Ray Snell, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 1984-1985
First, can you let readers know what you have been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL?
I wake up at 4:15 every morning to work out!
I’m the project manager for the Tampa Bay Housing Authority. There are three of us on staff so I’m always very busy. I’ve been there the past three years. This is my second stint – I was there before as the Assistant Director of Operations. When the state of Florida reduced the staff my job ended, but I came back with Tampa Housing authority as a project manager.
My father owned a construction company growing up – so that was always a part of my life as a youngster and that helped get me interested in being prepared for the role as well.
How did football influence your career?
The things I learned from Chuck Noll carried me through. His hard work ethic and attitude – stick-to-itiveness. “The low man always wins.” he used to say. I took that attitude from him and it affected me greatly. I always had the attitude – you need the aptitude and the drive. When I was traded from Tampa Bay to Pittsburgh, I learned about that blue-collar, hard-work mentality. That was from Chuck Noll and I leaned on that when I raised my children and at work.
You were Tampa Bay’s first round pick in 1980. As such a high pick, how did you deal with the pressure associated with the pick and what was your biggest adjustment?
The first thing you do when you get drafted is to get acclimated to the area and your new teammates. You try to fit in. There were stalwarts at the position already.
I played immediately. But I had a number of issues – knee, hands and neck injuries. Nothing can prepare you for that next level. The first year I got adjusted to the NFL. My second year I was ready but then I had a serious knee injury. So I had to adjust to that. I was adjusting to things throughout my time there.
You found yourself in Pittsburgh after four years in Tampa Bay. What brought on the trade to Pittsburgh?
I told Coach McKay that I wanted to be paid like my peers or be traded He said that if I played well in the preseason Hall of Fame game he would do what he could. I played well that game, and then I was traded.
Were you disappointed in being traded?
I was disappointed at first. McKay was enthused – I had a great Hall of Fame game. The next morning I was told to go speak to him and I’ll never forget the conversation. He told me that I had asked him to be traded if I played well. Then he said, “You’ve been traded to the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers!”
The rest of the staff told me to go do what they knew I could do.
I had friends in Pittsburgh – Robin Cole, Calvin Sweeney, Dunn, Stallworth. I was concerned until I got there. But the hard work attitude was something I liked and I was accepted by the players.
How did you time in Pittsburgh go?
I had a good first season. After my second year I had a blow out fracture of my right eye. It happened in practice – on a trap play I collided so hard with David Little it broke my facemask. They fixed the helmet but I said, wow, I couldn’t feel my face.
We thought it was just an open wound – but I later learned my eye was ruptured. I was a debilitating injury and I couldn’t recover from it. I was placed on injured reserve, then released.
Detroit asked me later if I could play. I tried – I didn’t know yet that it was a fracture. I made the team and played, but in the game against Chicago it got worse. I could not feel the right side of my face from my eye to my teeth. After that, I retired.
Who helped you adjust as a Steeler – both on and off the field – and how?
Calvin Sweeney and Dewayne Woodruff were best friends of mine. I remember playing in Philly one night and clowning around on the field. I had never done that before. In the locker room, I saw Lambert smoking a cigarette. It was just incredible seeing all of these guys. Everyone played in a professional manner. Webster was truly a leader. I had respect for all of them and slid into my own niche there. I was also friends and roommates with Weegie Thompson.
I was sad I was released but had a horrific injury. I’ll never know how it could have ended up.
How big of a part did humor play on those teams and who were some of the biggest characters on those Steelers teams and what made them so? Any examples of the hijinks?
It was a serious team. Larry Brown – we called him the “Boss”. He was the consummate professional. I had great regard for him. In Tampa Bay we had a lot of jokesters but I didn’t see that in Pittsburgh. It was a professional atmosphere. There wasn’t a lot of joking around going on.
My locker was near Tunch Ilkin’s and Craig Wolfley’s. It wasn’t a ton of fun – we just did our job. But they were terrific professionals.
What were the biggest issues those ’84 and ’85 teams faced and how did the team handle those?
I have to tell you this story! I remember playing Cleveland in Cleveland. I truly did not realize then the level of rivalry that existed between the two teams until I hit the tunnel. I thought Chicago and Tampa Bay had a rivalry. But as I went through the tunnel, the Dawg Pound and other fans….our uniforms were dirty before we started playing because of the eggs and other stuff they threw at us.
Webster said to me when we were in the tunnel – “Start running immediately and as fast as you can!” I just thought, sure…. After the game, I thought, we were truly hated here! I asked him if our fans did the same thing at Three Rivers, but he just said he didn’t know (laughing).
That was the most memorable time I’ve had. In every city, the Steelers were truly hated. And I liked that! We’d come in with nonchalant game plans and beat the heck out of other teams. Of course they hated us. We won because of our attitude and workman-like approach – Noll was the reason for it.
Who were some of the toughest players you faced as a player – both in practice and on game days? What made them so?
Gary Dunn was always a load. he was a strong, hulking kind of man. Merriweather, Little, Cole and Winston were always good players. The game-time attitude at practice made you ready and better for the games.
Edmund Nelson – he was extremely good too.
What are your thoughts on today’s NFL – both on the rules and the players themselves?
Last December, I was invited to Jimmy Giles Ring of Honor ceremony. I saw the nuances of today’s athletes.
I was in awe of the training table, new meeting rooms, electronic gadgets, the playbooks that were now on iPads. Everything changed so much. The athletes today are a different breed now.
We helped build that. We had a shanty of a weight room and training room in Pittsburgh. Did we need more than that to be successful? I don’t know if we would today or not, but today’s athletes got the best of it all. We set the table for them, just like players in the past did for us. I’m just disappointed we didn’t get more of that ourselves.
Is the NFL doing enough for retired players today?
Absolutely not. Ownership doesn’t take responsibility for the injuries we have. They have to see it from our side. I have a dislodged bone in my optic nerve and will have surgery Monday. The NFL is not taking any responsibility for it. The surgeon said I made the right decision to get out of the game when I did.
I accepted my role and moved on. But I’m disappointed every time I see my teammates who are suffering from injuries from the game and who can barely walk.
I just wonder about the next athletes. These young guys – wait until they are forty or fifty – if they even make it. I feel lucky when I see my former teammates and pray to the Lord every day for myself and them.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I have two sons I am extremely proud of. I’m very proud of my Church as well.