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Marv Kellum, Steelers Linebacker, 1974-1976

December 18, 2011
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Marv Kellum:

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

I’ve been retired for two years now. I was in the Carpenters Union for thirty years.  I bought a couple of houses and remodeled and resold those and am fixing one up for my son now. I’m catching up on the work I promised my wife I’d do on the house twenty years ago!

As Chuck said, I’m getting on with my life’s work. I’m lucky to have gotten set up in the Carpenters Union. I did work as a carpenter in my high school and college days and had been with the same company since I started working after football.

You’re also involved in various golf tournaments?

I work with two charitable gold outings. I’ve been doing the first for three years and it keeps getting bigger. It benefits the Woodland Hills Foundation – which is a home for disabled kids – and for amputees.

The second is for the United Way in Butler. I got involved in that one four-to-five years ago, and I’m basically responsible for getting celebrities there. A lot of us former players still live in the area – like Andy Russell – and we help each other out. I’m retired so it’s a little easier for me.

You were an undrated free agent in ’74 – how did you make the team when the team was so deep at linebacker?

I played at Wichita State – I got there the year thirty guys perished in the plane crash. They were limited then with players of course- I actually got there on a football and track scholarship and excelled in the long jump. But I put on twenty pounds for football so the long jump was over with (laughing).

I started as a freshman as a defensive back but played defensive line, linebacker and even some defensive tackle. They were hurting with the number of players on the team of course. I remember four of us my senior year made the pros.

Did you know the Steelers were interested in you?

I knew the Steelers were looking at me. Lionel Taylor came down to interview me. Dallas was interested to. When Lionel talked to me after the draft I jumped at the chance to sign with the Steelers. I thought I had made the team! I didn’t realize about all the camp stuff.

I remember after that going to the barber to get my hair cut. He started telling me about all the great linebackers on those Steelers teams and told me he’d see me back next week (laughing). I got mad at him and almost walked out!

How did you make the team?

It was the year of the strike . We had two-a-days and I remember Chuck being pissed about the strike. I didn’t know how to play linebacker really. Coach Woodenhofer used to make fun of me. I didn’t know positioning – how to stand. He just would laugh and tell me I didn’t know what I was doing.

After the strike, we went back to two-a-days again. It was really hot – I didn’t think I was going to make the team – there were a lot of good linebackers in camp. A couple quit though -they couldn’t take it. It came down to me and a running back. I remember walking by the trainers area and past Berlin. I didn’t want to look at him. I was sort of waiting around and I guess he sensed someone around and looked at me. I just stood there waiting for the news but then he just got back to doing something.

My name was still on my locker when I went back. I realized I made the team. I wanted to start celebrating, but there was no celebration. We just went back to practice.

What do you think convinced them to keep you?

I did make quite a few plays that last week of practice. When the veterans were in, I intercepted a couple passes from Bradshaw in practice. I think that raised some eyebrows. I remember some of the praise after that – some “Good jobs”.

After I made the team I was roommates with Lambert on the travelling teams.

What was that like?

We got along well. He was intense but a helluva player. We went out together and had a few beers together and did things we can’t tell anyone about now (laughing). Typical twenty-one years have a couple of beers and having fun.

How did you deal with the stress of no job security and constantly vying to make the team?

I remember one preseason game on special teams, where my job was to contain on kick offs. Of course, everyone wants to make a tackle on special teams, so I went inside to make the tackle and the guy juked and ran outside for twenty-yards.

Woodenhofer came up to me and told me not to do it again – that Chuck watched the film and wasn’t happy. You feel like that’s already a strike against you…you worry about that but keep playing.

The Steelers always drafted linebackers. There was always someone who was supposed to take my job.

Jack and I used to bet each other after a couple of days of camp on who would make the team. There was this one guy- he was strong – could lift a house and was getting a lot of praise. But he couldn’t keep his feet. I was a running back in high school and I think that helped me. It was one of those things I could do well – I could keep my feet.  Other guys would get knocked off their feet and get frustrated.

How competitive was that team off the field?

It was very competitive. These were all guys who were stars in high school and college. In the pros, they all helped each other out though. I wanted the guy next to me to be better than me – that’s what helped us to win games.

We all helped each other – except one time I still joke with Andy Russell about.

He was a veteran when I got there. In practice we’d all do wind sprints, five times on the field in a row. We’d do it as  linebacker group and Andy would lead us. He’d jump out in front and tell us all to stay together.

It took me a few weeks to figure out what he was doing (laughing). He wanted us all to stay together so no one would outrun him – he wanted to keep his job too!

Your rookie season you make the Super Bowl. What was that like for you – how did the team keep an even keel for the game?

Chuck did the same thing for every game. We just expected to win. After a while things started clicking and we just knew we would win every game.

The hype the week before the Super Bowl was different, but we weren’t uptight. For us it wasn’t a matter of if we would win, just the matter of by how much.

What made you so confident?

Defensive Coordinator Bud Carson had a good game plan . We studied Fran Tarkenton’s tendencies – he used to always fake a pass then roll out. All week long Dwight White and L.C. Greenwood practiced not going inside – always going outside. That really affected their plans. With those guys up front, the linebackers, Mel….we were a hard team to play against.

Who were the guys who kept the team loose and added humor tot he locker room?

There was always something going on in the locker room. Hanratty used to put water in Lambert’s shoulder pads every day – he never caught on (laughing).

I remember Bradshaw used to take a squirt bottle with him into the shower and act like he was peeing on people. He did it to Lambert and Lambert saw him – Terry dropped the bottle before Jack almost cold-cocked him.

It was a kid’s game. We loved what we were doing. That humor kept us loose – we weren’t so uptight. 

I remember Preston Pearson on the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl – it was so loud. We were all huddled up and Preston said to us that he’d give anyone $200 if they made the tackle inside the twenty yard line. It wasn’t that it was a lot of money, but here’s a veteran speaking up and being a leader.

L.C. yelled at me as a rookie when I made a mistake that I was playing with his money. It was  a bit of humor but helped show that he expected better.

After the ’76 season you ended up playing in St. Louis. How did that happen and how hard was that for you?

I was playing ball at home when my wife called me to let me know. We were expecting our first son.

I guess I saw the writing on the wall – they drafted Dennis Winston and he was a helluva player. By the third or fourth year, if you aren’t starting you start to know.

I was traded by Pittsburgh to St. Louis about a week before the season started. I was upset, but I was also excited about getting to play.

But boy, what a difference.

How so?

Larry Wilson picked me up from the airport. We walked down the hallway of the office and a big heavy-set guy walked right past us. Larry told me that was the owner – Bill Bidwell.  Rooney would always shake your hand – even ten years later when he saw me he knew who I was.

The Cardinals actually had a good offense – the defense was lacking though. By mid season I was starting.

Did you enjoy your time there?

I remember getting  a couple of game balls – our names painted on them. But we had to pay for the ball (laughing). They would take $30 out of our paychecks. It was pretty bad – the whole season was like that.

There was a clause in my contract that if I played fifty percent of the time I’d get a $10,000 bonus. After we lost a game and were out of the playoffs, I mysteriously stopped starting for the last two games.

Former Steeler Charles Davis was on the team. I told him about my suspicions and he just said “welcome to St. Louis.”

Then my knee started giving out the following season. They started bringing some other guys in and I retired.

How hard was that?

I beat the odds. I realized later that I should never have made that team. There are thousands of players that get overlooked – there’s so little time to learn and make a team. That’s just the way it is.

What are some of your favorite memories as a Steeler?

It’s hard to pinpoint – there are so many.

A bit of trivia. I was the guy that helped cause the first tie game in NFL history. We played the Broncos and it ended 35-35 and I had the interception at the end of the game that preserved the tie.

The opening kickoff of the second half of the Super Bowl – I recovered the fumble. Franco scored on that drive afterwards. I joked with Franco he should thank me because the drive should have been much longer.

Any last thoughts for readers?

It’s humbling. You don’t realize how lucky you are. I was talking to former Steeler Craig Bingham – I’d do it all again for free to make it to the Super Bowl.

It opened a lot of door for me. I have two boys and two grandkids. That ring means a lot too.

I got my first Super Bowl ring in the mail. I grew up on a farm. My mom and dad opened the package and it was awesome. My dad said it sparkled – I told him the ring was over here – the sparkle is the sun reflecting off of the diamonds!

My parents went to every game growing up – they shut down the farm to watch my games. Games then were your typical Friday Night Lights scenes.

I brought my parents to the Super Bowl. I remember my dad standing in the ocean of fans. He got his feet wet in some water there and told me now he lived – he got his feet wet in the West, and now the East.

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