Steve Bono, Steelers Quarterback, 1987-1988
First, can you let readers know how you got involved in the financial industry and what exactly you are doing there?
I always wanted to work in finance and banking and had an internship at a commercial bank the first two off-seasons of my NFL career. It was on the operations side of the business and I wasn’t thrilled about it. After my fourth year (second in Pittsburgh), I went through a Series 7 and sales training program at one of the big brokerage firms. I liked the business, but wasn’t crazy about all the cold calling.
Since my playing days, I have done business development for an asset management firm, a private bank, and an investment bank. I am currently doing business development for Constellation Wealth Advisors (www.cwallc.com), an independent private wealth advisory firm based in Menlo Park, CA and New York, NY where I’ve been for nearly two years.
A few months ago we started Constellation Sports Wealth Advisors to focus on the unique financial challenges facing professional athletes and coaches. This new initiative is obviously close to my heart and aims to ensure that the money earned during an athlete’s relatively brief playing career is properly managed to support a financially secure and comfortable retirement.
How did your football career help you in this work, if at all? Any lessons from the game/coaches or contacts that helped you?
My football career helped me because I earned enough money to warrant working with an advisor to make investment decisions. My wife and I were fortunate to have been introduced to a trustworthy advisor early in my career which was one of the keys to my financial success. I very much enjoyed the process of investing and wanted to be able to offer this service to others when I was finished with football.
The main lesson learned has been to enjoy the competitive nature of both sports and business.
You came to the Steelers as a free agent after two years in Minnesota. What made you decide to play in Pittsburgh – and how did they convince you to sign as a free agent?
I decided to play in Pittsburgh as opposed to going back to Minnesota because I thought there was more of an opportunity. A particular coach, Jed Hughes (who recruited me to UCLA), had convinced me. At that point in my career, rosters consisted of 52 players and a third quarterback was a luxury, so most of us were on the street.
Who took you under their wing as a Steeler in 1987 and helped mentor you and get you acclimated to the team. How did they do so?
In hindsight, this was a team at the peak of transition, veterans from the Super Bowl years at the end of their careers and a number of talented young players who would develop into very productive players. Brian Hinkle is the one person that comes to mind, but there were a number of great veterans (Webster, Stallworth, Shell, Dunn, etc.) that mentored a group of us that were in the first three years of our careers.
You were there as one of three QB’s vying for a starting spot – alongside Malone and Brister. How was the relationship between the three of you and how was the starting quarterback decided on by Coach Noll?
I was one of the quarterbacks vying for a spot, but I don’t think it was a starting spot. Malone had two or three times more experience than Bubby and me combined. Our relationship was fine, but Bubby, me, and a number of others (Sanchez, Gothard, Hoge, etc.) were all at a similar stage in our lives and careers, so we spent a lot of time together.
What did the coaches communicate to you about your role on the team?
I did not make the team coming out of training camp and played during the strike. We won two of the three games, with a close loss to an LA Rams team that had 8/9 starters that crossed the picket line, on defense that day. When the strike ended, a handful of us were added to the roster, thanks to expanding to 60 players (the beginning of developmental squads).
With that back drop, if my role was communicated to me, it was to not be late for meetings or practice and to run the scout team. I never dressed for home games or traveled to away games.
While starting less games than Malone, you seemed to have equal or better outings. Did you feel you had a real chance to start?
I can honestly say that I never felt I had an opportunity to be a starter, even after having played well during the strike.
Who were the guys in practice that were the toughest to face on defense – how intense were those practices?
The Three Rivers Stadium practices on turf everyday were very tough. They were long, physical, and included Friday’s live goal line scrimmages. There were a number of very experienced veterans on defense that were very tough, but Greg Lloyd and Mike Merriweather are two that come to mind. They were young and developing players, but could wreak havoc on the offensive scout team.
What did you see as the strengths to your game?
This was early in my career, but looking back, I knew how to win, even though I did not realize that until I went to the 49’ers. I knew the mental part of the game, how to get guys in position to help the team succeed and how to get the ball to the playmakers.
Who on those Steelers teams were the “locker room leaders”, and how did they do so?
The locker room leaders were definitely the veterans that I have mentioned: Webster, Dunn, Stallworth, Shell, Cole, Ilkin, Hill, etc. These players led by example and experience. Frankie Pollard and Ernest Jackson should be mentioned as well, but they were the comic relief leaders.
What are some of your most fun memories of those Steelers teams?
I have many great memories from my two years in Pittsburgh. We had a tight-knit group of young players and we had fun on and off the field, not many wins, but we knew how to have a good time.
There are many stories that involved Bubby Brister and Lupe Sanchez, but a most unique memory has to be the two weeks spent in Johnstown, PA preparing for the Strike Games. Dave Opfar and John Bruno are two guys that I remember most and they had me laughing all the time.
You had some strong years in San Francisco and then in Kansas City. What do you attribute the sporadic opportunities you were given when you had success when given the chance?
I would say early in my career, Minnesota (1 opportunity) and Pittsburgh (2 opportunities) I was not prepared, other than the strike games. When I came to San Francisco, I learned how to prepare and what it took to be an NFL quarterback. From that point on, I took advantage of my opportunities, most of them in Kansas City as a starter. I was fortunate to have played with a few Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Montana, Young, Favre) as well as with guys who had Pro Bowl years when I was their backup.
What do you think of today’s more pass-friendly NFL?
I like it, it is faster, more wide open, and entertaining. The game is cycling back to a hundred years ago to the Single Wing days, except now receivers, running backs, and tight ends are spread out. The ball is snapped to the Kenny Washington’s of today (Vick, Newton, Tebow, etc.). I think this is the future because of all the spread offenses in high school and college. We’ll see?
Any last thoughts for readers?
My time in Pittsburgh was a lot of fun, but I believe it was a low point in time for the Steelers. Mr. Rooney (The Chief) had passed and many people in the front office seemed to be clamoring for more power within the organization. The team had numerous young players whose success would not be realized for a few more years and some great veterans who needed more immediate help. Unfortunately we were 5-11 in ’88. It took us most of the season to learn how to win as a team and we won three of our last four games.
We went through many peaks and valleys together and made the best of all of it.