Preston Gothard, Steelers Tight End, 1985-1988
First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself these days?
When I retired from Pittsburgh I didn’t really go anywhere. I came back to the family business – we had a water-well, drilling business. I took it over – my grandfather ran it before but he was long in the tooth. We also had a meat processing business and developed some land for housing in the 90′s.
We did a bit of everything really. But the main work is the water-drilling business.
You came into the league as an undrafted free agent. How hard was that for you to make the team and how did you deal with the pressure?
Well, at that time there were twelve rounds in the draft. Pittsburgh drafted a couple tight ends – they had Cunningham, Rogers and a young guy they really liked in Chris Kolojeski. But Chris got a severe knee injury.
Being a free agent, I could have signed with Dallas, Tampa Bay, Kansas City or Pittsburgh – I got offers from all four teams. My agent and I sat down and looked at the roster of all four teams. Pittsburgh offered me the least amount of money imagine that (laughing). But, they had the best opportunity for me to make the team.
My agent said that if I wasn’t drafted in the first three rounds, I was better off not being drafted at all and becoming a free agent, and he was probably right.
How did you handle that pressure of making the team?
I was a walk-on in college at Alabama. I was used to having to work from the bottom up. My high school had thirty kids in it’s graduating class – it was a real mall school so no one knew who I was. Alabama just came off back-to-back championships under Coach Bryant, so I already knew about working my way up. The pressure didn’t bother me. I was used to it I guess.
Who helped mentor you once you got there?
Once I got there it was kind of interesting. I was the last guy signed on the team so Parisi put me in the last locker- the corner locker. No one wanted the corner locker. It was between Webster, Shell and Stallworth and all of their Rogaine and vitamins were in there (laughing).
I was shoehorned in with those guys and it was great. They were able to explain the rigors of the day-to-day life of pro football. I couldn’t get better advice.
What kinds of things did they tell you?
I’d watch their rituals – how they went about meetings and learning the playbook. I realized real quick it was a business. I kept my mouth shut and emulated what they did. It was invaluable information to have.
You came to the team soon after its Steel Curtain days had ended. What was the mindset of that team and it’s players then?
We went through some terrible years. We missed the playoffs all four years I was there. Twice we were one game away from making the playoffs. We won the last game of the year one of those times but needed another team to lose and they didn’t. The other time we lost.
How did the coaching staff and front office handle the losing seasons?
It was new ground for everyone. For the coaches and ownership. Those were tough days there and they didn’t know how to address it – they weren’t used to it. So they beat the snot out of us in practice – we paid the price.
What happened to those teams that caused the drop in play?
I think risky draft choices in the early 80′s hurt them. I didn’t know those guys – they were already gone when I got there. Some of the other guys were long in the tooth or, like Lambert, Mullins and Bradshaw, had just left.
They had a bunch of new talent coming in. Lake, Bubby, Lloyd, Woodson. They were getting good guys when I was there. A year or two after I left the younger talent materialized.
What kind of tight end were you?
I was a specialized blocker. I was probably the slowest player ever to play in the NFL (laughing). My uncle used to say I was slower than dripping water.
But, I was agood blocker and didn’t make any mistakes. I could do the underneath routes and be effective there.
In 1986 I caught twenty-one passes.That was unheard of for us then for a tight end. We didn’t throw much to tight ends – Chuck and Tom Moore loved the vertical passing game – I didn’t have the jets for that (laughing).
But I fit in the niche blocking scheme. Coach Moore knew I fit in with that – I did it in Alabama. I could block defensive ends and tackles. I wasn’t overly strong but I had good technique. It gave me years in the NFL I never would have had.
Who were the guys that kept the team loose through the tough times?
Pollard was a comedian. He always had something going on. Earnest Jackson was like a huge car salesman. His contract was loaded with incentives. The Steelers didn’t pay him much money but he got incentives for everything. If he tied his shoes correctly he got money. I remember he and Rich Erenberg sitting with the playbook, a calculator and a briefcase figuring out how much money he could make on every play and game (laughing).
What happened in ’87 where you were only able to play a couple of games?
In ’86 I had a broken bone in my heel. I played through the season with it – I’m really not sure when it happened. I tore my PCL in practice in ’87. It’s an odd ligament – its in the back of the knees and inoperable really. My knee kept moving and it sheared off cartilage. That, and my Achilles tendonitis was the worst pain in the world.
It all caught up with my career. I was slow enough that the injuries compounded and shortened my career, Still, I got further than I was supposed to.
What was your biggest moment as a Steeler?
When I made the team. People always said I wasn’t going to make this or that. In Alabama and Pittsburgh. But when I was congratulated for making the team it was my biggest moment.
I remember opening the season in ’87 against San Francisco to at Three Rivers. We beat the snot out of them and I caught a touchdown pass. Without the strike break that year I think we could have had a great season. That lapse in time hurt us.
Any last thoughts for readers?
It was a great time. My daughter was born in Pittsburgh. I got married during the strike! People asked me what I did over the strike. I surprised them and said I got married (laughing).
I made great friendships in Pittsburgh. I was the last person signed and making the team is a memory I’ll never forget.