First, can you let readers know about how you got started in your broadcasting career?
During my kicking days in Pittsburgh I would do a radio show. When I went to New England they had me do a radio show there too. I thought, outside of times like when you have your hand on a Bible in the courtroom, how many times do you get where people have to listen you!
I fell in love with sports in general. Hockey, everything. There was a common thread across all sports in the people’s stories that play them. I learned not to say “I know because I played.” I did it once and hated how it sounded. After a while I was able to forget that I played.
I’m not a guy to brag, but I do it out of love versus getting a paycheck. You better love it if you have to get up at 3:45 every morning! I see some guys scattering around trying to find ways to pay the bills. I figured, I’m not a jerk or else my coaches wouldn’t have wanted to work with me. I kept up my connections and it all wrapped up into taking the road I did to get into the media.
Tell us a bit about the book as well – what did you learn most about that experience?
I learned that Steelers fans are good people. Whether they are in San Francisco drinking Bloody Marys’ or in Detroit. Every city has a Steelers bar and you can’t tell the guys that make one-hundred dollars apart from the guys that make a million.
Every game really was like a home game. That’s where I got the title. And I’m thankful for the Rooneys to help me make it happen.
So, stepping back. How did you become a punter when you were actually an All-State receiver in high school?
I wish I could do it all over again, not that this road wasn’t good enough.
I’m wasted talent. Really. I had a 6’10” high jump, I was a lefty pitcher, played basketball in New Jersey which was pretty tough to do, was a decathlete… I was a decent athlete. But the higher up I went I realized there were a lot of good athletes out there. I played soccer my whole life as well.
It’s funny. I went to a five-star basketball camp as a kid and had some downtime there, I’m wired differently – I don’t sleep. I took a walk during a break there after lunch. I walked around the campus and there was a guy from the USFL kicking field goals on a field there. I took a crack at it and started kicking fifty-yard field goals. The guy was like, “Who are you?” I was kicking fifty-yarders in high tops. He told me I needed to stop playing other sports and play for my high school team. I was a soccer guy. I was the ballboy for the New York Cosmos!
Well, I came home and my dad asked how my basketball game was. I told him I wanted to quit my other sports and kick for my high school team. My dad wanted to know what I was talking about. My soccer coach was upset. I quit the game right there. I could get a scholarship as a kicker. I wasn’t going to get one playing basketball. So I went to Arizona and did track and field as well. The starting punter there got hurt so I ended up being the punter then.
That’s my whole life really. All the things I planned for got screwed up and all the things I didn’t plan for happened successfully. But it all started at basketball camp.
After college, you ended up first in the CFL. How did that occur?
I was a first team All-American punter in Arizona my senior year. I was terrible until my senior year but I played well in enough games, At the Senior Bowl I did well. After that Green Bay brought me in after the draft. There was six-to-seven punters drafted that year, it was crazy. None of them were me by the way!
Nolan Cromwell was the Special Teams Coach that brought me in and I thought, this was awesome. I told my parents I was a cheesehead! But I didn’t even make it to training camp. They cut me after draft camp. On my birthday. That hurt not even making it to a preseason game.
I was going to take a year off and get into acting. I took acting classes at Arizona and wanted to get into soap operas. Then the Arizona special teams coach called me. He went to the Baltimore Stallions of the CFL. Back then the CFL had four expansion teams in the states as a pilot to see if they’d work. So I went there to fill the void after he convinced me to go. He told me I was young and had no kids, I should try it. So I played there for two years and we won the Gray Cup. The CFL got so mad that an American team won the cup they got got rid of the four teams, but Baltimore wouldn’t give back the cup until they agreed to move them to Montreal!
After those two years Seattle bought my contract out. There are only thirty-two punting jobs in the NFL. There aren’t backups. Rick Totten was holding out so I punted there until he signed, then they cut me. That’s when the Steelers brought me in.
Who helped take you under their wing when you got there in Pittsburgh?
Norm Johnson – he was awesome out of the gate. Justin Strelczyk always had me over his house with his family. I had an offensive lineman’s soul. I was friends with the big fellas. Gregg Lloyd – he made me take Karate class with him and I survived those, barely.
After a while the team got younger and I become the one taking guys under my wing. But Johnson and Strelczyk were the two guys that helped, and I became close with Alan Faneca when he got there as well.
Tell me about how Pittsburgh differed with some of the other teams you played for, if so?
It’s so true you don’t know how good you have it until you’re gone. I went to New England right away after the Steelers. They win over there because they are all scared to death to lose their jobs. You win at gun point. I remember we were 8-2 – that’s pretty good. I remember as we were walking off the field after practice they had a player at every position walking past us on to the field for tryouts. Every position was spoken for. You weren’t allowed to celebrate. It was exhausting.
I had my most fun time as a Steeler. We knew our job could be at risk but we weren’t always reminded of that. We were all stressed in New England. Except Brady and Belichick I guess.
Lots of stories about your up and down relation ship with Coach Cowher. How much of those were true?
I don’t know how much of it is true. I was never an angle punter when I got there but he made me do it anyway. He screamed and shouted at every bad punt. If we lost 40-3 it was still my fault somehow. But after the first couple of seasons it slowed down. It wasn’t the reason I was released and it wasn’t like he didn’t like me. It’s like a marriage you can get out of easily if you want. But you don’t get three contracts over eight years if they don’t like you.
After my first year it was fine. When they cut me for Gardocki it was like the difference between Twix and Mounds. We were the same guy really. I have interviewed Cowher since a few times. We have a few good laughs and a good relationship. We’re not doing sleepovers or anything but…
I also will say this. The day I was released was after the season ended and he called me up and asked “Hey Josh, how are you?” I knew he wasn’t calling to see how I was. He said they were thinking of trading me to Green Bay for a seventh round pick, I told him that on my kids eyes, I’d retire before I went to Green Bay.
But you wanted to be a cheesehead earlier?
That was when I first was starting out. Then, you don’t have a choice!
Well, I told him that I played for him for eight years, to let me choose after eight years where I’d go. And he said ok, he wouldn’t trade me to Green Bay. So, that was cool.
So, give us good story of your time in Pittsburgh?
Maybe because I was a punter, or because most of the players’ agents were Jewish, but I was like the lawyer of the locker room. I solved every problem between the players. If so-and-so owed someone $50,000 from a card game, there was a big rift. I’d tell the player if he won $15,000 he’d be happy right? So I’d have him pay the guy $15,000.
The rule was, if you came to me to solve your problem, what I said was law. And they came to me all the time.
The offensive line would also pull me aside because I didn’t have any meetings to go to, give me a hundred dollars, and give me pranks to pull on other players. Hampton and the other guys always blamed it on other people because I flew under the radar. I was like a hitman. I must have pulled thirty-to-forty-five pranks in Pittsburgh.
Jeff Reed also owes me one. When they brought in four guys to try out for kicker Jeff was one of them. I was the holder for the tryout and looked at them all to decide which I would want to hang out with most. Jeff had on these North Carolina shorts below his knees. The other guys looked a little tight. So of course his first kick, Jeff shanks it left. I told the coach it was my bad – that it was a bad hold. Jeff looked at me like I was crazy but made his next kick. He always had this tchotchke bag full of things – a mini-Bible, cross….of course later when I was in New England I read about him beating up a sink and ending up in handcuffs! But really, Jeff is a really good guy.
As a former player and current media person, what are your thoughts now on how the media is handling player issues in the NFL?
I think the media guys, the good ones have to work really hard. Some though put a bad taste in my mouth, using half quotes to make headlines. The good ones shine. They don’t have to run those kinds of stories to get views. For example, a couple of years ago James Harrison said he didn’t want to injure people, just hurt them. So of course the headline read the Harrison wanted to hurt players.
You don’t have to be something you’re not. Don’t try to be good so fast. It used to be the media and players had a different relationship. The media and players used to hang out and get to know each other. Now, it’s too messy with social media and everything, But those good relationships take time. And you can get a point across about a player without having to call them names like bums…
What advice would you guys entering the NFL today?
Surround yourself with better people than you have. Focus on football. You’ll never make as much money than what you’d get playing the game if you really focused just on football.
Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades. To order, just click on the book: