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Ray Pinney, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 1976-1982, 1985-1987

November 27, 2011

Ray Pinney:

First, can you let readers know what you are doing now with your post-football career and how you chose that direction?

I am an insurance broker with Wells Fargo Insurance Services in Seattle WA. Seattle is my hometown and wanted to stay in the area and the insurance business allowed me that flexibility.

What were your thoughts after having been drafted by the Steelers – was there any added feeling of intimidation knowing they were a Super Bowl team in a frenzied football city?

Firstly, I was very thankful that I was drafted by the Steelers because they are a great organization and it was a good fit for me. When I was growing up in Seattle, we didn’t have a pro football team locally so I had to follow other teams on the west coast like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

While I knew the Steelers were the two time defending Super Bowl champions when they drafted me, I didn’t really understand the strong following the team had in the community or how avid the Pittsburgh fans were for the Steelers.

Craig Wolfley in our interview with him spoke a great deal about rookies having to earn their stripes on those Steelers teams – and how the veterans made them do so. How did you have to earn the respect of the veterans – any examples of ways in which they had you do so?

There definitely was some undefined process where you had to prove your self; maybe it was on the field, in the locker room, or off the field. There were so many talented players, I was just hoping to contribute somehow and earn a spot on the team.

You left the Steelers and won a championship for the Michigan Panther of the USFL – then returned to the Steelers. What made you decide to leave the NFL and how accepting was the Steelers organization when you first approached them about returning?

Leaving the Steelers was difficult because of our success and I really liked the ownership, my coaches and fellow players. I left for three years to play in the USFL after the 1982 NFL season. The reason I left was I doubled my salary. It seemed like an easy decision for me at the time.

Looking back on things, I think I made the right decision. When the USFL ended, I rejoined the Steelers for the 1985 NFL season. I guess the Steelers felt I could still contribute to the team and ended up playing three more seasons with them.

In 1985, my year with the Michigan Panthers of the USFL started training camp in Phoenix, AZ in January. I went through pre-season, an entire 16 game regular season and the to the championship game. Then in the Fall of 1985 after the USFL went bankrupt, I rejoined the Steelers playing all but two of the NFL games that season.

Between the two leagues, I played about 38 games in 1985 and it took a toll on my body. That was definitely to much football in one year.

What did you feel were the strongest and weakest elements of your game and how hard was it to eventually decide to leave the game?

While I wasn’t the strongest player on the line, I always played to the whistle, could pass protect and hustled. I was fortunate to have good line coaches (Bad Rad & Rollie Dotsch) who helped me fit my talents to what the team needed. I trained hard in the off season and was always in shape for training camp.

I was a good role player on a team with 10 or so Hall of Fame players. I really looked up to guys like Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster, Jerry Mullins, Larry Brown, Sam Davis, Jon Kolb and learned from them how the play the game.

Leaving the game was an easy decision make because physical considerations. It is a young man’s game and after 13 seasons and at the age of 33, my playing time was up. Even emotionally, I was ready for a change.

Chuck Noll, who I thought was a great coach, always said in our team meetings when a player was having performance issues and not playing well he said “it might be time to get into your life’s work” meaning that your playing career might be over with the Steelers or the NFL if your on-the-field playing performance didn’t improve. I really took his comments to heart and realized I would have to do something else when my playing days ended, so I had post-football plans lined up. It was still difficult leaving the game. I especially missed all of the camaraderie of the guys and excitement of game day.

How was it going up against the likes of Greenwood, Greene, Holmes and White in practices? Who was the toughest guy you lined up against in practices?

It was rare that we practiced in “game” type conditions against our own D-line, thankfully, because they were outstanding as a unit. The thing I remember most was on Friday’s we would practice goal line situations. Our offense would practice against our #1 defense and “show” them what types of plays the opposing team runs in goal line situations. Most teams run two tight ends on the goal line and I was placed at tight end for blocking purposes on the “show” team. Normally, the opposing team would throw to the tight end and I would have a chance to catch a touchdown pass against the first team defense. Early in the season I caught of couple of passes in this drill and celebrated this event in the end zone.

After a couple more TD catches and celebrations in subsequent weeks, Jack Lambert had seen enough. The next week when I caught another TD pass in the drill, he put a huge hit on me. This first thing I remember is getting up off the ground and trying to find my helmet which was no longer on my head.

In the same vein, who was the toughest non-Steeler you ever lined up against?

The toughest types of defensive line players to play against for me were guys that were both strong and fast. They could run over you or run around you! Guys like Bruce Smith and Reggie White.

With all of the talent on the offense you played on, how were egos kept in check – especially as the team found more success? Was there any friction and who kept all in check?

We were very fortunate to have a lot of talent on the team and seemed to make it work on the field. I credit the coaches and captains for that.

The game has changed a great deal over the years. What are your thoughts on those changes and are they for the better or worse, in your opinion?

 The money and attention the players get are the two biggest changes I see. There’s a great deal of concern among former players on NFL benefits. Many players – including a number of Steelers – have had a great need for surgery/rehab/therapy due to the effects of the game, but can’t afford it under the NFL’s current benefits package.

What are your thoughts on this and how can the NFL improve their support for veterans in need of help?

I think the new collective bargaining agreement addressed many of these issues and players are getting more from the bargaining process than we did before.

If you could offer one piece of advice for rookies now, what would that be?

Enjoy the journey and save your money because your career may be over after your next play.

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