Bob Sherman, Steelers Cornerback, 1964-1965
First, can you let readers know what you have been doing with yourself since you NFL days and how your NFL career impacted that direction?
I worked at Merrill Lynch for thirty-three years retiring in 2000. I rose through the management ranks and my last position was Sr. Vice President and Co-National Sales Director of the Private Client Group ( branch office system ). I retired to Santa Fe, NM. I see my five grandchildren often and have been involved in many non-profit boards. I play golf frequently and last year I qualified for U.S. Senior Amateur Golf Championship at 69 years of age ( second oldest qualifier ).
You were the Steelers 12th round pick in 1964. What were your thoughts on getting drafted by a team that was so notoriously poor at the time?
I felt honored to be drafted, but I told the Steelers I was going to play baseball and try and make the major leagues. I had a chance to sign out of high school, but chose to go to Iowa to get my education first. I played outfield at Iowa and was one of the leading hitters in the Big Ten.
When baseball didn’t pan out my senior year I ended up signing with the Steelers. They had been trying to sign me all along and I kept insisting I wanted to play baseball. I was very positive going to the Steelers at that time because if they had they beaten the Giants in the last game of the season they would have played for the Championship.
You played halfback in college. Were you converted to defensive back once you entered the NFL? How did you feel about making that adjustment – were you happy with it and what was behind the decision?
In College, we played both ways then. We had to play offense and defense. In college I played offense but was also a defensive specialist. The quarterbacks didn’t have to play two ways, so I was a cornerback then.
Safety was a new position for me when I went to thew NFL. I had no preference on playing offense or defense – I just wanted to make the team. There were only I think thirty-eight players on a team then – they only carried six defensive backs – not like the nine or so they carry today.
Who helped mentor you as a rookie and helped you adjust to the NFL – both on and off the field – and how did they do so? Any examples?
Dick Haley did more to help me than anybody. We got to know each other well – he was a nice person and genuinely good guy.
How did he help you?
He helped show me how to read offenses – to see what’s coming. He taught me to read the motion on offense to understand the play.
I also remember Bobby Layne in my second week of training camp, who retired the year before and was the quarterbacks coach. During that second week of training camp, Layne came up to me in scrimmage and shook me and said some things I can’t repeat, but told me the “Old Man” (Parker) was giving me a shot with the starting unit. I had played well, and Layne was warning me to be prepared and to do my best.
I did well I think…I made the team!
Your rookie season was Buddy Parker’s last in Pittsburgh. What were your thoughts on Parker and why did he struggle in Pittsburgh?
He was a very heavy drinker. He was brilliant – when he talked football it hit home – he was such a smart football person.
He was also quiet – he wasn’t an outgoing person. I don’t think we were terrible then – we were good, just not that good. Our quarterback situation was tough – Ed Nelson was a second-year guy. We did almost beat Green Bay – we were ahead at halftime but we just didn’t have enough firepower.
Who were some of the biggest characters on those teams you played for and what made therm so? Any examples/funny stories?
We had a lot of characters. Part of the NFL today in my opinion is that its much more professional. They work much harder today to stay in shape. I think we had more fun.
Buzz Nutter kept us in stitches. Charlie Bradshaw was funny – he went on to become a lawyer. Myron Pottios was crazy – he was always playing pranks on people in the locker room and on the field. Jocks full of hot bomb….that kind of stuff.
I remember John Henry Johnson came in once passing out White Owl cigars. We asked him what they were for, and he told us it was to celebrate his fifth or sixth kid! We were all pretty loose then.
You retired after the ’65 season. What prompted that decision and how difficult was that for you?
It ended in Atlanta. I started half of my games in Pittsburgh, but I got hurt a lot with bad hamstrings and other injuries, I was injury prone. I was put on the expansion list – teams protected their top twenty-five players and I was not protected. I was the first Steeler taken – by Atlanta.
I started at safety for Atlanta, but I got hurt in my second game and they cut me. They asked me if I wanted to be placed on their taxi squad but I said no. It was time to get on to my next profession.
Who were some of the toughest guys you faced – both in practice and on other teams – and what made them so?
Back then Jim Brown was in his heyday. I tackled him a few times and missed him a few times too. Meredith and Larry Jordan were in Dallas and Green Bay had Hornung and Taylor. My nephews were just in and they watched film of me playing in 1965 – they watched me intercept a Meredith pass (laughing).
In practice, Dick Hoak – there was no tougher blocker. John Henry Johnson at the goal line in scrimmages was a great runner and blocker too.
What are your thoughts on today’s NFL – both on the new rule changes and the players themselves?
We had two-a-days back then in Rhode Island. It’s a lot easier today – it’s regulated that you can only have so many practices in pads. We had two-a-days and banged each other all the time. It was more intense as far as hitting.
There were lots of flare-ups – it got testy at times. As a rookie, they tried to intimidate you. I remember then a tight end Preston Carpenter blindsided me. I just got up and went back and did the same thing again.
How about players today?
Players today are just bigger, stronger and faster. I was talking to a former player, Walter Houston, and was telling him that these days, these guys would kill you. We didn’t even know what weights were about. They lift now in grade school and the coaching is just much better.
Any thoughts on the new rules?
The newer rule that you can’t hit receivers within five yards of the line of scrimmage is a huge advantage for the offense. Before, you could position yourself, now you can’t do that. The receiver has a tremendous advantage now.
What have been your best experiences as a Steeler and what makes the so?
Just playing for the Steelers. Life goes fast – I was fortunate to have played in the NFL. Not a lot of people can say that. I accomplished something in my profession at a very high level.
Plus, the camaraderie. It really is a feeling of family.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I would like to see the problems with concussions addressed more. I don’t want to get on my soapbox. I already got four or five solicitations from lawyers suing the NFL. It’s going to get a lot worse down the way.
At Iowa, I played with Wally Hilgenberg who played fifteen years in the NFL. He died of MS. Mike Bradley played for Chicago for five years and he has dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s scary – and we’re probably just discovering how extensive this all is.
The helmet today is a lot better. The NFL is doing as much as they can now, I think. They are very aware, but probably should have started years ago to take care of the players that had problems earlier.
I hated to see John Henry Johnson destitute. It made me sick. A guy like that, after all he did for the NFL. It just makes you sick.
I don’t have all the answers. It’s a tough, violent game.