Chuck Sanders, Steelers Running Back, 1986-1987
First, can you let readers know about Fever beverages and your Pittsburgh restaurant, the Savoy. How did you get the idea for both and where did the desire come from to get into the food and beverage industry?
Fever started off as an investment but turned into a passion for me. Biz Markie is an old friend of mine and when he told me about it, I was very interested. It’s a healthy alternative to Red Bull – I’m the largest investor in Fever now. It did great in Miami so we brought it to Pittsburgh and it’s doing great.
The Savoy – I always wanted to start a high-end restaurant here – I thought Pittsburgh would enjoy it. May 5th is actually our one-year anniversary. I’m just really excited to see the diversity that comes in every day. Pittsburgh isn’t a racially divided city – it’s just separated by bridges and communities bu ont race. To see the different people come in from different ilks is exciting to me.
The restaurant business is a lot of work. How is it going so far, and is it easier or harder than you expected?
I have a great staff. Chef Watson is on the board of the Cordon Bleu. The every day part nis handled by an excellent staff. There’s always a challenge that comes up that you deal with and we’re always trying t reinvent ourselves to keep folks excited.
You are the founder and CEO of the very successful Urban Lending Solutions – what does ULS do and how did this start?
We’re the number one minority company in growth in the United States. To win that award was huge. We are the largest provider of low modifications in the country..
How did you get started?
Bob Murphy brought me in to run the minor league basketball team he owned – the Pittsburgh Piranhas – in ’94. He owned a golf course too and when I asked him where he got all of his money – he said “Real estate”. I told him I wanted to be in that building then (laughing). That’s where I learned about the business.
What NFL experiences – both on the field and from your coaches- helped you as you worked to develop these ventures?
Be competitive – that’s what I learned most. Compete, compete, compete! The NFL means not for long – you have to learn to compete on and off the field.
In your post-NFL career, did you utilize any of the NFL and NFLPA career services programs – If so, how, and if not, why?
I was going to go to graduate school – Dewayne Woodruff encouraged me to do so as well. But the strike got in the way of that. I took some of the NFL’s career classes and they helped me.
You came to the Steelers from nearby Slippery Rock college in ’86. How exciting was that for you to play for the hometown team, and how did you prove yourself to the coaching staff to make the squad?
I was drafted by San Diego actually, and when they cut me to put me on their roster – they didn’t have practice squads at the time – the Steelers picked me up. I was like – “Wow!”
But it was hard to live up to the pressure, I have to admit. My high school friends, grade school friends…all asking me why I didn’t run for 100 yards… They all had such high expectations – I took it seriously. I didn’t want to go home.
How did that affect you?
I put a lot of pressure on myself. i affected my performance – my confidence. I got overwhelmed and lost my confidence. it wasn’t fun anymore. I finally took Chuck Noll’s advice and went on with my life’s work. And it worked for me – my knees work and I have a few dollars in the bank!
As a rookie in ’86, who helped mentor you and helped you adjust to the NFL – both on and off the field. And how did they do so?
Dewayne Woodruff and Donnie Shell would always talk with you. I remember Louis Lipps coming up to me after I bought an expensive car and telling me that I should take it back – that I didn’t have that kind of money.
And the Rooneys – they knew my name, my family’s name, what my father did for a living… I as there only a year and a half but they treated me like I was there for thirty years.
What did you learn from your time there?
They were a family – I learned that you can work with family and make it work. They showed me that it works.
How would you describe your style as a running back and what was your biggest adjustment to the NFL – especially coming from a smaller school?
I was the Bus before the Bus. I was before my time (laughing). I was a big running back but they put me at fullback. That’s what they did then – the NFL wanted smaller, faster guys like Tony Dorsett and put the bigger guys at fullback. My style was as a running back though – that was before guys like Bettis and Eddie George were in vogue.
Was it frustrating for you to be moved to fullback – did you say anything to the coaches?
It was very frustrating – but I had no choice. I was an eleventh round pick out of Slippery Rock. You just shut your mouth and do what your told.
Plus – the strike in ’87 also hurt me as a player.
No excuses….I finished strong in ’86 and started seeing some playing time. Then in ’87 I crossed over when the strike came, and when it was over a number of the guys were angry – the locker room was divided at first.
A number of veterans had crossed over as well, correct?
Some big names crossed over, yes. But the average Joes that crossed the line never made it. Pittsburgh was a strong union town – you could see it in the articles that were written. I knew I wasn’t in the inner circle after the strike – especially as a younger player.
Who were some of the toughest players you faced – both in practice and on other teams, and what made them so?
It’s funny – I was just in Miami. I walked into a restaurant and my hair stood up. In the corner was Lawrence Taylor. I was with the Giants in camp for a season as a fullback. Blocking Taylor the whole Summer….he was the greatest football player I faced. He just dominated you – the blows he distributed were just ridiculous.
On Pittsburgh – David Little was tough. When I was isolated on him, I’d see him pop up in the hole….he was so tough. And Woodson was the best athlete I saw. We knew he was going to be special as a rookie.
Who were some of the greatest characters on those Steelers teams and what made them so? Any examples?
Robin Cole – he’d wear the craziest outfits. Brister was just a good old-fashioned Southern boy too. He has smart remarks and liked to jump the fence and party. North Dallas Forty!
What are your greatest memories as a Steeler and what makes them so?
It doesn’t seem real to me now. I remember we were playing New England and I was returning kicks. hearing my name called and running upfield….playing in Three Rivers was like a dream.
Any last thoughts for readers?
Everywhere I went, I have been a positive person. That’s the great thing for me. I burned no bridges. Now, I provide jobs for over 700 employees in Pittsburgh. That’s the greatest joy in my life.
I love the Pittsburgh community so much. I’ve been courted to move my business elsewhere, but I have stayed.
Would you ever move the business?
No. I love it here. I am here for good!