Dan Stryzinski, Steelers Punter, 1990-1991
First, can you let readers know about your automotive business and other post-NFL endeavors?
My wife started a licensed car dealership in 2002 before I knew her. We got married in ’07. I was out of football in ’04 and a buddy of mine knew her and knew I wanted to get involved with something that would utilize my finance degree. She taught me how to get my dealers license. Then we got engaged and merged our businesses,
Now, we’re partnered with a credit union and have thirteen branches, We help people get loans to buy our cars - we usually have about sixty cars in inventory – or others.
It’s a unique business. The majority of people here are county workers and teachers. They don’t have the time to shop for cars and make sure they are serviced and cleaned and had no accidents.
Did you utilize any of the NFL/NFLPA’s career services programs to assist you?
I knew about them and they are great programs, but I just didn’t feel I needed them.
You started in the NFL with the Colts, moving on to the Browns and Saints before landing in Pittsburgh. What was your biggest adjustment as an NFL player versus college, and how did you make that adjustment?
George Stewart was my special teams coach in Pittsburgh. The difference was how you handled situations. Being able to accept things and moving on. I moved from many teams to start with before landing in Pittsburgh. There are so many players with ability. It’s how it wears on you mentally when you miss a kick or make mistakes. About 80% of the game is mental for us, in my opinion.
You have to have confidence. You only have three or four plays a game as a kicker. If you don’t do well on one play you feel like it’s a bad game because it’s such a big percentage of your plays. Other guys may play seventy plays – one bad play for them is a much smaller percentage. You just have to know the coaches have confidence in you and do your best.
You played for eight different teams over your fourteen-year career. How much of a toll does that consistent movement take on you mentally and is that an aspect of the game that you think fans don’t appreciate enough about players, especially in the day of free agency?
You have to trust in your own ability. Even if you are on the same team every year, there are still new guys on the team every year. Maybe one-third of the team changes every year. When you go to a new team, not knowing the coaching staff makes it even harder – you have to build that trust.
And of course things like moving your family – especially if you have kids, is hard. Basically, in my mind, even if you are on the same team, there are new players and sometimes coaches – you have to trust in yourself.
What brought you to Pittsburgh in ’90 – and what was different about that team/organization versus others you played for?
I had a workout in Atlanta with fifteen other punters. This was when they decided to let Harry Newsome go. There were many teams at the workout but I felt comfortable with George Stewart. He was a genuine, honest guy. Many teams say a lot of things to you but bring in three or four guys to compete…I felt comfortable with George.
Who helped you most to adjust to life as a Steeler – both on and off the field – and how did they do so? Any examples?
Gary Anderson. He had such a great work ethic and showed me how to deal with the mental aspect of the game that many don’t understand. He showed me how to deal with the pressure. It’s different from college – you’re still playing football but you’re making a living too now, and that makes it different.
What do you think were your biggest strengths as a punter?
Consistency. I never had the biggest leg. I practiced directional hang-time kicking. That was my strong point and that’s what the Steelers wanted. Noll and Stewart cared more about not letting up big returns than for big punts, A 41-yard punt with a two or three yard return takes the return out of the game equation – it’s one less thing to worry about. Some teams like to play the odds and try sixty-yard punts, but Noll and Stewart wanted to take the return out of the game – they wanted consistency.
The team struggled during the ’90 and ’91 seasons – how did the coaches and players handle that adversity and was the frustration apparent in the players?
Noll and Rooney, in my opinion – they signed guys with character. We were roughly a .500 team. We weren’t horrible but we wanted to win. We didn’t implode – we had good moral guys with a good work ethic thanks to Dan and Chuck.
Who were the leaders?
Bubby was a great jokester but he was a leader too – he cared about the players. Tunch Ilkin too – he was more outspoken. He’d walk around and ask you how you were – he got to know you. Dermontti Dawson was like that too – the same way. He talked to anybody.
As a punter, there’s more downtime and monotony than with some of the other positions. How did you combat that?
There is more down time, but I worked a lot as the scout team quarterback and helped the team wherever I could. And there’s always something you can work on.
How important was humor, and who were some of the biggest characters on those Steelers teams and what made them so?
Worley and Bubby Brister….. As players, you need to blow off the stress of practice. You never know when there are guys that are going to be released that are your friends. And your contract is not guaranteed – the pressure of performing and not becoming unemployed without a paycheck is stressful. Guys like Terry Long – just the way the interacted with each other helped add some humor…
What are some of your best memories as a player and what made them so?
I was in the NFL for fourteen years and made it to just one Super Bowl – we lost to Elway when I was in Atlanta. It was a great experience and my best NFL memory. That’s the main goal for every team and player.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I really enjoyed Pittsburgh. You wouldn’t believe – I have pictures of me during my Steelers days on my wall and people come up to me and tell me how big fans they are of the Steelers. It’s amazing how many fans there are and all over the country. The Steelers fans are the most die-hard I’ve seen.