Shar Pourdanesh, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 1999-2000
First, can you let readers know about Kamrans House – what the organization does and what made you decide to start this foundation?
Kamran’s House is an organization developed to improving the standard of living for autistic children. Our aim is to develop homes in which these children will not just survive, but thrive. Every autistic child deserves the opportunity of a chance to reaching their maximum potential.
I started this organization because my oldest son Kamran suffers from severe autism, and he is the driving force behind the development of the endeavor.
Working with autistic children, what have you found to be the biggest misperception people have about autistic kids, and what lessons from your pro football experience has helped you as you work with them?
Autism is a disease that affects many people from all races and all social classes. You can randomly chose anyone in a crowd and I am willing to bet that they either are themselves affected or know someone who is affected by autism.
Football has taught me the great ability of perseverance. No matter how difficult the journey might be, I have been trained to keep my sights on the ultimate goal!
Having fled Iran during the ’79 revolution with your family at the age of nine, you didn’t find your way to the states until the age of twelve. How difficult was that adjustment for you, and has that factored in to your appreciation for working with kids today?
I understand how it feels to face struggles at a young age. My early teens were a psychological nightmare for me. I was harassed, attacked and hated when I came here, and I get what it feels like to have obstacles in your life. My son has the ultimate obstacle in his life, and I must help him and other children like him, in their struggle.
You were a state champion wrestler in high school – how did that help you as a football player?
Wrestling is the ultimate man’s sport. You train like a boxer, run like a marathon runner, and diet like a bodybuilder. Wrestling was the ultimate confidence builder in my life.
My two youngest boys were contemplating whether to wrestle or not and asked for my advice. Trying to be careful not to push them in any direction, I simply put it this way: “Boys I can’t promise much, but I can promise you this; if you decide to wrestle this year you will lose, you will get beaten up, you will get frustrated! You will condition like you have never conditioned before, you will run like you have never ran before, and you will train like you have never trained before. But at some point you will hit a trigger that will enable you to flip a switch and everything will all of a sudden change. You will have endurance that you never imagined you had before, and you will be tougher and stronger than you ever imagined you could be, and you will never lose a fight again in your life. If you compete in any other sport, you will be more conditioned than most and will be stronger than most.”
Needless to say, they decided to wrestle.
What made you decide to play football in high school and how did you get started?
It was pure luck. I just wanted to work out with a friend of mine who played and once the coach saw me, he asked me why I didn’t want to play football. I simply asked him why I should play football, to which he answered: “Son, do you know how much professional football players make these days? Look at you, I bet you’d make a heck of a football player. Do you want to be rich? Do you want to be famous?”
I was immediately sold.
What was your biggest adjustment once you made the NFL and how did you make that adjustment. Who helped you most to do so?
My biggest challenge was that I was thrust into the starting spot immediately. In my first training camp my initial goal was to just make a team. All of a sudden I was told that I had beaten out the previous starter and the teams current 1st round draft choice. I was shocked. I went from a street player, hoping to make the team, to being named to the prestigious position of starting left tackle! That shock was the biggest adjustment for me.
In ’99, after six years in professional football, you were signed by Pittsburgh as a free agent. What made you decide to sign with Pittsburgh and what was your role with the team?
I was actually traded to the Steelers!
Who were some of the toughest guys you lined up against as a Steeler – both in practice and on other teams?
I had the toughest time in practice. I recall guys like Jason Gildon and Mike Vrable gave me the toughest time during practice. The games were a lot easier for me.
I remember Kevin Greene (my childhood hero) giving me the biggest compliment “I don’t know why, but for some reason you were an extremely difficult matchup for me” he said to me during a reunion. That meant the world time coming from him. I really feel like I was coming to form as a Steeler. It is a shame that I got injured so early.
You played for five teams as a professional football player across two leagues (NFL and CFL). How did the Steelers differ from those other teams – for better and worse?
I loved playing for the Steelers. I felt free and I remember feeling like I could let loose on the field. I remember coach Cowher talking to me prior to my first start as a Steeler as he said “Shar, I want you to let loose! I know that during the course of a game you will probably get one or two personal penalties. That’s ok. That’s why you are here. Let’s loose and have fun. The collar is off of you!” I loved it. I played great!
How much of a part did humor have to play in your time in Pittsburgh and who were some of the funniest guys on the team and what made them so?
I truly enjoyed my time in Pittsburgh. I was free to express myself. I remember having fun with guys like Jerome Bettis and Mike Tomczak.
Mike got me real good once. During my first start before a game, as I went to my locker to get ready, I saw a note from the offensive line coach asking me to see him before I get ready. Now let’s just say that Kent (OL Coach) and I didn’t see eye to eye. He thought I was a loud mouth jerk, and I though he was a stiff suffering from perpetual diarrhea of the mouth.
So, needless to say I wasn’t happy to have my pre-game routine interrupted by one of my detractors. As I slammed the coaches’ locker room door open, I catch Kent naked by his locker. I give him a big scowl and I say “what!!!!” to which he replies with a simple “WHAT!!!!”. I then eloquently reply with an extremely loud “WHAT!!!!” To which he replies with “what the fuck do you want?” Me: “Goddamit Kent, what the FUCK do you want? You are the one leaving notes telling me to see you immediately!”. He then breaks into a laugh (and I’m pretty sure it was the only time he ever smiled at me) “Oh boy, someone knows about how you and I feel about each other and they are probably laughing their heads off right now.”
I leave and as I make my way back to my locker, I see Tomzack rolling on the floor laughing. As I sat next to him by my locker I said: “Mike, I don’t have time for this crap. This is my first start and it’s week thirteen! Come on! Seriously, grow up. I don’t have time for this now.” To which he said “you are right, I’m sorry. Just get your stuff on and get your head into the game”.
To my relief I started to get dressed. Almost finished, As I went to put my cleats on, I noticed that they were unusually heavy. To my horror I saw that they were filled with pistachios. Mike: “come on my friend. How better to welcome a Persian to the Steelers than with some delicious pistachios?”. Mike was great. Couple of days later I decided to soak his jockstrap in some icy hot. He really loved that!
You suffered a career-ending injury in 2001. How is your health today, and how did the injury occur?
I destroyed my LCL, PCL, and ACL. It was the end. What was sad is that I was playing the best football of my career. As for now I feel great. I am in great shape. I am 310 pound with little body fat and I feel like I am twenty-five years old.
The worst injuries that I ever suffered came from a car accident. I drove off a cliff and fell 150 feet below, and by the grace of God I survived. I destroyed my pelvis, and tore several tendons and muscles in my left arm. But thanks to some great doctors and therapists, I’m back and able to do most things that I enjoy.
What were your favorite memories as a Steeler and what made them so?
I really enjoyed playing the game as a Steeler. I remember going against guys like Kevin Greene, Derrick Thomas, and Jevon Kearse. I enjoyed my battles with Jevon. I hope he doesn’t remember the things I did and said to him in the pile.
It’s funny hearing this bounty situation. I remember talking to Greg Williams in 2001 in Buffalo, and he responding to my apology about what I did to Blane Bishop in a Steeler-Jags game in 2000 with: “sportsmanship is highly overrated. Shoot in that game we had a bounty on you. So don’t worry about it, I don’t hold anything against you”
Any last thoughts for readers?
I hope you guys (Steelers Nation) appreciate the Steelers organization. They are first-rate, from ownership to coaches down to players and staff. I loved putting on the black and gold and even though I was one for an extremely short time, I am proud to say that I was a Steeler.