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Terry Hanratty, Steelers Quarterback, 1969-1976

October 30, 2011
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Terry Hanratty:

First, can you tell readers what you are up to these days – how you are enjoying your retirement?

I’m retired – worked on Wall Street for thirty years. Now I raise money for funding a hedge fund. It’s related to what I did on Wall Street. Didn’t want to keep trading and get up at five am every day. Get’s tiring….

I can’t ever fully retire. You’ve got to stay busy – three guys in my old firm and I work together now with the hedge fund business – it’s a natural progression.

How exciting it’s been watching your children find their own successes in sports?

My son Conor is a freshman at Notre Dame. It’s “Conor” – with one N! I got it from the book Trinity. I called the Irish embassy in New York and asked them the correct spelling. A wonderful Irish woman with a great Irish brogue told me it was with “one N” (laughing).

Conor is doing real well. He’s a 2nd team freshman – he’s 6’5″, 315 pounds – he’s a big boy. Notre Dame has a very good offensive line – good senior backups at offensive guard and tackle – so unless there were a lot of injuries he’s going to be redshirted.

It’s funny, on a side note. People blame Notre Dame for all that’s happening with the Big East. It’s crazy, like we have that much power…

My daughter is a basketball player in high school. She could be very good too.

Being from Western PA high, how exciting was it for you getting drafted by the  Steelers –  was it a team you wanted to play for or were you worried about their poor performances in prior years?

It was really neat. I couldn’t work for a better organization. The Rooneys were the salt of the earth.

There were definite issues. But being 1-13 my rookie year didn’t bother me. I was Noll’s second ever pick – Chuck had a plan. He doesn’t get enough credit.

There were horrible facilities then.  Things changed when he got in. He installed a weight room – we never had one. No more horse shit on the field – we used to have receivers catch balls and land in that stuff. It was just really wrong.

The locker room was an old house. We got our ankles taped up on the second floor and took showers in the basement. There were four shower heads and the water would go up to our ankles. I just ended up going home to shower so I didn’t catch a disease.

How was that first season under Noll? While you were a rookie, what did you notice about the way the team was adjusting to his style of coaching?

Chuck had final say. His drafting was the key. There were seventeen rounds then – and he got really good players in the late rounds – ones that were great players. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves for drafting.

He had twenty-two losses his first two seasons – but the team now had structure. He left that structure in place for Cowher then Tomlin. Now those guys are just using the structure Noll put in place.

Did you have anyone help mentor you as a rookie?

No – Kent Nix and Dick Shiner were there. I ended up starting halfway through my rookie season. It was just survival that first year. We started off on a high note winning the first game versus Detroit then lost the next thirteen…

By year two, I was the seasoned veteran at quarterback!

How did the team take to Coach Noll and his changes early on?

When you go to the pro ranks, when you are that bad, you expect lots of changes. Players just kept their head down and hoped for the best. You share locker rooms and eat together – you form immediate friendships and feel bad for those guys.

Roy Jefferson was the guy that fought him a lot. They had a rule – no cars could park in the circle of the dorm at St. Vincents. Well, Roy would park there every day just to piss Chuck off. He’d yell at the quarterbacks if they missed passes, asking them “Who are you?” You knew it wasn’t going to end well with him – and he was eventually traded to Baltimore.

How did he win over the players?

Chuck got the best out of everyone except Roy though. He had a quiet strength about him. I never remember him raising his voice – even in the locker room. He was a “thought man” – there was always a reason for everything.

It’s interesting. Back then quarterbacks called their own plays. Chuck gave me as a rookie full reign – I thought that was great. Now, quarterbacks get the plays sent in their helmets. They may watch film, but they don’t call their own plays and don’t watch the film like we did.

Me, Terry and Joe would all watch film and game plan together with Chuck and the quarterback coach. There were no offensive coordinators. We all got involved

How were the training camps then?

Camp was real tough. I took my son a few years ago to see the Steelers camp – it was Tomlin’s rookie year. I couldn’t believe how little action there was. Players were complaining how hard it was under Tomlin too –  no more popsicle breaks like Cowher used to give them.

There’s so little hitting now. We hit all the time in practice. When we were there all the hitting we saw was with the running back-linebacker drills.  We ran all the time. – most of us went to camp to get into shape. Now those guys work out all year long. The only guy doing running was Polamalu doing wind sprints on his own.

Chuck’s camps were brutal. People were knocking each other out.

Are the changes a good thing, do you think?

They are a good thing, You can’t afford injuries now – can’t afford to get players hurt. Even in college. When I was in school there were thirty-five scholarships – now there are twenty-five. Even in college you can’t afford injuries now. The only hitting now is in high school.

Much has been made of the quarterback battle between you and Terry Bradshaw. How competitive were the both of you and how did Coach Noll handle the battle?

It was bizarre. We all prepared like we were going to start. There were times when Terry stunk it up and got booed and I came in. Then I’d stink it up and Terry would go in…

I think if Chuck could do it over he’d have made a decision sooner. I was the studier – things didn’t bother me as much.

Did the three of you get along?

Oh yeah – we got along famously. Terry and I roomed together. We did a lot better than people thought we did. Terry used to come to my house for Thanksgiving – I was in his second wedding with JoJo.

I remember one of the Pittsburgh papers had a contest – name your starting quarterback.  They were having fun with this thing. So I was going to take out an ad – it cost $240. Rooney heard about it and said “Run the ad – I’ll cut the check.”

The ad was my own contest – name your favorite sportswriter – with all the writers from that paper listed. I included a write-in on the ballot – porn-star Linda Lovelace. She won!

Your last start in the NFL came against the Steelers, interestingly enough. How did that feel making a start against your old team, and how were you received by the fans?

My last start was “lovely”….If you thought you heard booing for a 1-13 season…

Chuck released me and I went on to play for Tampa Bay. I was having steak with John McKay and he said “Terry, I have a great idea. We’re going to start you against your old teammates!” Great..

So that week we have a phone call for the radio – me, Myron Cope and Lambert. Myron asked what we had in store for the Steelers – I told Jack we had a special plan – ten special quarterback sneaks so I could run right at Jack. Jack laughed at that one.

In the game, we never passed the fifty in the first half. They were on me in two steps. L.C., Joe and Jack just sort of laid me down. McKay told the backup quarterback Steve Spurrier to go in the second half. They kicked the shit out of him. Steve came to the sidelines and yelled at me – “You SOB – your boys took care of you!”

How hard was it for you going back?

It was tough. Those were great teams and great guys. It was like going home week. People ask me if there was free agency, would I have gone elsewhere to try to start or stayed as a backup in Pittsburgh. I really don’t know. Those were just great guys – and great owners. I mean, what other team has just three coaches since 1969? It’s incredible. Some of these new owners, some who probably want to be coaches, should sit down with the Rooneys for a few weeks to see how it’s done.

People probably realize it, but it’s a family-owned business that really has the public in mind. They are charitable to the Pittsburgh community, they have a great facility and stability in the franchise.

In your time in the NFL, have you heard any other franchise get spoken of in the same way?

Surprising to some, but Oakland is the only other team that comes close. I know {former Raider} George Atkinson through his kids that play ball with my son. He said Al was a great guy – the players loved him. Al had more chicanery than the Rooneys probably cared to have, but he was a great guy who loved his players. It’s poetic justice that the final vote for the CBA was 31-1 – the only no being Al’s. Even on his death bed he still went against everyone.

George by the way said Al’s son will take over the franchise. I didn’t even know he had a son, but that’s great.

What should fans know about you – and how do you think they should remember you?

I kept the team loose.

For example, everyone was afraid of Lambert. Here was this mean, bar-fighting guy from Kent State. But he was a rookie and I wasn’t going to let him get away with that.

Every day Lambert would walk into the locker room and glare at me as I smoked my cigarette and had my coffee, then go to his locker. Well, one day he put his shoulder pads on and out dumped two cups of water on his head. I put the two cups in his shoulder pads.

This went on for three days in a row- every day he’d do the same thing and the water would dump on his head. On the fourth day, I went up to Jack and said “You dumb SOB, you’re getting boring! Check your shoulder pads next time!” The fifth day he checks his pads – no water. He looks at me with this big grin like he just won something. The next day, he puts on his pads, and dumps another two cups of water on his head (laughing).

Another time with Lambert. In practice we’re lining up across from one another and I blow a kiss at him. So he yells across the field to Chuck “Chuck – Hanratty just blew a kiss at me!” Well, he realized as soon as he did it what he said, and everyone started laughing – even Chuck!

I got Noll too. When we first went to Three Rivers stadium, there were no places to eat around there. We had to get there really early to watch film. So Preston Pearson, who was our player rep at the time, went to the Rooneys and asked for them to provide the players food. They got us burgers, soups and stuff. Chuck hated the idea – he hated anything extra for the players. He told us that we better not get sleepy and tired eating all this food.

So in practice, during stretches, as we’re all on our backs, Chuck walks by. I started snoring and pretending to be asleep. I don’t think Chuck liked that (laughing).

Chuck’s not in good shape now, I hear. We should all be thinking of him right now….

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 2, 2012 3:01 pm

    great read – luv’d Terry H – great team jokester and solid backup

  2. January 2, 2012 3:26 pm

    Terry was a real cut up off the field and a good player on – he managed a clipboard for years similar to Charlie Batch…he was the Batch of yesteryear…good article!

  3. Bradshaw's Index Finger permalink
    January 4, 2012 7:19 am

    Wow..best interview out of all these great interviews you have here..really enjoyed this one.

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