Chris Kolodziejski, Steelers Tight End, 1984
First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL career, including your new investment – Chella Skin Care Products?
I was fortunate to graduate from University of Wyoming with a finance degree and after my career ending injury, I moved back home to California and started a real estate development and construction company. That was a great business to be in from 1985 to 1991, however in 1991 we went thought a dramatic real estate collapse that lasted until 1996.
In 1993, I shifted into Corporate Finance and Investment Banking and helped many companies secure the debt and equity that they needed to grow. It was during that time that I decided I had to start my own company and get involved in building a brand and value for myself and family instead of for someone else. So in 2003, I founded Chella Skin Care with the goal of creating and bringing cutting edge, scientifically advanced anti-aging skin products to the market that really worked.
Before 2003 most skin care products really were just hope in a bottle. However, in early 2003 I discovered that there were a new types of ingredients that were being used in skin care called peptides. Our entire body, and most importantly, our skin is comprised of a collection of certain Amino Acids. Peptides are specific chains of Amino Acids and can have communication properties with our skin that signal our skin to restore and rejuvenate into younger looking skin. This science became the foundation of Chella, creating a truly unique and efficacious line of skin care products.
How did you get involved in this new business and what lessons learned through your football career have you been able to apply to this business?
I think there are several really important lessons that have translated to this business and to life. The first is that a company is just like a team… we are building a great cosmetic company because the folks on our team are passionate about what they do, the product we make and the kind of company we are building. Your team (Employees) is your company and we are fortunate that we have great folks on our team!
Another lesson is about Mentors. Personally for me, everything that I have accomplished has been a result of someone taking the time to coach or mentor me in some way. Pittsburgh has always had great leadership with the Rooney family and great coaching and the ability to be coachable and seek out mentors has served me well. I have been very blessed to have had awesome coaches and mentors in my life.
Finally, never quit. In football, you are going to find yourself on the ground a lot or getting knocked down- life is a lot like that. It’s what you do after you get knocked down that matters.
You were the 2nd round pick of the Steelers in 1984. Who helped you adjust to the NFL as a rookie – both on and off the field – and how did they do so?
Calvin Sweeney became a great friend…we just hit it off as soon as we met. He really took me under his wing and helped me understand the system and spent time introducing me to Pittsburgh and the community. We both love food and he took me to some great restaurants in Pittsburgh. I also think he has some cowboy in his blood- one of the first things he did when I got to Pittsburgh was take me horseback riding. Calvin is a wonderful guy with a beautiful family and we are still friends to this day
You were there with tight ends Bennie Cunningham, Preston Gothard and Darrell Nelson. Were you wondering where you fit into that group – and how competitive were you amongst one another?
Well, first they were all a bunch of great guys. Bennie was also a great mentor and happy to share and help the team be better and help me whenever I asked. I was honored to be a part of that group.
Your rookie season, you suffered a knee injury that caused you to miss the final eleven games of the season. How did the injury occur and how did you cope with that setback, not knowing at the time the severity of the injury?
We were playing in 1984 against the San Francisco 49ers who were the eventual Super Bowl Champions that year and at the time of my injury, they were undefeated. My injury occurred in the fourth quarter with just about three minutes left in the game. We were down by seven and needed a score to tie and we had a first and 20 on about the 49ers’ 30 yard line.
Chuck Noll had called a timeout and I ran over to the sideline where Chuck, Mark Malone and Stallworth were huddled together discussing what play to run. I jumped in and called my own play. I told Chuck, “ I got this guy, throw the ball to me and I will get the first down.” Chuck looks at me and says, “ Ok, let’s run the play.” The play put Stallworth and Louis Lipps out left where I knew their defenders would double up on them and leave me one on one on the right side with man to man coverage.
I beat my guy off the line and was wide open. Unfortunately, something happened on the throw and I think Mark got hit and the ball was badly underthrown. I had to try and stop and back peddle about three steps and caught the ball off of my foot just before it hit the ground. As I did a 180 to try and get headed back to the end zone, I turned and planted my left foot in the turf and by that time Free Safety Dwight Hicks had now had time to adjust and make his way over to tackle me. His helmet hit me right on the kneecap as my foot was planted. My kneecap was partially shattered and my leg hyper extended to the point that my foot hit my helmet. I had also suffered two severed ligaments. I did however, hold onto the ball, made the first down and that gave us the ball on the five yard line.
Stallworth caught a touchdown on the next play and Brian Hinkle intercepted a Joe Montana pass and ran it back for a game winning touchdown. It was in one play, a career ending catastrophic injury. I think we all need to remember football is a brutal game and we leave not because we want to, but because we are generally injured.
During your playing time, who were the toughest guys you lined up against both in practices and on the field and what made them so?
The toughest guy I played against was Clay Matthews; he was the best athlete I ever faced. I think what makes great players is a combination of all the athletic skills combined with brains and heart. Clay was the complete player. His career is testament to that.
You were never able to return to the NFL after the injury. How did you prepare for the next stages of your life and how difficult was that for you?
Fortunately for me I had a great education at the University of Wyoming and was prepared for a business life after football. At 22, you think you are invincible and bullet proof and, having never suffered a serious injury, I was very much looking forward to a long career with the Steelers. I never imagined a short one-year career. ‘
That being said, I saw so many great talents in High School and College get hurt and never have an opportunity to live the dream of playing in the professional arena, so by way of observation I was prepared. I spent a year dedicated to nothing but my re-hab but realized that my knee was just not able to respond to the level it needed for me to compete and realized that my wonderfully journey with the Steelers was now over.
Who are some of the biggest characters on those Steelers teams you played for and what made them so? Any examples of the hijinks on those teams?
Rich Erenberg for sure. He was a rookie on that team with me back in 1984 and we were roommates on the road and we had our share of hi-jinks and fun. I think the most fun I had was sneaking out of Latrobe training camp with Rich after curfew. Sorry Rich, I don’t think they can fine us anymore.
What are your thoughts on how the tight end position has changed over the years?
I think you now see NBA Power Forward type athletes who could play in NBA who are now playing in the NFL- guys that are un-stoppable in terms of overall athletic ability. When you have a great tight end that can block and catch, it can really be a problem for the defense and completely changes what the offense can do.
What are some of your best memories as a Steeler and what makes them so?
The fans… Pittsburgh is such a fantastic city with fans that have tremendous heart and passion for the game.
I have so many great memories! One of them was right after I was drafted I was still living in Laramie Wyoming and I got a package on ice from an Iggy Borkowski,a long time friend of Art Rooney, Senior. In the package was a box full of Kielbasa with a note welcoming me to Pittsburgh and the Polish Community. What an amazing welcome and gift. He was one of the first people I met when I arrived at Pittsburgh.
The other great memory was my first rookie start against the Cincinnati Bengals. The team captains awarded me a game ball for a Monday Night Game of the week. Wow, that was pretty amazing!
Any last thoughts for readers?
If you ever have an opportunity to mentor and give back, it’s amazing the lives that you can change and how richly rewarding that experience can be. I think that spirit needs to be nurtured and for people to realize that a simple act of kindness and sharing can change a person’s life forever. We all need and want to belong and not all of us are fortunate to have had that feeling of belonging.
The Steeler Nation is a great example. The Steelers have the best fans in the world because they are a part of that team. I think that’s the part we need to share with others… that sense of belonging. I think mentoring, coaching and serving in the communities we live in are all wonderfully impactful things we can do to make a difference.