First, can you let readers know how you got into your “second career” after the NFL?
Well, I don’t know if it was my second career. I enjoyed what I was doing – I was going to school at night in the offseason and worked during the day. All the jobs I had I enjoyed. I was en electrical engineer and developed products for radio stations. I owned and operated radio stations and used the products to make them sound better for stations around the world.
I’m out of that now. When I was fired for the last time from the NFL things didn’t change much. Except now I had my Falls free. I continued working..
I’m now involved in the NFLPA-Harvard Health Study – which is a study like no other.
What is special about the study?
We have always gotten surveyed throughout our careers but doctoral students, but what makes this study unique is its for players by players.
In most part by the NFL Players Association. But Harvard is behind it and they wouldn’t sully their name. Their doctors are behind it and they have no predestined ideas for results. What makes the study different is that they are creating treatments while doing the study. They are studying a very specific group of people – NFL players – to see if they are different from the general population. While they are playing and later in life.
For example, they are developing a knee brace that fits on your leg, but knows when the knee is stressed to the point the ACL will tear and the brace locks up and doesn’t allow the ACL to tear.
They are also looking to re-grow knee cartilage. The study is trying to do parallel work – results and treatment both.
Another example is the study has shown that a three-hundred pound player as a big heart – heart of a bigger guy. And a crew rower has a smaller heart. But the walls of a football player’s heart is thicker due to all the pounding they take – so it can’t push the blood around as ell – it’s not as efficient. So they are looking into how to educe the thickness of the heart walls.
What role do you have in the study?
I’m an official advisor to the study. It’s over 3,000 people – anyone who tried out for an NFL team can be part of it…
How did you adjust to life after football – was it difficult?
Getting fired early in my career, I thought the guy I was trying out against – I was better than him. I did learn that you’re not the one making a decision. Just because you’re better does not mean you’re getting the job. It doesn’t make a difference who you’re trying out against, you’re trying out against yourself and trying to impress the decision-makers. What they forget is that everyone looks good in August but it’s different during the season when the wind is blowing and you have huge crowds. That’s why the average NFL career is never more than three years. And for kickers, it used to be less than two years. So I was always ready to do something besides the NFL. Joe Paterno always used to say that the NFL was just a stop on the way.
You were a very good professional soccer player. Why did you choose the NFL over playing soccer?
I played professional soccer. If it didn’t work with the NFL I probably would have gone back to soccer. I tried the NASL and ASL but I did not enjoy pro soccer. It was just a job. A lot of the guys in those leagues were aging players trying to extend their careers, guys from Europe, mostly England and Scotland. It made the dynamic of playing different. I was the third highest player in the NASL and I made $12,000.
It wasn’t like college. I wasn’t enthusiastic about the team dynamic. If I wasn’t enjoying it, and I just got drafted, I figured I’d try the NFL, it paid more. Actually, I got paid more as an engineer than as a rookie kicker, but that opportunity was never going to be there again so I wanted to take a chance. I was a young guy.
You were drafted by the Steelers in the sixth round. Were you surprised to be drafted, and by the Steelers?
Three kickers were drafted ahead of me. There were a lot of kickers drafted that year. I was a Philly guy. I remember the Steelers’ fans that came to the Penn State games. Let’s just say they were different crowds. I was not a big fan of the way they acted, but that’s the fun irony of life – I went to the team whose fans I didn’t like at the time. Their fans were rough, and when you’re a Philly guy there’s no in between. I used to root against the Steelers growing up because they had such success, so it was entertaining to me to go to Pittsburgh.
Who helped mentor you and show you the ropes when you got to the NFL?
There were many leaders on those teams. They won three Super Bowls over five years. It seemed like they won whenever they wanted to win. With teams like that, it’s foolish not to take advantage of the experience and great skills of the players.
My father had great success in soccer so I got to meet a lot of great people growing up. The first guy I ever heard speak to me was Chuck Bednarik. He told me you could do whatever you wanted to do, you just have to try. And he looked at you in that very serious way. So I wasn’t intimidated by the Steelers players. I wasn’t in awe of guys like Bradshaw, Lambert or Ham. It was more about taking advantage of their experience and emulating them. I remember meeting Pele growing up and his off-field presence was just as inspiring. I remember Jack Lambert in training camp. We used to have 4000-5000 people a day watching us practice, and he would sit down between practice to sign autographs for every single kid until no one was left. He’d often miss lunch and miss the rest time between practices, and I don’t know if anyone noticed but I did. It was first class.
What are some of the funnier or more humorous experiences you remember from your time in Pittsburgh?
It was mostly stuff to lighten the mood, like the Turkey Hunt and water in people’s shoulder pads. I mostly didn’t try to do much because I had too much time on my hands. Kickers are usually not subject to the pranksters because we had so much extra time. We saw so much, we saw everyone, but it was inappropriate for us to do the pranks or for people to do them on us. It was more entertaining just watching them anyway. The best pranks are when they didn’t know they were pranked. The next best prank is when another gets blamed for it.
Were you able to appreciate winning a Super Bowl so early in your career?
Not at all. Getting the rings, I thought that was nice.
But you got extra money too for winning.
Yes, but that was also the first time I got audited. It was gift income, and at that time gift tax was 70% under President Carter. But no, I didn’t appreciate it at all as a rookie. The time I was most excited was seeing myself on a bubblegum card. It was a flip card and I thought “Wow, this is neat.”
Later on, with my losses with the Browns and my time with the Giants – over those ten years, I realized how difficult it was to get to the Super Bowl. Now I appreciate it more than that rookie season. At that time, I just thought everyone got one.
You say “getting fired” vs “getting cut,” which is different from how most players describe it. Why is that?
Because it is getting fired. If the worst thing that happens in life is getting fired by a professional football team then it’s a pretty good life. You can’t be overly upset. To play a professional sport is neat, whether it’s for one year or ten. If the worse thing that happens is you get fired then you’ve done pretty well.
I will say I never gave their playbook back. I have all of them. What are they going to do, fire me? There wasn’t much in it anyway. Kick it this way, through those things…
As a Penn State Alum, do you still keep in contact and follow the program?
I keep in touch with some of the guys and go to the golf tournaments…if you make two-three close friends from the game that’s good. The rest are good acquaintances …
I do root for them when they are playing. You hope they represent you and the program and the past well. I actually went to the same high school as James Franklin and met him.
The game is different than before. You have to produce sooner – there’s little leeway. Maybe because of expectations, the alumni…with that, I wish him well and hope the program does well. It’s produced lots of productive citizens with Joe’s kids and expect it still will.
Looking back on your career, what advice would you give to players entering the game today?
Give your best effort, but realize that it’s a short lifetime. It saddens me, you go into any NFL locker room and if you ask all the players how long they’d like to play, they all say about 8-9 years and then they’d like to get out healthy. Statistically, the lifetime of an NFL player when I was playing was 3.2 years. That means that 1/3 of the guys in the locker room will never play football again. As a player, if you look around and you can’t see 20 players that won’t play, then you know you’re one of those that won’t.
Take advantage of the opportunity but be realistic. Prepare for your entire life, not just this year or this season. You may last ten years in football, but you still have another 50-60 years of life after that.