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Pete Rostosky, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 1983-1986

March 8, 2012
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Pete Rostosky:

First, can you let readers know what you have been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL, and why you decided to enter this line of work?

I am currently self-employed and own Rostosky Coal , LLC – a surface mining and reclamation company. I am second generation in this company as my dad started it in 1954.

Ever since I was a child, my dad took me to work and I learned the business from the bottom up; actually running large equipment since I was eleven years old. My dad passed away seven years ago, but I am sure he would be pleased to know the business still carries on.

You have also spent some time coaching high school football. What about coaching did you enjoy most?

I really enjoyed giving back to my local community the knowledge and skills that I was able to learn on my journey through college and the NFL. Plus, I love teens. They have such a unique view of things and an energy that is contagious.

These are crucial years in a young man’s life as he is making major decisions that will affect his entire future. If I can make a difference, even in a small way, I count that as a blessing. In fact, I still enjoy working with youth today as a Youth Ministry Director at my church.

What coaches lessons and experiences with the Steelers did you find yourself falling back on most as a coach – and how did they help you?

There were so many lessons I learned from Chuck Noll. The most important one that stuck with me the most was loyalty… He would always take a player that was loyal to him and the system over others that perhaps had more athletic ability and skill.

Skills can always be taught, but loyalty is an issue that comes from within the heart of a young man.

How exciting was it for you as a local guy to get invited to the Steelers training camp in 1983 – and how did they reach out to you and invite you to camp?

Being a Pittsburgh local I naturally watched the Steelers every Sunday. They were my heroes. It really was a dream come true! 

After the second day of the draft, my college roommate answered the call while I was out, and when he told me the Steelers called me for a tryout, I thought he was just joking around. But when I called the number back, Dick Haley answered the phone and invited me to come down for a tryout.

I went home to our farm in Monongahela PA, and when the day came for the tryout, I remember my dad driving me down Route 51 and actually stopped at Century III Mall to buy a pair of turf shoes because I never owned a pair. We were both so excited to walk through that tunnel onto the field for the very first time ever in Three Rivers Stadium! What a thrill!

I did really well on my tryout, and they signed me right then with a whopping $1,000 signing bonus! How things have changed. 

What were your thoughts when they asked you to change your position from defensive to offensive line – were you at first more frustrated/concerned or excited at the opportunity?

I had mixed emotions. First, I was amazed that they still wanted me when they could’ve picked up any experienced offensive lineman in the country.  And second, I was just so excited to play with such great offensive linemen like Mike Webster, Larry Brown, Tunch Ilkin, Craig Wolfley, etc.  What an honor.

Who helped you make such a dramatic adjustment – and how did they do so? Any examples of any specific advice/techniques that really made a big difference for you?

I had the opportunity to room with Mike Webster three of the five years on the team, and I learned a great deal from him. He taught me that in order to be good, I would have to hold on every play…without getting caught. 

Another amazing influence was John Kolb, the strength and conditioning coach at the time. He enhanced my work ethic and constantly encouraged me to hang in there. Another great friend who taught me so much about the quick-punch technique in pass blocking was Tunch Ilkin.

Who were some of the biggest characters on those Steelers teams – and examples/funny stories of the hijinks that went on during your time there?

Without a doubt, Terry Bradshaw was an amazing leader…and an incredible prankster! Keith Willis, too, was always cracking jokes and cutting up on the offensive line. Donnie Shell was a great motivator; and Jack Lambert, needless to say, was an incredible character.

Robin Cole was always walking around with a big smile on his face and could find something positive to say no matter the situation. Hijinks were a common occurrence with this wild bunch…but most of those stories have to be left in the locker room.

Being a longshot was not a new thing for you. You were actually shot in the head your Senior year in high school. How did that experience affect you both physically and emotionally?

It was a life-changing experience. What most people would consider to be the worst day of my life, wound up actually being a huge blessing for me. After being shot, I was told I would never play contact sports again as

I still had twenty-three shotgun pellets remaining in my skull after they operated and removed fifty-seven.  These were left behind as they were too risky to remove, and the fear was there would be too high a risk of further injury to my eye and brain. This was at the end of a great season for Elizabeth Forward High School and the first time our school ever made it to the WPIAL playoffs in our school’s history. I just wanted to play what I thought would be the last game of my career.

After a fruitless search all week for a doctor to give me the magic ‘pink-slip’ release to allow me to play with my head loaded with stitches, pellets, and still in bandages, I refused to give up hope. Finally, the day before the game, my mom drove me way out in the country to an obscure doctor’s office. He poked around, grunted a few times and gave me the OK.  I was so psyched to get that slip in my hands and couldn’t wait to get out of his office before he changed his mind. It wasn’t until later I learned that he was actually our farm veterinarian!

I guess when the dream is big enough, the facts simply don’t count. Because I thought it was my last game ever, my last chance to ever hit someone without getting arrested, I played my heart out. I was hitting anything that moved, including my own teammates. There happened to be scouts at this game to see some other players on my team, and one scout from University of Connecticut offered me a full scholarship.

Funny how things work out.  

Who were some of the toughest guys you faced both in practice and on other teams, and what made them so. Any examples?

I will name you a few: Keith Willis, Keith Gary, Mike Merriweather, and Robin Cole. These guys were both quick and tough. But they really helped me develop in my pass protection techniques.

One player in particular that I really didn’t like going up against was David Little. Man, he was like hitting a brick wall! Jack Lambert was amazing too; as soon as that ball was snapped . . . he was in exactly the right place. It made it so difficult to block him. 

On opposing teams, my toughest opponents were Clay Matthews from the Cleveland Browns, Lawrence Taylor from the NY Giants, Andre Tippett from the New England Patriots, Lyle Alzado from the Oakland Raiders, and Richard Dent from the Chicago Bears. I had my work cut out for me. 

After five years, you decided to retire from the game. What drove that decision and how difficult was that for you?

In my fifth year with only two games left in the season, I found myself on injury reserve with a dislocated ankle. Unfortunately the Steelers had to make room on the roster and decided to waive me.

I had a decent offer from the Indianapolis Colts, but decided it was time to devote my energies to what Chuck Noll always called ‘my life’s work’ and felt it was time to hang up the spikes and concentrate on my future in our family coal business. It wasn’t a difficult decision as I knew the statistics that the average NFL career is only 3.5 years, and I had beat those odds.

I felt fortunate to have come this far and to still be able to leave the game at my discretion while still in good health. 

What are your best memories of playing for the Steelers and what made them so?

There are so many great memories. Just to be part of such an elite group of guys that I looked up to and called my heroes was the greatest thrill.

For example, Mike Webster actually spoke at my High School Senior Banquet and four short years later I got to play with him and actually have him for a roommate. It is like being a part of a real unique and special fraternity.

I made such great friendships that still remain today. Even when I run into some of the guys now, years later, the memories and stories we share on and off the field still bring laughter and joy. It was a neat chapter of my life, and I will always be grateful to have experienced it.

Any last thoughts for readers?

It is impossible to measure someone’s heart. You never really know what you are capable of until you are tested. The only person that can put limits on you is YOU. When the dream is big enough…really…the facts don’t count.

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