pittsburgh team claiming a championship with the final game at home.

That is simply not so.  A knowledge of Pittsburgh sports history will tell you as much.  There were three Pittsburgh pro sports teams with that distinction since the Pirates won the World Series in the seventh game with the New York Yankees at Forbes Field.

Bill Mazeroski’s home run, on the second pitch – a slider by Ralph Terry – that cleared the left field wall next to the scoreboard and into the first paragraph of Maz’s obituary, was the game-winner against the mighty Yankees. The New York team outscored the Pirates, 55-27 in the series, but the Bucs prevailed in the deciding game.  The Yankees also out-hit the Pirates by 91-60 while dominating the series but still came up on the short end of the stick. “They scored all the runs,” said Gino Cimoli of the Pirates, “but we won the World Series.” An earlier three-run homer by Hal Smith that put the Pirates temporarily in the lead in the eighth inning was referred to by the broadcaster as “a home run for the ages.”  But it was not to be so.

Smith entered the game in the eighth inning when Smoky Burgess, the Bucs’ other catcher, suffered an injury.

The Pittsburgh Hornets, who preceded the Penguins by a year, won the Calder Cup for winning the American Hockey League championship at the Civic Arena in 1967.  They swept the Rochester Americans in four games, the third and fourth victories coming on home ice.

Yes, the American League is a minor league, but its players were professional hockey players.  They were paid to play the game.  So they qualify as a professional sports team.  Jack Riley, the general manager of the Penguins at their outset, feared that hockey fans in Pittsburgh might be disappointed with the team because the talent level might not be as good as the Hornets had in their final season of existence.

It was the sixth time the Hornets had won the Calder Cup, their very existence halted after Duquesne Gardens was leveled several years before the Civic Arena was built and again when the National Hockey League expanded from six teams to twelve for the 1967-68 season.  The Hornets won the title on April 30, 1967.

That’s the same season that the Pittsburgh Pipers won the first championship claimed in the American Basketball Association.  The ABA wasn’t then the equal of the National Basketball Association, but the Pittsburgh Pipers played in a pro league.  They, too, were paid to play the game.

They beat the New Orleans Buccaneers, led by James Jones, Red Robbins, Larry Brown and Doug Moe, by the score of 122-113 before a full house at the Civic Arena.

They were led by Connie Hawkins, the MVP of that first season and the playoffs as well, who would later be the first player inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.  I was on the nominating committee for the Basketball Hall of Fame at the time and solicited endorsements successfully from the likes of Cotton Fitzsimmons, Bill Sharman, Lenny Wilkens, Richie Guerin, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and others.

Hawkins was followed from the ABA ranks into the Hall of Fame by Julius “Dr. J” Erving.  Hawkins liked to say, “I was Dr. J before Dr. J.”  Make no mistake that the ABA wasn’t a major league.  Fifteen of its players and coaches have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Hawkins was the first Pittsburgh-based player since Charlie Hyatt of Uniontown and his Pitt coach, Dr. Clifford Carlson, were honored in the charter class of the Hall of Fame in 1959.  Fifteen players who played in the ABA have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and there are a few others – such as James Jones, George McGinnis, Zelmo Beatty and Willie Wise – who should be so honored.

Okay, so that’s at least two pro teams that have won titles here in Pittsburgh.

Don’t forget Frank Fuhrer’s Pittsburgh Triangles in World Team Tennis.  This was a pro team for sure.  In its first year, for instance, the team was coached by and captained by the great Ken Rosewall of Australia, a Hall of Fame tennis champion with several majors in his resume.

The Triangles won the 1975 WTT championship, led by 21-year-old Vitas Gerulaitis, the MVP in the championship series.  He and Evonne Goolagong led the Triangles to victory over the Golden Gaters.  The Pittsburgh tennis team lost the first game played in San Francisco, and then won the next two games of the best-of-three series at the Civic Arena.  Peggy Michel, Kim Warwick and Mark Cox were also members of that WTT championship unit that claimed the Bancroft Cup.  The Triangles posted a league-best 36-8 record that year.

These three teams were not included in a list of Pittsburgh championship teams in an article some years back by Ron Cook, and he refused to count them when I brought their championship achievements to his attention.

Gerulaitis grew up on Long Island and once did me the favor of conducting a free clinic at the Baldwin (L.I.) Tennis Club where I did free-lance work in publicity and promotion while covering sports for The New York Post.  He came to New York a day early to do so and stayed on for a league match at Nassau Coliseum with the New York Sets.

I arranged for WTT teams to practice in Baldwin, where we lived for seven of our nine years in New York.  WTT stars such as Billie Jean King, Virginia Wade, Cat Stevens, Chris Evert, the Armitraj Brothers from India practiced there and posed for photos with club members.  Bobby Riggs conducted a free clinic there, and Bobby Nystrom and Garry Howatt and Bert Marshall of the Islanders frequently played tennis there, as did Dr. J and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, two of the most gifted and entertaining pro basketball players of their era.

The Islanders and Nets combined forces to conduct free clinics in the parking lot of the Baldwin Tennis Club.

Another Frank Fuhrer enterprise, the Pittsburgh Spirit of the Indoor Soccer League, competed at the Civic Arena.  They never won a championship but they did outdraw the Penguins, with an average crowd of 8,000 compared to the hockey team’s 6,000 average during the 1983-84 season.

On a collegiate level, Pitt won the national championship in college football in 1976 by winning its final home game over Penn State at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.  The No. 1 ranking was established during the regular season and not by bowl game results.  The Panthers beat the University of Georgia in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

*     *    *    3-star line

As the Penguins were about to play the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup final series, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook floated the possibility that Penguins’ goalie Marc Andre-Fleury might be traded during the off-season for some team’s first-round draft pick.

I’d rather keep Andre-Fleury, himself the first overall pick in a previous NHL draft. He’s been the Penguins’ most reliable player the past three season.  Matthew Murray has been sensational in replacing Andre-Fleury after he had concussion-like syndrome, but the Penguins to have two top-flight goalies next season when they could again contend for the Stanley Cup championship.

Mike Sullivan brought several key players with him from Wilkes-Barre that have given the team great balance between experienced players and younger prospects. It’s not fair to Marc-Fleury to toss him into trade talk so casually.

The Penguins gave up their No. 1 choice in this year’s draft in a trade to get Phil Kessel from Toronto Maple Leafs. I’d rather have an experienced goal-scorer such as Kessell than a No. 1 draft choice, unless that No. 1 draft choice was Marc Andre-Fleury or Mario Lemieux or Sidney Crosby.

  •    *     *     *  3-star line

Speaking of not believing what you read, Google the profile of Anthony Hamlet and you will find discrepancies of hyperbole in his resume. When he was first announced as the new superintendent for Pittsburgh Public Schools, the headlines referred to him as a former or ex-NFL player.

It reported that he had played for the Seattle Seahawks and the Indianapolis Colts in the National Football League and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I Googled his name because I am suspicious of such claims, especially in paid obituaries.

Sure enough, it turns out that Hamlet had gone to training camp with those three pro teams but ended up on injured reserve in all three cases and was released before the start of the regular season.

Hamlet is not the first to believe he played pro football because he spent time on injured reserve or the practice units. The NFL and the CFL do not count that toward service time in their respective leagues.  It doesn’t get you a pension.  You may be able to spin tales about days spent in the company of real professional football players whose names people would recognize, but it doesn’t count when all is done.

I tipped off David Schribman, the editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, about Hamlet’s false claim, and the P-G did a follow-up story about “the discrepancies” in Hamlet’s resume. College sports coaches have gotten fired for providing false claims in their job applications.

You don’t have to be in the education business to be sure to check your facts.

This should be some summer for sports fans hereabouts.  The Pirates and Penguins are providing plenty of excitement these days, to be followed by the U.S. Open at Oakmont in a few weeks, and then the Olympic Games in Rio in August.

————————————————————–

Valley Mirror columnist Jim O’Brien has written 23 books in his Pittsburgh Proud series. And that’s a fact.  Twenty of those were self-published.  He has sold nearly 260,000 books altogether.

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Andre Frazier, Steelers Linebacker, 2005, 2007-2010

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First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL?

I’m the project manager for a small custom home building company here in Cincinnati, Hensley Custom Building Group. I say small because we do eight-to-ten homes a year. On average they are a million to two -and-a-half million dollar homes – that’s the general range.

How hard was it for you adjusting to post-NFL life?

It was difficult – to a degree. I miss the camaraderie and friendship.  And the competition – football is the ultimate competition. In my last year in Pittsburgh I hurt my knee and have had problems with my knee – the cartilage has worn away. My body didn’t hold up…

I spent a year rehabbing and trying to figure out what my plans were next – what to do now. Fortunately for me, I was always interested in real estate. I got my minor in real estate in college and my wife and I bought and redid 48 homes and apartments while I was rehabbing, It was a good buffer – a good platform for me.  We still own them all.

How did you get started afterwards in the business?

I had a friend from college here in Cincinnati that was having a home built here and I asked him if I could speak with his builder. To pick his brain. That’s ultimately what I wanted to do – to be a builder.  Well the builder was more than helpful. I took a job shadowing him – unpaid. I worked in the field for six months for free for him.

He appreciated my work ethic and attention to detail and offered me a job. So I decided to stay under his tutelage and learn from the best before I jumped out on my own. He is a Builder 20 – one of the best. We’ve built homes with bowling lanes, basketball courts…that’s the level a lot higher than what I’ll be on when I  start my own business.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing the past four years.

Were you surprised to go undrafted when you left college? What did your agent tell you?

My agent was David Lee of Players Rep. He let me know that I had a chance but if so it would be in the latter rounds. I was 220 pounds – which was undersized for a 6’4″ defensive end. I’m not going to say it wasn’t disappointing. But it was different for me. Football never was the end-all goal. I was blessed enough to get picked up as an undrafted free agent.  My father always taught me to do my best no matter what and let the chips fall where they may. If I didn’t make it, that would have been God’s will.

I watched every draft pick on draft day with my wife and son. We didn’t have a party and it didn’t happen for me. I got calls during the draft and afterwards my agent said I should go to Pittsburgh. That’s where my best opportunity was if I could outwork some other guys and get a spot. I was fortunate to make the team and then the active roster.

Being a Cincinnati guy, how hard was it for you to go and play for Pittsburgh?

It’s wasn’t really. I wasn’t a big Bengals fan. I was actually a big Raiders fan. I loved the black hole and Los Angeles fans.

You mentioned your father earlier, who was a former Bengals player himself. How much did he help you to develop into an NFL player?

I wouldn’t have made it without my father. We lifted weights together – even when I was in college. It wasn’t just lifting weights – it’s what he instilled in me. My work ethic. To give a good effort – 110%. There’s no way I make it without that work ethic he instilled into me.

Who helped mentor you as a rookie in Pittsburgh – on and off the field?

Joey Porter, Farrior…even on offense with guys like Alan Faneca…there was real leadership in the locker room. It was almost like a requirement to do the simple things. If you didn’t run to the ball, Porter gave you that look. I was blessed to be there. From the top down with Cowher when I was a rookie and even my last years under Tomlin.

I was the team captain at the University of Cincinnati for several years and I felt like I was a hard worker, but I could really see the level of work in Pittsburgh. This is why I went undrafted – there was a whole other level of work.

Haggans – no one worked harder than him. He was a machine. I guess that’s why his career was so long. He didn’t make the splash plays like Porter – he wasn’t as physically gifted I don’t think. But his effort and hard work was amazing.

And yet you made the team…

Well, I was cut before the first game, but then Matt Kranchik got hurt and they called me while I was driving home and told me they wanted to put me up to the active roster. It was amazing. All my dreams had come to fruition. I was ecstatic.

It’s funny because on that same day when I was driving home I got into a car accident – I was rear-ended badly on the highway. My back was hurting…. When the training staff asked if I would be ok, you know what I told them – “Yes!”.  I even got a sack that game against Steve McNair when we were up by like 40…

Fast-forward- I got hurt in the AFC Championship game and couldn’t play in the Super Bowl.

Afterwards you were released and actually signed with the Bengals. ..

Yeah….my family loved me no matter what! It was actually expensive for me to play in Cincinnati – I had to buy tickets for my family and friends. Marvin Lewis was a really good coach…Guenther was the linebackers assistant coach then…

The experience there was different from a player’s standpoint. There was less leadership. There were some older guys – Thornton and Simmons. – but you didn’t feel like there were many vocal leaders. In Pittsburgh you had older guys like Aaron Smith and Keisel – guys that were outspoken and backed it up with their play and in practice. Honestly, in Cincinnati you didn’t have that. There was a lack of leadership in the locker room.

Afterwards you return back to Pittsburgh – did the guys there give you any grief, playing for a rival?

Guys joked with me – Arnold Harrison  my best friend came down on me, But it’s different in the NFL. If you can be a help to a team in the NFL, they welcome you with open arms. Look at Pittsburgh now – they had Jacoby Jones there for a second – and he was a Raven!

My second time in Pittsburgh was a blessing. Tomlin was at the University of Cincinnati with me – Amos Jones was to. So I had that familiarity.

The usual guys were also there – Colbert, Coach Butler and LeBeau. Coach Mitchell. They welcomed me with open arms- me a skinny kid from Ohio, a walk-on in college and undrafted free agent. I was blessed to have a playing career.

Any advice for kids entering the game today?

My advice would be to work your butt off and enjoy the moments. My regret is not enjoying my time there,  You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.  I worked hard sure but I didn’t work hard and enjoy it. Personally, I looked over my should so much just trying to stay on the team instead of also enjoying it.

That’s why I don’t have a lot of funny stories.  I never really went out – I was always reading the playbook and staying in. So enjoy the time you have  – even my friends in college would tell you they never saw me at parties at college. Some said it was me being mature but you have to enjoy life. Work hard and enjoy it – spend time enjoying the fruits of your labor.

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Happy Birthday Greg Lloyd – Some Quotes on Lloyd from Former Steelers

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In honor of the Steeler linebacker’s birthday, and because there are so many great quotes about him from players we’ve interviewed, here are a number of those quotes on Mr. Lloyd for your enjoyment:

Kevin Greene: “It was always competitive having Greg Lloyd on the other side as my hunting buddy. It was always, ‘ I’m gonna beat your slow ass to the quarterback’. ‘ Not today Slappy’.” 

Sammy Walker: “Greg Lloyd helped me in different ways. He told me to tell Joe Green “Thanks Mean Joe!” This was right after the Coke commercial and Joe was mad it was so popular and he got paid so little. So Joe grabbed me and picked me up and pushed me against the wall. Lloyd had to rush in and tell Joe he told me to say it. Greg saved me – he told Joe he told me to do it!

Greg also told me he “had me” when we were in the cafeteria. I had my tray of food and then he just walked away.”

Lance Brown:I had a brand new pair of Nike turf shoes on. Greg Lloyd comes up to me chewing his tobacco and says, “Hey rook! I like those shoes. They new?” I said, “yeah, I have a Nike contract. They just sent them to me.” Then, he spit on them and walked off! I was like, “What just happened….?”

Reggie Barnes: “Greg Lloyd said that they would take care of the limos for us. We walked outside and saw three limos pull up, but there were only seven linebackers. I told him we didn’t need seven – and he said he an Kevin would take one, and we’d take our own as well.  of us. I asked him who was going to pay for all this, and he said you are. So I sent one home! The vets were trying to take advantage of us. When we got to the restaurant, Greg Lloyd ordered five entrees. They were gouging us!”

Kendall Gammon: “Greg Lloyd was pretty out there. To say the least.”

Earl Holmes: “Greg Lloyd helped me – he was the quiet storm. He was a mean guy but a great guy. He and Kirkland both helped me. They both said things to me to help me. Greg – I actually met him at the All-America banquet before the draft. He said he watched me play – I thought, you have to be kidding. He watched me play? He then told me that he thought I had something and that I shouldn’t be surprised if I became a Steeler. I appreciated it but thought he was just being nice. Who knew!”

Oliver Gibson: “Lloyd was the big brother you never wanted – always bullying you.”

Oliver Gibson: “Lloyd was the biggest character. He was the first grown man I met that would intimidate other grown men.

As a rookie, he had me come to his Tae Kwon Do practice with Carnell Lake to work on my pass rush. He was insane. He was kicking his students against the wall. Carnell would ask him if that was ok and he’d tell Carnell they liked it (laughing). I was the demonstration demo somehow. I don’t know how that happened. I only went for six lessons – it was torture. He had me in all kinds of moves, bending my wrists back…

He was a darn fool. He broke Kirkland’s wrist showing him a wrist lock one day…”

Mike Tomczak: “Guys like Kevin Green and Greg Lloyd who were competitive at such a high level, trying to prove their masculinity in the locker room. They both had chips on their shoulders – they’d look at themselves in the mirror like fifty times before kickoff….”

Tim Jorden: “Greg Lloyd was nearly unblockable because of his athleticism and intensity. He was probably the best outside linebacker I ever went up against.”

Richard Shelton: “Lloyd was always serious – you couldn’t get him to laugh. He’d say things – he just didn’t care if it was politically correct or not. He’d just say it.”

Courtney Hawkins: “Everyone had this idea that Greg Lloyd was this mean guy. But Lloyd was not all mean – he was  a heckuva teammate. He played practical jokes all the time.”

Levon Kirkland: “Kevin Green and Greg Lloyd were also helpful – instrumental on showing me how to play the game. They set the standards for all of us and if we didn’t play at that level, they let us know.”

Jim Miller: “Characters like Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd always made my days interesting playing scout quarterback.  One, they both always wore those tight spandex shorts at practice which everyone made fun of them for, and two, they would test me.  I would release a ball and they would punch me in the gut or something testing to see how tough I was.  I love those guys.”

Nolan Harrison: “Training in tae kwon do with Carnell Lake, Rod Woodson (when he was in town) Ernie Brown and watching Greg Lloyd get his fifth degree was amazing as Chuck Norris came into town to present it to him.”

Gary Jones: “Lloyd would joke around too but knew when to get serious.”

Lee Flowers: “No one really took me under their wing but I learned about aggression and passion for the game from Greg Lloyd.”

Brentson Buckner: “Lloyd would come up to me too and would tell me not to pay attention to some of the early articles about me that said I wasn’t playing well. He told me I was a second round pick and had the talent and to just have confidence in the Steelers picking me in the second round.”

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Justin Kurpeikis, Steelers Linebacker, 2001-2003

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First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in Pittsburgh?

Well I live in State College. My wife and I moved here in 2007. This is where we met – I bought this house when I was a player and we know have four kids – two boys and two girls, 7,5, 3, and 1. So I’m busy!

I own three physical therapy clinics and work with a medical devices sales company as well, focusing on orthopedics.

How hard was the post-NFL adjustment for you?

I fell into it. I was pre-med at Penn State – I wanted to be a surgeon but didn’t pursue it after football. My college teammate asked for help with his medical sales territory. Then me and a partner started our own physical therapy company from the ground up. I was always oriented to the medical world.

I’ve always been a what’s next type of person. When the dream dies, it’s tough. Maybe it’s not how you wanted it to go, but few guys walk away on their own terms.  At that point, having a wife now, I just took a run at it.

As a Penn State alum, what are your thoughts on the program now?

Living in town here, for three years I was the vice-president of the President’s Letterman’s Club, and now I’m the President. We’ve gone through quite a bit but things have calmed down a bit now. They’re building the program  – we lost our defensive coordinator so that has happened now.

My thing is this. It’s just important for us to get good kids a good education and get them to be good football players. I feel like it’s happening now. We haven’t been used to change for a long time.

To your career…you were an undrafted free agent coming out of college. Were you surprised to go undrafted?

I was surprised to go undrafted, I didn’t have any inflated dreams – it wasn’t like I expected to go in the first round. I thought I’d go in the middle-to-late rounds. That’s what my agent and those in the know told me.

Looking back then, I guess I was  tweener, I was maybe not big enough to be a defensive end in the NFL but maybe too slow to play linebacker. I was a good football player but I didn’t have as good measurables.

What made you choose Pittsburgh as the place to sign with as an undrafted free agent? How much did it being your hometown help in that decision?

We tried to analyze it. As draft day was winding down, we started entertaining calls from coaches. Pittsburgh was my hometown yeah, but we wanted to find a fit, especially as a linebacker. We thought of all the teams – we wanted the best opportunity. And I thought the added pressure of playing in my hometown was a good thing.

Who helped mentor you and show you the ropes as a rookie?

Living in my hometown, I lived at home with my parents’ my rookie year. My buddies and teammates thought that was funny.  They’d ask what my mother made for dinner and want some too.

I was lucky to have guys who around the NFL for a long time.  Porter, Gidon, and Haggans were the outside linebackers – they were an established group. But they treated all the guys the same. Cowher, linebacker coach Archer, and the special teams coach Hayes – they didn’t care how you got there – just what you could do there. Colbert too – even though he was a North Catholic guy and I was a Central Catholic guy!

How did you deal with life on the bubble – the pressure and stress?

At that age there’s tremendous pressure on yourself. That’s a good thing – that fear of failure. In high school and college, it’s something you learn. You can only worry about the things you can control. You work as hard as you can and let the chips fall where they may. I was always at the back of the roster my entire career – I was never a superstar at Penn State either. You get used to it. There’s no four or five year scholarship in the NFL though, as rough as it sounds. Everyone has to deal with it.

How did humor play a part in your time in Pittsburgh?

The locker room was like high school or college. I really enjoyed playing there and being around each other.

They use to joke to me about MTV Cribs. They told me MTV wanted to do a special at my house but they had to ask my mother! Mike Jones, Holmes, and Fiala – there were a lot of guys with a lot of good football there. It was hyper-competitive. They were gifted and hungry.

Why do you think you stuck on the team for three years?

Just think they saw I worked hard – that I was a smart player that cared about the game. I think they sensed that. The coaches didn’t care how I got there – just what I did. Cowher and Colbert could see I came with the hard hat every day.

Looking at the NFL now, what are your thoughts on the changes the NFL has been making to the game?

As you can tell, I’m pretty old school. There’s a lot I don’t like. The game has always been about hitting and heart. If you do those things, there should be a place for you in the game.

Any thoughts for fans reading this?

I’m a Western PA kid. A Pittsburgh kid. I was very fortunate to have that experience. People out there should know that the quality of people in the Steelers organization is superb. That’s why they do so well. It’s an organization to be proud of. I wish I could have played longer and more, but it was great. I got to play with great coaches and players.

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