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Buddy Aydelette, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 1987

March 22, 2012
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Buddy Aydelette:

First, can you let readers know what you have been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL and how you got involved in this line of work?

During my USFL years I got into medical sales  – I worked with a company in the offseason. Once my playing days were officially over  a pharmaceutical company approached me and asked me to work for them. I worked with them for about four years. 

I was then offered a job at a local hospital marketing their outpatient physical therapy services and have been with that hospital (that has merged with another system) for nearly 18 years.

Did you utilize any of the NFL and NFLPA post-NFL career services programs? Why/why not?

I did not.  I had worked an offseason in the medical sales arena and it was a pretty seamless transition. I’m glad the services are there for those that need them. There are a lot of good offerings – I just never needed to use them.

You started your career in Green Bay in 1980 but found yourself with USFL’s Birmingham Stallions from 1983-1985. What made you decide to play in the USFL?

I struggled with the move from a wishbone offense in college to the dropback pro passing game.  I was injured as a rookie (ACL) and didn’t seem to be progressing very well and I actually retired from football in 1982.  After moving back to Alabama the Birmingham Stallions called and asked if I would be interested in trying out for their team. 

I missed football and asked the packers if they would give me my release and they did, I cleared waivers and signed to play in the new USFL.

How did the USFL differ from the NFL, from your perspective?

It gave younger players the opportunity to gain valuable playing time.  

You made every USFL All-League team during your time with Birmingham – what led to such a successful USFL career for you?

Rollie Dotsch was our head coach and offensive line coach.  In our first camp I was put at tackle and I still had difficulties with pass rush technique.  When we were just about to break camp Rollie came to me and said “ Buddy you are a punch and cut guy.  When we get back to Birmingham I’m putting you at guard”. 

It was a natural fit for me.  I got the valuable playing time I spoke of earlier and with playing time came confidence and good thing just happened.  I grew as a player and really learned the pro game.  After that I could play guard or tackle.

In 1987, you found yourself in Pittsburgh during the NFL strike. Who contacted you about the opportunity and what made you decide to join the team during the strike season?

The strike year had nothing to do with it.  To me it was just 1987 and I wanted to continue to play football.  I was in camp with the Vikings in 1987.  I was there because Rollie was now on their staff.  I was released the week of the last preseason game in Minnesota and had a long drive back to Alabama.

I thought that was the end of my playing days.  When I got home my wife said get a good night sleep you have a plane ticket to Pittsburgh waiting at the airport.  I really don’t remember who contacted me (through my wife, of 32 years now).

We used a lot of Steelers terminology in Birmingham because of Rollie. It was like the USFL’s version of Pittsburgh, really.

Did that give you an advantage?

It was a good fit, yes. No doubt it helped me. It’s like learning a new language when you go to a new team – you do the same things, but they are called something different. Not having to learn something new was very helpful.

Can you describe the atmosphere at the time – how difficult was it for the players and coaches to get on the same page and how did you manage to do so?

I got there on Thursday and practice had already started. I watched that first day. Then Friday was the last preseason game and Tunch Ilkin got back spasm and was taken to the hospital. Ron Blackledge came up to me and told me I’d be doing the long-snapping an and starting at tight tackle.

Welcome to Pittsburgh right?

Exactly! Tunch was out that week and the following week when we played Cleveland, so I started at right tackle. When Tunch came back I backed up him and Ray Pinney at left tackle.

What was the atmosphere like during and after the strike?

When we came back after the strike I was at left tackle – Ray was the odd man out. I was re-signed and I’m not sure whether Ray was let go or his contract ran out. Then, in preseason I suffered the knee injury and that was the end of it all…

Webster was one of the few players that crossed the line during the strike, and we understood. He was at the end of his career and needed to play – we didn’t make a lot of money then, unlike what most people think.

The Rooneys were wonderful – they told us all we’d get through it. Not many replacement players stayed with the team after the strike.

Who were some of the biggest characters on that Steelers team – and what made them so? Any examples/stories of the hijinks on the team?

Dunny was always a character. He was tough – he had been around the league a long time and was well-respected – he had been beat-up a long time.

Brister was a young gun – he was a character. I roomed with Merrill Hoge in camp and got to know him well. And Pollard was a character – he had a comment on everything…

What do you think of today’s NFL – both on the new rules and the players today?

The USFL had a lot of the rules that the NFL changed already in place, like the two-point conversion, challenges and instant replay.  They had to do it to be different. So, I had seen those and I like them.

My career ended on a special teams play, so any rules on hitting below the waist and moving the kickoff up, I have no problem with at all.

The average career is 3.5 years – I barely made it to four. Any rules that protect players I have no problems with.

Has the NFL done enough for retired  players?

I’m all for progressing. The NFL has – it’s the biggest sport there is. But they really have to think through what it takes on you as a player. The benefits are hard to access for some of the guys. And there’s no recourse for retired players. The NFLPA only represents active players – but they need to represent retired players more. I don’t think they get it right yet.

The bottom line – you look at how successful the NFL is, but it’s pension is smaller than baseball’s, and it takes you four years to get fully vested. Baseball players get vested the moment they reach the majors.

And, the medical benefits need to be more accessible. My injury – I just got regular worker’s compensation in Pennsylvania and it took little time. Things like that can be done.

I just turned 55 in August – I debated and finally decided to stop waiting to draw on my pension. I lost thirty-five pounds since I was in the NFL – I’m at 230 pounds and feel good.. I’m lucky.

What are your best memories of your time in Pittsburgh?

I have several. One – playing for the Steelers organization and the Rooney family. Art was still around then and came by once in a while. Dan was running things then and I had more interaction with him. It was a storied franchise. It wasn’t the glory years but it was still a proud organization and was respected around the league.

It was also the first time I got to start in the NFL.. I tore my ACL in Green Bay. I played but never started.

The fans too. In Alabama, the fans were rabid and with you. It was the same way in Pittsburgh.

I was on IR in ’88. In ’89 I didn’t pass the physical. I hadn’t been back to Pittsburgh until I went to the Alabama-Penn State game and went to Pittsburgh first to see the new facility. I love the city and it’s boroughs. I had real good memories there – I wish I had had more years.

I remember Stallworth and Webby – they were the first guys to come and welcome me to the team. I was really impressed with that.

Another good one. When Ron told me I was starting for Tunch against San Francisco and we beat them 30-17 – they were a team that won the Super Bowl the year before. After the game, Joe Greene had the biggest smile on my face and came up and gave me a big bear hug. I said to myself, “Wow, this is cool!” That was a real good memory.

Any last thoughts for readers?

The coaching staff was terrific too. I stay in touch with Ron through his father Todd, who was a quarterback on the team. Noll was a reclusive coach to some – people didn’t know much about him. But when I was the long-snapper, he used to love catching the balls from the punter and handing them to the long-snapper. So I had great conversations with him then and got to know him a little.

He liked to fly airplanes – I didn’t know that. One day I asked if he was a veteran and he said no, he just enjoyed flying. He kept to himself, but he was just a regular guy.

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