Brian Blankenship, Steelers offensive Lineman, 1987-1991
Brian Blankenship (January 7, 2011):
First, can you let readers know what you are doing now in your post-football playing days?
It’s been twenty years since I last stepped onto a football field.
Since 1996, I have worked with Greer Limestone Company in Morgantown, WV. Greer Limestone is a family owned company that has been in business for over 90 years. We produce aggregates for the construction industry, manufacture asphalt for roads and hydrated lime for the energy industries.
We ship limestone to Pittsburgh by barge from Morgantown to companies such as Trumbull, Lindy Paving, Neville Terminal Services, Lane Construction, Frank Bryan Concrete, Neville Aggregates and West Penn Aggregates.
You played under Chuck Noll in some of his final seasons. Did you and your teammates realize that Noll’s coaching career was coming to a close? What were some of your best memories of Coach Noll?
We had no idea chuck was going to retire when he did. There was no pressure from the Rooney family or the fans, it was a total shock.
My best memories of Chuck was his ability to have a comment on all subjects. We were in the weight room at old Three Rivers and a janitor was mopping up some water that had leaked from the stadium above. Chuck could not resist going over and showing the clean up man that having the mop a certain angle was the best way to remove the water. Always coaching!
How was Brister in the huddle and as a leader? And did you have any early impressions of Neil O’Donnell’s ability to become a starting QB as he was a rookie in your final season in Pittsburgh?
Bubby was a great teammate and friend. He has a very competitive nature and could have easily have played defense.
We had a good run for a couple of years in the late 80’s, but fell a few game short. Bubby went to Denver and won two super bowls backing up for Elway. He also contributed greatly when Elway was injured the
year Denver won their first super bowl.
Neil was just a rookie and was in a learning stage when I was there with him. He was smart and a good guy to be around. His future success was not a surprise to me.
You had 5 seasons in the NFL -all with the Steelers. What did you feel were the strongest and weakest elements of your game and why did you decide to leave the game after the 1991 season?
My speed, quickness, and attitude carried me as far as i could go in football. I was forced to retire in 1992 because of a neck injury.
There was a great deal of talent on the the early 90’s teams – from Woodson and Lloyd to Lipps, Dawson, Foster, etc.
What do you think were the missing piece(s) to the team that stopped them from being stronger contenders?
We had the top rated defense in 1989 under Rod Rust.
We went to Houston that year in the playoffs and upset the Oilers in overtime and the next week went to Denver. We lost to the Broncos by 1 point. In the Denver game, Bubby hit Mark Stock in the chest at the Denver 27 late in the game , and the passed bounced of his chest.
Gary Anderson could have made that kick and it was on to Cleveland, but we never got the chance.
The next season, Rod Rust left and Joe Walton became our offensive coordinator and we never felt comfortable in the offense. Joe was successful in Washington with that offense, but we never got the team on the same page in the ‘burgh.
Craig Wolfley in our interview with him spoke a great deal about rookies having to earn their stripes on those Steelers teams -and how the veterans made them do so. How did you have to earn the respect of the veterans - any examples of ways in which they had you do so?
By your play.
In my rookie year in my first practice at training camp, the Oklahoma drill was a defining moment. I went up against a guy named Duey Forte, 6’5″ and 325 pounds and the strongest guy in camp. The whistle blew and I put him on his back. Mike Webster came over to me and said “iI don’t know who you are or where you came from, but you keep that up you will play somewhere”.
That was all I needed to hear. Those who are truly good at their craft are comfortable enough to help younger guys improve because they appreciate the game that much and want to see perfection no matter where or how it is achieved.
How was it going up against the likes of Lloyd, Willis, Dunn and Cole in practices? Who was the toughest guy you lined up against in practice?
Don’t forget about Hardy Nickerson. He was one of the best.
There’s a great deal of concern among former players on NFL benefits. Many players - including a number of Steelers - have had a great need for surgery/rehab/therapy due to the effects of the game, but can’t afford it under the NFL’s current benefits package. What are your thoughts on this and how can the NFL improve their support for veterans in need of help?
In 1991, in the fourth game of the season against the Patriots I injured my neck. On the following Monday I went to Joe Maroon’s office for an MRI and later that morning I found out I could no longer play.
I called my agent and told him the news. He asked me if I had signed my new contract that we had verbally agreed on Saturday before the New England game. I told him i had not and he said get over there and sign it before they found out about the injury.
I told him i was going to see Dan Rooney before I sign anything. I knocked on Mr. Rooney’s door and informed him of my prognosis and he was very kind and gave me praise for my short five year career. He said that he was sorry and would do whatever he could to make sure I was ok. I asked him about the new contract and he told me the deal was agreed to on Saturday and to get my butt across the hall and get it taken care of.
That was my proudest moment as a Steeler.
The new collective bargaining agreement has a bunch of lawyers and agents who could really care less and get in the way of team owners like the Rooneys. I hope the season is played and the rest is out of my hands.
If you could offer one piece of advice for rookies now, what would that be?
Savor the flavor but don’t hold on to tight.
As Chuck always said, “prepare for your life’s work, because your only a play away from it”.