Jon Staggers, Steelers Wide Receiver, 1970-1971
First, can you let readers know about your work teaching Breema, what Breema is and how you got started?
Breema is about self-understanding and self-realization. It’s about being present in the moment – it helps to support the finding of meaning and purpose to life by being in harmony with the mind, body and feelings. Finding harmony with life.
You can ask the mind to participate with the body, but you can’t control your feelings. In high school and college, you’re mostly working with the mind. As an athlete, you work with the body and ask the mind to participate. The feelings come naturally afterwards.
Was it your involvement in sports/the NFL that led you to study Breema?
Sports gave me the feeling of exhilaration. Or was it because the body and the mind and the feelings were all working together in the present moment? It’s all about experiencing something you love.
My father was a coach – both in high school and college at some of the small Southern Black schools. I’ve been around athletes my whole life – I carried the helmets of the players he coached then. My uncle was a sociologist – they both had big influences on me. I searched for meaning in my own life using those influences and met many master teachers, and through them landed with Breema.
You were drafted by Pittsburgh in 1970 at a time when the team was going through a big transition under Chuck Noll. How did you see that transition affecting yourself and the rest of the team?
Well, I was going through a big transition of my own at the time. I had dislocated my shoulder right before the Orange Bowl. I played in the Orange Bowl and then in the Hula Bowl before getting surgery.
Interestingly, at the time I was drafted by the Steelers and graduating from college, I was also drafted by the Army. I got my physical and the Army told me to come back in six months due to the shoulder operation.
That was also the first year back for Rocky Bleier. They really took care of him – he wasn’t practicing yet – he was at the facility getting healthy. Well, my six months was up and I took my physical and was ready to enter the Army when the Steelers got me into the Army Reserves. I was unbelievably grateful and, in a great sense, very naive. I would have gone to Vietnam. My college friend and future teammate in Green Bay Ron McBride had also gotten out of the Army but had to do so by writing a letter to his congressman.
How did the Steelers transition affect you – and who helped you make the adjustment to the Steelers and NFL?
As for the Steelers, there was a real transition going on. The receivers being kept were all rookies – Ron Shanklin, Hubie Bryant, Dave Smith and myself. Veterans like Roy Jefferson were let go or traded.
John Henderson took me under his wing – he had an influence on me. I was attracted to his sister for starters (laughing) so we all became friends. Sam Davis helped me as did Lee Calland.
Lee helped teach me to slow down. I was a coach’s son – I wanted to do it all perfectly. Then I pulled my quad muscle and couldn’t practice. My receivers coach would always joke that there were twelve or thirteen guys trying out for four spots. But I was injured – there was not much I could do.
Did you feel like you were part of the future for the team?
I felt like we were part of the purge. There was a shifting culture and I was part of it. I was part of the transformation of the team. As a rookie, you don’t understand why one player makes it and one doesn’t. Everyone is very good.
I remember talking to Dave Davis in Green Bay about competition. I told him I wasn’t competing with someone else for a spot. I was simply taking advantage of an opportunity to work within myself to be my best. He looked at me like I was crazy (laughing). But it’s not me versus you. It’s how I can do my best to shine when given an opportunity.
How much of a part of things did humor play on those teams?
Frenchy Fuqua with that French persona was always funny but a good player too. Chuck Beatty was funny too – and John Brown anchored the team in a certain way.
Dave Smith was in law school at Duquesne. He had that tough New York attitude – here was a guy from New York, at Duquesne law school who had a wife and two kids. I don’t know how he did it!
J.T. Thomas and many others spoke of the affect the Steelers’ focus on drafting from the untapped smaller Southern Black schools had on the Steelers team culture. Having had that background from childhood, how did you see that on those Steelers teams you played for?
As you mentioned, I was around those colleges growing up. I felt accepted and at home in Pittsburgh. It was a very tumultuous time then – there was so much going on then. You got there and wondered where and how you fit in. But the team was warm to me. Sam Davis was also from those smaller Black schools for instance and I could talk to him about those things.
I remember Ben McGee and John Hinton would drive me to the airport. They would sit in the front seat and say the same things to one another and nod to one another. I could see they were in sync and understood them. It was a good mix of young and old that all understood each other.
After two seasons in Pittsburgh, you ended up in Green Bay. How did that occur?
Green Bay claimed me on injured waivers. I was put on injured waiver list in Pittsburgh’s last cut. It was a transition, definitely. I felt something coming. My wrist was injured in New York and Chuck told me he was hoping I’d get through waivers so they could re-sign me, but Green Bay claimed me. That was rare, teams didn’t claim many players off of injured waivers then.
How would you define yourself as a player?
A heart. I wasn’t really fast or quick. I made the difficult catches but missed some easy ones (laughing).
What are some of your biggest memories of Pittsburgh?
The camaraderie. Potholes…
There was another Breema instructor from Pittsburgh that was here with me in California recently. He told me he went to the games with his father. We didn’t talk much about football but he talked about going to the games. Pittsburgh was a blue-collar town. If they liked you, they liked you. If not, they let you know. They are honest fans and that was greatly appreciated. As a kid you don’t appreciate that. But now I do. I could care less about that now – I love myself. And that’s what meaning and purpose in life is. When you look at it, man, this is a difficult planet. It’s a tough place to be.
Any last thoughts for readers?
When things are tough – take a breath. There are also things that are really positive happening at the same time. It changes your perspective – your level of consciousness. It doesn’t fix it – but it raises you above it. It’s as simple as taking a breath.