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Brad Cousino, Steelers Linebacker, 1977-1978

January 14, 2012
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Brad Cousino:

First, can you let readers know about The Mastery Team and other ventures you’ve had since your playing days?

I knew my NFL career would be short (three+ yrs) because I was not drafted and I was the smallest LB (5’11 1/2″ / 210 lbs) in the NFL.  Knowing time was short, I worked during the off-season and read dozens of books on owning real estate.  In June 1977, I ventured out and bought a 69 unit apartment community in suburbs of Cincinnati, OH. 

When my pro career ended in 1979 I went on to earn a Certified Property Manager (CPM) designation and over the next 15 years I managed over $500 million in Investment grade Real Estate including hi-rise office towers, suburban office parks, retail centers, industrial parks, & large apartment communities.

In addition to my past experience in commercial & investment real estate, I’ve been an active entrepreneur. (see Linkedin / facebook profiles: www.linkedin.com/in/bradcousino www.facebook.com/bradcouz) Over the years, I learned to look for opportunities to fill needs in the marketplace. 

FACT: our world has changed dramatically in the past decade and there is a HUGE need to help millions of “baby boomers” who are being downsized out of their jobs.  So my partners and I started a company called The Mastery Team, LLC… (www.TheMasteryTeam.com) which is composed of top tier PROs who are masters about discovering — and then teaching, training and coaching — motivated “baby boomers” on how to learn valuable skill-sets to generate multiple streams of RESIDUAL income.   The Mastery Team’s ultimate objective is to “mentor” and then empower a core team of people around the country to take control of their financial lives by becoming BROKERS of Essential Services (i.e. products / services every small to large business and/or residential customer pays for every month). 

This mentoring process gives people the skill-set to generate multiple streams of RESIDUAL income every month while helping businesses & consumers get better value on products or services they use continually.

What lessons from your time in the NFL – and Steelers specifically – have helped you in this new direction?

I learned the importance of discipline, integrity and character as a member of the Steelers.  In that regard, I’ve tried to use my platform as a former All American and NFL player to make a difference not only in my life… but I sure hope in the lives of others.   As you will read from my background, I’ve been blessed with a passion to encourage people to become much more than they realize…to get them to realize that they need to be willing to strive to reach their God-given potential…and never quit on themselves.  

I reflect on my NFL career and with the Steelers quite often.  I learned so much about the concept of being on a TEAM.  Like how to commit to do your job — no matter what… and then to trust & expect that your teammates are going to do their job — no matter what.   I learned an important lesson that it is critical to understand that not everyone can be the star… but that every facet of being on a TEAM is critical to the end result… whether you are a starter… a backup… a role player… a practice player… a trainer… equipment manager, coach, ball boy, etc.  Very few get the recognition but every aspect is critical to making a group of individuals transform to becoming a world class Champion.  

You were an undrafted free agent coming in to the NFL. How difficult was it for you to make your first team and how were you able to do so. What advice would you give those attempting to do so today?

Not only was I not drafted… but I was a “walk-on” in college ala the popular movie “RUDY”.  As background,  I grew up in Toledo OH and my dad worked in a glass factory.  As a factory worker pay scale, there was no money for college and I needed a football scholarship if I wanted to attend college. I was less than 6” and weighed 185 lbs in High School.  I wrote letters to football coaches begging for a scholarship.

I was turned down from over twenty-five colleges for a football scholarship… including D-2 and D-3 colleges.  However, one letter was sent to Miami (OH) University head coach Bill Mallory and was told that they didn’t have a scholarship available — BUT they did have an alumni in the Toledo area that thought he could get me a decent paying job–  if I was willing to do some very tough work.  I agreed… and that summer I worked twenty feet underground cleaning out storm sewers of the “sludge”, mud & debris that inevitably clog up storm sewers along the I-75 & I-475 interstates.  It was grueling work.  But it was a real wake-up lesson about life.  I earned $5.25 per hour—but that did pay for my 1st quarter of school.

I was invited to Miami’s summer football camp as a non scholarship walk-on in 1971…the last year of freshman ineligibility.  I was initially an inside linebacker… but due to a series of circumstances ended up playing middle guard (nose tackle) a down defensive lineman who weighed in at less than 197  lbs.  I ended up starting as a sophomore and played every game from my sophomore year through the end of college. 

Even though I earned many awards & honors including being voted the defensive MVP of the Mid American Conference in my junior (1973) and senior (1974) years.  I was named 1st or 2nd team on all the All America teams in 1974.  Even though I had a story-book college career… I was not drafted.  In fact,  the NFL drafted 17 rounds in 1975 which included over 400 college football players AND even two basketball players that never played one down of college football… but I was not drafted.  They said I was too short, too small, too slow… and in spite of impressive stats they could not project me as a linebacker since I played as an under-sized defensive lineman.  

The Cincinnati Bengals contacted me after the draft of 1975 and I signed on as a free agent with the provision that I had to gain 20 lbs and get my weight up to 218 lbs… or they would not let me in camp.  I remember that my signing bonus was $500 and if I made the team I would get an additional $1,000.  I played under the legendary Paul Brown – who promised that he would give me a fair tryout… which he kept. 

It was especially difficult because I had to learn a new position (Middle Linebacker)  1975 was my rookie year and the Bengals drafted four linebackers (rounds #1, #3, #7 and #12) with seven veterans returning… (normally a team only kept six to seven linebackers)… and I was #12 LB in camp. The reality…I was the only non drafted defensive player in camp and was there as nothing more that a practice player for summer the 7 weeks of summer camp. 

Was it easy being a walk-on in college and going on to play in the NFL?  Absolutely not!  But I now know that you can accomplish ANYTHING if you are willing to never lose your dream.  I encourage everyone to go after their dream… work hard… never doubt that you can do it… if you are willing to pay the price… then you will have success – provided you just don’t ever quit on your goal / dream… you always WIN if you never quit on yourself.

You came to the Steelers in ’77 as a free agent after two years in the NFL. What brought you to Pittsburgh – why did you think they chose to sign you and you with them?

I played with New York Giants in 1976 and early 1977.  I was a special teams specialist… one of those kind of guys that makes things happen on special teams. I was released by New Your Giants on the last cut of 1977 pre season.  As mentioned earlier, I purchased the apartment community in June 1977 so I was anxious to move back home to Cincinnati.  I was diligent to keep in good shape recognizing that many teams have injuries to linebackers / and look for good special teams players… so I believe I would eventually be picked up by some team due to injuries, etc. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers had some injuries that impacted the special teams play of the kick-off / punt teams as well as kick-off return and punt return.  The Steelers coaches had a close relationship with the Giants and contacted Giants head coach John McVay who strongly recommended me as someone who could do the job for them.   In addition, the Steelers were one of the teams interested in signing me as a free agent when I did not get drafted in 1975…so linebacker coach already was familiar with my abilities on special teams. 

So why did I sign with the Steelers?  Because I loved playing the game… and the Steelers had already won 2 Super Bowls in 1975 & 76… with virtually the same roster in place… plus they wanted to pay me for what I loved to do… play football… with a strong chance to get into the playoffs.  By the way, they did get to the playoffs… losing to Denver who went on to the Superbowl losing to Dallas Cowboys. 

You made the Steelers team in ’77 as a backup linebacker. What was your role on that team?

I was a back up linebacker to Jack Lambert… but my primary role was as the special teams “go to” player.  Every team has 2 to 3 of these kind of players who excel in kick-off and punt coverage.

The fact is it takes a special mind-set to run sixty yards full speed… avoiding blockers… and then launching yourself without being concerned for your personal safety into another football player who is as big or bigger than you — who is also running full speed on a collision course right at you.  It looks easy… until you are on the field and see how big and fast everyone is.   But it was very important phase of the game.  Field position is key to winning football games… so every yard is valuable real estate and more games are won or lost via field position & turnover related issues… which happens most office when you are involved in special teams.

How different was that Steelers team from those you played with beforehand?

It was SIGNIFICANT!  I can still remember my 1st team meeting with Cincinnati Bengals in 1975 and it was Paul Brown’s last year as the head coach.  At that meeting there was major discussion about how the goal was to beat the Steelers.  2 years later, the mindset of the Steelers was “how to win another Super Bowl”… it was so obvious that the Steelers Ownership, management, coaching, etc. had a completely different mindset as compared to the Bengal organization at the time.  In addition, the Steelers ownership & coaches treated their players as family… respecting them and instilling in them the desire to be the best they could be… and giving them the necessary tools to succeed. 

With the New York Giants… they had really struggled in the mid 1970’s and they just fired the head coach (Arnesbarger) and hired John McVay.  He brought me into the team as soon as he was announced as the new Head Coach because he liked my passion for the game and my huge desire to compete.  It was obvious that there were some lazy players with bad habits & attitudes and Coach McVay wanted to make a statement right away by bringing in some players who did not have “attitude problems”.

Who were the biggest characters on that team – and how so? Any examples?

I wouldn’t refer to them as “characters” but definitely individuals who had great, strong personalities… each one was so different yet critical to making the Pittsburgh Steelers the elite teams over the last 50 years (in my opinion). 

These are just a few that impacted my life in a positive way…

Players I looked up to because of their playing abilities on game day… that could make things happen… Terry Bradshaw, Rocky Bleier, Donnie Shell, Mean Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann, Jon Kolb, Franco Harris, (I guess I should mention the whole starting line up)

Players I liked being around, respected and learned life lessons from: Donnie Shell, John Stallworth, Tony Dungy,

Players that were funny: Steve Courson, John Banaszak, Ted Peterson, Ernie Holmes, Mike Webster, Dirt Winston

What about that team and your experiences there would surprise readers most? What surprised you most about that team?

That I was playing with the world champion Pittsburgh Steelers.. and NOT ONE of the PLAYERS thought they were a super star and expected star treatment… and NO ONE person was above the TEAM.  As a group, virtually everyone was fun to be around. The players, coaches & management treated everyone with respect… including the ball boys, trainers, equipment managers, etc. 

There was the normal kidding, stunts and gags that virtually all mens locker rooms have… but it was not mean-spirited or did I see “cliques”… which was why the team was so successful.  The entire coaching staff was EXCELLENT!  Coach Noll was the MAN in charge… and he choose excellent coaches to coach each position.  These coaches could also inspire you to perform at a much higher level than maybe your skill set would allow because they believed in you… and you knew they were counting on you.

While not new to the NFL, you were new to the Steelers and Pittsburgh area. Who took you under their wing in ’77 and helped you adjust to the Steelers on and off the field and how did they do so?

I came onto the 1977 team later in the season when I was released from New York Giants.  The Pittsburgh organization was great…by far the best I’ve every been involved with.  My linebacker Coach ( “Woody” Widenhofer) made things easy for me to learn the system and the club also helped me with finding another player (Ted Peterson) to stay with during the remainder of the 1977 season.  Mike Webster and I hit it off right away.  He was a short, stocky center… and I an even shorter (but not as stocky) former middle guard and we used to spend some time together after practice. 

The younger linebackers such as Robin Cole, Dirt Winston, Dave LaCrosse and I would hang around together since we were all linebackers.  What really stands out is that a small group of the players met many mornings during 1978 summer camp (Donnie Shell, Tony Dungy, Mel Blount, Jon Kolb, John Stallworth, myself and occasionally a few other players) for a Bible study of different books of the bible, such as the 4 Gospels, Book of Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, etc.  Football camp is exceptionally tough mentally, physically and spiritually… so it was good to “refresh” and share from the word of God with others who believed as I do.

You were released after the ’77 season. How difficult was that for you and how was your experience in the CFL compared to that of the NFL?

Actually I was not released after the ’77 season… but I was in the 1978 pre season camps and on the roster during summer camp at St Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.

After I was released by Pittsburgh and I cleared waivers I was contacted by a CFL team… Toronto Argonauts.  The CFL experience was a totally different atmosphere.  Each Canadian team could have only 15 American players… the remaining 20 players had to be native Canadians.  So every team stacked their team with U.S. skilled players… quarterbacks, receivers, linebackers, running backs… the offensive and defensive lineman, defensive back, kickers, etc. were usually Canadian. 

It is a wide open game… larger field, three downs to get 10 yards instead of 4 downs… and the offensive team can have 2 or more players in motion.  It was a real fun game to play… and if you were a U S player… you played every down… on defense and on special teams.  The Argonauts were not a very good team back then.  And the quality of football was not nearly as good as in the NFL.  But if you love the game… and it was your only option… you play where you can.  While I never earned a lot during my playing days in the NFL or CFL… I actually made the most money as a pro player in Canada… my contract was for $48,000.

Why did I stop playing? After playing with the Toronto Argonauts in 1978, I wanted to play in the NFL again… except I was under contract with Toronto for 1 more year.  I could not sign The NFL would not sign me because of my contract with Toronto.  In addition, my first child was born and I did not want to be away from home for an extended period of time. 

In addition, we now owned a 69 unit apartment community so I decided that it would be best to sit out the year and try to get another chance in the NFL the following year.   In the meantime, I needed to start planning for my career, with the help of name recognition as a local “celebrity” I landed a great job in commercial real estate and managed a high-rise office building in Cincinnati… and after the year was up… I chose to retire because my future was in the business world… not professional football.

 What are some of you favorite memories of the ’77 team?

That I had the chance to play with 10 Hall of Fame guys plus under Hall of Fame Coach Chuck Noll… all on one team! And as time has proven, even more special was the great players and the Pittsburgh Steeler teams of 1975 – 1980 teams are considered by many to be one to top dynasties of all time…

The Rooney Family was a joy to be associated with.  The people of Pittsburgh and their fans should know that most cities are not so fortunate.  The reason why Pittsburgh has done so well since the 70’s is not luck… Coaches change, players change, management changes… but the Rooney family did not change. 

They continually choose the right people to run the organization and then the management chooses the right head coach who then chooses the staff… and each level they do not micro-manage but allows the person to do their jobs AND gives them the tools and authority to reach their goals and objectives.  It was so important that the coaches and management treated the players as men… and back in the 70’s that was not the case in many organizations.

Any last thoughts for readers?

I loved playing football… I loved the competition, the concept of what a TEAM really was all about… the excitement of playing in front of hundreds of thousands of fans… and millions of people via television.  I was able to do what very few can do… live your dream.  And even though I knew my time in the NFL would be short I have so much to be thankful for.   As I reflect, I look back to some of the big obstacles… obstacles that made me a better player, husband, father… a better human being. 

I think back and ask myself… where would I be IF I never wrote the letter to Miami University begging for a football scholarship… because that opened up the door for me to work in the sewer… that gave me the chance to be a “walk-on”… and then going on to earning a scholarship … going on to become an All American… and even playing in the NFL… with the world champion Pittsburgh Steelers.  That is a pretty amazing chain of events that has far-reaching repercussions…

I really have been so very blessed.  I have a great life… much of it as a direct result of overcoming the obstacles to play in college and then on to the pros.   I met my wife while at Miami and we have been married for 35 years.  We have 4 grown children who are doing well in life… and recently blessed with 4 grand babies.  Because of my platform as a former NFL player I’m asked to speak in front of all kinds of groups… and share what is really the most important things in life.  I love to make a difference in any way that I can. 

Furthermore, I’m in good health.  I had NO serious injuries… ZERO operations in High School, College or in the Pros.  Nor did I even miss a game in college or the pros.  Compared to many older players I am in EXCELLENT health with virtually no side effects from the game… not even arthritis that I know of.   I had the great experience to play in the NFL… with 3 teams… and the CFL… but the without question the ultimate experience as it relates to football was being able to play with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the era of some of the greatest Pittsburgh Steelers ever… four Super Bowls in six years… in can’t get much better than that!

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