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Bob Adams, Steelers Tight End, 1969-1971

March 25, 2012
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Bob Adams:

You’ve been a teacher and have also been involved in the Church of Scientology since the NFL. Can you describe what coaching and playing lessons from your time in the NFL have influenced your work in those areas, and how so?”

I taught in the secondary schools (Jr. High and high school) in Pittsburgh and California for three off-seasons. In fact in the spring of 72 Preston Pearson and I taught at a “continuation high school” for boys who went to our school or they went to juvenile jail. We gave them two rough and tough PE classes and they were very well behaved. They were also exhausted.

I went back to grad school for two off seasons for my Masters and teacher’s credential at the University of the Pacific. But Scientology helped me the most and gave me tools to get along better in life and particularly in my professions and relationships and I was better able to handle stress that accompanies pro sports and life in general.

During and after my career, I trained classroom teachers from Boston, Houston, San Francisco and Beijing China several times. I have always liked to coach and Scientology teaching is so much like coaching. Everyone learns at their own pace; everyone is different and you need a classroom environment that permits that relationship. Communication is the key, and education cannot be forced on a child or an adult. They have to see the purpose to have a strong desire to learn. That is easier most often in athletics as goals are easy to define, but it should apply in every subject at every age.

Teaching biology was my goal before I played pro football, and football was not a long- term career so I needed a fall back. As a free agent, I didn’t know if I would be on a plane home to San Francisco from week to week for the first two years at Pittsburgh. The stress factor for me was a 9.8 out of 10, which gave me the incentive to complete grad school to have the job I had planned for before my career.

I went back to school my first two off seasons with the Steelers, not making much money in those days, I drove cross country in my VW to training camp with about $400 to my name.

Those lean and fretful days by themselves were lessons in emotional endurance and budgeting. I took nothing for granted, which was a valuable lesson in itself. As a free agent up against draft choices, All Americans and veterans, I learned to listen and watch with every perception turned on full.

I had to learn the pro football game fast since I was from a small school and my football career consisted of little league flag football and one year in high school as a 150 lb lineman. I was a bench warmer and a very late bloomer.

I finally started playing ball after my second year community college. I had grown physically and emotionally and performed well enough to be a starter at Tight End. Following that one year I received a full two-year ride at the University of the Pacific. I matured into a fairly decent player, at least good enough to be looked at by a few pro teams as a possible draft choice.

Tell us how your career with Pitsburgh got started?

I was not drafted and naturally I was disappointed. Late in the night of the draft I had a call from the Steeler’s new head coach, Chuck Noll. Chuck was very positive and said he had hoped to draft me but had to pick for other positions first.

Signing with the Steelers was a smart move. Art Rooney Jr. had scouted me and was a very nice, sincere man. I had no idea who Chuck Noll was at the time, he’d been an assistant at San Diego last and before that the Colts and Browns I believe. Little did I know that he would be one of the most influential teachers I would have, a four time Super Bowl Champion and a well deserved Hall of Famer.

The Steelers front office sent me a brochure on Pittsburgh produced by the Chamber of Commerce. It named Pittsburgh the “Sister City” of San Francisco, my birthplace. It showed a picture of a cable car going up a hill and tunnels and bridges across the water. The Golden Triangle was our Golden Gate.

Strange as it sounds the brochure made me feel more comfortable. I signed with the Steelers a week later. I received a $1,000 signing bonus, which my wife and me used to go to Hawaii for our honeymoon just a few weeks later. Things looked promising. I have on file the contract signed with Dan Rooney.

Dan negotiated my four contracts with the Steelers. I had no agent…I had no chance until my third year. I calculated why my request for a raise was justified. I devised a chart devised by using calculus. I had drawn the graphs based on my stats for receiving, 3rd down blocking and conversions and fumble recoveries. I think I confused him enough he finally gave in and gave me the raise. So to that degree, college paid off.

How was Coach Noll to play for?

Chuck Noll was the youngest coach in the league that year, and a natural, gifted teacher. Teaching was in his bones. I admired him for his organizational skills and ability to communicate concepts. He controlled everything and had tremendous knowledge about many areas of life.

In the beginning, and perhaps forever, he was always teaching someone, or so it seemed. He was structured, organized and professional as could be. He seemed to know everything about every position on the team including special teams.

For instance: While walking back to the dorm at St. Vincent’s, one evening, Warren Bankston and I were passing by the practice field after dinner. A local guy was down on the field with his golf bag and was practicing chip shots. We saw Chuck approaching the golfer from 50 yards away. He said a few words to him and then turned him around and wrapped his arms around him holding his arms and took him through the motions of chipping the ball up to an imaginary pin. Warren and I looked at each other in amazement. Here was the head coach of the team, taking the time to instruct a local resident on chip shots. We agreed this man was a teacher from the soles of his feet to the depth of his soul. He loved it.

However, one thing he taught me and the other tight ends in our 1969 camp was a highly dangerous blocking technique he learned earlier in his career that almost got my head knocked off by All Pro defensive end, Ben McGee. The technique was called, ominously, “leg whipping.” This involved diving in front of the opponent down the line with the upper body blocking his forward motion, then swinging the hips and legs around cutting his legs out from under him or tripping him. However, not only did the technique bruise the defender, it bruised the shins of the blocker. It hurt.

The technique was limited as it was dangerous and later outlawed. One day in practice I leg whipped Ben and I hurt him. I lay on the ground looking up at this menacing 6’6 giant. He grabbed hold of me, pulled me up to his chest and said, “Rookie, if you ever do that again I’m gonna kill ya!” Stress on “kill.”  Looking into Ben’s eyes I had no doubt what he said was true. Life and careers are too short and I was convinced I would need to find a substitute for the leg whip technique. That too was a lesson all by itself.

Chuck taught me a valuable lesson concerning “luck.”  After a stunning upset of Detroit in our opener at Pitt stadium in 69, we suffered a complete string of losses for the rest of the season.

Well, we were in our ninth or tenth loss, I think it was to Dallas, and following the game Chuck came in to talk to the players. We were wet and muddy, quite downtrodden, looking at the floor, only glancing in his eyes.  I thought he was going to fire us all, except Andy Russell, Dick Hoak, and Joe Green of course. He stood up on a stool, hands on hips, sternly but not menacingly. He then said in a hoarse but terse voice these words and no others, “An old coach of mine once told me, in a time such today, that luck is…preparation meeting opportunity.” He stepped down and left the room not saying another word. Those words were etched in my soul.

Chuck taught me humility and compassion. Going in to my second year of camp was very tough and stressful. The players union convinced us to go on strike and, of course, I came to camp with $400 to my name. We were locked out of camp and the Steelers brought in busloads of “scabs” to try and scare the vets back to camp. It worked, especially on the young guys. We were convinced it was a form of terrorism, at least for the free agents and guys who were broke such as me.

When we returned with our shortened tails between our legs, there were a few dozen of the scabs on the practice squad. One was a tight end named Dennis Hughes. He was my nemesis and I was sure he was the devil incarnate. To make matters worse, he amused Chuck and our new first round draft choice, Golden Boy himself, Terry Bradshaw. They were already pals.

I suffered through four pre-season games with Dennis. And he won the starting job. I was very depressed. Dennis seemed to not take anything seriously and he was happy go lucky. At the time, I was a complete opposite and anxious about keeping my job. Camp could bring on the most extreme emotional stress. I felt if our bodies were not young and strong the leading cause of injury or death would be heart attacks.

Eventually, Dennis and I would become good friends. Positions are dearly won in sports, perhaps the most desperate of sorts, with inner hostile thoughts about your competition held within and suppressed.

The final pre-season game 70 was in Oakland. I asked Chuck if it would be ok if I my wife could ride home on the plane with us, which was pretty brazen of me for the time of year. It was a way to get a sneak preview if I would be cut or not. If he let her on, I may have made the team. There was a gamble that he would cut me anyway, but I took the risk. He said it was ok. I was elated, yet weary. Little did I know what was being planned for my future.

We arrived in Oakland and my wife met me at the hotel. She was not feeling well. She had lost a lot of weight while I was in camp. She was depressed. The following night we played Oakland and headed home to Pittsburgh, the only wife on the plane. The following day, she went to the hospital to get a check up. She was diagnosed with a mental disorder and was to stay in the hospital. I was now quite unsettled. What if I don’t make the team, my wife is in the hospital, and questions ran around my head. I had no health insurance; we are now in Pittsburgh with only $250 left and no place to live. At least I had a car.

On Tuesday I was very nervous sitting on my locker stool. Our equipment manager Tony Paresis approached me; he told me to go see “The Coach.” I broke into a sweat while my heart fell like a base drum in my chest. I entered Chuck’s office trying to look poised and as bright as I could. He had his hands folded on his desk. He looked up at me and said, “We waived you this morning,” which means you’re cut from the team.

It felt like a thousand bricks caved in on me. Tears welled up and I began to cry.  As hard as I tried, I could not hold them back and the dam broke. All the stresses hit me at once. He sat patiently until I had it under control then asked what is happening?  I told him about my wife, that she was in the hospital suffering from some kind of mental stress, which was being diagnosed. (actually, she was simply suffering from mal-nutrition and dehydration from a no-protein fad diet she was on for over two months). She became depressed as a result. I took for granted the diagnosis was correct at the time and it was quite frightening.

After explaining this, Chuck acknowledged me softly. He then said something, which he did not have to say, but he did. He told me that at one time in his life something similar had happened and he understood what I was feeling, and that everything would work out, he assured me. I felt I was beginning to rise from the dead. He then added, “By the way, you cleared waivers, and we are keeping you on the team. We could not put Terry Hanratty (our back up QB) on waivers or we would probably lose him. We thought because you are not a known commodity we slipped you through waivers the way we hoped it would work out. So, go get suited up for practice.”

I thanked him and walked down the hall towards the locker room. I began to choke up again as it hit me, I made the team. I opened a door into a storage room filled with blocking dummies, closed the door, and buried my head into the foam rubber and cried very hard for several minutes until I had exhausted the grief from the relief knowing that I was still on the Steelers and would play on Sunday. I had narrowly escaped the bullet. And I still had to find an apartment to rent and a wife to get out of the hospital. I would have a game check next week; we would not have to sleep in the car after all.

You came to the Steelers in 1969 – the first season for coach Noll. What did you notice about how the veterans reacted to his vastly different approach – how was he received and was there any resistance to his style of coaching?

Anyone who resisted the changes left on the next plan or bus very soon thereafter. As I recall fourteen rookies made the active squad in 1969, and the unquestionable leader was Joe Greene.

With Chuck, it was all business. He treated the vets with the utmost respect himself being a former player. But he had a shark’s sense of where the meat, intelligence and desire lay. He was patient that year, but he needed the vets to help build a core from the rookies that would be the foundation for a championship team. A number of vets were out of shape coming into camp and they were the first to go if they were not essential players.

With so little college experience, how were you able to adjust to the NFL so quickly and successfully?

I was a smallish tight end even back then at 6’2 and 220 when I went to camp in 1969, but quick and I knew how to block. I like blocking almost as much as pass receiving. More glory in receiving, but there is a sense of pride in making an effective block and seeing your running back break out down the field. I was also a free agent and had to prove myself better than what may have been thought of me.

I could block well and I excelled on special teams during our preseason games and was made Special Teams captain the last pre season game as well as the opening game against the Lions. My adjustments came fast because, frankly, I was motivated by fear of failure as much as quest for success.

I was as proud as could be when I made the club and it was close to an out of body experience when I finally realized I would play in the season opener. I was smart enough to grasp the game plan and do what the coaches said. We were pretty straight arrows as a group of rookies and stuck together.

The areas of adjustment that were tough were running routes correctly and using my hands to catch the ball instead of depending on my body as a backstop.

I did not have “soft hands” until Lionel Taylor became our receiver coach and it all changed. He was a gifted receiver coach and made me into a receiver. He used teaching techniques that were ahead of his time or not well used at that time. He believed in strict discipline on running routes, coming back towards the QB or the line of scrimmage to catch the ball; tucking it away before you ran with the ball. These are assumed basics now, but not then.

Lionel used film creatively so we could see the right way to do things. He was the main character in these practice shots taken from a tower. Lionel was a technical coach and could communicate at a reality level few coaches I experienced could achieve.

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

Andy Russell was a leader by example and one of the really mature men on the team who was a student of the game, highly respected by Chuck Noll and Art Rooney. He was in his late 20’s and had some visible grey hair, which added to his sage persona. He also held an MBA from Missouri, which was quite a feat in its own right. I think everyone respected Andy for his intelligent play, character and integrity.

A few times during my rookie year the year and again when I became the starter, he would acknowledge me for my play. He asked me one time how I was able to get through the “wedge” on kickoffs and make the tackle so often. That meant a lot to me because he was All Pro and asking a rookie this type of question. I don’t remember my answer but it probably had something to do with the fact that I had no liking for head on collisions with 275lb linemen and did what I had to do to avoid it.

I found special teams work is all about speed down the field, agility to avoid blocks and the ability to tackle or block. You also have to have the desire and not mind the contact.

I had to practice against Andy, Jack Ham, LC Greenwood to name just a few. Not realizing it then how this improved my techniques almost without sensing it. We were getting better and smarter. The Steelers were jelling and my last year, 72, though injured, I practiced every day and went on all the away game trips. I saw the difference and I saw our opponents had a distinct respect for the team and some awe for some of our defensive stars.

Again, from the coach’s angle, Lionel Taylor was young enough to relate to his players. He and I had some personal time together in the off-season of 71. He told me about his parents living in West Virginia and how they were almost lost in a flood that winter, rescued from their rooftop by a rescue helicopter. He was a special guy with special talents as a coach and a very caring guy.

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

LC was tough to block because he was as quick as a cat and was great on lateral moves. Dwight White was a head slapper (which you could do in those days). Andy could read plays well and was ahead above the rest in prediction. Mike Wagner was the best of the safeties. Jack Ham could spring like a gazelle making up distances remarkably and getting into the passing lanes fast. Mel Blount, though not directly affecting the tight end was an amazing athlete to watch.

On game days, I hated to line up against Bobby Bell from Kansas City. 6’ 4” 240, quick and agile. He could string out blocks and made the big play. Ted Hendricks was so tall and rangy he could string out the run and I found it hard to hook block him because he would put his arms on your shoulder pads and run with you on an outside run.

Bubba Smith was big and fast. Unfortunately for him we double-teamed him a lot and I had good games against him, but in one game I bent the cage on my helmet hitting his knee on a downblock. There are so many great players I had the honor of playing against that my being on the field playing with them was an awesome feeling. I feel fortunate to have played against and with them.

What kind of player were you at the tight end position – how would you define yourself as a p player – and what was your role on the team?

With the Steelers I had one complete year, 71. I started all fourteen games and almost every down on offense. Tight ends then were lucky to catch 40 passes max. I caught 20 in Bradshaw’s second year. I was open a lot, but Terry was focused on his primary receiver on passing plays. He was learning the game, learning the defenses, how to read them. He was like Tim Tebow, can’t find a receiver, run it.

I was always on special teams, even when I started. There are almost as many special teams plays as there are offensive plays in a game. It involves a lot of running in a high scoring game or a lot of punting situations. I had to have good endurance.

I was considered to be one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. I confess, I think I was pretty good keeping an eye on the other tight ends and game films of other teams week in week out. I had “knacks I taught myself.”

I cultivated blocking techniques, some borrowed, some discovered out of necessity. I tried not to cheat. I was rarely called for infractions, mostly offsides in order to get that extra .001 second off the ball and get into the opponents body before he got moving fast. As a small tight end, generally outweighed by everyone except strong safeties, I needed the inertia to offset their mass. It worked, most of the time. When I was slow off the ball, I paid.

In 1973 I was traded to the Patriots. I took a lot experience to New England when I was traded. If I had not had the Steeler experience and gained the knowledge and skill required to play a highly specialized position of tight end I would not have lasted long in the NFL. We learned a lot under Chuck Noll.

In sum, blocking, special teams and desire to succeed. In looking back at the Steeler experience, what I learned was fire and passion to win. Chuck Noll’s attitude of never say die and there are no excuses for failure (luck is preparation meeting opportunity) made me a better player.

You joined the Church of Scientology as a player with the Steelers – having been quoted in Newsweek as wanting “assistance to become a better football player, teacher and parent…” How did you decide that Scientology could help you, especially as a player, and how did it ultimately do so?

I stuck with Scientology during and after my career. I decided eight years ago to go full time as an executive with the Church. I am now the Vice President of the Church of Scientology International and live in Los Angeles, where we have our world headquarters.

In short, Scientology is an “applied religious philosophy.” You can be any religion and use Scientology, or have no religion. The word means Scien = knowledge, and ology = study of. So it is a Study of knowledge. No just data, not facts. Knowledge is something you really know to be true for yourself in making life better, more understandable. It offers tools you can use every day to get along better in life. The best thing to do to understand any subject is to read a book on it. If people are interested to find out more, I advise them to read Dianetics.

The first thing I learned in Scientology was a very tough course on interpersonal communications and classroom management skills.  I had just gone through a divorce; I had a young child and was teaching in the off-season. I had some time and used it to advance myself spiritually. I had not heard of Scientology or Dianetics or L. Ron Hubbard. I went into it to learn something if there was something there to learn. I read Hubbard’s books while doing the communications course. I saw there was a lot to this and took it to the football field.

The big changes in my play were in my ability to concentrate or focus on the ball in flight. I really learned what this thing called concentration is made of and now I could work on improving it by doing drills I found profoundly similar to drilling in athletics. Communication requires component parts that haves to happen or you “drop the ball” when omitted. Catching and running with the ball was much simpler and easier. Things I learned from Lionel Taylor made more sense than ever.

Scientology is not a passive approach to living your life. It is about action, setting and completing goals, knowing what your purpose is and going for it, which was real to me as an athlete. I took it to the classroom also. I was a better teacher because I could recognize and diagnose a student who was having trouble and really help him or her.

It took the stress out while I was in the classroom and I was more cheerful and my classrooms, was much more productive and the kids felt they were learning and felt good about that.

My relationship with my ex wife improved greatly. Actually I could see I was becoming a better person. What I liked most, I could offer effective help to others, even those who I did not particularly know or even like. I now understood how and why I could become stressed out. For me, Scientology works. I had compassion and tolerance for others but that improved too.

My son, then a toddler, and I were very close and Scientology as I applied to my life helped me understand him. Parenting cannot be perfect, but I made improvements in handling my kid and our relationship was and is very strong. He now has two kids himself and is a fantastic parent for which I am very proud.

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

I was only with the Steelers for four years (72 injured reserves) and the Steelers had them all. Count Frenchy Fuqua was a great character. His Zoro hat and cape, glass cane, goldfish in his Plexiglas heels on his boots were hysterical when entering the locker room on game day. His cute lisp, went along with his story of how he became a Count and got to be colored Black.

As the legend goes, he was born white to a French Count and Countess in Europe. While vacationing on the Riviera, his parents left him on a blanket on the beach and he was severely burned and his skin turned charcoal color in the hot sun and he’s had the condition ever since! But, he held onto the “Count” title. That was my rendition from hearing it from his lips several times. Frenchy was always upbeat and lots of fun.

In 69 our practice field and facilities were in South Park. We dressed in the basement of the first Aide station; the coach’s offices were atop on the first floor. Our meetings were held in a separate building a few hundred feet down a path. These buildings were built in the Victorian period. The basement locker room had been used for decades I believe, and it looked like it. We were cramped.

After a series of losses tempers were getting short and there was some blame going around. We came in from a practice and were stripping down, cutting off the tape and moving to the showers when yelling started. It was a war of words between Roy Jefferson or star receiver and John Brown our offensive tackle. Name calling each other in choice four letter words was an understatement. The most common two-syllable word was “mother” adjective modifying a second two-syllable word made a noun from a verb starting with an “f”.

All eyes turned on to these naked gladiators. Each picked up a galvanized steel garbage can filled with tape and paper, and from their positions ran at each other like two knights charging on their steeds, and collided throwing ankle wraps, take, paper cups in the air. Then they raised their weapons above their heads, and crashed the cans against each other. This was so improbable a battle the entire team began to laugh. They proceeded to clash the cans together once more and perceived the effect they were creating and themselves began to chuckle. The laughter continued for at least five minutes and the war ended in a handshake.

In 72, Andy Russell’s wife held a party for Andy in their home. Most of the players were there, some brought presents. When it was time to open the gifts, we went into the family room. There was one larger then usual present sitting on the floor. Andy did not choose that right away, he opened several gifts and then said, well I have to see what’s in there, and proceeded to take the bow and wrapping paper off. He unfolded the top of the box and to everyone’s surprise, particularly Andy’s none other than Myron Cope jumps up out of the box yelling, “happy birthday Andy!!” The room went wild with laughter and Andy was all smiles and very please with the caper. Myron and Andy were very close. It made the party and I’m sure tickled Andy to no end.

What are your best memories of those Steelers teams and how would you like to be remembered by fans?’

Well, aside what may be taken from the above, my view of the Steelers from the beginning of Chuck Noll’s run as the head coach was that the Steelers became tight like a close-knit family or clan of Spartan warriors. At the top were Mr. Art Rooney and his family, symbolic paternal leader of the family.

There was over a decade of excellence in athletic ability united by a bond built of trust and passion to win at all costs, with integrity as players and team. Chuck’s integrity as a coach did permeate the team, and he did not care if you did not like him as long as you respected him and his decisions. There was an abundance of that. The expansion of the coaching staff, such as Lionel Taylor and Babe Parelli, and several others along the way built a defense first followed by Bradshaw’s maturity into one of the best QBs ever, strong line, great defense, “The Steel Curtain,” and some Irish luck.

Rocky Bleier’s comeback, miraculous as it seemed was achieved by the love and compassion of the Rooney’s for the players, giving Rocky time to heal and look at the outcome. When Rocky ran his 40-yard dash in 70 it was over 5.0 seconds, limping while he ran in pain from shrapnel logged in his toes and scar tissue rock hard in his instep.

I know the pain he was in. I roomed with Rocky in 71. I massaged his foot. In order to take the pain, he would put a rolled towel in his mouth lay flat on his stomach, put a pillow over his head to cover sound, and as I kneaded out the bundled up scar tissue in his tendons, he screamed into the town his body so tense it shook. He would have me repeat it until his foot relaxed and his toes could extend fully. Rocky took it just like he took his Army tour in Vietnam. He had so much in the way of courage it rubbed off on everyone. When he ran the 40 in 73 he ran a 4.5 and Chuck made him run it over again to prove the watches wrong. Rocky did it again and rumor has it Chuck said that was the first “miracle” he has personally witnessed.

The best memories of those teams include beating the Raiders in the Immaculate Reception game, of course. I was standing on the sidelines when most in the stadium thought it was all over when Franco took off with the deflection and ran right past me, Rocky and Warren Bankston and down to the end zone. We stood there not knowing what to think.

When I saw no yellow flags, we all sprinted into the end zone to grab Franco. None of knew at the time Mr. Rooney was in the locker room to tell the team we played well and just ran out of time. He did not know we had suddenly in the last seconds. What a start for a dynasty.

Any last thoughts for readers?

You had to be there to believe it all. If you have heard any Steeler tall tales they may have quite a bit of truth behind them. I wish I could write more but I have to do some work too.

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