Ted Petersen, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 1977-1983, 1987
First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself these days?
I’m the Athletic Director and Physical Education Director at Kankakee Community College. We’re about fifty miles outside of Chicago and about twenty miles from where I grew up. I had a desire to get back home and interviewed for the job when the opening came up.
Did you have experience before then?
I was the Athletic Director at Upper St. Clair High School before then, yes.
What coaches and coaching lessons do you find yourself falling back on in this role?
My time with Coach Noll, definitely. His stress of the fundamentals and mental toughness. We were always fundamentally better prepared than our opponents. He was a great teacher and expected that his assistant coaches were as well. That allowed us to impose our will on other teams to get it done.
Those lessons resound in my mind still as I look back.
You were drafted in the fourth round in ’77 – how much pressure did you feel to make the team?
It was an interesting year. Robin Cole was drafted in the first round, Beasley and others before me. Pittsburgh always built itself through the draft and we had nine guys make the team that year. That was a lot for a team that won the Super Bowl two years before.
I don’t know how I avoided the pressure. I guess Chuck just instilled in us – or at least me – a fear of failure. I didn’t want to be the weak link – I didn’t want to fail. You looked around and say all of the other guys playing at such a high level – I wanted to contribute too.
Who helped you adjust as a rookie to the NFL – both on and off the field?
Kolb – he was a veteran offensive tackle. And Larry Brown, Gerry Mullins, Webby, Davis – they were all great guys. They helped me in the teaching process on the field.
Off the field I’d try to keep up with Kolb and Webster and their training regimen. It was the dark ages then for strength and conditioning versus today. Kolb was light years ahead of the league. We’d go and work out at the gym in the Red Bull Inn because our gym was so poorly equipped – that was the status quo of the NFL at the time.
What was your biggest adjustment as a rookie?
It was the complexity of the offense. Noll was such a cerebral guy. The playbook was thick. We had more short yardage running plays than others had in their whole offense. When I went to the Colts, we had five running plays – total. We had twenty-five in Pittsburgh – for the goal line alone. It took a couple of years to really get the plays down as an offensive lineman. The number of defenses and blocking schemes change for each play.
It’s funny. I could get the guys together right now and walk into the huddle and we’d know what to do. That toughness and fundamentals were drilled into us.
When we won the Super Bowl and went to St. Vincent’s the next season to start camp, we’d start blocking by the numbers again – the ABC’s, like we were learning it for the first time. And it paid off.
You had some great seasons your first few years there but then there were ups and downs. How did the coaching staff and team deal with the good and bad years?
My rookie year we made the playoffs and the next year we beat Dallas in the Super Bowl. The year after that we beat the Rams in the Super Bowl. When we lost games, you didn’t look forward to practice, let me tell you. And if you lost two in a row, which was rare, it was like the world was coming to an end. The expectations were so high because of our past performance and the expectations of the fans. They were the best fans in the world – you didn’t want to let them down.
In the 80’s, it was hard to fill the shoes of the Hall of Famers as they retired. Chuck never lowered his standards – the expectations were always high. We just hung in there for better days.
What are some of your best memories as a Steeler?
It always has to be the first Super Bowl. The first time is very special. I remember in ’78 I heard Joe Grenee talking to a reporter and he told him “We will get to the summit!”. That meant he felt we were going to the Super Bowl – that was exciting hearing him say that. I would have chopped off my right arm to win a championship ring in college.
Getting drafted was a great memory too. The Cowboys showed the most interest in me before the draft, but the Steelers drafted me first. Then the Cowboys won the Super Bowl my rookie year and I thought that was my chance! Then we beat them in ’78.
Who were some of the characters on those teams you played on?
Mike Webster was a practical jokester – he was forever doing stuff to other people. He and Furness were good buddies. One time, I think it was on Furness, he lifted the hood of his car and cross-wired the spark plugs so the timing was off and it back-fired. Furness never made it out of the Fort Pitt Tunnels.
I remember we got him back once and put black pepper in his Skoal chewing tobacco.
Bleier was one of the biggest. And Greene did so at times as well. I remember one time he took kicker Matt Bahr, while Matt was still in his boxers, and put him in shopping cart and pushed him into the lobby for the world to see. I’m not sure what the cart was doing there (laughing).
What do you think of the NFL today and the new rules and players?
I was a pretty athletic player – I played tight end in college. The Steelers liked to draft athletic undersized lineman – they loved to draft centers because they were so athletic. They could snap the ball and complete their assignment.
There may have been one guy in the NFL that was three-hundred pounds – and we thought he was fat. We were undersized as lineman but could pull and handle quick tosses to the edge.
What I dislike most are the celebrations and chest-thumping. It’s strange and foreign to me as I think back on those days when I played. Then there was a difference between college and pro games. You can’t tell the difference between pro and college anymore.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I just want to reiterate that the Pittsburgh fans are the best in the nation. The Cowboys had a good following but nothing like Pittsburgh. We felt at hom in the first Super Bowl in Miami. That crowd was the largest crowd ever for a Super Bowl – our fans drowned out the L.A. Rams fans.
I would just like to thank the fans for their support. It truly made us feel special, and that certainly was shown in the way we played and approached the game.