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Gary Dunn, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 1976-1987

February 19, 2012
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Gary Dunn:

First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself these days and about your bed and breakfast in Ocean View Florida?

What I am doing right now…I’m basically semi-retired. I own the Ocean View Inn and Sports Pub in the Florida Keys (http://www.theocean-view.com/gallery?start=40) now. I have a full-time manager who runs it  – I’m not in the every day of things but I oversee it.

How did you get started in the business?

When I was done with football I didn’t work for a year. I didn’t have enough money to not work, so I had to go work and got a job with Annheiser Busch distribution in Florida. It was my first taste of a real job (laughing). I had to be there every day at a certain time. I thought it would be a really good job – I was the national accounts manager for all the chain accounts. I was the go-between guy who dealt with the problems.

I had an expense account and thought it would be great –  taking clients to ball games. All of the sudden I’m finding myself cleaning beer coolers at four a.m. and working weekend hours. They didn’t tell you about that stuff. That’s when I learned what a fixed cost was! When I asked why I had to do it instead of hiring someone else to they said “Gary, you’re a fixed cost!”

After five years, I started looking for something else. Dennis Harrah – the former St. Louis Rams- was my old college roommate. He and his wife were moving to the Keys and we were kicking around ideas on what to do. We were looking at a chicken franchise at first, but then we learned about the Ocean View.

We took the Ocean View on as a project. I remember our third day there we were sitting inside the place and we see this chicken fly in, feathers flying….Then we see this old guy chasing the chicken all around the place through the bar. We looked at each other and asked each other what the heck that was. Then the locals told us that’s just Old Charlie – he was there all the time. That’s when we wondered what we got in to (laughing).

It was a big project. It’s a family place now, with a pool, dock and a nice view of the bay.

As a sixth round pick, you certainly had no guarantees of a roster spot. What did you do to help secure a spot – what do you think the coaches saw in you?

Well, the draft was all messed up that year due to the union thing at the time. The Steelers called me at eight p.m. – I waited around and no one called me. Then they finally called and said they were going to draft me in the sixth round. I said “Great!” Then I thought “Didn’t I just see them in the Super Bowl? Isn’t that the team with the Steel Curtain defense? Isn’t that the spot I’m  supposed to be playing?”

When they called they actually asked me if I would be interested in trying to play on the offensive line and I said “Yeah, I’ll try anything.” I was apprehensive though…..people were actually asking me if I was going to beat out Joe Greene!

How did you prove yourself and make a place in that rotation?

I worked out like a maniac that year. People think you go to the NFL trying to be a star. That wasn’t true though. I thought I was going to be cut and would have to find work on another team. They actually kept an extra defensive lineman that year just to keep me.

They had six preseason games then – plus the College All-Star game. We made $120 a week as rookies then. I was just thinking that if I could make it to the College All-Star game, I’d make $700. That’s more money than I had ever made. My goal was to make that $700 and play in the All-Star game.

The vets came in two weeks after camp started. I remember seeing all of the Lincolns and Mercedes pulling up. Then one pulled up with people running alongside of it. The door opened a big guy with a beard stepped out – it was Joe Greene. Two kids opened up the trunk and pulled out his shoulder pads. I realized then the adjustment to the caliber of football I had.

What players and coaches took you under their wing that year and helped you adjust to the NFL and Steelers? And how did they do so?

On my first day, Coach Perles told the rookies we were practicing headbutts  – where defensive linemen take on the offensive linemen. He asked who wanted to start. I said I did  – and he said great! He said I was going to break the record for the most headbutts in one day.

The I realized I was the dummy. He had me be the offensive lineman! Joe went first and he had a bad shoulder so he went at half-speed and took it easy on me. Then it was L.C.’s turn. He was tall and lanky – I thought I could get underneath him and could take him. The vets were yelling at me – “Watch the cape!”. So I fired off and L.C. jumped to the side and I went headfirst into the turf. L.C. just looked at me and said “Welcome to the NFL rookie.”

Steve Furness and John Banaszak – those guys gave me advice and told me what to do and not to do. Greene was as helpful as he could be – he;d stop and tell me what to work on.

I was intimidated with them because of who they were. But after two weeks, like anything else, they saw my attitude and effort and helped me out.

Holmes scared the heck out of me. I remember the first day the vets came in and he came out in this rubber suit. You could barely see his eyes through the slits. Halfway through practice he falls down to the ground. The trainers had ice packs on him cooling him down. They told me he does this every year. He was just trying to lose weight!

After practice, we went to the gym then waited an hour for dinner. But I noticed the vets all got in their cars after the gym and came back at dinner. One day I got in my GTO and decided to follow them. I ended up following them to the 19th Hole in Latrobe. I walked in and saw Greene, L.C. and Dwight there. They had iced Rolling Rocks with limes set out for them. They all stopped and looked at me. 

They asked me what I was doing there and I said I was getting a beer. They all looked at me and said “Rook, come on over nad have a beer”. I went every day with them after that.

You were drafted after the first two Super Bowl wins. How did Coach Noll and the players stay focused on winning again when so many teams suffer the infamous “Super Bowl hangover”?

I look back on teams now – like the Eagles who were supposed to win it all this year as the “Dream team”. I tell people it’s about chemistry. Really. We gelled as a team. It was nothing for us to go out and see fifteen to twenty teammates together. We had problems and fought some too, but we gelled and wanted to play well for our teammates. You can’t just play for yourself, and our team weeded out the guys over the years that were just for themselves.

Noll was a disciplinarian too. He took no duff from anyone. You knew where you stood with him. If you did your job and did it well, you stayed.

There was lots of kidding and practical jokes on those teams. What do you remember about those activities and how involved were you in those?

There was always the Atomic Bomb in the underwear. They tried to put it in my underwear once, I remember. I was getting in my suit for a speaking engagement and I could smell it. I said screw it, I just won’t wear underwear. I was driving and then I’ll be damned, but they put it in my pants too. I think it was Beasley….

I remember once Chuck read something about the benefits of pasta – how it helped your eyesight or something like that. He gave us a big lecture on pasta one day. The next day Swanny filled Bradshaw’s locker up with pasta – he said it would help Bradshaw with his eyesight (laughing).

There was also the turkey sign up for rookies. They’d always tell the rookie class that they had free turkeys for Thanksgiving and that they had to go ask Dan Rooney for the turkeys. Of course there weren’t any turkeys.

One time though Swanny bought turkeys for all the rookies and the vets were asking where theirs were!

Who were some of the toughest guys you lined up against – in practice and on other teams, and what made them so?

I went up against Webster probably more than anyone else ever did. I went up against him every day. He’s gotta be up there.

Larry Brown and Jon Kolb stayed after practice a lot to work on technique. I’d stay with them when they were getting ready for an opposing player who had a particular style or technique. All the offensive linemen were great guys.  Wolfley, Dunn, Tunch Ilkin, Courson, Davis, Mullins…the whole crew.

Steve Courson was just huge – he was a great friend of mine. I remember driving to Coral Gables in my van and a cop pulls me over. I asked him why he pulled me over – I wasn’t speeding. And he said he knew, but the van was bouncing up and down. Well, that was Steve in the back, practicing the crab.

The crab?

Yeah – I asked the cop if he wanted to see “the crab” and the cop said sure. So he and his partner go to the back of the van and open it up and there’s Steve. Steve pointed to the first cop, who had his hand on his gun and the flashlight on Steve, and asked him if he wanted to see the crab, and the cop said “Sure!”. He asked the other cop and he said yeah too.

So, Steve tears off his shirt and does the crab – his muscle pose, with his immense veins sticking out of his shoulders and biceps! The cop looked at me and said “You and It , keep going and get out of town.” I just said “Yes sir.” (laughing).

Steve used to go places and tear off his shirt and scare people. When we went to play Houston once he tore off his shirt, put on his camouflage blazer and blared that Apocalypse Now music and stood on the hood of his truck doing the crab – the fans went bananas. He even camouflaged his face and body!

They moved you to Nose tackle – how was that for you?

Well they moved me to nose tackle when they moved the team to a three-man front.  I asked Webster to take it easy on me in practice. I had just come off a season where I led the team in sacks and thought I’d be a the sack guy, but oh well.

Well, Mike said “Sure Dunny, I’ll take it easy on you.” The first play he knocked me back so far I almost took Lambert’s legs out. Jack asked me if I was going to make it… He abused me the whole practice. I was so dejected , riding home that day in my GTO because we had the next day off. Well, Webster drives by me on the freeway in his Lincoln, and beeps at me and says hi. I just gave him the finger.

Well, we’re talking and he tells me to pull over on the freeway and I do. He asked me why I was angry and I told him he made me look bad. He said no, I did well. The next thing you know we’re doing drills on the side of the Turnpike. I drove him into his Lincoln and he said, “See, you’re getting it.” Then he threw me over the railing, started laughing and walked to his car and drove away still laughing!

You played for twelve years – almost an unheard of amount of time for an NFL defensive lineman – and all with one team. How important was it for you, looking back, to have stayed with the Steelers your whole career?

I’ll tell you what. I had a lot of luck. They put me on “injured reserve” in ’76 to make a roster spot open up after Turkey Jones took out Terry Bradshaw.

I missed ’77 with a knee injury. It was 130 degrees on the field at Foxboro – we had Stickem on our socks and fingers to hold on to the offensive lineman that game but it was so hot it was like Vaseline. Me and Dwight hit the quarterback at the same time and Dwight tripped and hit my knee…

But I was pretty ok with injuries and working hard after that. I had great coaches and people I played with. I was fortunate to be there that long. Concussions were just called stingers then – we didn’t think nothing of it then.

No one thought we’d feel better after playing football, you know?

What do you think of the new NFL rules on the way players can hit one another now?

The problem is, it’s a hard thing to stop. Stuff happens to fast. Seeing it on slo-motion is one thing. It’s really tough – the NFL has a can of worms to deal with on concussions…

So many of your colleagues have suffered from NFL injuries. Has the NFL done enough for these players?

The old guys before me are  upset. The pensions are still poor compared to baseball. I’d be glad to give up something for those older guys that only made a couple hundred dollars a year. We got pensions up last time but I think they can still do more. It’s not like there’s not enough money there for everybody. The Steelers always took care of me though – first class.

Any last thoughts for readers?

The town of Pittsburgh is amazing. Four years ago I was able to take my kids to a reunion game and they were just amazed at the people. It was a great experience for me – the Rooneys really took care of us. When my daughter arrived by bus at the Hilton, they gave us all a police escort. She asked why and I just gave her a look and she laughed. As a dad, that’s a great thing.

I look back on the friends I made – the guys I still talk to and ma buddies with. It’s a great experience and I was just very fortunate to have that time in Pittsburgh.

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