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Lou Michaels, Steelers Kicker and Defensive End, 1961-1963

January 29, 2012

Lou Michaels:

First, you were drafted in 1958 by the Rams – how did you find yourself in Pittsburgh in 1961?

I was drafted in round one by the Rams after they traded defensive end Andy Robustelli to the Giants. I was plugged in as the defensive end from day one and put right in to play. My first exhibition game versus the Giants was one of the best games of my life. I proceeded then to play defensive end and stayed there until my third year when they let Sid Gilman go.

Then they asked me to play offensive tackle. I didn’t want to do it but I said I’d play anywhere. I tried it that year but they switched me from defensive end to offensive tackle every other game. I never knew what I was playing each week. I was finally traded to the Steelers in ’61 for an offensive tackle.

Why did they trade you – and why did the Steelers want you, do you think?

I was also planning on being their kicker. Dan Villueneva was the kicker then but I beat him every day in practice. But one of the front office guys – Waterfield – was relatives with Villueneva, so I knew I wouldn’t have a chance.

The Steelers wanted me as a kicker and defensive end. They needed both and Buddy Parker said I’d be an immediate fix. Art Pappy Lewis was the Chief Scout in Pittsburgh then and knew of me.

How was Buddy Parker to play for?

Buddy was full of intensity. He told me I would be his right defensive end and kicker right away. With Parker, all you had to do was win. Nothing counted except winning. If you lost, you walked on egg shells.

He was  a tough man, but hey, it worked. We almost won a division title – we had three ties that year. We lost that last game in Yankee Stadium or we would have gone to the championship. We were unlucky – we should have won. We made mistakes – lots of mistakes we usually didn’t make. When we lost we went from first place to second because of those three ties…

How did Parker’s coaching style affect the players?

That first season was bad, but by the second season, after he brought in Lipscomp and others, we almost won it all.

If we won, we never had a curfew. But if we lost, we better be in by eleven! That’s the way it was. If we lost, he’d blame his tie, coat, shirt….he cut off his tie on a plane after a loss and threw his shirt in the garbage.

Art Pappy Lewis once came down to a Tuesday practice with the team and walked back to the locker room with Parker. That week we won, so Parker called Lewis and told him to come down to the next Tuesday practice. We won again, so Parker called him again to come down.

The fourth time, we lost. So Buddy called Art and told him he didn’t have to come back that Tuesday! (laughing).

We also never practiced on Friday the 13th. Buddy was just very superstitious.

He threw so many coats and shirts in the garbage. He was a coach you wanted to play for – he wanted to win and that’s what you wanted in a coach. No matter what anyone says, it’s no fun if you are losing.

It should be different in high school though. The kids should be learning to have fun and develop their skills. Too many high school coaches get fired for losing – it should be about teaching kids the fundamentals to get to college and then the main event – the NFL.

It’s sad people don’t understand that. High school should be for fundamentals – how to carry the ball, the correct stance…that’s not being taught now. People want to pass those fundamentals now and go right to the big leagues.

Who were some of the bigger personalities on those teams?

Ernie Stautner was a tough, solid player. He could play all day and never gave up. He couldn’t stand to be blocked. He padded himself up all the time – he taught me to wear shin pads. He worked way above the other guys and stayed longer than he should have. Remember, there were no rotations then – no specialists to give players a rest.

Ernie was the oldest guy on the team. It took him two hours after a game to get undressed – he just wore himself out so much he could barely move. That’s why he was  a Hall of Famer. It took two guys to block him. He taught me the head slap too that he used that was so formidable. With him, desire was the word. Once you have that, you have it all.

John Henry Johnson was a likeable guy – and tough. When he was stopped he pushed the issue. He was a hard-nosed player who had a huge desire to gain extra yardage on every carry.

He was the funniest guy on the team, too. He’d come on like he couldn’t run then would take off. He did anything the coaches told him too also.

Big Daddy Lipscomb – teams didn’t know how much he liked to pursue. They should have run at him more but they never wanted to try. He made so many tackles on the other side of the field. He was  a great pass rusher – he was 6’4″ or 6’5″ – and big at 288 pounds but covered a lot of territory for a big man.

What about you – what kind of player were you?

Well, I’d rather you tell me – I don’t like talking about myself. I’ll say I was proud I could kick and play. If I missed a field goal it would fire me up to play harder on defense. If I made a field goal, then I would want to play harder to stop the other team and not allow them to score.

I loved playing football. I played for thirteen years. When Hurricane Agnes came {1972}, it flooded my house. Green Bay wouldn’t give me time to get my house and family together – so I had to retire. They told me I had only two days to get back to training camp but the house was underwater. They didn’t give me any time so I had to tell them I would retire.

What caused you to leave Pittsburgh in ’63?

I was traded to Baltimore when Don Shula called Buddy Parker and told him he needed a kicker and defensive end. Gino Marchetti retired there and Pittsburgh lost all of its linebackers that year too. Baltimore traded linebacker Bill Saul for me – Shula said he wanted only one player – me.

What would surprise readers most about those 60’s Steelers teams?

’61 was our only bad year. When Parker got the trades he wanted and we came together, we built a great defense. The worst part was that in 1962, I kicked twenty-two field goals because we couldn’t score touchdowns – I broke the field goal record.

It worked out because the defense played so hard. When we got together things worked out – we came so close in ’62 and ’63.

Any last thoughts for readers?

I got to meet the finest owner in the U.S. – ever.  I also met  the secretary who worked at the Steelers front office and married her!

No owner was greater than Art Rooney was. 

He took me to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and to his farm in Maryland. When I played for Baltimore and kicked four field goals for them against Pittsburgh,  he called the owner and told them, “See, I told you you got a great football player!” He took me for dinner after that game.

He loved people – he’d help anybody and had respect for everyone. I have yet to hear one bad word about Mr. Art Rooney. He was a great man, and I’ll hold that opinion to my dying day.

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