Chris Doering, Steelers Wide Receiver, 2003-2004
First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself since the NFL?
It’s funny, when you play in college and the NFL, it’s hard to find something you’re passionate about afterwards. When you achieve your goals at a young age, its hard to find what you transition to and make up for that money you made.
I own a mortgage company in Gainesville – I started that in 2007. I also am on The Drive for ESPN Radio and, in the Fall, I do TV for ESPN’s SEC contract working the lower-to-mid-tier games as a color analyst.
Have you ever used the NFL and NFLPA career services to help with your transition?
Foolishly, I never used the NFL post-career services to help me. You always think as a player that it’s not something that happens to you – that this season is not your last. If I could go back I would have utilized that.
You were signed as a free agent by Pittsburgh in 2003. How did that come about?
As a player in the NFL, it’s all about opportunities and coaches that like you. I was a later round draft choice by Jacksonville who probably drafted me because I was a Florida guy. I didn’t fit well in the Jacksonville offense, and I went to the Colts for two years. When Spurrier came to the NFL and DC I was probably the only Florida guy that was happy about it and was signed by him. But Snyder made sure a lot of us Florida guys in DC were not re-signed that second season – he was unhappy Spurrier brought so many of us in.
Mularkey was a former Gator – he then brought me in to Pittsburgh and I played there for two years. It was my favorite two years in the NFL – both on and off the field.
What made it so for you?
I was fortunate to play in Denver, Washington and Pittsburgh. Those three – and maybe Green Bay and a couple others – have the best football fanbases. The smaller big city thing and the passion of the fans plus the opportunity to be a part of something meaningful to all of the fans – it was a special feeling.
Who helped you adjust to the team – on and off the field?
I was an older player but not highly sought after in free agency. I didn’t expect to be signed – when I did I ended up staying in the Allegheny Center in the offseason to work out. I met the guys and became friends with them gradually. I became friends with Tuman, and Jeff Reed and Gardocki – some of the more established guys.
The cool part was being in the wide receivers room, playing with Ward, Burrress and Randel-El. It was such a good group of receivers. I knew Hines from our SEC days. I gradually got acclimated and earned their respect. It was a cool group of special people. The friends I made – I think of it fondly. Unlike other places, we all spent time together after the games.
Tell us about Burress and Ward – how were they off the field?
Plex kept to himself – he was stand-offish at first. My first year, in 2003 we had a different wide receiver coach. In 2004, Arians came in as the receivers coach. He approached me – he wanted me to be his go-between between him and the other guys because I was a veteran guy. It was funny – I was the only white guy in the room (laughing). I really enjoyed going out with those guys to the Black clubs and hanging out. That’s why the NFL is so great – it’s a chance to meet people and get a different experience.
Plex was misunderstood due to his shyness, I think. He seems to have grown up more and endeared himself more to fans. When you have something taken away from you as he did football, you appreciate it more. I know that feeling myself after being out of football for a year due to injury.
Hines – there was not a guy that knew the game as well as Hines. I was older than those guys but learned so much from them. Hines knew all the positions – he played them all. He loved to play – blocking to catching, he was easy to follow. He was always smiling. That’s what fans like about him – he’s not one of those spoiled players.
What did you think of Arians?
I liked B.A. I learned a lot from him – route-running. I moved around a lot in my career - I disliked that, but I did get influences from so many good coaches like Infante, Spurrier, Shanahan….Bruce was an offensive coordinator – he was probably overly qualified as a receivers coach, but he had a great deal of experience I was able to learn from.
You touch on a difficulty of being an NFL player – it’s not always glory is it?
The perception is of us as spoiled athletes – that we always have a great life. But I was always the last guy to make the team. I never got to relax and feel like I made the team. That can be a good and a bad thing.
Going back and looking at the preseason – I probably lead the NFL in preseason catches and touchdowns. It was stressful because I always had to play and prove myself. I moved twenty-two times over my time in the NFL and got cut ten times. Many would have given up but for some reason I persevered. That’s what I would love fans to know. For every Plexico, there are guys like me on the cusp – not making a million bucks.
It was fitting for me – I walked on at the University of Florida and still hold the record for the most TDs in the SEC. Yet I was drafted in the 6th round – I always had to prove myself. I wish people would relate to how touch and cutthroat this business is.
I remember playing the Eagles in preseason as a Steeler. It was the fourth quarter – guys my age are not usually playing but there I am on the kickoff team. I was thinking – I gotta block L3. That means the third guy in, who was a linebacker, who probably was 240 pounds and ran a 4.3. When they see me, I know he’s going to try to run right through my face. I’m thinking, this sucks. There’s gotta be a better job for me. The ball is snapped, and the guy runs right through my face. Looking back on it, I would gladly to it again for a chance to play.
I guess there’s stress in whatever you do. What I thought was a tough life – now I’m in the mortgage industry during some of the toughest economic times since the depression.
2003 was a tough season for Pittsburgh. How did Coach Cowher and the team handle that?
I had no predisposed idea of how things were done in Pittsburgh. My timing was always tough. After I left the University of Florida, they won the championship. Denver won two Super Bowls right before I got there and then Elway retired. Then after my 2004 season in Pittsburgh, they won the Super Bowl. I never had a highly successful team in the NFL, but I could tell the attitude was different than in other places.
We never panicked. I give credit to Coach Cowher – he did it the way it was always done, no matter the record. There was no deviation despite losing. It was work as usual. That showed a lot of maturity for the players and staff, even to training camp. You always knew what to expect.
2004, things turned around. What happened that season and what did you make of then rookie QB, Ben Roethlisberger?
I thought Tommy Maddox knew the offense and was a great quarterback. All of the sudden, Ben’s in. He was a different kind of quarterback – he liked the impromptu stuff. As a wide receiver, you don’t always like to see that. You want to focus on making your breaks and not worry about what the quarterback is doing.
I was skeptical – but he turned out to be great. I’m anxious to see how he does with a new offensive coordinator – he was attached to Arians. I was definitely surprised though at the immediate success he had.
Who were some of the biggest characters on those teams – and what made them so?
Bettis and Duce were characters. The running backs were right next to the receivers in the stretching line so I could see them always joking around. Bettis and Duce played jokes on each other all the time.
Porter was the outspoken guy on defense. I remember Harrison too – he was just the guy that had been cut a lot then. He drilled some guy on special teams in a game against Detroit in the preseason – I remember Cowher made a note of that. Porter did a great Cowher impression – he had the facial expression and the chin going…he was probably the only guy that could get away with that.
2004 was your last season in Pittsburgh – what happened in 2004?
2004 was a weird year. You could tell they were trying to get younger. I was inactive for the first game. They brought in Sean Morey then to play special teams. They only kept two quarterbacks – St. Pierre was on the practice squad. When Tommy went down, they cut me to bring St. Pierre up. They brought me back towards the later half of the year then cut me right again before the playoffs to bring Brian up again.
It was tough for me – being in the mix and on the road to the playoffs to being at home watching the team on tv. It was a weird feeling to go from being part of the team to watching them….
In 2005 I was cut again after being brought back in the preseason. In 2003 I played a ton – I caught a lot of balls. 2004 was a rollercoaster year. That’s just the business side of it. It takes a lot of fun out of it. After being cut once, I remember going home and watching a JV football game – it was fun seeing the kids play just for the love of the game.
What are your best memories of being in Pittsburgh?
My experiences with Pittsburgh were first as an opponent. In ’96 with the Colts, we played a wild card game in Three Rivers. Pittsburgh beat the hell out of us. The fans were crazy – the stadium was rocking.
I was intimidated when I first signed with Pittsburgh. Since then, my son was born in Pittsburgh and I have great memories of playing in Pittsburgh. I have great memories of going out with friends on the team – of all of us that would go out on Sundays and Mondays. I enjoyed the smaller feel of Pittsburgh. It was a unique experience.