Ben McGee, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 1964-1972
First, can you let readers know what you are doing today and how your health is.
My knees are bad – I can’t walk well. I need a walker to get around now. But I feel fine when I’m sitting down and laying down.
Is this a football injury – and is the NFL helping you now?
I’m not getting help from the NFL – I talked to some guy in California but they said it’s because of an injury I had when my knee gave out fishing and it pinched my spinal cord – so they think it was because of that, but my knees were bad before then, so I don’t know…
Have you heard anything about how the new CBA may help you and other veteran players with injuries?
It’s supposed to help but I don’t know when it will. I haven’t heard anything from them.
You were drafted by the Steelers in 1964 – what did you think about being drafted by a team with so many struggles?
I was shocked when they drafted me. I didn’t know anything about the NFL or AFL. The AFL drafted me first – the Jets drafted me in round five. They had me come up to New York to sign but I wouldn’t sign for the money they offered, so they told me to go home and pick cotton for a living.
Then the Steelers drafted me in round four. They called and asked if I would sign and I said yeah. They sent someone down the next day to sign me and the Jets called and told me not to sign with them, that they’d send someone down to sign me. I told them I didn’t want to sign with them – I’d rather pick cotton.
Who helped you as a rookie – took you under their wing and taught you about the NFL on and off the field?
Ernie Stautner – the great defensive end retired the year I got there and was the defensive line coach. He worked with me real hard – on the sidelines I couldn’t always hear what he was saying but I saw him yelling towards me when I was playing. When I got to the sidelines he always grabbed me and pushed me to do better.
What specifically did he focus on with you?
A lot of technique – he showed me what he did – he stayed after practice with me and showed me how to use my hands and to come off the ball real quick and read the offense.
What was your greatest asset as a defensive lineman?
Speed – I was a good speed player. I could see real quick – Ernie taught me how to read the blockers and I got off the ball real fast.
You played under Buddy Parker your first season – how was he as a coach?
He was nice to me – but I never had to deal with him. Stautner worked with me. All the players seemed to like him – he got along with everyone.
How close were those teams and who were some of the players you got closest to?
We all had fun – we knew what we had to do and got along real well.
Chuck Hinton was a real good player. He and I were real tight. After practices or meetings our rookie year three or four of us would always go to someone’s room and talk about what we would do to make the team. Then some would get cut. Chuck and I were the only two to make it my rookie season.
You retired in 1972 – how did you decide to do so?
I told Chuck right before the Raiders playoff game I was going to retire. He didn’t say anything to me.
That was the Immaculate Reception game – Franco scored and we won. Before his catch I took off my shoulder pads and jersey – I thought we lost. Then Franco caught the pass and scored and I said “Lord, I have one more game!”
After the game Chuck came up to me and said “Ben. you shocked me. If you change your mind let me know.” But I didn’t change my mind. Since we won, I went on and played against Miami the next week – I thought the Raiders game would be the last one – that we’d lose. But we lost against Miami- that was the year they went undefeated. That was the last game I played.
I had my mind made up I was going to retire. I had to take a shot in my knee in practice and before every game just to play. I made a mistake in my second year. I had a knee operation and came back after four weeks to play. That was a big mistake.
How was Chuck Noll to play for – and how was he different from Coach Austin, the prior coach?
I had no problem with Coach Austin – I thought he was a good coach. Everyone has their way of doing things. He did some things I didn’t like and I probably did some things he didn’t like.
And Chuck Noll? How did he turn things around?
He communicated with the players – that was the big thing. The other coaches couldn’t communicate with the players.
What did you think in the early 70′s when some of those great Steelers lineman started joining the team? Did you help them like Ernie Stautner did you?
I talked to them and communicated with them. I didn’t teach them – I just showed them what to do and how to watch the ball. Seeing the ball and reading the line was the biggest thing.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I played my best every time. I was satisfied after every game.
That Raider playoff game sticks out in my mind. Next to that, losing to Miami. We had them on a fourth down and they faked the punt and beat us. That sticks out in my mind too.
I always told myself I would be the best I could be – I wouldn’t try to be anyone else. Ernie Stautner told me lots about the game in that one year with him – I learned a lot from him.