Our Steelers Interviews series continues as Ron Lippock caught up with former Steelers defensive lineman Alameda Ta’amu, who played for the team in 2012 and 2013.
So, first, tell us what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL?
Well, as far as football, I think that’s fading away. It’s a what have you done for me lately league, and I haven’t done anything lately.
I’m transitioning to the next phase of my life now. I just finished getting my degree at the University of Washington and am working in construction. I’m hoping to pursue that or something in coaching.
How hard has the post-NFL transition been for you?
It’s something I still struggle with. You do something for 27 years then they say you can’t do it any more. I’ve played football since I was eight. All I’ve done Ive done to play in the NFL. I feel like I reached that height and it was a dream come true. Now I need to find what else I can do to satisfy that need to compete and impose my will on people.
Construction may be the best fit for me – I get to hang around other people from different walks of life and different backgrounds. I’d want to pursue that and be a superintendent if I don’t end up coaching.
Stepping back – were you surprised to get drafted by the Steelers?
Yeah. I felt like for sure I’d be a Raider. But it felt like it was the right team once I got the call. The Raiders were like the West Coast villains- the Steelers were like the gritty East Coast guys.
But, as you know, my bad choices spoiled that party. I stayed the offseason and worked hard, but there were a lot of great players — Dan [McCullers], Big Al [Woods], Hebron [Fangupo] — they just weren’t going to keep four nose tackles.
I thought I could make the team. Coach [John] Mitchell said I was a very good player, but after that incident, I needed a new start. I also wasn’t liked by one of the other coaches and I don’t blame them. Here was this dumbass rookie doing stupid things during a losing season.
If I had my way I would have stayed and been a part of a great culture. I loved Kevin Colbert and the Rooneys.
Did anyone try to help mentor you before that incident and afterwards?
I was young – I didn’t have the maturity level of many of those guys. I’d sleep at Casey [Hampton’s] house but I never understood what he was trying to tell me. I was a kid. Troy [Polamalu] took me and my wife out. I just didn’t get what he was telling me, either. I didn’t know who I was or who I was supposed to be.
Cam Heyward was especially good to me. He told me to stay in Pittsburgh the offseason after that rookie year and picked me up every day and we trained together every day. He was like a big brother to me. It was a good group of guys.
How much did that Polynesian culture define who you were as a person and player?
Pittsburgh always had a big number of Polys – [Chris] Kemoeatu, [Chris] Fuamatu-Ma’afala, Troy, Kimo [von Oelhoffen] — lots of Polys went there. You felt like when Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl, the whole island won.
San Francisco, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh were the three biggest teams for Polynesian players. They were drawn to Pittsburgh I think because of the success of Troy. We became fan of the team and thought if he could have success there, maybe we could too.
Any good stories of your time there you can share?
Well, there’s always the story of what happened my rookie season. It’s a good story really, a wake-up call.
We had just lost against the Titans, it was a Thursday night game and afterwards a bunch of us went out to the Savoy, Jerome [Bettis’] brother’s place. I laugh because this was the year before Uber just blew up!
I called the NFLPA car service and they told me a car would be there in 45 minutes, but it never came. I drank a helluva lot of water and called them again, and they said wait there and it should be there in 45. But it wasn’t showing and I felt like I had a lot of water and was OK. An hour-and-a-half had passed. So I hopped into my vehicle and started driving,
I was driving and it was that road downtown where there are two one-way and the GPS had me take the left one instead of the far-left one. I went towards West Carson Street and noticed a vehicle behind me. It was a black vehicle, and when I sped up it sped up, and wherever I went it went. I was thinking about Keenan Lewis who got robbed the week before. So I sped up again and got to the light at the end of the bridge and made a left and there were a bunch of cop cars there. I thought, “What the hell!” I panicked and drove away. I got to 15th Street when the cops drove next to me and pulled a gun in me and told me to pull the car over.
So, what did you do then?
I swerved into an alley and hit a car – thank God no one was hurt, I lost control of the vehicle and it was broken down then. I got out of the car and ran and took off my shirt and threw it one way and ran the other.
Why throw the shirt?
Oh man, I think I just watched too many damn movies. I have no idea why – I just panicked and hid until they found me.
I woke up the next day in a cell, and just wondered what did I do? I’ve done stupid things before, but nothing like this. I was worried – I brought shame to my family – especially as a Samoan – the Samoan community is small. I felt liked shit.
When I got back to the team, Mike Tomlin was pissed – he ripped into me but he had bigger issues to deal with on the team with the losing season that to have to deal with some dumb rookie.
So what next?
Well, this part was funny. I was given a two-week suspension, When I got back, there are these double-doors that lead into the locker room. Next to the doors is a white board that has all of the meetings information and that stuff. Well, on the board was a shirt that looked just like the one I wore that night with a sign asking “Is that your shirt, bro?”
I think it was Cam who did it. But everyone was rolling. It made things easier. I felt like they were my family. They were mad at me but were still my teammates. They could have tried to run me out. But they made me feel better and helped me to forget it.
Troy came up to me later and told me that I brought more joy than sorrow to people – that I should remember this feeling and don’t do it again.
How did the rest of the time there go?
Hebron stayed with me over the offseason. We were both trying to lose weight. He was like the clean, holy version of me. I was a pastor’s kid. I couldn’t wait for freedom once I left the house. Hebron was the kind of guy you’d want your daughter to marry. He was corny but that’s what you’d want for your kid. I’d catch him humming morning hymns.
Hebron helped me to eat right. He’d buy Giant Eagle rotisserie chickens and watermelon and we’d have that for dinner every day to try and lose weight. He was one of the best dudes I know. He helped keep me in line – everyone needs someone like that. Maybe I helped give him an edge too – not to be scared of anything. He taught me that i didn’t have to be a motherf***er all of the time. I was always an extrovert, always social. He could stay home and chill. I got antsy and had to go out and do something.
It’s funny. Now I just want to go home and relax. I have that same mindset. I always cussed, but he never judged me.
What advice would you give young guys entering the league today?
Stay quiet in the locker room. You can tell who will and won’t be there a long time just by watching. And take care of your money. We all heard abut it and it went one ear and out the other. Now I’m trying to keep up with the older cats.
And find a mentor who will take care of you and watch out for you. Latch on to them if you have to. If you have to hang on to them so what? Be that guy. Do what you have to do so you can do what you want to do later.
I’m not going to say I haven’t had a tough time myself. But I’m now at a place I can build on. I was depressed, but I have a good attitude now. I know I can control my life. I’m not saying I have things mastered, but I’m much more positive now.