Johnny Dirden, Steelers Return Specialst, 1981
First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL work – how you got started and what aspects of the job do you enjoy the most and why?
Over past thirty years, it was difficult getting work but have settled in with a great career with Oxygen and medical related equipment sales, for past fourteen years.
How did your time in the NFL help prepare you for your post-NFL life?
Post NFL life was challenging to say the least. But somehow managed.
You were drafted by the Oilers in 1978. Coming from a smaller school like Sam Houston St., how difficult was it for you to adjust to the NFL game and how did you do so? Any examples?
In 1978 I was actually drafted by the Oilers after walking on for a tryout while driving a cement truck in Houston. The transition was amazing because it had been my dream.
In ’81, you signed on with the Steelers as a free agent. Why did you choose to sign with the Steelers – especially as they were still deep at receiver with Swann, Stallworth, Jimmy Smith and Sweeney there?
Regarding the Steelers, my answer is “why not!” I was offered a tryout , worked really hard, and made the team!
Who helped mentor you as a new Steeler – both on and off the field – and how did they do so?
There was no mentor in Pittsburgh.
How competitive was that receiver corps with one another? How did they handle the struggle to get passes thrown to them and how did Bradshaw and the coaches handle that?
My focus in training camp was on making a mark on special teams. I knew from the past that to compete with starting receivers was a losing battle.
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?
There was a lot of joking going on, but I don’t remember most of it!
As a special teams/return specialist, what about you and your approach to the game helped you excel in that role and how much emphasis did the team place on special teams in practice?
Special teams was very important. I was determined to be fast and effective on the field.
You left the NFL in ’81. What prompted that decision and how difficult was that for you?
I left the NFL and USFL due to age and too many injuries.
What are your thoughts on the way the game has changed today – especially as it relates to the emphasis on passing? Any last thoughts for readers?
I’m grateful for the opportunity to have played in the NFL, and am so proud to be able to tell people about that. However, the injuries and concussions have been life changing, not in a positive way. I have a wonderful support system with my family…