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Tim Tyrell, Steelers Running Back, 1989

July 20, 2014
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First, can you let readers know about your new business venture. How you got started with this and why you chose this venture?

Right  now I’m the Director of Marketing Development for a company that sells premier brand appliances – stoves, refrigerators, freezers – premier high end appliances. We also sell lower end stuff too. We have four stores in California and just opened one up in Chicago. We sell other items too – all plumbing supplies and more. We do it in a really unique way – all in one live showroom. It’s a totally new concept – we have four chefs and five baristas – it’s an experience – like Lexus does. You need to see it to really understand and appreciate it. We’re opening up stores in Dallas, Atlanta, New Jersey… and a bunch of other places after that.

My job is to meet with the architects, designers and builders – to develop relationships with the bigger influencers. The executive team here is great – the want people to love their lives. And I have always loved the selling experience.

How hard was it to find a post-NFL career and what about your time in the NFL helped and hurt your ability to find your next career?

I did a lot of different things coming out of football – all geared towards selling. I sold fitness equipment – acted as a broker for equipment from places that went out of business. I also did technical recruiting for eight years for the manufacturing industry. Then I worked for various entrepreneurs after that – trying to find that feeling you get right before kickoff. It’s had to find that – and I think we’re all trying to look for that when we leave the game. At least just a little dose of that, and I think I found that here. With this company and it’s $16 million dollar showroom – it really is just stunning.

 You came to the Steelers in ’89 after five years playing for Atlanta, Buffalo and Los Angeles. What made you decide to sign with Pittsburgh – and what was your role with the team?

I was released by Buffalo in training camp. My area was special teams. I was waiting to get picked up. I always received accolades as a special teams guy – I kicked as at special teams. I had my success there. The Steelers had need for a fullback – I think Carter went down with an injury. So really, at that point, you go to where whoever wants you. You wait for an injury and that open roster spot. It was a blessing being in Pittsburgh. It was a fun year for me. That’s how it goes – you don’t choose – they find you.

What were the biggest differences you found between Pittsburgh and the other teams you played for?

If they don’t know you, you really have to re-assert yourself. I had my own rep factor – I was  a two-time Pro Bowl alternate on special teams. But they didn’t know me. It was a tight team. Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley and Dermontti Dawson were great guys. And it was interesting to me how Chuck Noll delegated things. he as a great coach.

It wasn’t hugely different from other teams. I remember in Buffalo Marv Levy had us study the rulebook every week and we’d have meetings on it. Really – another meeting?! Chuck – he as just a well-oiled machine.

Bubby  Brister and Merrill were hilarious.  All the women loved Merrill but he was such a gentleman. Him – hanging with Bubby… Bubby was just so outgoing – those two together were just a funny combination. Bubby was just so much more crazy – I went out with those two sometimes.

And of course we had special owners. I knew the history there – it was just a class operation. I still get letters from the team they send to all of their alumni. It’s great that they do that – not all the teams do.

How competitive were all of the running backs and what veterans helped mentor you as a new player on the team? Both on and off the field – how did they help you adjust?

We all helped each other. You could see how talented the other running backs were. It was obvious who would play – who was better. Merrill was built for that spot. I knew I could kick major ass on special teams. I knew my role. You know that what he coaches decide is accurate. And my opinion didn’t matter anyway. I focused on my job. I knew my playing time was on special teams and that’s where I shined.

I remember once I got into a fight in practice.  Delton Hall hit me when I was way out of bounds. It cut my lip…I went crazy on him until the other guys broke us up. I was just on the scout team! Later in practice they ran a sweep to the right and a wide receiver was blocking Hall and I ran right at him and knocked him over. I threw the ball at him and went at him again – I’m glad someone broke us up again. That’s the unique thing about it. At the end of the practice you both ask each other if you’re ok and you go back to the locker room. I didn’t really want to slug it out with those guys – I already was knocked out enough times as a 250 pound fullback flying around the field.

What veterans helped mentor you as a new player on the team? Both on and off the field – how did they help you adjust?

Dick Hoak was a great student of the game. His expectations were high for you to know what you were supposed to do so we all knew what we were doing. He’d get fired up if you did something wrong.

It was a good group. We’d go out after games…and the and were just nuts. That was different from other places. Nuts in a good way. Intense. I went to the Super Bowl in Detroit and guys were dressed up in full gear. To watch the game! That was unbelievable.

Carnell Lake was a good guy that helped me. Merrill did. I remember Rod Woodson gave us all on special teams  $100 when he returned a kickoff for a touchdown. He was unbelievable how fast and strong he was. Dwight Stone too = he was like  a heat-seeking missile – he as a stud. A great athlete – I remember them trying to find something – a role for him there.

 What part did humor play on the team in terms of keeping players loose? Were you part of the locker room hijinks and humor? What were some of the funnier moments you remember and who were some of the funniest players on the team?

The funniest thing I remember was Merrill and the ice tub. He was sitting in the tub and I bet him $50 he couldn’t stay in the tub of ice up to his neck for a minute. He told me I was on – so we starting throwing ice in the tub. He was up to his waist like it normally would be to ice your legs. But if it gets up past your heart for that long it’s like suicide. Well he calls over three ball boys to cheer him on. He goes up to his waist and he just has this calm expression as he kept telling the ball boys to keep cheering. Well, he lasted the minute – he ended up doing it. He came out looking like a tomato. I gave him his $50 and told him that was the greatest $50 ever. It was crazy – he could have had a heart attack!

I also remember Bubby. He was just nasty. Always had a big chew and spitting in a cup. One day he came to the tub totally naked. He stands where all the powders and lotions were and, balls hanging out as he was talking to the guys in the tub, just takes a whole thing of powder and puts it on all over his chest and starts patting himself with it into this big cloud of smoke. “That’s just about do it,” he said, then just walked away. That was Bubby….He should have been a defensive lineman – he had that kind of mentality.

You left the team and NFL after the’89 season. What brought that on and how difficult was that for you?

I came back in ’90 but was the last player cut in practice. I had a great camp but they went in a different direction that year. I had some great hits on special teams and it was a close call. But the body can only take so much. The next year my knee locked up and I needed knee surgery again. I said that was it….

Training camp then was insane, remember. Guys were just laying into each other before games It was too much – it beat us up too much. The Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t allow for that anymore and that’s the way it should be. It ended too many careers was to early. It’s a great gig – outside of the pain. You don’t leave the game – it retires you.

What are your favorite memories playing in Pittsburgh?

The whole experience was a dream come true. I met some great friends – guys like AC/DC that I met when I was with the Rams and the guys fro the Spin Doctors… I met and did so many amazing things. I was very outgoing and made things happen that way. I’m a big rocker and loved meeting those guys. I’m thankful for the people who gave me those opportunities. I’d encourage everyone to use those experiences as leverage to open up doors – and not to harp on all the negative parts of the job and life!

Scott Campbell, Steelers Quarterback, 1984-1986

July 13, 2014
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First, can you let readers know about your career at Brownstone -how you got started in this post-NFL venture? 

I started in the real estate business full time in 1993 after my football career ended.  I went to work for my father in law as a sales person for Brownstone Real Estate Company in Hershey, PA and became his partner in the development business.  While we developed several residential communities I worked as a sales person for 14 years.  In 2007 my brother in law and I took over full control of Brownstone after my father in law’s retirement.  We still run Brownstone today where we enjoy a number one position for market share in our area.  We also have three large developments in various stages of completion at this time.

What NFL experiences and lessons do you find have helped you in this career and why? 

First of all, my severance pay from the NFL helped me in becoming a partner in the development business.  I guess that is what it is for.  Also, my time playing NFL and college football as a quarterback gave me invaluable experience in terms of leadership, stress management, preparation, work ethic, getting along with teammates, etc.  Being a leader of a company is not much different than being a leader of a football team.

You were drafted by the Steelers in the 7th round in ’84. Certainly no guarantee to make the team, what about you and your play caught the coaches’ eyes and helped you secure a roster spot, do you think? 

Well the biggest thing that happened that opened up the door for me to make the 1984 team my rookie year was that Terry Bradshaw retired shortly after the draft.  This took the Steelers down to three quarterbacks on the roster instead of four.  I think that was pretty significant to understate things a bit.  Apart from that I had to fight like crazy each of my seven NFL years to make the roster in Pittsburgh and Atlanta.  I always had to overcome questions about my size (6 foot).

I carried a bit of a chip on my shoulder because of that and I think that helped me mentally.  I think the coaches could see I was confident and I could pick up the offense rather quickly.  I credit this to the fact that I was raised by a coach who taught me football since I was very young and because I played in an open, pro-style offense at Purdue.

How competitive was the quarterback position then with Malone, Brister and Woodley there along with you a vying for playing time? Were they helpful in your development as a rookie? 

Brister came during my third year in Pittsburgh after an offseason where I had back surgery.  I did not play with him very long, but spent two seasons with Malone and Woodley.  I like them both, but they were very different from each other.  Malone set a good example for preparation as a quarterback and what is necessary to get yourself ready to play.  Woodley impressed me with his relaxed and confident manner.  I think I could take things from both of them.  I think it was more competitive between those two as veterans than it was with me.

What veterans helped mentor you as a rookie – both on and off the field – and how did they do so? Any examples? 

Although as a rookie I was scared to death of Jack Lambert, all of the veterans in Pittsburgh were helpful, really good guys.  They were always respectful of me, even as a rookie and made me feel at home.

There were several guys from the Super Bowl era of the 70s still on the roster that I really looked up to.  Donnie Shell, John Stallworth, and Mike Webster are the players that stick out to me.  I learned what is was to be a pro by watching them.  In rookie mini-camp at Three Rivers Stadium we were watching this guy running steps on the upper deck of the stadium commenting how hard he was working.  One of the coaches came up to us and told us that was Mike Webster.  That made an impression on me because of how hard he was working in the off season.

Tony Dungy was our defensive coordinator and while he was not my position coach I admired him immensely.  The way he treated players and his calmness stood out to me.

Being a somewhat local guy (born in Hershey), how did that affect you as a player, and how did you as a player “on the bubble” deal with the pressure of making the team? 

Being from Pennsylvania didn’t really affect me other than making me really proud of being part of the Steelers organization and part of the city of Pittsburgh. The interesting thing about “being on the bubble” was that my first couple of years in the NFL I was too young, stupid, and naïve to know I was even on the bubble, which of course I was.  The older I got the more I realized how hard it is to make an NFL team and the more pressure I felt.

You have to block out the negative and you need a little luck along the way for things to fall in place for you.  Sometimes, a decision is made ahead of time and there is nothing you can do about it.  My last preseason game for Atlanta I was 7-10 with a touchdown and played well.  I also got cut a few days later.  In Pittsburgh I just won a fan vote in the paper for the starting quarterback job.  I got cut the next week.  Such is life n the NFL.

After a strong ’84 season, the team struggled the following two seasons. How did Coach Noll and the players deal with those struggles both on and off the field? 

Making the playoffs and getting to the AFC Championship game in 1984 was very exciting for me as a rookie.  I didn’t play much at all (five appearances), but did contribute to a touchdown drive against Cleveland late in the season when I had to come in the game because of injury.  I played one series, completed some passes and we scored a touchdown.  Malone came back in after that, but I was proud to contribute in a tight, divisional game against our rival in the heat of a playoff run.

We fell short in 1985 and did not make the playoffs, which is never a good thing in Pittsburgh.  I also hurt my knee in the last regular season game and underwent back surgery in the offseason.  Players and coaches were not happy with our results that year.

After three years in Pittsburgh you ended up on Atlanta in 1986. Was the move frustrating or a positive one for you and what were the major diff wended you found between the two franchises? 

I was released after the 3rd game of the 1986 season by the Steelers and it was a surprise to me.  It really caught me off guard.  Fortunately, Atlanta picked me up with five games to go in the season and I played for the Falcons through the 1990 season.  I was the starting quarterback for the Falcons for the majority of the 1987 season.  While I enjoyed my time in Atlanta and was very thankful for a job in the NFL it did not compare to being a Steeler.  The special feeling you get being part of the Steeler football family was hard to beat.  There is no football city in the USA like Pittsburgh, either.  I really missed it.

What part did humor play on those Noll teams in terms of keeping players loose? What were some of the funnier moments you remember and who were some of the funniest players on the team? Any examples? 

One of the funniest things I can remember about my time in Pittsburgh was at my expense.  We were playing a preseason game in Minnesota and I threw a swing pass that was tipped and then intercepted by a very tall defensive end at about mid-field.  He had a head start, but I caught him at about the five-ten yard line.  Instead of going for his legs I dove and tried to jump on his back.  He proceeded to stiff arm my chest and I totally whiffed on the tackle to the fans delight.  As I was walking of the field they were replaying the play on the Jumbotron and the fans were laughing like crazy.  As I got to the sideline I saw Chuck Noll watching the replay and laughing his head off as well.

The other funny moment for me was against the Redskins at home my second year in the league in 1985.  Woodley was starting at the time because Malone got hurt the week before and was not dressed for the game.  They gave Woodley 100% of the practice plays that week (I got none) to get him ready to play.  When we went out for warm-ups I noticed that Woodley wasn’t out there and I was the only quarterback on the field.  He was in the locker room sick as a dog.  Chuck Noll comes up to me and very matter-of-factly states, “I guess you’re starting”.  This was my first NFL start.  I hadn’t practiced one offensive play all week.  Such is life in the NFL.

Any last thoughts for readers?

Playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers was a dream come true for me and is still something in which I am very proud.  I will always remember my time in Pittsburgh fondly.

Mike Collier, Steelers Running Back/Return Specialist, 1974-1977

July 6, 2014
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First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your days in the NFL, and how you got involved in this?

What I do now really has nothing to do with my time in the NFL. I work as a full-time associate at Marten’s food store. I’ve been there for eighteen years. I moved here to Hagerstown  from Baltimore because I couldn’t find a job teaching in Baltimore – I have an education degree. I taught in prison in ’85-’86, but they wanted me to become a corrections officer and I didn’t want to do that.

How difficult was the transition for you from the NFL to the “real world” and how did you make it happen?

I prepared for life after the NFL by going back and getting my degree. That was the key issue. When I was drafted in ’74 I didn’t have my college degree yet. The  NFL made me tough and showed me I had to work to get what I wanted and to accomplish things.

You were a 14th round pick by the Steelers in 1974. Were you picked as a running back or as a return guy, and how did you win the role of the return man on the team?

I was drafted as a running back but I was a return guy too in college – I was known for that. I wasn’t going to be first string at the start – I knew that. I did well on special teams – that helped boost me up. I did it a lot in college so it wasn’t new to me, and in my first preseason game I almost returned a touchdown against the Eagles.

All I asked for was a chance. Being in the NFL and having that chance was the greatest thing.  Luckily, there were six preseason games then. A couple guys got hurt – nothing too serious but it gave me a chance to play and prove myself. I did well on special teams and ran the ball well. I was just dedicated to making the team and working hard.

The team was loaded at running back – Harris, Bleier, Fuqua, Harrison…how frustrating was that for you trying to get playing time, and how competitive were the running backs with one another?

It was very competitive. But I believed in myself – that was the most important thing. I just needed opportunities. They used me a lot in short yardage – I was powerful and determined and was able to get those yards.

The other guys were helpful, but only to a certain extent. We were still all competing for jobs.  They knew I had talent and recognized that.

Frenchy (Fuqua) set the tone for me. He was the one that actually talked to the scouts to go to Morgan State to take a look at me. He must have heard some things from the folks there at Morgan..

Everyone helped me some in practice. They’d come to me if I did something wrong and tell me I should have done this or that in practice. But I knew my place – I could play all of the positions because I did that in Morgan – halfback, fullback, wingback – and special teams.

What was the mindset of the team before its first Super Bowl appearance, do you remember. As a young team. how did it prepare for and handle the big game?

We had the best preparer in the game in Chuck Noll. He was the best at making us ready to win a championship. He never got enough credit. You always hear people talking about Belichick and other guys as the greatest coaches. You rarely hear about Noll. That upsets me greatly. He was one of the greatest coaches ever in that timeframe.

What made him so successful?

He knew how to motivate. We fed off of his enthusiasm and tenaciousness on the sidelines, and his hard work. We all fed off of that.

What happened after the ’77 season, and how difficult was it for you to leave Pittsburgh and end up in Buffalo in 1977?

It was real difficult leaving. But it was an opportunity to play a little bit more. Especially after O.J. got hurt in Buffalo. It’s just the matter of the fact the NFL is still a business, like anything else. One day you’re here, the next day you’re there. That’s just the way it is.

Humor plays a big part in keeping teams loose. Who were some of the guys on the Steelers teams you played for that helped keep things light, and how did they do so? Any examples of the hijinks?

Bradshaw was the main guy – he kept things free and easy. I’ll always remember him playing his guitar and singing country songs n the locker room…

What are your thoughts on today’s NFL?

I have lots of thoughts… The NFL is more worried now about money, TV… Money has changed the game – dramatically. It’s now more about showing off the passing game – the running game’s almost gone. It’s all shotgun, throwing the ball…. The NFL feels like more points makes the game more interesting I guess. I like the tough defensive game – ones decided by three points or less. I don’t like blowouts and I don’t think they are good for the NFL….

Any last thoughts for readers?

I just think  a lot of players today don’t seem to appreciate being in the NFL, watching how they behave. I appreciated every day in the NFL. You don’t know how quickly it can all be gone. As quick as you are drafted, it can go away.

 

Jeff Zgonina, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 1993-1994

June 29, 2014
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First, can you let readers know about your coaching career and the Mo Betta Bull Company. How you got started in both and what your job/business venture entails?

Well, I’m not coaching now. When Coach Kubiak was let go we were all too. So I’m always keeping my eye out for other coaching jobs.

The rodeo business has been great – I’m a contractor of rodeos – we supply the livestock. I don’t do the hands on work myself. I started fourteen years ago studying the breeding of bulls and cows. It was my escape from football. I studied bulls – their bloodlines, talking to breeders – I umped into it headfirst. I built the business up so we had good bucking bulls. I got lucky – now we’re in the finals in Vegas every year. I enjoy watching and being around them.

Do you want to get back into coaching?

Yeah. I follow every coaching lead. I guess I’ll need to wait for the next January turnover. I hope I get another chance. Its really about who you know. There wasn’t a head coach this time I knew very well, so if not next year, then maybe I’ll start looking at the college level.

What coaches and coaching lessons do you find yourself falling back on now as a coach? And why?

I got something out of every coach – on and off the field. I had so many coaches and I talked to all of them to learn about how to be a better coach. I watched how they dealt with players and got their messages across. I’m not a yeller. I don’t like to yell people to the ground. I didn’t like it when coaches did that to me. I hated it. It happens, but I don’t like to do it. I’ll show you respect but you need to show me respect by working hard and not making mental errors.  I wanted to repeat everything over and over so there were no errors – so you know everything and don’t have to think and you could play faster.

You were drafted by the Steelers in the 7th round in ’93. Certainly no guarantee to make the team, what about you and your play caught the coaches’ eyes and helped you secure a roster spot, do you think?

Well the funny ting is I was drafted to be a long-snapper. Cowher asked me if I could long-snap before the draft so I said yeah! No way I was going to say no. I guess I showed enough as a nose guard to make the team. I actually skipped a snap in the last preseason game and Cowher said that was enough of the long-snapping for me but I guess I played decent enough at nose guard.

What was the biggest adjustment you had to make to the NFL game -especially as a nose tackle? How did you make that adjustment?

I watched the guys around me all the time – Joel Steed, Gerald Williams…all the guys in front of me. I learned many of the tendencies from Jerry O (Olsavsky) and Kevin Greene. Jerry O especially taught me  a lot. Told me where to go almost on every play. I learned and tried to develop from everyone and they helped me.

What veterans helped mentor you as a rookie – both on and off the field – and was it a competitive environment?

It was competitive – but I always tried to help the younger guys. Maybe it would cost me or another guy a job but I just want to win and be a good teammate. I figured I could always find a job elsewhere. You just have to swallow your pride and help others. There were some people who would backstab others and tell them the wrong thing, but I couldn’t do that….

Joel was not a big talker – I just watched him and learned his technique. In Carolina Kragen helped me. He was undersized so he showed me more about his technique since I was too. In Miami, “Truck” (Keith Traylor) helped me. I always tried to find something to help me be a better player – to better myself. Even if it wasn’t my own position – even if it didn’t help me it would help me to learn so I could help someone else.

I’d talk to the linebackers and learn from them because they were the quarterbacks of the defense. I’d pick their brains and let them know I was there to help them. I wasn’t an All-Pro guy – my job was to help them make plays. I told them to tell me what they wanted me to do to help them – I didn’t want to be in their way. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it. I’m not athletic enough to get out of the grind and make plays downfield so let me do what you need me to do and take on the double-teams.

How did you as a player “on the bubble” deal with the pressure of making the squad? How much did humor play a part in that-any examples?

I laughed about it and being cut and moving around so much.  It was a shock the first time it happened in Pittsburgh – you don’t think its going to happen. But Carolina picked me up off of waivers the next day after Pittsburgh cut me. When I was not playing a lot the next time I was cut, I knew that was not good and wasn’t surprised.  But I made a joke out if it. I’d sign a contract and read I the papers the next day I was on the bubble already. Every Friday I was happy I knew I’d made it to another week. I’d always wait for Friday to see if I made it another week…

I mean, I knew I could always go somewhere else. I couldn’t worry about it. Sometimes you go out and outplay others but you still get cut. Maybe the guy was drafted higher and the GM couldn’t cut him and look bad, you know?

What part did humor play on those Cowher teams in terms of keeping players loose? What were some of the funnier moments you remember and who were some of the funniest players on the team? Any examples?

That was so long ago. There was always comedy and unbelievable talent. I don’t remember – I was young and was accepted by the veterans, but not accepted too, if you know what I mean. I didn’t say much and just stayed in the shadows…

You ended up playing for sixteen years. What do you attribute that longevity too – especially as a defensive lineman?

I think it was just luck, mostly. I had two minor scopes in seventeen years. I took care of myself. I was never a big guy. I tore my triceps one year and couldn’t lift weights much. I decided to be a cardio guy. I was down to 265, 270 pounds, I had to learn all the technique I could and run to the ball. I did all I could do. By the fourth or fifth play of a game, everyone’s tired. So I just figured I’d outwork you. Yeah, I’d get rolled once in a while, even Truck did sometimes. But I was smart enough and was able to run to the ball and make plays. I guess I was active enough and got lucky.

What are your favorite memories playing in Pittsburgh?

I started my career there – it was unbelievable, going there right out of college to such a successful organization. I still have a lot of good friends there – more so now than when I was there even. Heck, I talk to Cowher more since I left than when I was there. He only talked to a fee guys then, but now I joke around with him whenever I see him.

Baron Batch, Steelers Running Back, 2011-2012

June 20, 2014
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First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL life. What you’ve been doing since your time with the Steelers and how your pet tortoise is doing!

First of all Buck50 is great. He is growing and getting pretty big. Since leaving the game I have been pursuing other business ventures. My art is doing extremely well as is my salsa company AngryMan Salsa.  We just sold our 1000th jar a few weeks ago and we are on track for big things this upcoming year. Really I’ve just been doing whatever I feel like will make me happy.

You were a seventh round pick of the Steelers in ’11- certainly no guarantees to make the team. Were you surprised to be drafted by the Steelers – and what about your rookie performance helped you earn a spot – what caught the coaching staff’s eye and what was the biggest adjustment you had to make to make the team?

I don’t think success should ever be a surprise, if that is the case that means that you didn’t actually work that hard to get it. Coming into my rookie year I was well prepared for what was going to be expected of me. Playing for the Steelers was a great experience that I will never forget that’s for sure. I think that what caught the coaches eye was my “willingness” to compete, and in all reality I think that if someone is truly willing to compete they will be successful at just about anything they choose.

In short time you grew a bit of a fan following in Pittsburgh- with your blog and candid nature. What about your approach to life and the game makes you unique, do you feel, and attracted that following?

I definitely think that I kind of broke the mold of the average football player, and I find that disconcerting for two reasons. The first reason is that there are plenty of athletes that are interesting people and passionate about different things. Unfortunately those don’t get as  much attention as when someone gets arrested or something like that.  I do think that the fanbase embraces that I was the underdog and an interesting one at that, but at the end of the day being interesting doesn’t win football games so things like that disappear as quickly as they appear. I think the Steelers’ fanbase is fantastic and I’m grateful for the fans that still keep up with what I’m doing and are simply supportive of me as a person even though I am no longer a football player.

What veterans helped mentor you as a rookie – both on and off the field – and how did they do so? Any examples?

It would be hard to put a finger on any single individual. Coming into the league I would say I was a bit more responsible and mature than most rookies. It wasn’t like I was the kid who needed to be babysat. However, all of the veteran guys did a great job of making all of the rookies feel welcome and were always quick to help in any way that they could. I made a lot of friends when I played and to this day I still stay in contact with a lot of the guys. They are all great men.

How did you as a rookie “on the bubble” deal with the pressure of making the squad? How much did humor play a part in that-any examples?

Honestly I didn’t really care if I made the team or not. My mentality has and will always be this. Control what I can and not worry or even waste energy thinking about the things that I can’t. All I could ever control while playing was my attitude and effort and I was always proud of how I approached those two things.  I always knew that I would be more than ok without the game so the idea of having the game  taken away was never something that made me fearful or put pressure on me. I had three goals coming into the NFL. Pay off a car, pay off a house, and save the rest to allow me to do whatever I want and not have to have financial strain. In my eyes if I did those things then I was a successful NFL player, and I managed to do all three.

You grew up and dealt with both dyslexia and ADHD. How did you take these issues and make them more assets in your development as a person versus obstacles – and how difficult was that for you?

I don’t think that either is a bad thing. My dyslexia forced me to work harder than everyone else and my ADHD is the engine that runs my creativity. In my eyes neither is bad. Honestly they are kind of like superpowers if they are truly embraced and used correctly.

How competitive was the running back corps – with Moore, Mendenhall, you, Dwyer all there. How did you all get along and how hard was it vying for playing time?

I am still close Dwyer and Rashard. They are both good men. The NFL is just competitive no matter what position you play and if you don’t embrace that then you have no business being there. But in all reality the business world is even more competitive and that’s why I enjoy what I am doing now so much more. Football is an amazing game but the truth is that hard work, honesty, and all those other things that you are taught to live by don’t always pay off when someone is simply better than you athletically. But in the real world of business all of those things apply. Hard work pays off. Honesty is rewarded. And simply put being successful is not hard if you are willing to just out work other people.

You’re a self-professed artist and “creative type” – painter and photographer – who likes a good intellectual debate. Do you think there’s discrimination in a sense by players and fans against such a personality type in the NFL? Is it possible to be both NFL tough and creative/insightful? How did you manage that?

I never thought it was hard to do both but there is definitely a double standard. To be quite honest fans don’t want to hear what players actual opinions are. I think most people can agree with that. That’s why you always see opinions of players being ridiculed and in some ways punished. The allegiance of fans to teams can sometimes bling them to the fact that everyone is just a person. Just a normal human being that happens to have a valuable skill. No better than anyone who doesn’t play in the NFL. I never liked that about football. Not just in the NFL but in college and high school as well. I always wanted to just be seen as a regular guy, because in all honesty that is all anyone is.

You found early success in your rookie season before tearing your ACL and being placed on IR. How difficult was that for you and what did the coaches tell you at the time?

The truth is this. Life happens to people. Good and bad. I have seen in my own life over and over again that the situations that I see as bad at the time many times bloom the most beautiful things. The ACL situation was one of those. Because I tore my ACL I began to paint and found a career that will last me way longer than football ever could. If I could go back and not tear my ACL and end up making five pro bowls or win a Super Bowl, I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything other than what I get to do at this moment in time. No amount of money or fame is worth more to me than being able to have the ability to live out my passion and do that on my own terms.

You were released by Pittsburgh in 2012. Were you surprised and what prompted that release?

I wasn’t surprised at all. It was a business move and as a business minded person it was easy to understand that. At the end of the day I didn’t do enough on the field to validate me being on the roster and I am totally at peace with that, because I handled the two things that only I can. I always had a great attitude towards my teammates, coaches, and the game, and I always gave my best effort. I think in life if you are able to control those things and do them well then you are successful in my eyes.

What are your favorite memories playing in Pittsburgh?

Hanging out with my teammates outside of work.

Any last thoughts for readers?

Thanks for the continued support. Buy salsa. Buy art. Go Steelers.

Tim Johnson, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 1987-1989

June 13, 2014

First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL career as a pastor. Tell us how you got started and what caused you to follow that direction?

During my decade in the NFL, my love for God and people compelled me to serve in his local church as an usher, children’s teacher, life group leader and eventually as an elder. As an ordained minister in 2000, my family and I moved to Nashville, TN to be the Senior Associate Pastor of Bethel Word Outreach Center, a large multicultural, multi-congregational church. In 2005, I became the Senior Pastor. A year later, my wife Le’Chelle and I were inspired to launch Orlando World Outreach Center in Orlando, Florida.

How big of a part did your faith play in your playing career and on the Steelers teams you played for- and how so?

It was the anchor for everything that I did because I realized all the gifts and talents that I had were a gift from God and how I used them would be my gift back to God.  My reminder became a Bible verse that I referred to regularly in my ability to honor Jesus with my talents.  That Bible verse is Colossians 3:23-24.

You won a national championship at Penn State and a Super Bowl with the Redskins. Is there one that stands out/means more to you? And do you think you fully appreciated the rarity of both accomplishments at the time?

I’ve been asked this question many times over the years and it’s very difficult to answer because each were remarkable in their own right and beyond anything I could have dreamed.  I don’t think, at the time, I appreciated what having both experiences meant like I do now.  It’s very humbling to look back over my life and see the privilege that I had with being a NCAA National Champion and an NFL Super Bowl Champion.

You played somewhat locally – at Penn State – before being drafted by the Steelers in 1987. What were your thoughts on being drafted by the Steelers and were you surprised?

Draft day is a very nerve racking experience because after all the hard work the decision about your career and future becomes uncertain on that day.  To avoid being overwhelmed by anxiety and uncertainty I actually went to a prayer meeting at my local church as a way of demonstrating my trust in Christ to lead me where he wanted me.  When I finally got the call that I was drafted by the Steelers, I was excited to have an opportunity to play for another championship organization, even though we didn’t win a Super Bowl during my time there.

As a sixth round pick, there are no guarantees you make the team – especially when the team had a deep DL corps with Steed, Harrison, Roye, and Gibson there as well. What did you do to catch the coaches’ eyes and how hard was it to adjust to the 3-4 defense?

There is a saying that you can’t hide hard work and I actually believed that Penn State prepared me for what hard work meant.  I went in to camp thinking that if I out worked everyone, one way or another, there would be a place for me.  This idea was confirmed in our defensive meeting when Coach Joe Green said to all of the guys who started out in camp; if we did everything he wanted us to do he would find a way to keep us.  He would not cut us; we would cut ourselves based on what we did.  That was all I needed to hear.

Who on the Steelers team helped mentor you and help you adjust most to the NFL and the team culture? And how did they do so?

Coach Joe Green and Donnie Shell, were a Godsend to me as mentors by helping me to mentally adjust to the level I needed to be in handling my opportunity as a football player but also understanding the business of the NFL.

You read a lot about the loss of leadership on the current Steelers team as it looks to transition from veterans to younger players. Who were the leaders on the Steelers teams you played for and how did they assert themselves as leaders?

Donnie Shell, Mike Webster, Edmond Nelson, Tunch Ilkin, Craig Wolfley, John Stallworth, Mark Malone, and Robin Cole.  These guys didn’t have to assert their leadership as much as they were examples of leadership and their presence in the locker room made a difference amongst us young players.

Humor plays a big part in keeping teams loose. Who were some of the guys on the Steelers teams you played for that helped keep things light, and how did they do so?  Any examples of the hijinks/personalities?

Mike Merriweather was always a fun-loving jovial guy who was a tremendous athlete but also knew how to joke around and have fun.

What were some of the biggest differences you found between Pittsburgh and the Redskins organizations – and Cincinnati as well since you played one season there in ’96?

I appreciated all three organizations for what they were trying to accomplish and allowing me to be a part.  The biggest difference is that I was part of a Super Bowl team with the Redskins.  It was a phenomenal experience.

What are your thoughts on the current direction of the NFL – both with the players and the league in general?

Unfortunately, I’ve not thought considerably about the direction of the NFL but I can appreciate the greater awareness for player safety (as much as possible) and player development being a way to help pro athletes transition into mainstream society as productive citizens.

Any last thoughts for readers?

If they’d like to know more about what we’re doing in Orlando, go to our website www.OrlandoWOC.org  We also have a free app.  I appreciate the opportunity to share and give an update.

Keiwan Ratliff, Steelers Cornerback, 2009

June 6, 2014
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First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL career and Camp Ratliff – what caused you to follow those career directions and how have they gone so far?

After I retired from football I was not done with the game. I started a training group for kids and that turned into a recruiting service. I’ve helped countless kids receive athletic scholarships and I’m now the go-to man for schools throughout the country recruiting Central Florida.

How did your time in the NFL prepare you for your post-NFL life? Did any of the NFL’s post-career classes/programs help you?

My time in the NFL has prepared me for anything life has for me. I am a stronger person mentally from my battles during training camp. I am a stronger person from having to move around and adjust to so many different personalities over my career. The career classes and programs have shown me some thing’ to expect while trying to start from scratch. A job in the NFL is no doubt a dream come true but at the same time probably one of the most stressful jobs ever.

What coaches and coaching lessons have helped you most and stuck with you – especially with Camp Ratliff – and why?

Every coach that I have come across has taught me something along the way. I have taken a piece from everyone of them and tried to mix it all up and create what I consider the perfect coach. One lesson I definitely learned is to be honest with the players, good or bad. Players will play harder for a coach they can trust. Dick LeBeau is one of the best not only coaches but players to ever play so I’d have to say he was the 1 coach I steal from the most.

You signed on with the Steelers as a free agent in 2009. What made you decide to sign on with the Steelers?

In 2004 when I was preparing for the draft there was a defensive backs coach who I felt could get the best out of me. I prayed that his team would draft me. Unfortunately I was not drafted by this team and I wasn’t able to learn from this coach. That coach I am referring to was Mike Tomlin. So in 2009 when I received a call from the Steelers it was a no-brainer to me. Growing up in Youngstown my entire family cheered for the Steelers. Couple that with one of my favorite coaches and the rest is history.

Did the team give you grief, having played before hand for division rival Cincinnati? How so?

There was no secret in the locker room that Hines Ward and myself had a few run-ins during my time in Cincy, but the NFL is a place of business. No one had anything negative to say about my time in Cincy as long as I did my job. Guys in the locker room know that players will leave via free agency and that is common place in this business.

Who were the guys that really welcomed you to the team and city? How did they do so – any examples?

The first person on the team I met was Charlie Batch. He made everything easy for me. He took on a leader role on the team by having gatherings, parties and different functions so that the older guys and new guys would get to know each other. The player who helped me on the field the most was Deshea Townsend. Shea sat next to me in meetings and being that we had similar roles on the defense he went over the play book and film study with me. Shea no doubt went above and beyond to help me learn the 3-4 defense

You read a lot about the loss of leadership on the current Steelers team as it looks to transition from veterans to younger players. Who were the leaders on the Steelers teams you played for and how did they assert themselves as leaders?

When I played in 2009 there is no way you can point out a single leader on the team. I tell people all the time Pittsburgh is like a college team. When you are drafted you are groomed to take over when you are ready. That team had probably 14-16 guys with eight or more years of experience. Every position on the team had a guy who not only played eight or more years in the league but all with the Steelers. It’s rare you see 1 team with so many veterans

As a veteran, especially in a strong mentoring culture like Pittsburgh, how did you handle working with younger players to help get them acclimated to the NFL. Was it difficult knowing some of those guys were out to take your roster spot?

As a veteran you learn a lot along the way. I knew once I was picked up in Pittsburgh I had to take on a leader role because I stayed with the rookies during mini camp and training camp. I remember watching film and studying the play book with a rookie, Keenan Lewis. I knew he was gunning for my job but my motto was as long as I did what I could the rest would work out. Keenan Lewis was not my competition, he was my teammate. I was my own competition.

Humor plays a big part in keeping teams loose. Who were some of the guys on the Steelers teams you played for that helped keep things light, and how did they do so?

Mike Tomlin was actually the one who kept things light and easy going. When a head coach is as easy going and cool as he is, it makes it easy to come to work everyday. The secondary also was a close nit group and everybody got along great.

The 2009 season was a bit of a letdown for the Steelers – having won the Super Bowl the year before and not making it to the playoffs. How did the team handle those struggles and why do you think they struggled that season?

Well unfortunately I had the pleasure of playing with two teams post-Super Bowl and to me the next season wasn’t as critical. When your off-season is filled with parades, parties, and everyone praising you for your accomplishments, the following season could easily be put on the back burner. The team still had high expectations so it definitely was a disappointment not to.

You changed teams eight times over eight years across two different professional leagues. Looking back, are you surprised at the longevity of your career and do you think fans appreciate the toll the game takes on players – not just physically – but emotionally as players play for different teams/cities across their careers?

I am definitely proud of the longevity I was able to have during my playing days. Fans I believe appreciate what it is we go through and do for a living. If they didn’t they wouldn’t show up to games or watch games on TV. Emotionally no one can judge how things effect others.

Any last thoughts for readers?

Steeler Nation by far is the best group of fans, bar none in any sport. I always tell the stories of how we would be on the road and see terrible towels swinging in the stands like we were at Home every week. The fans play a big part in the success the team has enjoyed.

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