Our Ron Lippock caught up with former Steelers guard Duval Love, who played for the Steelers from 1992 to 1994.
First, can you tell us what you’ve been doing since you retired from the NFL?
Basically, I’m retired now. After I retired, I got married and have been able to watch my kids grow up and to be a part of their lives. I coached some of their football and hockey teams and have been happy just to be a dad.
How hard was that post-NFL adjustment for you?
It was a hard adjustment. A lot didn’t go my way. People try to take advantage of you — my ex-teammates and I talked about that — about there always being a target on our backs with the NFL logo. I had some businesses that didn’t work out, so I decided after a while to just hang out with my football friends and be with my family.
What advice would you give guys to avoid those same issues?
Always check with someone smarter than you. And not everyone is a friend. I should have stayed with football. I wasn’t a businessman, that wasn’t how I was.
In Philly I did a coaching internship with Andy Reid, he was a great guy. And I did one in Seattle with Mike Holmgren. So I got some coaching experience and some bucks. I also worked with John Robinson and UNLV.
But I wouldn’t want to coach right now. I’m just making sure to take care of my body and live a normal life. Not to get too excited, I worry about CTE. So I am just trying to be normal, lose weight and stay in shape. I’ve seen teammates pass away. Seeing guys I played with drop dead at 52 or 53 is scary.
Let’s talk about your time in Pittsburgh. What prompted the decision to play for the Steelers after leaving Los Angeles in free agency?
That was back in the old days with Plan B free agency. It was my last year with the Rams, in 1991. They put me on Plan B. Bill Cowher was a new coach, that was his first year in Pittsburgh. He called me and asked me to come in. I never met Cowher before. I didn’t even know what he looked like. This was before you could Google somebody! So, when I got there I walked into the office and we introduced ourselves and hit it off right away.
It was a nice meeting. He asked me if I wanted to be a Steeler, and of course I said yes. I didn’t have a job at the time! When I landed in Pittsburgh and drove through the tunnels and saw the city, I thought it was really neat. I felt at home. Meeting the staff and players, they made me feel like it was home. I was the first person Cowher signed as a head coach. It was special knowing I was his first priority then.
You had been in the NFL a while, but did anyone in Pittsburgh help who you learn the ropes a bit there?
Well I was an older guy then yeah. I was in my eighth year in the NFL. Dermontti Dawson, Carlton Haselrig, Leon Searcy they just drafted, I was older than those guys. They knew I had success blocking for Eric Dickerson and had played for some good teams in Los Angeles. They looked at me to show them the way. We all got along well right away too.
I showed them mostly about working hard. I wanted them to now I was committed to getting the team back to it’s winning ways, to getting the team back off the ground.
You went to college and played on the West coast – how did you like the East coast climate?
I really enjoyed it. It was something different. I would go back to California in the offseason but I enjoyed the snow and the change of seasons. Watching the leaves change color.
A lot of close losses in the playoffs during your time there. How frustrating was that?
In ’92, not many people were giving us a chance. People didn’t know much about Cowher. He was a young coach and they didn’t think we’d do as well as we did.
The success of the team was a reflection of the head coach. We were tough and wanted to punch you in your face. Barry Foster had a great year and the offensive line got some recognition then.
We believed in Ron Earhardt. He won a Super Bowl with New York. And he believed in us. He told us he didn’t ask us to do anything he didn’t think we were capable of doing. We didn’t have a Pro Bowler on offense but after he got there Dawson, me, Yancey Thigpen, Foster all had success and made it. He gave us confidence, I knew we had too much talent for us not to make it to a Super Bowl. Unfortunately, they did a year after I left.
I wish I never had left. That’s a sore spot for me. I didn’t want to leave.
As usual it was about money. I was at the Pro Bowl with Bill Cowher and we were looking out over the ocean, and said “Duval, I want you to be a Steeler for life. Let’s get this worked out.”
I told him I couldn’t wait. But it just didn’t work out. I went to Arizona for my last two years. Hardy Nickerson, Kevin Greene – the same thing happened to then. They didn’t give out as much then. It wasn’t personal. You just have to move on.
Any fun memories of your time in Pittsburgh?
Cowher always held Saturday meetings, then we’d go on the field for only about five or ten minutes.
During the Saturday meetings, he’d have his notebook with him and he’d ask players questions from it about the other teams we were playing. He’d ask me for example what the number one stunt was that the Raiders used. I didn’t know. Most guys didn’t know the answers. Cowher got discouraged a lot, He asked Greg Lloyd about a formation the team we were playing would use and he didn’t know. I think guys got nervous and froze up!
He asked Yancey Thigpen what the number one coverage he’d see from the team we were playing, and he told coach he didn’t know. It got to be hilarious. He got Levon Kirkland too. It became like a show. It got to be funny and broke things up a little bit. Cowher stopped doing it. He even got Dermontti Dawson when he asked him what the number one front he’d face was.
Being there for Cowher’s first season as Pittsburgh’s head coach, how did you see him winning over the team – especially a pretty veteran team?
Well Cowher was a young guy. He was only six yeas older than me. He could relate to the guys better. One of the first things he did was to have no more 2:30 practices. They were down to 1:55 – to a tee.
He related well to the guys. In camp, he would have those days when he’d take practices off and go see a movie. It never got boring under Cowher. He didn’t work us to death. He was smart about that.
I remember once in Latrobe we were having a bad practice. Neil O’Donnell kept dropping the ball, Dawson was snapping the ball poorly, the running backs kept falling down. The grass was wet, I think because of the dew. Well, Cowher got everyone together and gave a speech. He was pissed off, gave the speech, then told everyone to get out of here and he’d see us tomorrow. I thought about that later and I think, he probably had planned that, knowing him.
He did things like that. His first game as a head coach, in Houston, he showed everyone what kind of coach he’d be. He called that fake punt if you remember. That was a pivotal point. It gave us trust in him. We practiced that scenario and he had the guts to do it. Not many coaches would have. He was a young coach and showed he trusted us. We rallied around him. That put him on the map with us. The next thing we were hearing about Cowher Power … that gave us a sense of swagger. It gave us confidence knowing he always believed in us.
I remember when I had a bad game against the Rams. I wanted to have a great game and was upset. When we came back on Monday I remember Bill coming up to me and telling me not to get too high or too low. I think about that all of the time now.
Any thoughts on the way the NFL has changed since you played?
I watch a little but I wish they’d let the guys play. I understand the head issues, but it’s a contact game. It’s played at a different level today. You can’t hit anyone in the head now and I understand that. The Steelers used to be known for running the ball, now they are known as a passing team. Ben Roethlisberger throws it 50 times a game.
Any last thoughts on your time in Pittsburgh?
I had a great time there. I will always be a Steeler. The Rooneys were always nice. Win or lose they’d always be in the locker room to shake hands with the players. It was an honor to play for the organization. Growing up, I watched the Steelers and Art Rooney Sr. I never dreamed I would ever get to play for them.