“Red” Mack, Steelers Wide Receiver, 1961-1963, 1965
First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself these days?
I’m retired. I had my hip replaced twenty-five years ago. My left knee replaced eleven years ago. My right knee ten years ago and my right should December of 2010.
More than likely. I feel fine though. Thank God for store-bought parts! Without prosthetics, I wouldn’t be here.
You came to the Steelers in 1961 as a tenth round pick. How much pressure did you feel to make the team?
No pressure at all, really.
In Notre Dame there were no athletic dorms – we stayed with the other students. And no phones in our rooms. At both ends of each hall were payphones. Well, when I was drafted, a guy came down from the end of the hall and told me I had a phone call. It was Fran Fogerty of the Steelers. He was the one that told me I was drafted and told me I should come in to sign my contract.
Well, I go in and they only offer me $10,000. I asked for $12,000 and he said no, so I wouldn’t sign. I called my high school coach and asked him what I should do. He said to tell them I wanted to talk to Mr. Rooney.
So I go back and ask to speak to Mr. Rooney. He came in and said “I hear we have a problem.” I told him I wanted $12,000. He looked at me and said “Give it to him.” I asked him then for a $1,000 bonus because my grandmother needed a new refrigerator. He gave that to me too.
My high school coach told me not to take crap from anyone. He said that I shouldn’t tell myself I’m not good enough – let the coaches do that. So, that’s what I did.
How did you handle being a rookie?
When someone knocked me down I knocked them down. I got into a lot of fistfights.
I was a little guy everywhere I went. I was the smallest guy in Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Green Bay….I had to fight for everything.
You played with Bobby Layne as a rookie. How was that?
I hit it off with Bobby Layne. I was running pass patterns in practice with shoulder pads and shorts.Fred Williamson, who used to be a receiver, was moved to defense and he cold-cocked me and knocked my helmet off. I got up and swear to God hit him so hard with my helmet I knocked him out cold.
Later that night I was watching Layne and some other guys play cards. Layne said that we need to keep this crazy bastard – you never know what will happen. That’s when I knew I made the team.
What do you think you did to make the team outside of Bobby’s help?
The team just had a need for a receiver. There were probably thirty rookies in ’61 and they kept about seven of us. They only had thirty-six on a roster then. I think they moved it to forty my third season.
You played under Buddy Parker. How was he to play for?
Buddy was an introvert and very superstitious. In ’62 we won six games in a row. He never changed his clothes during that time – didn’t wash them once. When we were in Detroit, we were staying at a hotel that had a thirteenth floor – so he made us change hotels.
It was a veteran team. Everything was done in the meeting rooms. Layne, Lipscomb, John Henry Johnson didn’t do anything in practice. The younger guys did all the work.
We had as good a team as the Packers as far as talent went that year, I think. But we didn’t have any discipline. Guys came in half-in-the-bag and nothing was ever said.
How involved was Art Rooney then?
Mr. Rooney came to practice every day. He knew about your family – if your kids or wife was sick, he knew. I don’t know who gave him that information.
Art Rooney got one pick every draft. I was his pick.
I lived on the North Side of Pittsburgh as a kid – four to five blocks from Mr. Rooney. My parents got divorced and I was living in St. Paul’s Orphanage. We had a team and played St. Mary’s – a big school with brand new uniforms. We were a rag-tag team with torn up uniforms, but we kicked their ass.
After the game a fellow came up to us and took us all out to dinner. The next year we went to football camp and that guy was there again. He bought us all new uniforms.
That guy was Art Roooney.
I don’t know if he remembered me and that’s why he drafted me? I should never have been drafted. I had two bad knees – I had surgeries on both in college.
How were the playing conditions then?
We played in Pitt stadium in ’61 – the Pirates were in the World Series and that was a great stadium to play in. Forbes Field was terrible – terrible seats where people couldn’t see and the field was bad. But that was the same of most NFL teams. That was football in the 60’s.
Who were some of the toughest guys you played against?
We played the Giants in ’61. I threw a block on a cornerback and he got up and kicked me in the ribs and said “Welcome to the NFL.” That was Dick Lynch – I played with him at Notre Dame!
The toughest defensive back was Pat Fischer of the Cardinals. He was no bigger than I was but he’d knock you on your butt. Willie Wood too – he wasn’t a big guy either.
One guy I always looked out for was Ray Nietsche. He’d flat out kill you.
When I was with the Packers in ’67 and if the practice was going bad, Lombardi would start the “Nutcracker Drill”. You had two bags around you and had to block the defensive player. When my turn came up I was lined up opposite Nietzsche. Lombardi said to change me out to another player, but I said it was my turn. I tried to block him but he hit me so hard I flew back and knocked the bag down too. Coach Lombardi yelled “Next!”, but I said “Wait. I get two turns!” Well, the same thing happened (laughing).
After practice Ray came up and asked me how I was – and I asked him why he wasn’t worried about that during practice! But that’s just the way he was.
You left the Steelers in ’65 – what happened?
I dislocated my shoulder in ’65. We had three games left and had only won two games. Buddy Parker was fired and Coach Nixon was filling in for him. He told me to go and take the season off.
The expansion draft was that year and I went to Atlanta. But Atlanta let me go and Green Bay was short receivers, so they picked me up. My rookie year as a Steeler, Bob Schneller was a receiver but he helped coach me on running patterns. It turned out that Schneller was now the offensive coordinator for Green Bay. That’s how I got there.
I got to play for the greatest football coach of all time in Lombardi. Green Bay had discipline – everything was covered in meetings. If a guy couldn’t do something, they didn’t run that play. Everyone had input.
My first week I was there I got to a meeting at 8:45 for a 9:00 meeting. After the meeting the team captain came up to me and said I owed him $50. I said why? He said I was late to the meeting and I told him I got there at 8:45! He told me the meeting starts when Coach Lombardi walks in the rom, so he always keeps his clock fifteen minutes fast!
Getting back to your time in Pittsburgh. How was Coach Nixon to play for?
Nixon didn’t have the moxie to be head coach. They didn’t have anyone else though. It was the third game of the season when they fired Buddy Parker and he was the assistant then. He just went through the motions.
Do you keep in touch with the team today?
I’ve never been invited back to anything by the Steelers. The Packers invite us back to everything. I don’t know what the facilities are like in Pittsburgh -I haven’t been to a Steelers game since I left the NFL.
Why is that?
I was there in the forgotten years. In ’61, there were three teams you didn’t want to be drafted by: Washington, Chicago and Pittsburgh. They were still owned by the original owners and were the cheapest teams in football. Until Art got out of the business and his son took over and Chuck Noll came in – that’s when they became a modern team. They got new facilities and paid players. But until then, it was the forgotten years.
Art Rooney was the greatest guy in the world. It just wasn’t a viable franchise then. I remember we went to an exhibition game in Richmond, Virginia. They split us up on two DC-3’s. The airplanes were patched up – not painted. Buzz Nutter was standing on the steps talking to Coach Parker. He didn’t want to get on the plane. He finally got on and asked everyone where the parachutes were (laughing).
Any last thoughts for readers?
Tell them that I got the chance of a lifetime because of owner Art Roooney. He remembered me as a kid and took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity to play football for six years.
I worked my butt off to make the best of it. But he gave me the opportunity. He drafted me.