Terry O’Shea, Steelers Tight End, 1989-1990
First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing since your time in the NFL and how you got started in this line of work?
I’m holding up well.
I have a wife (Amy) and two kids – Moira (13) and Delaney (11).
I’m self-employed. I was in the environmental business until 9-11. I was laid off about six months after that. Now, I work on internet marketing and I’m glad I’m into it. I got into it through networking with some others that were involved in it. We have a strong focus on the health and wellness industries.
You made the Steelers squad in ’89 after trying out with the team. What about you and your style of play do you think earned you a roster spot?
It was a lot different than it is now. I was an undrafted free agent and was brought in my Pittsburgh for a look a couple of days after the draft. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New Orleans all asked me to come in but Pittsburgh asked me first.
It’s like that old expression – luck is when opportunity meets preparation. Mularkey was the starter and Preston Gothard was there as an expensive backup. The best thing I brought to the table was that I was a hard worker. I was willing to do whatever was asked of me – I stayed late after practice and spent more time in the weight room. I was not the most athletic gut. That’s easier for me to say now looking back at 45 years old (laughing). A lot of guys were more naturally gifted, but didn’t work as hard.
Being a local guy (having played at California University of PA) how exciting was it to play for your hometown team, and did you receive offers to play elsewhere?
It was a mixed bag. I grew up in Beechtree and my dad had season tickets to the Steelers. I used to go to the games during the years they were winning all the Super Bowls. He still had the tickets when I made the team. We grew up only ten minutes from the stadium.
Making the team was a blessing. everything was local – I didn’t have the worries of relocating. There was no pressure to make new friends or adjust to a new city. The year I got cut I actually had bought a house nearby beforehand – that worked out well (laughing).
On the other side, it did add to the pressure. You go to your usual places and all the people know you and evaluate you every week. After a while you find yourself avoiding places and people. You just don’t want to deal with it.
So much is mental. I found myself focusing more on not messing up than on performing at my top level.
Who helped you adjust to the Steelers as a rookie – both on and off the field – and how did they do so? Any examples?
There was a natural gravitation to the players in your position and to the other rookies. Looking back, the guys I hung out with most were quarterback Rick Strom – he wasn’t a rookie but he was a local guy. And Jerry Olsavsky.
Easily, Mularkey helped me the most. He was the perfect guy for me. A young guy making more money than he ever could before – your ego can go out of place. He was always considerate – you could say he was a mentor and a gentleman. He was a veteran with no ego and knew how to practice sand play. There are a lot of things he did off the field that I still carry with me today.
I also had the locker next to Tunch Ilkin. He was a 100% quality individual. You didn’t have to go to dinner with him – you could just watch how he lived and learn from it. What do they say – you live the gospel every day and preach it only when necessary. That was Tunch.
’89 was considered a rebuilding year for the team after losing many veteran players and a tough start to the season. Yet, the team managed to make the playoffs. How did the coaching staff and players turn things around – what were the key turning points to the season?
We got killed our first two games. I thought about this afterwards. There was calm around the coaching staff – that was Noll. None of the vets got up and said what are we doing! Coach Noll would tell us at times that we were on the team, but not forever (laughing).
We had the highest amount of rookies that year on the team then Coach Noll ever had. We just had to adjust I think and build confidence.
What was your role on the team?
I was the second-team tight end. I also played special teams and on short-yardage situations. The fourth or fifth game of my rookie year Mularkey got knocked out so I played more then.
Who were some of the biggest characters on those Steelers teams you played for and what made them so? Any examples of the hijinks on the team?
The wildest player I remember was Terry Long. You never knew what mood he’d be in. He’d whip you with a towel when you walked by. He was on my direct route to the showers, so depending on his mood, I would either walk past him or bypass him to get there. I was sad to hear when he passed away.
I remember more of the funny moments – the day-to-day. They say football by midseason is like Groundhog Day. It’s a monotonous grind. As a rookie you play ten games. In the NFL, after preseason and playoff games, that’s twenty or more games.
Oh – I remember Tim Worley always a funny guy. He’d sneak up to you and put grass in your helmet’s earhole and make buzzing sounds like a bee. We’d whip our helmets off looking for the bees (laughing).
They were all really good people.
After the 90’s season, you were released and ended up playing for Barcelona of the World Football League. What made you decide to play overseas and how was that experience for you?
I got cut before the ’91 season. I’m actually on the ’91 team photo though!
It’s a funny story. I got called back after I got cut because they needed someone for a week for practice. On the practice day I went back and found my shirt in my locker – it had my number 85, but no name plate. It was just the shirt with no name. No one said anything, so I just went out to get the photo taken. Mularkey walked with me and asked me if I thought having no name on my jersey was any indication I wouldn’t make the team (laughing).
Sure enough, after practice, Donohoe came up to me and said thanks for the week of work.
I tried out after that for San Diego. I walked out with this other huge tight end and we introduced ourselves. The coach looked at both of us then said to me, “Terry, I thought you were bigger than that…” I was like, should I just go home now?
I wanted to play in Barcelona. I wasn’t going to get much playing time in the NFL not starting. I thought it would be good to take a slight step back, get playing time and build up my confidence, even though I had received an offer from Buffalo.
Playing there was fantastic. I was above average as a player there. All my confidence came back – I had six catches one game. We had a hotel on the Mediterranean Sea overlooking a beach. It was crazy. We played an hour away from Barcelona the year of the Olympics. We only practiced three days a week. That was opposite of Chuck Noll’s practices.
It was a lot of fun. The little town we stayed in had a siesta every day so we’d nap then go out. I remember we played beach volleyball the day of a game with a bunch of the girls. It was the opposite of the NFL. It was a lot of fun and less pressure.
Unfortunately, I got hurt around the fifth game – a herniated or bulging disk in my back. I got back in time to play one playoff game, then that was all she wrote for me.
Afterwards, you decided to retire. What drove that decision for you?
A couple of teams asked me to come in to camp afterwards. It was June and teams wanted me in camp in July. I had just spent six weeks rehabbing. I was not in the best shape to play football and I didn’t want to go in just to be a blocking dummy.
I also had a girlfriend then – now my wife – that had moved to Colorado. I knew if I played football again she and I wouldn’t happen. It was divine intervention – a new chapter in my life.
Who were the toughest guys you face – both in practice and on other teams – and what made them so?
I played against Derrick Thomas – I remember feeling the nervousness playing against him. I only played a couple of snaps against him and am proud to say I didn’t allow a sack.
Clay Matthews was the toughest guy. He was big and strong – those were his biggest factors. He wasn’t awfully fast, but strong and hard to move. My first start when Mularkey was knocked out, I played against him. I just thought, oh great, just what I wanted… Ilkin on the first play told me to watch the inside – I was supposed to set inside. But I set back and on that first play I got to hear my name on the stadium loudspeaker when I was called for holding Matthews.
On one of the last plays, I was supposed to hook him when we were near the endzone – to trap him inside. It was just me and him by ourselves, and I’m proud to say that Warren Williams scored on that play. He got me on the first play but I got him on the last! I’m sure he remembers that to this day (laughing).
Any last thoughts for readers?
I got the opportunity to play for Pittsburgh as a local guy. It was a mixed bag, but looking back, it was such a blessing to play for the team you grew up watching. As a retired player, to be able to live in the city you played for…
My daughter always tells people her dad played for the Steelers. Funny story – I was picking my kids up one day and I ran into Mel Blount and re-introduced myself to him. He is an impressive guy – the size of him to have been able to play cornerback….
Well, I asked him to say hi to my daughters, and he leaned i and said hi to them. Later on in the car I asked the girls what they thought, and my one daughter said, “Oh my God! I can’t wait to tell my friends I met a real Steeler!”