Tom Beasley, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 1978-1983
First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself these days?
I’m doing a combination of headhunting for a new corporation coming to America that has a number of retail stores they are building.
I’m also farming – raising Angus beef cattle.
Those are pretty diverse jobs – how did you get involved in these?
In Pittsburgh I lived in Greencastle and had a two-acre farm there. I moved to Annapolis after Pittsburgh and got involved with some guys there and stayed in Annapolis for four years. Afterwards, I moved back to Gates City, Virginia where I am now – in the Southwestern part of Virginia.
How excited were you being drafted by a Super Bowl team like Pittsburgh?
It was very interesting. I was the third pick of the third round. Pittsburgh got that pick in a trade with the Giants. I was shocked. I followed the NFL and knew all about the Steel Curtain.
It was humorous – my first call was from Dick Haley – he was the personnel director at the time – to tell me I was drafted. He told me others would call shortly. About two minutes after that a reporter called and asked me who’s position I was going to take on the defensive line (laughing).
It was an honor to be drafted by Pittsburgh. I could not have gone to a better city or club. The experience was fantastic. I still have lots of good friends there. It was a great fit for myself and my family.
How intimidating was it as a rookie on that Steelers team that was so loaded with future Hall of Famers?
Absolutely it was intimidating. I was the classic example of being the big fish in a small pond in college to being the small fish in a very large ocean in Pittsburgh.
I was undersized at the time I graduated. I weighed 235 pounds in college. I got married right after I graduated and after that, over the next three and a half months, through a good weight program and home cooking, I gained twenty pounds. My agent sent out a letter telling teams I was now 255 pounds. Three teams flew me in to weigh me then sent me back home. It was a couple of weeks before the draft, I guess they didn’t have time to send scouts to verify my weight.
You were there during the transition of the Super Bowl veterans to the “next wave” of players. How did the team handle that transition?
I was told when I was drafted that I was brought in to replace Joe Greene. Banaszak was there to replace Dwight White.
It’s a young man’s game. Joe, L.C., Ernie and Dwight were getting up in age. When I played the average career was 3.2 years. It’s a very short career. Lots of things happen to you as you age. You get a step slower and your body recovers more slowly. At twenty-two, I could play every day. At thirty-two, I wasn’t ready to play until Thursdays.
Pittsburgh had additional picks due to trades. They were obviously looking down the road to replace the Hall of Fame and All-Pro players. Chuck was very proactive – he wanted us to get used to the system and get tutored by the best.
Who took you under their wing your rookie season and helped you adjust to the NFL?
Joe Greene. I learned more about the game through Joe Greene than I did through all of the coaches I had. He knew I was there to replace him, but he didn’t get angry and didn’t hesitate to help me and teach me about playing the game.
How exactly did he help you?
One of the things I remember that sticks out in my mind – was my first opportunity to start. It was for L.C. Greenwood who injured his knee that Wednesday. I started in the middle of a triangle between Greene, Lambert and Ham. Joe was such a student of the game – as was Ham. I saw a level of the game I never knew existed before.
That challenged me to spend the time it took to get to that level.
Another example was in camp. It was the first week the veterans were back. One of the offensive lineman took a cheap shot at my legs. I came out after that play. Joe pulled me aside and said to me “Do you want to stay in this game a while Tom?” He told me the next time that happens, no matter if it’s a teammate or opposing player, I needed to let them know I wouldn’t take that. If it meant kicking them in their teeth or nads, you do what it takes.
What else did you learn from Joe Greene?
Through extensive study of film, Joe had a knack for reading plays and personnel.
Against Buffalo early in my second year, Dunn was out with an injury. In warm ups someone stepped on Furness’ ankle so he couldn’t play. So I ended up playing left end.
In that game, Joe called out the blocking schemes before the ball was snapped by reading the linemen;. It totally changed the dynamic of the game. Learning those things – they add up. Those details make all the difference.
What were the hardest adjustment for you to the NFL game?
First, how much faster the game was. Things were fast in college, but a this level – it was all cranked up a notch.
The second was the length of the season. It went from twelve to twenty games. Physically and mentally it was tough – by November my body and mind were saying time out. Plus, playing in the North, the cold weather added another dimension to the game. We didn’t have indoor facilities then. We practiced in the elements. There was a time the weather was so bad we flew to Oakland for a game on Tuesday just so we cold practice.
How did Chuck Noll keep those teams focused and continually winning and avoiding the dreaded Super Bowl Hangover?
In 1977, we had more talent then we did in ’78 and ’79. But we had four individuals who will go nameless that had their own agenda and put it above the team’s. Three were traded and one was cut that year.
In the early and mid 70’s there were no huge scouting combines like today. Chuck had a ten times more effective scouting department than other teams. Through that department he found guys like Lambert at Kent State that no one else did. How many teams even knew about Lambert?
He found lots of guys from smaller schools. Superior players gotten with lower picks found because of that scouting department. Those no-name players from small schools…
In the early 80’s to today, there are no secrets any more.
How did Chuck Noll assemble all of that talent and keep everyone focused?
Chuck had a knack for blending personnel. You need a Shell and a Lambert and a Ham. Chuck had the intuitive knack for picking out unique individuals that were different but that meshed well and were great leaders.
How much of a role did humor play on those teams?
When you endure that length and intensity of a season, there has to be a certain amount of humor to get you through camp and the season.
My first year in Pittsburgh there were 115-119 people in camp and 45 slots. That’s intense, especially for rookies and players on the bubble. Humor was a weapon to counter the seriousness. We had sixteen defensive linemen fighting for six slots. And you’re not competing with someone from other states and cities. These are guys you are sitting in meetings with and eating meals with. It’s in your face. Humor helped us get through it.
Who were the ringleaders?
A host of guys. Bleier was a real cut-up. I was a prankster. Dunn too.
What were some of the pranks you pulled?
Well, one of my better pranks was on Lambert. Lambert enjoyed hunting. I had a friend who hunted rattlesnakes – name was Gary.
So, to go back a year, Jack came into the bar that me, Dunn and Stoudt were at. Said to me “Thanks for buying me a drink!”. He was being sarcastic. So when the waitress came over, I told her to bring him a Shirley Temple, with a pink umbrella, and tell him who bought it for him.
Jack came over and “accidentally” spilled the drink on me. I told him I’d get him back for that.
So, a year or so later. My friend Gary comes in and says he’s going rattlesnake hunting again. I tell him to bring his snake box, and a spare one too. He asked why but I just told him he’ll see.
So, we all meet in town for dinner. We all go to Gary’s truck and Gary opens up the snakebox and there are six rattlesnakes in there. Jack hates snakes. He’s petrified of them. So he runs to his car which was right near the truck and pulls out his 9mm gun and says he’s going to shoot the snakes. He flipped out – Gary put them away and I told Jack to watch out for those snakes tonight.
So when Jack leaves the dorm later that night I snuck into his room with the spare snakebox and leave it in there opened up.
When we all met with Chuck the next morning, Jack told him he was going to have me arrested for attempted murder! Chuck told us all he needed to keep us busier as we all obviously had too much spare time. I told Dunn I was getting out of there (laughing).
Any last thoughts for readers?
I rarely ever wear my Super Bowl rings. I’m not a jewelry and gold kind of person.
I cherished my relationships most. The people I met in Pittsburgh were classy people – Greene was a Hall of Famer on and off the field.
You see the misfits that make bad mistakes in sports. But for every one of those guys I met in Pittsburgh twenty-five that were good guys. Good husbands, good fathers, good players. Those were good guys that were talented and did whatever it took to win it all. They put their individual agendas aside for the team.
Then we won back-to-back Super Bowls.