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Dick Shiner, Steelers Quarterback, 1968-1969

January 7, 2013
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Dick Shiner:

First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL?

What I did when I let Pittsburgh…well, first, I played eleven years total in the NFL. Two with the Steelers. I planned on playing another year or two but I reached a point where my back was not real good and I had two Achilles tendons that were bruised. I decided then to retire.

I came back home to Lebanon, PA. I bought a retail beer distributorship and spent six-to-seven years doing that. Then I went to Washington, DC and went into the copier business with Xerox, then Sharp Electronics. That was from about ’83 to 2005. I fully retired afterward – driving 220 miles every day to and from DC was just too much.

Now I do things here and there, part-time. I don’t like to stay in the house all the time- my wife will just give me more stuff to do! (laughing).

You’re also doing some coaching?

In Harrisburg, I’m the backfield coach for Bishop McDevitt High School. I’m helping them by way of my experiences in the NFL. We’ve been very successful. LeSean McCoy, Erin Berry, Jamie Thomas are all in the NFL – and Saleed Williams is at Pitt. In the past ten years, we’ve had four quarterbacks named All-State. Our quarterback now is a junior who’s set all kinds of records around here.

It’s a lot more fun for me now teaching kids than it is watching games! Though I still like watching Eli Manning – because I played against his dad Archie in the NFL.

What NFL lessons do you find yourself leaning on now as a coach?

Well, the I-Formation was started by my head coach at Maryland – Tom Nugent. Lee Corso was at Maryland then too – he recruited me as a then twenty-four year-old coach. That’s where I got my start.

I played with a lot of future NFL players at Maryland. Seven guys on the team made it to the NFL. It was a good group of guys.

I tell my kids – realistically, you don’t get better unless you play with people better than you. That’s what I did. I tell them this story. When I was drafted by the Redskins, Maryland threw maybe twenty times a game. That was a lot then. We were one of maybe seven-to-ten teams that three that much. Well, Lee Corso came to a Redskins practice one day and asked me what it was like. I told him two things. First, that I had no idea how to throw a football. And second, I didn’t know a darn thing about the game of football. Lee asked if I was kidding!

I was fortunate to have played with Sonny Jurgensen. I learned how to throw the ball and about the game from him. Now, I use a lot of what Sonny taught me with the kids at Bishop McDevitt.

Chuck Noll was the best defensive coach in the NFL. The way Chuck played, it was about positioning. And I applied that knowledge as well to the kids here at Bishop McDevitt – to the offense and defense. The way he coached and thought – in one year I learned a lot from him and applied it here.

Nobody taught Shady McCoy his moves. But, we taught him things. Don’t always dance to the sidelines - turn your shoulders and show your speed. That kind of stuff  I talked to him about, and learned it when I saw other guys play. Guys like Dick Hoak, Dick was a different kind of runner – a slasher. I told McCoy about bumper cars, You need to bump off people like Dick did.

All I have done here is based off of the things I learned in the NFL.

How did you end up playing for the Steelers?

I was with the Browns, playing for Art Modell. We tied for the division in 1967 and played Dallas in the playoffs. They beat us 52-10. We played on tv four times that years and were beaten by 28 points or more each time. Modell got mad. I actually broke my ankle near the end of the season in practice. So, he traded all of the guys that got hurt. He traded me to the Steelers for quarterback Bill Nelsen, who played well for them.

Kent Nix was the young starter then in Pittsburgh. The team started slow. We played Cleveleand in game four and Coach Austin decided to start me against them. We didn’t win many games that season, but we were dead last when I took over as quarterback in total offense, and we ended up fifth in the NFL. But, we couldn’t score any points. We could move the ball, we just couldn’t score (laughing).

What was the problem?

Every team that loses makes the same mistakes. Interceptions. Fumbles. Lots of penalties….we had a few games where we had over 150 yards in penalties.

Why?

We were a young team. The last game of the season we still had tape on our helmets with our names on it. We had 87 guys play that year! I’d look in the huddle and didn’t even know our receivers…

The Steelers were a team in transition. Now, that doesn’t mean we didn’t have good players. There were.

In 1969, we could have won at least five games, but we won one. The Giants beat us by a total of six points in two games. Dallas beat us 10-7. Green Bay 38-34. New Orleans 27-24, and the offense only had the ball eighteen minutes i that game and we ended up losing i the final seconds.

They were young kids. L.C. Greenwood weighted only 210 pounds then, but he had to play because of injuries. Green was a rookie – but even then he was a man among boys. L.C. needed time. Kolb was a rookie and weighed only 230 pounds. Sam Davis – he should have played more. I thought he was one of the best linemen we had, and eventually he became a great player there.

When I was traded to the Giants from the Steelers, I remember talking to Fran Tarkenton. I was eating lunch with him, and he said to me, “I bet you’re glad to be here.” I said that I really liked the guys here, but not really. I said we could have won five games and we had a lot of good players on that team. It would just take some time. All the guys they drafted weren’t the same size they were four years later.

Roy Jefferson was  a main target for you there in Pittsburgh, right?

Roy was the kind of guy – you had to just let him go. Like sales people – just let them do it their way. Roy was misunderstood. If you just let him play he’ll do a great job. In 1968, I found out how to throw touchdowns – throw it to Roy Jefferson. He was tough – a running back at wide receiver. And he was a winner – he wanted to win.

Who else stands out from your time there?

Lloyd Voss and Ralph Wenzel – both were good players who just recently died. A lot of those guys have passed away.

I went to a reunion in 1986 of former Steelers quarterbacks. There were about twelve of us and each one of us gave a two-to-three minute speech. I said to them, there’s good and bad i everything. The bad thing about the 1969 season was that we were 1-13. The good thing, was that we were 1-13. Because we were 1-13. we were able to draft Terry Bradshaw. There’d have been no Super Bowls if we weren’t 1-13.

I got a standing ovation (laughing). Now, did it hurt to say that? Sure it did. But i have great memories of Art Rooney, Dan Rooney, and played for people that in tough times still rooted like crazy for you.

Tell us about Coach Austin – how was he to play for?

Bill was a heckuva football coach. Under different circumstances, his success could have been different. He was like Van Brocklin. I played for Van Brocklin in Atlanta and he should have been one of the greatest coaches in the NFL, but was his own worst enemy. He couldn’t forget that he wasn’t playing. The way he was on the sidelines – he got so many penalties. And if you looked at him the wrong way, he’d call you in the office for three straight days and read you the riot act. You could smile at him and he’d think you were up to something bad. But there was no one more knowledgeable than him. He just fought himself and the players for no reason!

Austin – I learned a lot from him on offensive line play He applied Lombardi’s strategy and I learned a lot from that. Keep it very basic. and possession passing.

I had J.R. Wilburn, Roy Jefferson and tight end John Hilton as receivers. They were all good receivers. Running backs Dick Hoak and Al Groh could catch well too. And Dick knew what to do -I’d ask him what to do and he could call a play on the field. Groh and Hoak made no mental mistakes.

Austin settled us into an offense. We got better. We didn’t win, but we improved. I felt bad when he was fired. He gave me my chance to start and I learned a lot from him.

I remember he instituted the hitch route – the five-yard stop. It had just started then. I’ll never forget – Austin told me to start throwing that stuff. I didn’t do and would come to the sidelines and he’d tell me again to do it. After a couple of times, he grabs my arm and says, “Look you bleepity-bleep, either you start throwing those passes or you bleeping rear end  is on the bench!” (laughing).

I stated throwing them then – the message got across.

We beat Atlanta that year – I think we completed eight of those passes. Two years later when I got traded to Atlanta, Van Brocklin says t me, “Hey, we don’t throw that midget-league shit around here. We go down the field!” (laughing).

I liked Chuck Noll. Don’t get me wrong. I gained a lot from both.

Who were some of the biggest characters on those Steelers teams?

One coach – Bones McGinney - he would crack all kinds of jokes. I remember in practice I’d hit receivers in the numbers and they’d drop the ball. He’d tell me I hit them in the wrong spot and needed to find another spot to hit them on.

Losing – there’s not a lot of funny things with that. I went from 195 pounds to 215 pounds. A lot of the offensive linemen gained weight. I remember practicing in South Park. We were all getting overweight.

In the huddle, with Chuck behind me, I called a sweep play. Red right, sweep twenty-eight, Betos! They all looked at me – “What was that?”, Chuck asked. I told him it was a sweep right to the closest sub shop on the hill! (laughing).

Frank Parker was a defensive tackle that was traded with me to the Steelers. Well, Chuck had a new play he designed called the twenty-four Wham Trap. It was a lead play by the fullback, where the offensive guard and fullback both pulled to hit the defensive tackle.

Poor Frank  – I felt for him – the guy had bad knees too. He was a buddy of mine, so after the meeting I went to his room to tell him about the play. I wanted to warn him to watch out for it in the next day’s scrimmage.  I went in to tell him, and he said “Shine Man {that’s what he called me}, who gets hit on that one?” When I told him, he said “What are they going to do to me? Gee bleepity bleep. They are trying to send me to the house!”

Well, the next day Chuck comes in and calls the play during the scrimmage. I told Ray Mansfield that I let Parker know about the play. So, we get up there to the line and we wink at him to let him now we’re running the play. “Geezus!” he yells. “They are going to send me to the house!” All of the offensive linemen fell on the ground  laughing! Chuck asked what was so funny, and I had to tell him I told Parker about the play.

What’s the one thing you’d like to tell readers?

One thing I learned, the longer you are away from the game, the better you were (laughing). I get requests for signings telling me how great I was now!

Dick Vermeil came to Bishop McDermott once to talk to about motivational speaking. The one thing he said that I say all the time to my players, is that when you make it to the NFL, all of them are good players. There are just different levels of good.

I was somewhere in the middle.. To last as long as I did, I had to stay in good standing, learn the game, and be capable of playing.

If I were to sum up my career in one sentence, I’d say that I was on of the fifty-two best at what I did in the world. For eleven years!

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