Mike Collier, Steelers Running Back/Return Specialist, 1974-1977
First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your days in the NFL, and how you got involved in this?
What I do now really has nothing to do with my time in the NFL. I work as a full-time associate at Marten’s food store. I’ve been there for eighteen years. I moved here to Hagerstown from Baltimore because I couldn’t find a job teaching in Baltimore – I have an education degree. I taught in prison in ’85-’86, but they wanted me to become a corrections officer and I didn’t want to do that.
How difficult was the transition for you from the NFL to the “real world” and how did you make it happen?
I prepared for life after the NFL by going back and getting my degree. That was the key issue. When I was drafted in ’74 I didn’t have my college degree yet. The NFL made me tough and showed me I had to work to get what I wanted and to accomplish things.
You were a 14th round pick by the Steelers in 1974. Were you picked as a running back or as a return guy, and how did you win the role of the return man on the team?
I was drafted as a running back but I was a return guy too in college – I was known for that. I wasn’t going to be first string at the start – I knew that. I did well on special teams – that helped boost me up. I did it a lot in college so it wasn’t new to me, and in my first preseason game I almost returned a touchdown against the Eagles.
All I asked for was a chance. Being in the NFL and having that chance was the greatest thing. Luckily, there were six preseason games then. A couple guys got hurt – nothing too serious but it gave me a chance to play and prove myself. I did well on special teams and ran the ball well. I was just dedicated to making the team and working hard.
The team was loaded at running back – Harris, Bleier, Fuqua, Harrison…how frustrating was that for you trying to get playing time, and how competitive were the running backs with one another?
It was very competitive. But I believed in myself – that was the most important thing. I just needed opportunities. They used me a lot in short yardage – I was powerful and determined and was able to get those yards.
The other guys were helpful, but only to a certain extent. We were still all competing for jobs. They knew I had talent and recognized that.
Frenchy (Fuqua) set the tone for me. He was the one that actually talked to the scouts to go to Morgan State to take a look at me. He must have heard some things from the folks there at Morgan..
Everyone helped me some in practice. They’d come to me if I did something wrong and tell me I should have done this or that in practice. But I knew my place – I could play all of the positions because I did that in Morgan – halfback, fullback, wingback – and special teams.
What was the mindset of the team before its first Super Bowl appearance, do you remember. As a young team. how did it prepare for and handle the big game?
We had the best preparer in the game in Chuck Noll. He was the best at making us ready to win a championship. He never got enough credit. You always hear people talking about Belichick and other guys as the greatest coaches. You rarely hear about Noll. That upsets me greatly. He was one of the greatest coaches ever in that timeframe.
What made him so successful?
He knew how to motivate. We fed off of his enthusiasm and tenaciousness on the sidelines, and his hard work. We all fed off of that.
What happened after the ’77 season, and how difficult was it for you to leave Pittsburgh and end up in Buffalo in 1977?
It was real difficult leaving. But it was an opportunity to play a little bit more. Especially after O.J. got hurt in Buffalo. It’s just the matter of the fact the NFL is still a business, like anything else. One day you’re here, the next day you’re there. That’s just the way it is.
Humor plays a big part in keeping teams loose. Who were some of the guys on the Steelers teams you played for that helped keep things light, and how did they do so? Any examples of the hijinks?
Bradshaw was the main guy – he kept things free and easy. I’ll always remember him playing his guitar and singing country songs n the locker room…
What are your thoughts on today’s NFL?
I have lots of thoughts… The NFL is more worried now about money, TV… Money has changed the game – dramatically. It’s now more about showing off the passing game – the running game’s almost gone. It’s all shotgun, throwing the ball…. The NFL feels like more points makes the game more interesting I guess. I like the tough defensive game – ones decided by three points or less. I don’t like blowouts and I don’t think they are good for the NFL….
Any last thoughts for readers?
I just think a lot of players today don’t seem to appreciate being in the NFL, watching how they behave. I appreciated every day in the NFL. You don’t know how quickly it can all be gone. As quick as you are drafted, it can go away.