Rod Manuel, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 1997-1998

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First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself since you’ve retired from the NFL, and how you got started doing so?

Well, after I retired from the NFL I was out of football for about a year running my recording studio in Ft. Worth, Texas. After letting my body heal I was offered a contract to play for the Grand Rapids Rampage of the Arena Football League. That year I joined the team two games before the playoffs, A few big plays later we were the 2001 Arena Bowl champions.

I continued to play three more years in Grand Rapids before retiring from the L.A. Avengers in 07. I worked for AT&T as a technician for four years which led me to the great job I have now. I am a mentor with the Ft.Worth ISD. I have been a mentor for at risk young men at the  middle school level for the last 3 1 /2 years.

How did the NFL help you prepare for post-NFL life, and how hard of an adjustment was that for you? 

The NFL helped me prepare for life after by opening doors to places and people that normally I wouldn’t have the opportunity of being around. The adjustment wasn’t as hard for me as it was for a few of my old teammates. Being able to play a few more years on a smaller pay scale was also a big help. It made the descent to reality gradual instead of all of a sudden like most players experience. The NFL also has a programs for former player to receive grants and many other forms assistance that are very helpful.

You were drafted by Pittsburgh in round 6 in 1997. Were you surprised to be drafted by Pittsburgh – and how difficult/frustrating was it for you when you had guys like Gibson, Henry, Roye, and of course Steed already on the roster?

Yes I was very surprised by the selection only because my agent never mentioned the Steelers as a possibility and I had never played the 3-4 scheme before. It wasn’t difficult at all to me personally because ” I MADE IT”.  I had accomplished a life long dream. Those guys were just the icing on the cake. They all were very welcoming and helpful at all times.

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

I was closer with Oliver Gibson and Kevin Henry – they were the ones who took me under their wings and showed me the ropes. Joel Steed and Orpheuis Roye were quiet guys, but were very helpful on the field. The rookie class that I came in with were a tight group.  Will Blackwell, George Jones, Mike Adams … we helped each other adjust as well.

What was your biggest adjustment to the Steelers defense?   

My biggest adjustment to the defense was the changing of techniques in the 3-4 – you’re more of a catcher with two gap responsibilities. As opposed to the 4-3, where you’re more of an upfield pass rusher with one gap responsibilities. I only had a year and a half as a defensive end in college and then to have to learn a whole new system in the NFL was a little stressful during my first camp.

The team was very close to going to the Super Bowl in your rookie season, then faltered in 1998. What was the mood/mindset of the team after that Championship Game loss in ’97 and how did it affect that ’98 season, do you think?

After the Championship game loss the team was a little down –  nothing too drastic or dramatic. The team never handled a loss in a bad or negative way at all that season. The talk and the mindset of the locker room was “Let’s get ready for next season”. If that season did affect the next I couldn’t see it or notice any carry over.

How much of a factor did humor play on those Steelers teams and what were some of the funniest moments you can remember – both on and off the field?

Humor is always a factor in any locker room, that year was no different.We had a team full of jokesters any given day there would be shaving cream in practice cleats or icy hot in jock straps. Every day some one had a funny story or tall tale from the night before or last off day – it never failed.

You played for two seasons in Pittsburgh before moving on to the Arena Football League. How hard was that move for you and what did you see were the biggest differences between the two leagues?

The move from the NFL to the Arena League was a fairly smooth move for me. You still have the game that you love, the teammates, the camaraderie, and the fans. Those are the things that I find myself missing to this day. The biggest difference for sure is the size of the fan base, and the pay of course. I always looked at it as I’m getting payed to play a game, and with that mind set I never got too high or too low.

Do you think fans understand and appreciate the difficulties faced by players who struggle to make the squad? How did you deal with that pressure on a daily basis?

I think a large amount of the fans don’t know or understand the difficulties that a player faces. That number is decreasing due to the amount of shows that now follow the not-so-big names on their journey to chase a dream. When I played I think it was harder to deal with the pressure than it is today due to social media and NFL Network, etc. In my day I would lean on and talk to teammates and family. Now they have the Internet.

Do you still follow the Steelers and the NFL today? What do you think about the way the game has changed today – and is it for better or worse?    

I am a Steelers fan til death! The organization  gave me a chance of a lifetime and I will be forever grateful. The game today has changed quite a bit in favor of the offences. The game is set up for more points to be scored because the average fan wants to see touchdowns instead of defensive battles week in and week out. Which is totally understandable and for the best in my opinion.

Any last thoughts for readers?

Thank you for being interested in what we as players have done  are doing and will do in the future.

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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