Exclusive with Steelers C Chuck Lanza, 1988-1989

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

Well, immediately after my football career I went into the medical device business. I’ve been in that for over twenty years – first as a salesman now as a sales manager and have worked for several companies in the medical device world.

Six years ago I started my own healthcare company and simultaneously got my securities license and work for a small broker-dealer firm in Dallas – a wealth management practice.

How hard was the adjustment to post-NFL life for you?

Honestly it wasn’t that difficult. I knew the NFL was going to make up a small part of my life.  I wish it would have lasted longer but I was level-headed about the situation. At that juncture, it was a seamless transition. Frankly, that’s why I went to Notre Dame. To get a good education to fall back on. I knew the life of an NFL player is short-lived. I networked with former teammates from college …I knew I wanted to go into sales and fortunately landed in the medical device world.

Stepping back, you were a third-round pick of the Steelers. Were you surprised to get picked by them?

I was surprised it was Pittsburgh. There was no contact with them prior to the draft. I had conversations with other teams and thought one of them would pick me.

Joe Gordon called me I think. Back then, they just started expanding the TV coverage of the draft. My Notre Dame teammate Tom Rahder got picked right before me but the coverage terminated right before I was picked. So I wasn’t on TV…no fifteen minutes of fame for me! I was actually watching it at home with my dad in Memphis…

How hard was it adjusting to the NFL – a new city, new level of play…?

Well, I was a local guy. I grew up in Pittsburgh – in Coraopolis for thirteen years. So I had a feel for the city and still had a few relatives there. So I didn’t need to get acclimated. I grew up a Steelers fan and was raised there.

Player-wise, the whole group of players was welcoming. I was a holdout, but no one gave me a difficult time about it. The players understood. Pittsburgh at the time had a reputation for being tough negotiators with draft picks. I wasn’t the only one who held out before or after that.

I got along quickly with the other guys. As a young center I idolized Mike Webster. When I got there he was at the end of his career, so I mimicked everything he did. I looked up to him and had a lot of respect for him.

As far as difficulties adjusting. It was really what most guys go through. Making the leap – the speed of the game and the talent of the players was all at a different level. I played at a high level in college but there was a noticeable difference at the NFL level.

You were well-known for being a terrific student as well as athlete, and even had a student-athlete award named after you art Notre Dame. How did that academic approach help you at the NFL level, if at all?

The award was a combination of academics and athletics yes. It was started by a Notre Dame club in New York and they carried that on for a number of years.

I don’t know how it helped exactly. You could say I took a cerebral approach to playing offensive line. Being able to make the play calls in college and getting a handle on the schemes they ran in Pittsburgh. Being able to recognize defenses and snap calls. But in the end it’s really about intensity and drive. Wanting to get things done with a positive outcome. And winning, ultimately.

Any fun stories or guys you lined up against that stand out to you now?

Well, I wasn’t there that long. I wasn’t asked to sing my fight song or anything as a rookie – maybe they skipped doing that my year. There were always personal things between guys, but nothing big or anything.

Back in the day Ray Childress in Houston – he was an outstanding defensive tackle. Of course the Fridge was playing then, and his brother Michael Dean Perry played for Cleveland. I remember playing Cleveland and there was a skirmish, and Michael Dean Perry fell on top of me. Fists were flying and Tunch Ilkin and some other guys pulled him off of me.

So, you’re there a couple of seasons but were released afterwards. What happened that caused you to be released?

Well, going into my third year, we had a preseason game against New England, in Montreal. It was the start of the second half ad it looked like I was going to get a lot of reps. They were trying to see what they had in me. Well, on a third down play – a pass play – I punched the guy in front of me in pass protection and felt a pop in my right arm. I reached back and felt a hole near my elbow. I tore my tricep tendon off the bone.

They put me on IR. Back then once you were placed on IR you were done for the year. So, that was unfortunate. It transformed that year for me. That was the year I was going to get a shot.

The following year, I got cut in camp. My body was falling apart. I had a bulging disk in my back. It was difficult to swallow. I never got hurt in college. And torn triceps – those just don’t happen every day. I tried to work out for other teams after I was cut,  but I had shooting pain down my legs. I just couldn’t do it.

Watching the NFL today, what are your thoughts on the changes the NFL has gone through?

From a purely game perspective, as an offensive guy, I’m fine with the changes. The rules clearly favor the offenses. It’s entertainment oriented. A TV game. There are some nuances that need to be tweaked, like the touchdown rules that I’m not a fan of.

I’m not happy with the way the game is being politicized. There’s no room for it in the game. Fans aren’t interested in politics when they go to a game or turn on the TV to watch one. They aren’t interested in political stances at that time. I’m all for players expressing their beliefs on other platforms, I just don’t think there’s any place for it at game time.

Lastly, any thoughts for young offensive linemen trying to get into the NFL today?

Obviously, you have to work very hard and be dedicated and committed. You have to go after it with all you can muster. There are  a limited number of people who have the blessing to be able to be a part of the NFL. You have to go for it with all you can. You never want to be the guy who didn’t and said I wish I had done that…

Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades To order, just click on the book:

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