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Eric Ravotti, Steelers Linebacker, 1994-1996

February 15, 2012
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Eric Ravotti:

First, can you let readers know about your coaching job at Fox Chapel High School – how you got started and what you enjoy most in this role?

This is my second year as the Head coach at Fox Chapel. I joined the Freeport High School staff for their 2010 season to help them out and had a positive experience. I thought it would be best to expand this role so that I could have a positive impact on young people.

For our first season in 2011 we only had twenty-seven varsity players. For an AAAA program, this is on the very low side. Nevertheless, we set on a goal to make the playoffs and we accomplished this. Our goal for 2012 is to make the playoffs again and try to take one step further by winning our first playoff game.

What lessons from the coaches you played for in Pittsburgh do you find yourself falling back on now as a coach, and how?

I have been blessed to learn from some of the greatest coaches that have ever graced the game at each level. Joe Paterno and Tom Bradley at Penn State. Coaches Dick Lebeau, Dom Capers, and Marvin Lewis with the Steelers. Their lessons are the ones that have molded me and that I pass on every day with our players.

You were drafted by the Steelers in the sixth round in ’94. What about your play do you think made the team decide to keep you on the roster, despite being a longshot as an undrafted free agent?

During my senior year near the end of the season I had an illness that caused me to collapse and go into convulsions on the sideline during a game. When I awoke I felt as if I had been hit by a truck. I missed the next two games and then came back for my last regular season game against Michigan State. There were no after effects from this, but it became an event that affected my draft status.

The unknown was enough for me to slide down the draft board. I was excited just to be taken considering this and when it was the Pittsburgh Steelers who selected me, I was overjoyed. When I went into camp I was faced with competing with the likes of Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, Chad Brown, Levon Kirkland, Jason Gildon to name a few.

The reason why I think I made the team facing these long shot odds was that I understood the defense better than most and could play all four linebacker positions instead of only one or two. This versatility and special teams play are what helped me make the team and stick around for a while.

Who helped mentor you as a rookie and helped you adjust to the Steelers and NFL – both on and off the field – and how did they do so?

My biggest mentor was Kevin Greene. He and I had lockers beside one another. He taught me a lot about the league and the game from his veteran perspective.

You did get a few chances to start on for the Steelers – how exciting was that for you and how do you think you performed – and how frustrating was it for you not to get more chances to start over your career?

I was fortunate to start a few times each year during my career. I played very well when I did and even led the team in sacks one year for a few games in the beginning of a season. This was very exciting for someone local to be playing or even starting for their hometown team.

I was not frustrated when I was unable to start more because I was on a great team with exceptional players. I was just happy to be a solid backup and special teams player and understood my role on the team. Had I played for a lesser team with lesser talent, I may have been frustrated.

What are some of the biggest lessons you learned as a player that you hope to instill on those that play for you now?

I learned many lessons throughout my career, many did not even happen on the field. No matter the lesson I learned, it always came back to the same set of principles. Respect and integrity were the guiding principles that molded me and I try to instill these into the young players we have now.

Who were some of the biggest characters on those Steelers teams you played for and what made them so? Any examples?

Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland, Chad Brown, Brentson Buckner, Ray Seals, Carnell Lake, Rod Woodson…almost everyone on those teams were a character. Kevin, Levon, Brenston, Carnell and Rod were comics. Chad Brown had a hobby of breeding reptiles, snakes specifically. Ray came up with a trademarked name for our defense in 95. He called us the “60 minute men” and even wrote a rap song to go with it. I think I still have a t-shirt with our pictures on the back that says “60 Minute men”, very funny.

The defense we had that year still hold the single season sack record of 55. I may be wrong but I think this number has only been tied one time since then? That was the year that Coach LeBeau mastermined the “Firezone” blitz scheme, which everyone in the NFL runs now.

You retired after the ’96 season. What prompted that decision and how difficult was that for you?

My retirement was not difficult at all. I had been part of a team that made the conference championship twice and Superbowl once. I was surrounded by great coaches and great players with the best ownership in the NFL.

When I was released I had opportunities to play elsewhere, but why would I do this? I would not be at a place with better owners, players or a better team. If I were to move my family it would be for the right reason to improve our life so that we would be happy, not because of money.

Coach Noll always said that football is not your life’s work and he was right. I decided that business was my life’s work and my decision to retire was the second best decision I ever made. Asking my wife out on a date was my best decision of course.

What are your thoughts on the benefits given to retired players today – has the NFL and NFLPA done enough, in your opinion?

I believe that they have done more than any other organization. This of course is a matter of perspective. My perspective is that Football is a sport where you understand the dangers and make your decisions as such. It is up to you to take care of yourself physically and financially just like any other profession. The league cannot be responsible for you if you have made poor decisions.

Again, football is not the end game and if you do not prepare yourself for the time when it comes to an end, it is your own fault.

What are some of your greatest memories as a Steelers and what makes them so?

My fondest memories at any level I have played were my teammates. The relationships you make when you depend on others and others depend on you are stronger than you can imagine. Unless you have looked across the huddle at a teammate without speaking and you both are thinking the same thing, that is an experience that you cannot put into words.

I could not tell you about the majority of our wins or losses or even my individual statistics, but I could describe with great accuracy the many times where I experienced a moving experience with my teammates.

Any last thoughts for readers?

Last thoughts? In my home I do not have one piece of sports memorabilia from my career out in the open. There is nothing wrong with those that choose to have their items displayed. I have two young sons and feel that it is important for them to find their own way in their life and not have to live up to any expectations others may have since they are my sons. I do not want them to feel pressure and I want them to enjoy their athletic accomplishment without feeling inadequate.

I coach youth athletics as well and it is one of the most rewarding things that I do other than being a father. What I am leading up to is that if I were to give one piece of advice to a parent about their children’s athletic lives it would be that they should not pressure their children to perform. They should just be there for support and do their best to prepare them as best as they can. Whatever the outcome, they should be honest with their children when asked how they performed, but explain their honesty in a positive way.

It is important to remember that making the pros in any sport is a one in a million possibility. With odds like that it is best to try and remember that regret of how you acted towards your child is something that you do not want to live with. 

God Bless!

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