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Dennis Hughes, Steelers Tight End, 1970-1971

March 25, 2013
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Dennis Hughes

First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL and how you got started in your post-NFL career?

Now, I’m unable to do much of anything. I’m a good bit disabled. My back is not in good shape. My knee was replaced. I had a disk taken out…screws in my back. I take it day-to-day…that’s how I feel.

Are these all football related injuries?

They are all football related, yes. A lot of them have to do with the field in Pittsburgh then. It was the worst field in the game, and then I went to the second worst stadium in the NFL after Pittsburgh in Houston. I played in the two worst fields in my two and a half years. I guess it wore me out….

Has the NFL helped at all?

There was no padding on that Pittsburgh field – there’s nothing you can do about it now. ANd the NFL is not helping at all. All I have is three years and the way its set up it’s five years you need to have. I pay $180-$200 a month out of pocket just for my medications. I’m helping to raise my granddaughter and need all the help I can give her.

You came to the Steelers in 1970 – were you surprised to be picked by Pittsburgh? What did you think your role was going to be with them?

I wasn’t drafted. I broke four ribs and punctured my lung my senior year in college at Georgia. I spoke to Joe Gordon in Pittsburgh and he impressed me the most so I signed with them. Jimmy Orr also played in Pittsburgh – he was the rookie of the year for Pittsburgh and had played at Georgia too. His dad was a doctor and he actually brought me and my brothers into the world. So, I signed because of Joe and Jimmy.

I also thought I had a chance to start in Pittsburgh. I was supposed to be a second or third round pick before the injury. I was no slouch!

You started really just as Chuck Noll was putting his own stamp on the team. What did you notice about his approach to rebuilding the Steelers and how was he perceived by you and the rest of the team?

He had his own way. He came from Baltimore and brought in some of the players from Baltimore. He didn’t need them though and many didn’t make the team.

He brought in the intelligence factor to drafting – that was his forte’. The next year, when I got there, he brought in Bradshaw, Blount and had White, Wagner in that draft too. He added in the right places – he picked what he needed and they blended well.

What was Bradshaw like then?

I lived with Bradshaw for two months in  his hometown of Shreveport and worked out with him there. He was a great person. He got so much bad publicity then. I remember the first Monday Night Football game. We beat Cincinnati that night – I caught two touchdowns that game. After the game Howard Cossell wanted to interview me. But he interviewed Terry first and introduced him as the “Number one draft flop of the year.” So I woudn’t talk to him and interviewed with Myron Cope instead.

Could you tell at the time that the team was turning itself around and getting ready to be a Super Bowl contender?

Oh you could tell, no doubt. The type of people they drafted in the 70’s…..Bradshaw was one of the best quarterbacks ever. Ron Shanklin, Mullins, Clack and Kolb…. You could see things changing – the strength and intelligence in the players.

Speaking of strength, how did Lou Riecke’s weightlifting program that was introduced in ’70 help the team?

It helped considerably. For that time, the weightlifting program was very good. Kolb and Clack were two of the strongest men you ever saw. You didn’t need a spotter with the new system which meant you could lift when you wanted – that made it a very good system.

Who helped you adjust to life in the NFL in 1970 – both on and off the field – and how did they do so? Any examples?

We missed a lot because it was a holdout year. That really hurt us rookies – we didn’t get the chance to bond with the veterans. We were left to fend for ourselves. Now, I was a little cocky – I felt I could do whatever they needed me to do. That I didn’t need anyone. I think that could have been a detriment for me too.

J.R. Wilburn helped me some too – but I really didn’t seek out help.

Who were some of the biggest characters on those teams and what made them so? Any examples of the hijinks/funny stories?

Joe Greene! He and L.C. {Greenwood} played a lot of jokes. Once they put a rubber snake in John Brown’s locker. I always got blamed because I sat next to them – my locker was next to theirs. I didn’t know they did that to John and John was deathly afraid of snakes.

Well, John picked up a stool and beat the hell out of that snake – he was scared. They tried to tell him I did it but I got to him quick and told im it wasn’t me!

When I lived with Terry he was as country as I am. He wasn’t cocky at all. He was one of the top three athletes on the team. If they had a good quarterback coach then I think he would have started and we would have won more games.

You had a solid year in 1970 – 24 catches, over 330 yards, including a 72 yard touchdown catch versus the Bengals. What do you attribute that success to?

The good Lord gave me the ability for the big gain. I was All-State at track in high school and was an All-State at baseball as well. I was also the top-rated running back my senior year in high school in South Carolina. I knew what to do with a football and hustled on every play.

So, what made you convert to tight end in college?

They had a big-name running back at Georgia and things were very political. I went eighty yards my first carry for a touchdown and the coach told me I hit the wrong hole. We played both ways then and one day in practice I knocked out the tight end, so the coach told me I had to take over the tight end spot from then on. I didn’t take a lick – I delivered the lick.

Why football and not baseball?

Believe it or not, as a ten-year old I made the statement that one of my brothers or me would play pro football. I made a decision to get my degree first – if I played baseball I would have gone straight to the minor leagues after college. I promised my mom and dad I’d get the degree and did so. My dad never got past sixth grade, and my mom never made it past eleventh grade, so it was important to them and me.

In ’71 your playing time and numbers dropped. What happened and what prompted you to leave the NFL after that season?

I had a hip pointer in ’70 that set me back. I also did not have a good relationship with coach Lionel Taylor. I was a Southerner and he didn’t like that one bit. He wouldn’t talk to me. He wanted nothing to do with me.

He took me out of the game against Philadelphia because I was called for a clipping penalty. The referee was wrong – was at the wrong angle. Well, he jerked me out of the game and chewed me out right there on the sidelines. I said wait a minute! I’m not a boy – I’m a man and your don’t talk to me that way. He apologized to me later during the game and even said it wasn’t a clip.

You don’t do that – you have to keep your faculties about you. He bad-mouthed me to Chuck and benched me even though I was the team’s leading receiver.

What are your thoughts on the way the tight end position – and the NFL in general – has changed since you played in the early 70’s?

Now, they think you have to be 6’5″ to play. The position has totally changed – the offenses have changed. Now, the tight end is a receiver, tackle and running back. There are awesome players now like Tony Gonzalez – he’s unbelievable. Guys are just bigger.

I’m a little over 6’1″. I think I could play still play it. I think I could….but could I? That is a good question.

What are some of your best memories as a Steeler and what makes them so?

My funniest memory was when a bunch of us rookies went to Three Rivers Stadium before it was done being built. All of us rookies were running on to the field and the workers all stopped working. Then they stood up and started booing us! It’s the God’s honest truth.

I told Terry that we gotta change those boos to cheers!

I also remember the preseason game we had in Shreveport, Louisiana. They had one there Terry’s rookie season because he was the number one pick and from there. All of Terry’s friends and family were there -we were all hyped up for the game.

Well, we’re in the huddle for our first series and I asked Terry if he as ok, and he said “Yeah!” I said “Ok, let’s have a good one then!” Then right after that, Terry threw up, right there in the huddle. It was the funniest thing I’d ever seen!

Well, we just all moved the huddle over as a group and went on from there!

Any last thoughts for readers?

I’ve donated twenty years of my life as a volunteer coach at local schools. I love kids and work with them to keep them off of the corners here. If I can help one kid out of a hundred, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I have parents come to me today to introduce me to their kids, telling them how important what I did was for them.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Cathie (Barker) Pfaff permalink
    September 9, 2013 2:05 am

    I remember watching the Steelers play the Vikings at Metro Stadium. We had gone to watch my cousin play. Living in Minnesota, there was no surprise when people looked at us funny for rooting for Pittsburgh. But Dennis Hughes was my cousin and he was playing pro ball. Made us proud watching him score against the Vikings. You can take the girl outt og the south, but you can’t take the south out of the girl. Proud of you cuz! And all you have done!

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