First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing since you’ve retired from the NFL, including your baseball endeavors, and how you got started in these new ventures?
I have been up to a little bit of everything. I managed a Whitetail Deer Ranch for five years (Lodge Creek Whitetails). I have always given quarterback and pitching lessons while I was playing and after I retired. It got to where that was taking up most of my time and I started Coaching my sons travel baseball team and it has evolved into the Steelers Baseball Club. We are going into our fourth year and we have four teams 10U,11U,14U and 16U. I have a 7500 square foot training facility in Justin, Texas and I get to work with young people in sports, but more importantly I get to be a part of their lives.
How hard was it for you to adjust to life post professional football, and how did your time in the NFL help you to do so?
Adjusting to life after football is not easy. I think anyone that plays for a long time will tell you that once you are done it is a life changing experience. I did not handle it very well. My wife and high school sweetheart and I got divorced three years after I retired, but thanks to the awesome power of God he restored our marriage. We have been re-married for four years and our life and love has never been better.
You were a first round pick of Denver in 1992. Why do you think your career didn’t “take off” as a Bronco, and how hard was it for you when they traded you to the Rams in 1994?
Well my career didn’t take off because of a guy named John Elway. Denver drafted me thinking John was going to play three or four more years. He played I think seven more. Also when I was drafted there was not a salary cap. Denver was looking at the situation in San Francisco with Young and Montana and I think that they wanted me to sit behind Elway for a few years and then be ready to play. With the salary cap coming in everything changed. As a quarterback, once you start moving from team to team it becomes harder and harder to have success.
You played for eight different teams across three different professional football leagues over your career. What do you attribute your persistence to, and do you think fans recognize and appreciate the difficulty players go through in establishing themselves as professional athletes sometimes?
I think some fans do and some fans don’t. I am so thankful for being able to play as long as I did, but it is not always easy. Especially once you have a family. Moving them around from town to town and not knowing what is next is tough. A lot of time and effort goes in to playing this game. Most fans think and see Sunday, but the off season and during a game week is very intense.
After stints in the NFL, Arena League and XFL, you signed with the Steelers in 2001. What made you decide to sign with the Steelers, and what did they tell you your role would be there?
After the XFL, I contacted every team in the NFL and ask them to just give me a chance to go to camp. I knew that if I could get into a camp somewhere I could make the team. Getting into camp was the hardest part after being away from the league for so long. Pittsburgh invited me to come to town. I was able to meet with Coach Cowher and work out with Mike Mularky and Tom Clements. I think it was a good fit for everyone. I told them all I wanted to do is go to camp. If it didn’t work out they were out nothing. I guess it worked out.
How much did humor play a part on those Steelers teams, and how so? Can you give a couple of examples of some funny things that occurred, on or off the field?
I think at the highest level every team has talent. What makes teams different are the little things. When a team gets along and has good locker room chemistry then they have a chance to be special. We enjoyed playing together and we also enjoyed practicing against each other. Our practices were very spirited working against each other. When you have Joey Porter, Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward on the field it is not going to be quiet. There was a respect for each other, but there was also a lot of talking that went on even during practice.
In 2002, you replaced Kordell Stewart as the starting quarterback and had great success over the next two seasons. What do you attribute that new found success to, and how hard was it stepping in for what was prior to that a successful quarterback like Stewart?
I think the journey that I had to go through prepared me for the situation. Playing in the Arena League and the XFL was a great opportunity for me to get back to being a starting quarterback. I started 30 games in those two leagues in a span of about ten months. I think those experiences helped prepare me for coming in and having some success.
Were you surprised when the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger in 2004? How frustrating was it for you to lose your job that season due to injury?
I would be lying if I said that it didn’t surprise me. When I left the facility that Friday they told me they were probably going to draft an offensive linemen. It was tough for me, but I think that it would be hard to say that they didn’t make the right choice. It is always hard to lose your job to an injury, but lets face it, it was only a matter of time. Ben has had a great career and I still root for him and the Steelers every week.
You played intermittently as Roethlisberger was injured, but seemed to struggle to regain your 2002-2003 form. What is a confidence issue, health…what do you think contributed to those struggles?
I think that it was a little of everything. Health-wise it was frustrating. I think I came back too early from the arm injury. To this day I can feel the nerves shoot down my arm every time I throw a football. It doesn’t hurt, but I can always feel it. Funny because I don’t feel it when I throw a baseball, but just a football.
Also, I think the offense took on a different tempo and style under Ben. The timing was just different. I still wanted everything to be on my timing, but it wasn’t. Trying to run plays and throw balls off the timing that I remembered was hard because the timing had changed. It was Ben’s offense and was different from all the memories I had of running the same plays for three years. It just wasn’t the same and it was just as frustrating for me as it was for everyone else. I truly believe that the thing that helped me the most, playing in the Arena and XFL, also started to take its toll. I played a lot of games in a short period of time and as I started getting older and not having all the reps my body would not respond the way I wanted it to.
Just as for most of my career, my days in Pittsburgh had some great moments and some not so great moments, but I remember them very fondly. I am so thankful to the Steeler organization. I am so thankful for the Steeler fans. They are the greatest fans in all of sports and to have the opportunity to play in front of them, be a part of a Super Bowl team and play for the greatest organization is something that I will cherish forever.
In the end, you are only one of three professionals to win both a Super Bowl and XFL Championship. What stands out to you most about your career? What do you remember most fondly, and why?
I think winning the XFL Championship will always be something special in my mind, the Cleveland Playoff game is a game that I will never forget and being a part of the Super Bowl 40 team. There are so many memories, as time passes the bad ones go away and the good ones get greater. I remember the teammates that I played with. I think of the times in the locker room and just being able to hang out. Seeing guys like Jerome get inducted into the Hall of Fame and being able to say that you played with the greats of the game is pretty special. I have been very blessed to be a part of something so special.
What advice would you give players entering the game today?
Enjoy every minute of it. Whether you have a short career or a long career it will go fast. Don’t get caught up worrying about the things that you can’t control, but work hard and control the things that you can control. In the end it is about the experiences you will share with your teammates and the fans.
Any last thoughts for readers?
If I could say one last thing it would be to the fans. I would like to thank the fans for making the five years I spent in Pittsburgh so great. Their passion for the team is second to none. It was not always Roses, but it was a great experience. The support that I felt through injuries and the support I felt on the field were great. I cherish my time in Pittsburgh and I will be a Steeler until the day I die. I am so thankful. As we get older so many things start to mean more and make more sense. Being a Steeler is something that nobody can ever take away from me and I am so proud that I was able to wear the Black and Gold.
Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades. To order, just click on the book: