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Bruce Van Dyke, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 1967-1973

December 5, 2011
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Bruce Van Dyke:

First, can you tell readers what you are doing with yourself these days?

I’ve been working for the same company for twenty-five years. It’s a construction company and we do stone quarry and asphalt sales. I’m the sales manager for the company’s asphalt sales. I used to be in the coal business in the 70’s – we stripped and brokered coal.

You were drafted by Philadelphia but played only one year there before being traded to Pittsburgh. How did that happen?

Pittsburgh had a new coach – Bill Austin. He hired Tom Fletcher from Missouri as one of his coaches – and Fletcher knew me from my playing days there as well. So, Pittsburgh was working out a trade with Philadelphia involving Gary Ballman and Earl Gros. Fletcher told Austin they should have Philadelphia “throw me into the deal, and they did.

It was the best thing that happened to me.

How was Coach Austin to play for?

Austin wanted to be one of the guys. He had some funny quirks. He wanted all of his guards on special teams – as wedge busters. We only had four on the team and we had to go run down the field on punts and kicks and then play. We were big, slow guys running down the field and all the teams knew we weren’t fast guys.

He also had this reverse psychology idea. When we won, he’d run us to death on Tuesday’s after the game. When we lost, he would take it easy on us. I think his plan worked the opposite way. We’d be losing games and he’d tell us that at least we wouldn’t have to run on Tuesdays (laughing).

He also always wanted to go drinking with the guys and had a prejudiced streak in him as well…

Who helped you adjust to the Steelers – on and off the field?

Ray Mansfield. He and I roomed together for seven years.

How did he help you?

He taught me how to sneak out at night and drink beer (laughing). He showed me how to be a pro.  His biggest help was in pass protection. Teams ran a 4-3 then and the tackle always lined up over the guard. Ray would be freed up to help us in pass protection and we’d always call out to help for help before plays.

What kind of player were you – what were your strengths as a player?

I had a knack at pulling – I could get there at full steam. We were taught to hit with our shoulder and foot at the same time when delivering a blow, and I was able to do that pretty well. We ran lots of traps and counters – they were new to other teams. Counter plays took a lot of teams by surprise – when a running play looks like it’s going one way and then I pull and make my block – it gained us a lot of running yards.

How was the off-field adjustment for you – especially coming from Missouri?

Well,  especially in Philadelphia – we lived in this apartment complex near New jersey and it was all concrete. Being from a farm in Missouri, not seeing trees was an adjustment. But you adjust to it. Pittsburgh wasn’t as bad.

So, Chuck Noll arrives…what did he do to help turn things around, from your perspective?

The biggest thing Chuck Noll did was to bring a highly intellectual perspective to the game. He knew all the fundamentals about every position. No other coach I played for knew that. At some point throughout the year he’d pull us aside and teach us about the fundamentals and techniques -what we were doing wrong…foot positions and things like that.

How did the team handle his changes at first?

After a time it gave us a lot of confidence in him as a coach. The team accepted him fairly well – the problems with Roy Jefferson was the only real one but he was a Coach Austin carry-over. The coaches before had always tried to motivate you – but Coach Noll was very matter-of-fact.

Who were some of the characters on those teams?

Terry Hanratty was a jokester. The veterans were given their choice of first class seats when we traveled for games and he and I would always sit next to one another and play gin. I owned him in gin (laughing).

Greene was an amazing guy. I never met someone with so much strength.

When Ray and I read about the guy, we were going to teach him a lesson as a rookie. But we ran into him and he could about pick us both up and push us into the quarterback. I’d see him just bowl people over in games.

A number of us played poker every night before a game at the Sheridan in South Hills. That helped the camaraderie on the team. We all spent a lot of time together.

In 1974, you were traded to Green Bay. Why were you traded?

Dan Devine was getting a lot of pressure in Green Bay to win. He called a number of times for Andy Russell and me – we were former Missouri guys and he wanted us there. I was hurt in a preseason game and was out for the season, but he traded for me anyway. Gave up a third-round pick.

How difficult was that for you?

I was traded at the last trade deadline of the season. I just missed the Super Bowl. But I was twenty-nine years old and he was willing to take me even though I couldn’t play for the year…

What do you think of the game today?

Boy, the players are a different animal today. They are so much bigger and stronger. And there’s so much more competition – even the smaller college guys want to make the NFL now and are finding their ways on teams.

I see guys like Chris Kemoeatu – he’s HUGE – but he can move. He might not be able to turn the corner fast but he can pull at 320 pounds.

What about the new rules on player safety?

I think  it’s good – players should be protected more. We all had concussions then. Paul Martha and Ray Wenzel and others are in homes now because of concussions. You can’t do enough – especially today with these bigger players hitting each other with more speed and weight.

Any last thoughts for readers?

I am happy to have played for the Rooneys – they definitely are the best organization in the NFL. I really enjoyed my time there and I’m still a Pittsburgh fan – I watch every game.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 26, 2012 12:23 pm

    Bruce was my favorite Steeler up until 1972. I recall the Vets reporting to camp in 1970 and the Football card photographer was there and the players were doing their poses and leaping towards the camera. I was a real production.
    The best part was watching Bruce entertain everyone with his quips and quotes. He just had a smile and a sense of humor that drew me towards him as the player I wanted to be.
    I was sick when he was sent off to Green Bay and always felt for him missing the super bowl the following year.
    In Roy Blount’s great book “Three Bricks Shy of a Load” about the Steelers 11-3 season, there is a story about how when practice ended Bruce and Ray Mansfield would fly up the hill at St Vincents quickly shower and dress and head down the road for some quick beers poured over ice. What a way to cool off after camp, not the way they do it today.

    Thanks for the update, I can see him now in my mind in 1970 with Mean Joe a second year player, Ray, and the Blonde Bomber showing up and catching it big time from the vets.

    The big thing about this there were no more than 20 people at the camp watching. I was with my Dad so I was able to sit on a tackling dummy by the old weight lifting wagon and take it all in.
    I just kick myself because I was too cool to get my photo taken with these guys, my younger brother has them all, Rookie Bradshaw with full head of hair, Mean Joe walking with his arm around my brother and his shirt hanging out. Terry and Frenchy laying in the grass with chewing on a weed.

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