First, can you let readers know what you have been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL?
I’ve been doing the same thing for a while in terms of businesses. I tried a couple of entrepreneurial opportunities. Some were successful, some haven’t been.
Overall, I’m just trying to look out for more entrepreneurial deals. I’m self-employed.
How hard was that post-NFL adjustment for you?
It was difficult. My issues with CTE… things that were easy in terms of memory and trying to adjust to the day-to-day. It’s gotten harder.
I know you were one of the earlier players to sue the NFL for concussion issues. Has the NFL done enough lately? What more can it do?
I do think there is more to be done. It’s brain trauma. Organized violence depicted on TV. I think definitely more needs to be done. Maybe a conference to talk more about health care. Maybe an insurance type of vehicle for players once they leave the NFL. They’re considered high risk after the NFL. Something like military personnel get.
We need more of a collaborative approach instead of everyone having different positions. And the settlement – lot’s of guys are not satisfied with the outcomes. There are lots of constraints on the settlement and many don’t qualify. We need more input on both sides with similar goals.
Taking a step back now…tell us about being drafted. Were you surprised to be taken by the Steelers?
I was surprised. The bits and pieces I remember, I think I was coming back from a party and came home and got the news on the telephone. Remember when they had those?
I was surprised. It was a part of the country I had never been too. It was a different place than being out West.
Who helped you to adjust to the NFL as a rookie, and how?
There were lots of great guys. Dawson was the ultimate Hall of Famer. I was a young kid and it was a difficult situation. Competition everywhere with everyone. It was a difficult balance. Kirkland, Holmes and Lloyd were all great guys. We were all young and stupid. We thought we were invincible. We always had pressure. You performed to the best you could as consistently as you could. Strelczyk was a great guy too – I loved his kids.
It is hard to get involved personally with guys when you are competing with them. It was an eye-opener when compared to college. I can’t imagine a high school kid at that level. The quicker pace and velocity. All that violence is increased at an exponential level.
Coach Mitchell – he was just incredible. He should be up for a head coaching job. He really understood the pressure. The moment of now. Steve Furness was a part of that early Steel Curtain defense and he was tremendous too.
Tell me a bit about going up against Dermontti Dawson every day in practice?
He was the complete package. He had the speed, power, agility and quickness. The guy could move. He made my practices miserable! As a rookie, I couldn’t keep up with him. Every day was difficult. He had the ability to play at two speeds – practice and game day. You didn’t want to play against him on game day.
How did going up against him help you on game days?
Everyone wants to be an armchair coach, but it’s extremely difficult in person. Executing at such a high rate made, he made practice miserable against him. But like stone sharpening stone, going up against the best helped me play at a higher level. It got to the point that in games versus other centers it looked like they were playing in slow motion. After facing him, playing against other teams made them seem very slow.
You were part of Coach Cowher’s first draft class. How did you see players adapting to his style of coaching?
Coach Cowher always had a sense of leadership and set out his agenda and expectations. He had a way of communicating that was purely him and had his method of how he wanted things done. He understood it was a business but at the same time he set goals for the organization. He was under pressure to perform and he did it. He was there to lead.
I remember the guys that were there under Noll would sometimes say things about how things were supposed to be done under Noll. Cowher did try to communicate with the players and made an effort to make that communication work. He would often just lay things on the line. He could be forceful to get things done. His management style was to interact with players. He knew how to motivate players.
It was a clean slate when he got there and some of those vets were seasoned guys. They had reservations about Cowher at times. Sometimes things were murky at first especially when miscommunication happened on where we needed to go. He would always right the ship though and get the team pointed true north. But there were guys that weren’t sure. Noll was a legend – that was hard to follow.
Tell me a bit abut becoming a mentor for the young guys as you became one of those vets?
It’s a situation where it’s organized violence. The game is the game and you have a certain shelf life as a player in this game. It takes a toll mentally and physically. You know there is going to be an end to this. It won’t last forever. It’s a bittersweet thing. You don’t always go out on top and I accepted that. It’s rough, degenerative type of work. It’s entertainment but at the same time it’s real.
When the up-and-coming guys came in it was difficult. It’s not a happy situation. You want to help them but at the same time they are trying to take your job. But you can’t be forever young. Guys that come in will do their thing. It is what it is.
Give us a good fun story of your time in Pittsburgh.
One I will always remember. The power of Greg Lloyd, He had a martial arts background and was an incredible specimen. We were at practice, before practice actually, just warming up and kidding around. He and Levon Kirkland were playing around. Kirkland was tremendous as well. He could have been a mini-lineman. Well, they were kidding around and all of the sudden Lloyd karate chops Kirkland and breaks his wrist! The coaches were upset. But Llloyd was a marquis player so there wasn’t much they could do. Kirkland had to play with a cast after that!
That showed me how much power Lloyd brought to the game.
And not to fool around with Greg Lloyd too!
Ha exactly! He would get you.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I just want to thank the Steelers organization and the people of Pittsburgh. They showed me a great deal of love. Being there was a whole different culture for me. We had good and bad times but in the end they were tried and true fans who were there for their team no matter what. I wanted to say thank you for the opportunity to play on Pittsburgh and hope they win more Super Bowls!
Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades. To order, just click on the book: