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Johnny Dirden, Steelers Return Specialst, 1981

November 30, 2014
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First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL work  – how you got started and what aspects of the job do you enjoy the most and why?

Over past thirty years, it was difficult getting work but have settled in with a great career with Oxygen and medical related equipment sales, for past fourteen years.

How did your time in the NFL help prepare you for your post-NFL life?

Post NFL life was challenging to say the least. But somehow managed.

You were drafted by the Oilers in 1978. Coming from a smaller school like Sam Houston St., how difficult was it for you to adjust to the NFL game and how did you do so? Any examples?

In 1978 I was actually drafted by the Oilers after walking on for a tryout while driving a cement truck in Houston. The transition was amazing because it had been my dream.

In ’81, you signed on with the Steelers as a free agent. Why did you choose to sign with the Steelers – especially as they were still deep at receiver with Swann, Stallworth, Jimmy Smith and Sweeney there?

Regarding the Steelers, my answer is “why not!” I was offered a tryout , worked really hard, and made the team!

Who helped mentor you as a new Steeler – both on and off the field – and how did they do so?

There was no mentor in Pittsburgh.

How competitive was that receiver corps with one another? How did they handle the struggle to get passes thrown to them and how did Bradshaw and the coaches handle that?

My focus in training camp was on making a mark on special teams. I knew from the past that to compete with starting receivers was a losing battle.

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?

There was a lot of joking going on, but I don’t remember most of it!

As a special teams/return specialist, what about you and your approach to the game helped you excel in that role and how much emphasis did the team place on special teams in practice?

Special teams was very important. I was determined to be fast and effective on the field.

You left the NFL in ’81. What prompted that decision and how difficult was that for you?

I left the NFL and USFL due to age and too many injuries.

What are your thoughts on the way the game has changed today – especially as it relates to the emphasis on passing? Any last thoughts for readers?

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have played in the NFL, and am so proud to be able to tell people about that. However, the injuries and concussions have been life changing, not in a positive way. I have a wonderful support system with my family…

Anthony Madison, Steelers Cornerback, 2006-2012

November 23, 2014
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First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL career- how you got started and what your role is there?

I am currently attending graduate school at California State University, Fullerton.   I’m pursuing a master’s in Counseling (Sports). The NFL has a continuing education program that reimburses current and former athletes who aspire to further their education. Eventually with my degree, I will work with athletes at every level concerning their transitions from their specific sport.  Also, my Wife and I are attending a bible ministry school in Anaheim, Ca.

What aspects of the job do you enjoy the most and why and how did life in the NFL help you in this new role?

Right now, My enjoyment is being married and attending Bible Ministry.  My wife and I, we are also expecting our first child.  This my friend is even more exciting. In terms of how the NFL has prepared me? Well, not just the NFL but football in General has taught me Discipline , Hard-work, Teamwork and Learning how  to win and lose with grace.   The NFL specifically was a blessing from a financially perspective and this blessing has bought me enough time to transition successfully into the next phase of my life.  I believe that my Realizing that the NFL was a stepping stone allowed me to see beyond the game and saved me from living reckless. I thank God that he gave me a vision to see and think thinking beyond the inevitable.

You were signed as an undrafted free agent in 2006. Why did you choose to sign with Pittsburgh  -especially with cornerbacks like Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden and Deshea Townsend already on the roster?

I chose The Steelers because the Steelers chose me! What a privilege and honor to have played for such a storied franchise. I could speak for hours about the amazing experience of being associated with winners such as The Steelers organization. We had some unbelievable jaw dropping runs at the  elusive Lombardi.

What about your play enabled you to make the roster – what about you do you think caught the coaches’ eyes?

It was my long Frame of 6’3 205 that allowed me to dominate the Line of Scrimmage during my press man coverage! Hahaha.. Truthfully, I made the roster  because they started to rely on me as a serviceable corner and not just a Special team standout.  Not to mention, much prayer to stay healthy and hoping  that the roster numbers fall my way. For example, if a Line backer is injured at training camp.. The Steelers who have to consider keeping the Linebacker who was injured, coupled  signing another player as a insurance policy and now this dilemma  may affect if they should keep four corners instead of five. In this scenario, I would possibly be the corner who would be released because I was typically the fifth corner.

Who helped mentor you most as a rookie and how did they do so – any examples?

Deshea Townsend and I both attended Alabama so we had that bond. He was always a guy who I could count on. Overall, the entire group of Defensive-backs were like brothers and we cared for one another  in this way.

After being in the league for a few years, how did you adjust to being a veteran and being responsible in part for mentoring young players coming into the league? Was it difficult mentoring younger players who were looking to take your playing time and roster spot?

I was never responsible for mentoring any players. However, It comes a time where a veteran player decides to lend a hand to a Rookie if he is struggling regarding his transition from college football.  If anything, you express to  the younger  players the importance of taking care of their bodies and reminding them that their body is their office.  Also, conveying the matters of saving money. We would have bible studies once a week and this would give players an avenue to release anxiety by praying to Christ.

Who were some of the toughest players you lined up against in practice and on game days, and what made them so?

Toughest player I lined up against in the game would be Wes Welker.  Toughest in practice was-Mike Wallace and Heath Miller.

You excelled on special teams – what makes a player such as yourself play so well on special teams – what separates you from other players that don’t? I played well because I took it seriously. It was my biggest contribution to the organization.  I utilized my speed,   technique,  quickness and Overall relentless effort to make a play.  I always wanted to make the big play while covering kicks because The opportunities were far and in-between so I had to take advantage of opportunities when they arose.  I guess you can say I was a scrappy lil fella’.

You were cut and re-signed by the Steelers four times and played for six different teams over the course of your seven year career. How difficult was it for you to always be “on the bubble” – how do you deal with that stress and do you think fans appreciate that element of the game? 4 words: Faith in Jesus Christ.

Without this faith in The Lord, I would not have  continued to pursue football.  I was always grateful after being released or resigned. (We are talking about a guy that stands 5’8 and 180lbs soak and wet) I was limited in what I could do as a corner and I understood this very well. This understanding was by no means by what naysayers or doubters standards were, but from my personal experience of the game. Anyhow, The Steelers and I always had a mutual respect for one another and whenever the special teams needed a fixin’ I was there to hopefully repair the broken parts.  ***Being released also helped me save money because I never knew when I would be released!! Haha

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?

Players that kept things loose would be: Larry Foote, Joey Porter, Hines, Deshea, and Tomlin. I thought Coach T did an amazing job regarding keeping the team even Kiel.

Things were able to be light because we had a coach that believed we were mature enough to handle business at practice and during game time.  All at the same time, there were consequences to not performing.  It helps to have a group of seasoned veterans in the locker room.  *** Top three coach in the Business.

Any last thoughts for readers?

I  conclude by saying, playing in the NFL was an amazing experience and winning the Super Bowl exceeded my own expectations.  I am humbled to have played with such amazing people and for a storied Franchise.  The  heartache/pains , wins and losses were all worth the moments.  May God bless the readers and let’s hope for an exciting upcoming NFL season.

Blessings
Anthony Madison #37

Mathias Nkwenti, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 2001-2003

November 16, 2014
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First, can you let us know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL?

Well, I’m back in Africa and enjoying life overseas, back here at home in Cameroon. I’m older now and realize what life is really about. Having two homes – here and in the United States – in both continents is paradise. It’s like being on vacation/

What was it like coming here from Cameron and ending up in the NFL?

There are lots of Camaroonians now in the NFL. Ndamukong Suh is from Cameron – and Romen Oben is as well. I spoke to him a lot when I was playing and looked up to him. I was the second man from Cameroon to be drafted. A lot of people have misperceptions about Africa – it’s a beautiful place. Cameroon is a third-world country but it’s beautiful – and every country has it’s problems. Look at the United States. But once you are on your own and have to pay your own bills, you see what life’s really about.

How did you get started playing football?

My father was from Cameroon and worked for the embassy. We came to the United States when I was twelve for his work. I was a big man amongst kids even then. The coaches begged me to play – they saw this big guy running around next to all these smaller kids. They wanted me to play basketball and football. My parents didn’t want me to play football though – they were scared – they thought I’d break my neck. So I lied and told them I was doing track and field. Once they started seeing the letter come in from the colleges though offering scholarships they told me to I shouldn’t dare to stop playing! They loved the idea of free school!

You were drafted by the Steelers in round four. Were you surprised?

I was surprised yes – I wasn’t planning on it at all. Honestly, I thank Jesus Christ. I never planned on being drafted. it was like a tornado came and twisted my life around. It was the craziest year. I switched positions the year before – from defensive line to offensive tackle. The scouts, they come see us as juniors in college and I was this big 285 pound guy that ran a 4.7 forty. That opened a lot of eyes. I just wished I switched earlier – I would have been a first-round pick! Temple wasn’t a big school known for players either, so that may have held me back too.

Who helped you adjust most to life as a Steeler and the city in general – both on and off the field – and how did they do so?

Myself really. I was mature beyond my years. My parents lived in Africa so I was used to taking care of myself. I worked while in school and had some family friends to help me, but I was really on my own. I had to grow up quick – and I loved to travel. So, it wasn’t difficult adjusting. I just was glad I wasn’t drafted by a team in the sticks – like Green Bay. A lot of players in college talk about that sort of stuff and I remember I was happy not to go there.

What was your biggest adjustment to the NFL and how did you work to make that adjustment?

It wasn’t much different than college really. I know it sounds funny, but if you’re good you’re good – and you and others know it. Your play speaks for itself. And it helps if you stay healthy. The vets know you’re there to take their money and their jobs.

The NFL has changed since when I played though. I have no respect for the NFL now. before players could celebrate when they made a sack, you know? Now, it’s not a man’s game. Guys show no emotion. They are scared straight. They aren’t allowed to show any emotion. You look at things like Twitter – it just hurts these guys. It’s like Pandora’s box now. I won’t even use it.

Did anyone help you the most that you can remember?

Coach Grimm did as a coach. he wanted me – he was the reason they drafted me. I was green at the position and he thought I could be an All-Pro in a few years.

But, not many others. I wasn’t an ass-kisser.  I hated the politics of the game. Like some guys were running for player rep or something. It’s a business and I get that. But I didn’t kiss ass. If you respect me I respect you. The NFL is like a completely different kind of corporate job and you need to remember that.

I remember the scouts – I made friends with some of those guys. They know everything – they are like gnats on the walls. They’d tell me all the things people said about me when they wouldn’t say it straight to me. What people were really saying. It was like women gossip stuff. If I was sucking or letting up sacks I’d understand more, but that kind of politics bothered me. If I didn’t like you, you’d know it. I’d tell you to your face, not behind your back.. My father hated the politics and I did too.

How did all of that affect you?

It motivated me. I wanted to be in the NFL for six years  – to play for a certain amount of time then leave. The NFL was  a stepping stone for me. I knew I was blessed but I saw myself as a business man. Not an athlete. I was an industrialist, like my dad. And the NFL was a means to an even bigger end for me.

But you had to leave the NFL after only three season. What happened?

I was offered a ton of contracts, but I injured my back. I knew I was done. It would have put my ability to be healthy later in life if I kept on playing. I knew it was a life-long injury…

I was depressed – it wasn’t how I wanted to end my career. I could have easily had that six-to-eight year career I wanted. But I could hold my head high – it was my injury, not the NFL that pushed me out. I could have played for a dozen teams – I contracts coming in. As a left tackle you are invaluable in the NFL…

Who were the characters on those teams and do you remember any funny experiences/examples of how humor played itself out on the team?

Joey Porter was always funny – he made it fun for everyone.  there are so many stories I can’t tell – that says a lot about me then!

I remember initiation and our rookie dinner though. Thank God we had three offensive lineman in that rookie class. Me, Keydrick Vincent and Chucky Okkobi.  We were at Mortons and everyone was ordering – guys were ordering for their wives who weren’t even there! Bottles of Louis XIII – $50 a shot! Well, the bill came out to over $18,000. Keydrick was an undrafted free agent – I don’t even think he got a signing bonus. So, he pretends to go to the bathroom and is trying not to pay, because the three of us have to split this bill.

I was watching him before – I mean, he was sweating the whole time. He was a big guy – weighed over 330 pounds, sweating like nobody else. So, he’s gone for thirty or forty minutes – this really long bathroom break! But he didn’t know we had already told the Maitre De to split the bill into thirds. He thought we had already paid it when he came back. He didn’t know we took his part of the bill and slipped it next to his steak like garnish. he ate some of the steak when he saw the piece of paper and when he saw what it was his face just changed like he saw a ghost. I think the food fell out of his mouth. He just pushed his food aside – he said he wasn’t hungry anymore!

Any last thoughts for readers?

I’m retired, relaxing, and enjoying life. I’m traveling…and doing rehab for my back. I won’t use the crutches though – I refuse to use those. But I am very grateful for all I have, and for my time in Pittsburgh.

Roger Duffy, Steelers offensive Lineman, 1998-2001

November 9, 2014
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First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL career- how you got started and what made you decide on this career path?

Next month I’ll be celebrating my 11th year as a Financial Advisor with Ameriprise Financial. In 1998 the NFLPA offered programs during the off season in order for players to start preparing for life after football. I had interest in this type of career so I signed up and spent 2 months experiencing  what this line of work entailed. After retiring in 2001 I contacted the branch manager to inquire about job opportunities and the rest is history as they say.

What aspects of the job do you enjoy the most and why and how did life in the NFL help you in this new role?

The most enjoyable part of my job is interacting with my clients and helping them realize their financial dreams. The values of hard work and integrity that were instilled in me during my playing career plays a big role in developing relationships with current and prospective clients.

After being drafted by the Jets in the eight round out of Penn State and spending eight years there, you signed on with the Steelers in 1998. What made you decide to sign on with the Steelers and how much did you ability to play both center and guard help you in Pittsburgh?

I was a free agent in 1998 and Bill Parcells ( Jets head coach ) wanted to go with a younger center. There was some interest 2 years prior with the Steelers but nothing materialized. My versatility certainly helped since Pittsburgh lost their guard/center Tom Mylinski that same year. Remember, I was born in West Mifflin, Pa so I’ve been a Steeler fan my whole life. The opportunity to go and play for the Rooney family was a dream come true.

What players were most helpful in welcoming you to the team and the “Steelers way” of doing things, and how did they do so?

What impressed me the most about the players on the team was there were no egos in the locker room. Ironically, one of the players who helped me adjust was the same player who helped me in New York. Jim Sweeney was not only  a good friend but a great player  who assisted me in adjusting to the NFL life in New York and Pittsburgh. In addition to Jimmy, my neighbor Dermontti Dawson personified the definition of the “Steelers way.” To this day we remain in contact and get together we he comes back to the Hall of Fame here in Canton, OH.

How did you adjust to being a veteran and being responsible in part for mentoring young players coming into the league? Was it difficult mentoring younger players who were looking to take your playing time and roster spot?

In order for the team to be successful you need players to know and accept their roles within the team. To this point in 1998 when I signed with Pittsburgh Alan Faneca was drafted so it was just a matter of time until he was inserted into the starting lineup. I accepted that and went about my business helping Alan and the team in any way I could.

Some of those teams you played for over your four years there struggled under Bill Cowher to make the playoffs. How did Coach Cowher and the team handle that adversity and what do you think brought about the turn around that saw the team reach the AFC Championship in 2001?

Prior to signing with the Steelers I played in one playoff game in 8 years with the Jets. Since making the playoffs was an annual occurrence for the Steelers the years we didn’t certainly wasn’t well received. Coach Cowher stressed the importance of coming to work with the right attitude and believing in the program which has worked even though we are having a down year. Players bought into that concept and eventually turned things around.

As a lineman, how difficult was it transitioning from a pocket quarterback like Maddox to a very mobile player like Stewart? How did Stewart’s style change the way you approached your job?

My old high school coach always stressed “play to the whistle” which certainly applies to this question. As a lineman you have a good feel of how long it takes for a play to develop. If this time has elapsed but ball is still in QB hands you need to adjust and compete until you hear officials blow a whistle.

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?

Before several regular season games I remember Levon Kirkland imitating Coach Cowher’s reaction to Dermonti Dawson getting injured during a game. Also, Dermontti had this fake brick he would throw at unsuspecting players who did anything they could to get out of the way

You retired after that 2001 season (your 12th in the NFL). What prompted that decision for you and how difficult was it for you at that point?

I played 12 seasons and have no regrets. I was very fortunate since I had no major surgeries and played for two great organizations who took care of their players and families.

What do you think of the direction of the NFL today and what advice would you give younger players looking to make it in the NFL?

Whether you’re a draft pick or free agent you must earn anything you get. Ask questions and don’t make the same mistake twice.

Tyrone Carter, Steelers Safety, 2004-2009

November 2, 2014
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First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing since your time in the NFL and how you got involved in this post-NFL direction?

I’m trying to help young players to be professionals – to maximize their true potential. I started a training school to help develop players’ skill sets for their specific positions. Giving them the X’s and O’s at the high school level. If I had that coming up I’d have been twice as good as I was. I’m trying t change the culture in Minnesota at the high school level for football training, here in my home away from home.

What coaches influenced you most now as a coach, and how did they do so?

Ray Horton, Darren Perry, and Dick LeBeau all did. LeBeau was a Hall of Fame player and coach – he keyed in on the details. The mindset of Cowher was huge. In 2004 when I got there he asked me what I thought my opponents were going to do – what routes they were going to run and what to expect. No one ever asked me that before. He showed me that I needed to know how to see what opponents were doing. Alignment, assignment and adjustment was what he preached.  That was the essence of being a pro – to learn about your opponent as well as your own work. It made be better and faster as a player.

You signed with the Steelers in 2004 after playing for the Vikings and Jets. What made you decide to sign with the Steelers and what did they tell you your role would be?

They were straight with me. Pittsburgh was a defensive-minded team and I liked that. I liked the team – Cowher, the players, and loved the owners. It was a family-oriented organization that was all about togetherness and I wanted that, It made my decision easy.

What did they tell you your role was there and how hard was it for you to accept? Did you want more playing time?

I was there to back up Troy (Polamalu). He is a Hall of Fame player. I was told I’d get about 25-30 snaps a game in their different packages and they held true to that. They were straightforward with me and my role with the team.

I wasn’t frustrated. I accepted my role to help the team and I was behind a Hall of Famer player  I played when needed and answered the bell when I was called on. I was a team player and was there for the team – it wasn’t about selfishness. That’s what makes Pittsburgh so special – that’s the way it was there.

How difficult was it for you when you became a veteran player, mentoring younger players that you knew, to some degree, were candidates to take playing time and even a roster spot away from you?

For me, I was never a player that worried about that stuff. I wanted team success.  All knew what their role was and what was going on. I never held back information from players. On any given Sunday you need everyone to perform. You wanted guys to go out there and succeed. I was open to giving out that information – I was confident in my abilities. That’s what it’s supposed to be about as a leader and the way it was in Pittsburgh.

There was just so much unselfishness in Pittsburgh. I remember Bettis when Staley was brought in.  Staley was given the opportunity and started games and led the team in rushing – but Jerome helped Staley our and showed him everything. There are no individuals in the game of football.

Who helped welcome you to the team when you signed on in 2004 – both on and off the field – and how did they do so?

Collectively, it was the whole team. That was what made it so amazing. We all went out together. To barbecues at Joey Porter or Bettis’ house. It showed a lot to me about the team. Coaches coach and players play, but the camaraderie on the team was what made Pittsburgh a class act organization – one of the best in the NFL. From the owners on down – and the players bought into it.

We did a lot together outside of the football realm. We had each others’ backs. Younger guys don’t always understand the magnitude of what teamwork is all about. I was welcomed with open arms. When I was in Minnesota we didn’t have that kind of leadership there. That’s what made me not want to leave Pittsburgh.

How difficult was it learning the safety position in the Steelers 3-4 – what was your biggest adjustment and how did you overcome it?

The 3-4 was very different for me at first. I never played with fire zones before. It was always cover one, two, or three, but with fire zones they are all different. I had to learn it all over again when you have three instead of four guys dropping back into coverage,  You sacrifice coverage for the pass rush and I had to learn that by being around others and studying a lot of film.

You eventually did start a number of games when Ryan Clark was injured/couldn’t play – and you had some standout games, including being named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week against Denver in 2009. What do you think were your greatest strengths as a player?

I was confident and I played as hard as I could. I wanted to win over the other players as well as the coaches. I was just prepared – I studied my assignments and the opponents. A lot of the film study helped me to make plays – to come up with plays and jump routes. Troy and Ryan always told me to take chances. And Deshea Townsend helped me out so much too – he was there thirteen years.

Who were some of the biggest characters on those teams and what made them so? Any examples?

Bettis was always clowning around And Porter would get in your face if things weren’t going right. He was a leader. Troy was just so humble. He showed people how to play by example.

Every guy played a role. I wish all players could experience what I did there. You still have got to have fun. There was never a dull moment. I still stay in contact with a lot of those guys – we support each other still. Those memories we shared last a lifetime.

You left Pittsburgh in 2009. How difficult was that move for you and why?

It was hard to leave in 2010. I started 13-24 games there and I was 34  years-old then. I was a free agent and I know what my role was on the team –  and the team was getting younger. I thought I had a chance elsewhere and didn’t 3ant to retire. I tried to make a new start for myself. San Diego wanted me to go and be a player-coach….but I still missed Pittsburgh,. That’s just the business side of it I guess.

Russell Stuvaints, Steelers Safety, 2003-2006

October 25, 2014
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First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself these days?

I wok now for the PCA – Packaging Corporation of America here in Pittsburgh. I have two sons – eight and six – and enjoy spending time with them and coaching them in their sports. They are making me proud – they play baseball, t-ball……

Are you  considering getting more involved in coaching?

I love coaching. I get so much joy out of it. My football days are done now but I still love football. I would love to coach football for a high school, college or the NFL.

You signed on with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2003. What made you decide to sign with Pittsburgh and how exciting was it playing for your home team?

I was blessed to play foe the Steelers. The day before the draft I got calls from Miami and Detroit but playing for the Steelers was a dream come true. It was amazing – they are a great organization and family – it was my dream my dream to play for them.  I hope my kids get to have that same dream.

Who helped mentor you when you first got there – any veterans help you?

Darren Perry and Ray Horton helped me most. They helped me work on my technique during drills. I also had fun with Chad Scott – we had a lot of fun together. But there wasn’t much time for the veterans to focus on helping me. They were getting better themselves – Polamalu was the same age as me. Hope was still young. Ike Taylor was the same age as me..

Mike Logan did help push me. We were from the same high school – I remember when he came back to the high school during the draft to  tell us  that we could have this opportunity too – to take advantage of it. Watching him on tv – a guy from my high school – he was living my dream. It got my confidence going.

Bettis also was a nice guy. He was a superstar but was always nice to me and I was just an undrafted rookie. Charlie Batch was also great – it was just good to be around those guys.

What do you think made you stand out from the other guys – as an undrafted free agent, what do you think helped you make the team?

I think my energy and effort helped me stand out. I got some decent hits in practice and in preseason. I flew around and made some plays.

In practice, we had one day a week we practiced special teams and ran up and down the field over practicing kickoff coverage and over. We just did it over and over and I was always one of the first guys to finish. I think Chidi Iwuoma beat me sometimes but that was it. Some guys just don’t love special teams – I did all I could.

I was playing football since I was six. I always loved it and always wanted to be there. I think because I played for so long, and because I had so much love for the game, the coaches saw that. My high school coach said I was quicker than fast and my quickness always helped me. I also ran a great 40-yard dash in college and that helped attract some scouts and helped me make it to the NFL.

Who were some of the funnier guys you played with – and do you have any fun memories of your time in Pittsburgh?

The funniest guy I remember was Chris Hope – he always was telling jokes.

Troy Polamalu always wore these reggae shirts. We didn’t know who those guys on his shirts were. One day he wore one with Peter Tosh on it – we didn’t know who he was but it was a picture of a small guy with dreadlocks. We called Troy Peter Tush because of that one.

We had fun with Chad Scott too. He knew the business of the game and always felt threatened by the younger players. I remember when we were lying down resting once during practice and he got up and started running again – he was yelling at us that “You guys want my job, but you won’t ever get it!”

How difficult was the adjustment to the NFL and Dick LeBeau’s defense for you, especially having come from a small school like Youngstown State?

It wasn’t a big adjustment – I knew I could play. Learning the playbook and the plays was the hardest part. It was a huge playbook and there was a lot of terminology to learn. You had to be able to call the plays and make sure all were on the same page.

I was a linebacker in college. I moved to safety when I got to the Steelers. It was a totally different job. I had to learn to drop in coverage more. I was only 205-210 pounds  – I always knew I was a safety but I did what I needed to do in college for the team. I knew I would play safety in the NFL..

You left the Steelers and NFL in 2006 – what happened?

I wasn’t drafted – I didn’t play in a big school so most didn’t see my games on tv. I tried to build a name for myself – high school, college….but if you don’t play for a big college you don’t get rated much by scouts. No one watched me, so they didn’t know me later. I had an excellent agent – the same one that represents Joe Flacco. He helped me make it to the NFL.

In 2004 I was on the practice squad and I went to the Patriots for a week on their practice squad and they told me they were going to put me on their active roster when the season started.  But they guy the Steelers kept over me tore his hamstring so they ended up bringing me back. It was my best year – I scored a touchdown against the Browns. LeBeau got me on the field a lot. It was a great experience and we had an excellent season before we lost to the Patriots in the championship game.

What advice would you give younger players today, ones on the bubble trying to make a team?

I’d tell them to work hard and believe in themselves. Your chances are limited so you have to make the most of your chances. The drafted guys get to make mistakes – the team has money invested in them. The chances you get are slim so you have to flash so they know you belong. Make plays and get recognized.

Also, put money aside and invest it in something like real estate. You don’t know how long your career will be – don’t spend loosely. Save and do the right thing with your money.

Jim Sweeney, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 1996-1999

October 18, 2014
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First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL career and your new coaching job at Albany. What made you decide to become a coach?

It just seems like a natural progression to go from player to coach. Even though it has been a few years since I last played, I was just waiting for the right fit. When my buddy, Greg Gattuso, was announced as head coach, I knew this would be my golden opportunity to become a full time coach. Took all of three seconds for me to commit when Greg called.

What coaches and coaching lessons from your experiences do you fall back on now as a coach – and why?

I have had some great ones. Joe Moore at Pitt. Jim Ringo, a NFL HOF’er.  Bad Rad, Dan Radakovich, the architect of the Steeler lines of the 70’s. Larry Beightol and Kent Stephenson, both long time NFL coaches.  Tried to learn from all the coaches I had.  Everybody does things a little different, but the end results seem to always be the same.  I am no different.  Take what I have learned and put my own little spin on how I want my point to come across to my players. Also learned from older teammates when I was just a rookie in the league.

How does coaching at the college level differ from that in the NFL, from your perspective, and how does your NFL experience help you when dealing with these younger players?

The biggest difference, for me, is I have to learn that colleges tend to defend the field rather than the offensive personnel in the huddle. When it comes to identifying defensive personnel, I am a little bass-akwards.
But, I am learning. As far as relating to my players, it helps having 16 years of credentials. My message to them, “would you rather following someone through a mine field that has read about it or whom has lived it?” I left the answer up to them.

You signed on with the Steelers in 1996 after playing for the Jets and Seahawks. What made you decide to sign with the Steelers in free agency – especially when they were deep at guard and center with Dawson, Strzelczyk, Myslinski and Wolford there?

It was a chance for me to play at home with a pretty good organization late in my career. I enjoyed the fact that I did not have to pack for training camp. It was great for my parents  They only had to travel 4 miles instead of 400 miles to watch a game. Not too many people know, but Bill Cowher was originally a Beechview native.  It is where I was raised.  A little coincidental. The director of football operations, at the time, was my high school coach, Tom Donahoe. It was a chance to be back with him. I guess you could say it would be a complete circle.

Who were the players and coaches that really welcomed you to the team and helped you adjust to the Steelers, and how did they do so?

Jugs(Justin Strzelczyk), Jim Miller, Milo(Tom Myslinski), Dirt(Dermontti Dawson) as well as the Rooney’s, Wig(John Norwig) the head trainer and Rick Burkholder, the assistant trainer and Pitt grad, all made me feel welcomed and that I was one of them.  First thing we did after practice, Jugs, Milo, Millsee, T-Zak(Mike Tomczak) and a few others was to go to a local establishment for wings and beer. A perfect fit.

The team at the time had a potent running game and dynamic quarterback in Kordell Stewart.

How did the diversity of a bruising back like Bettis, faster back like McAfee and a scrambling quarterback all affect how the offensive line? Was it more difficult for you having to block for so many different styles of players?

Blocking is blocking. We like to think our style of blocking enable the backs to create their own style running. we had a couple of motto’s to live by, “How the offensive line goes, is how the team goes!” And,”Offensive line, get none of the credit and all of the blame!” Think about it.

As a Pitt guy, how special was it returning home to  Pittsburgh, and how much pressure did it add to you, playing “at home”?

It was great returning home for the twilight of my career. I always dreamed of wearing the black and gold and this was a chance for a grade school dream to come true. There really was no more pressure than normal to perform. If you don’t perform, at any time in your career, you don’t seem to be around much longer.

How difficult was it for you as a veteran lineman, mentoring younger players that you knew, to some degree, were candidates to take playing time and even a roster spot away from you?

As an older player, it was my duty, honor and privilege to mentor the younger players. It was and always will be about the team and what is best for the team. If it cost me a position on the roster, so be it. That is the nature of the game. Plus, when I was a rookie, the elder statesman of the O-Line for the New York Jets, Joe Fields, took me under his wing. It was my turn to pay back and pass on the tradition

What part did humor play on those Steelers 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?

Humor plays a major part in any locker room. To be able to make fun of and be made fun of by the guys you go to battle with, week in and week out, is a life learning experience. Everybody should experience a looker room mentality. People would not be so PC on every issue.

You retired after the ’99 season after an amazing sixteen years in the NFL. What prompted that decision for you and were you prepared for life after football? Why/why not?

After 16 season, it was just time. Like riding the Thunderbolt at Kennywood, you know when you get on the ride, that you will also be getting off as well. Same as an NFL,or any other career, you know one day the ride will be finished. That is why you enjoy every moment. Prepared in one aspect, my mind, but not prepared, on predicting what would happen in the future. I was still a young man, even after 16 season. Most of my living years were ahead. Like anything, you may have a plan, but life does not always follow your plan.

What are your thoughts about the way the game has changed today, and what would you tell younger players about how o prepare for life in the NFL after having played for an amazing sixteen seasons?

I guess I played at the perfect time for me. There was no free agency and that was not such of a bad thing. Teams tended to stay together. I felt honored that a team, the New York Jets, took a shot on me. That is where my alliance existed. I always loved and still do love Pittsburgh and their teams. Huge Pirates fan. Love the Penguins. I follow all the high schools from the W.P.I.A.L. and where the future stars may go. It was just a great experience for myself to go beyond the boundaries of the city of Pittsburgh and show a different part of the country how we are as Pittsburghers or “Yinzers.” It’s an experience I recommend highly!

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