Larry Brown, who won four Super Bowl titles with the Steelers in 70’s, was inducted into the Steelers Hall of Honor over the weekend. Our Ron Lippock previously interviewed the former Steelers tight end and offensive lineman
First, can you let readers know about your business ventures since your playing days, how you got involved in those and what you are currently doing these days?
I’ve done two different things. originally, a year before I retired, J.T. Thomas approached me and asked if I wanted to go into business with him working with the Burger King franchise, and I did. I did that from ’84 to ’91 or so, but there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for growth in the market.
We sought another opportunity and pursued the Applebee’s franchise. It was still early in their stages of growth. We joined them in ’87 and I’m still involved with them today. I’ve been doing that exclusively since.
Were there any football experiences that helped you in business?
No question – there were quite a bit.
I use the philosophy and mindset every day in business. The sports analogies are always good. They are a simple way to convey complex perspectives that aren’t always clear otherwise. People get them.
It’s also highly competitive, like athletics. You have to overcome adversity. It teaches you to deal with those kinds of things. To have the attitude to do whatever it takes to get things done. You can’t make excuses, just like in the NFL. If you do, you lose your job. You can’t find reasons to fail. You can’t accept failure. You’ve got to make your own success to keep your job.
You were originally drafted as a tight end in 1971 in the fifth round. What about your style of play do you think attracted the coaches to you and what did you do as a rookie to catch the coaches’ eyes and make the team?
It’s a difficult question to answer. It’s like asking your wife what attracted her to you (laughing). Generally speaking, their philosophy of drafting the best athlete available presumably was the reason – that I was the best athlete available at the time. I guess they thought I had potential.
There was no one thing or event that helped me make the team that I can think of. What allowed me to make the team? I was obviously, in their evaluation, one of the best guys at the position. I fit the profile for the position in terms of size and speed and was able to make it as a competitor.
Did you have a good sense at the time of the shift occurring with the team to awinner?
In hindsight, you make statements that are consistent with the events of the time. I saw Chuck [Noll’s] leadership. He had a plan on how he would build the team and expressed that through his philosophy. He had everyone compete for every position. It was a comfort to know that the competition was based on ability. It was a fair game. For the most part it played out that way.
Were any players resistant to Coach Noll’s style?
Talking to some of the veterans, they told me Chuck told the team in his first season as a coach that he knew why the team wasn’t very good. It was because the players weren’t very good. He put them all on notice. That was his philosophy —- you had to step up your game or he’d find someone to compete with you. It was all about getting the best players on the squad. He didn’t care where those guys came from.
After a short while you could see continuous improvement. Everyone has their own opinion as they go through it of where they are on the team. It might or might not be reality though (laughing). As the team won, we had less of that and people came around.
How would you describe yourself as a tight end?
I played tight end according to their offensive design. Tight ends were essential in the running game. They wanted a tight end who could block but also catch passes, so my versatility was helpful.
You were moved to left tackle in 1977. What prompted that move and how happy were you to do so?
In hindsight, it worked out well. It extended my career. The year I switched I had a knee injury I was still recovering from. I wasn’t able to do to the running and cutting you needed to do to play tight end. That was anticipated by Chuck.
We met in his office and he told me that because I couldn’t run due to the injury he was going to have me learn the tackle position. That once I got healthy he’d move me back to tight end. In the meantime, before that, they drafted Bennie Cunningham and signed Randy Grossman. They saw themselves as being in a good position at tight end and had great need at tackle at the same time, so they never moved me back.
Then they traded away tackle Gordon Gravelle, so I stayed at the position for eight years and won two more Super Bowls!
Was the move frustrating for you?
I envisioned myself as a tight end before the move to tackle. At some point you have to decide that you have moved on, though. I was used to playing with the ball — catching and running. So I guessed I missed it, yeah. But not to the point where it was difficult to overcome, and with my knee issues, it made things more manageable for me at tackle.
Who helped you adjust to the NFL – both on and off the field – as a Steeler and how did they do so? Any examples?
There were many players and coaches along the way. Lionel Taylor was the receivers and tight ends coach in Pittsburgh. Dan Radakovich was an early mentor who persuaded me to move to tackle. Jon Staggers was my roommate. He talked a lot about the right things to do on the field and how to get myself to play better.
On the field, L.C. [Greenwood]’s encouragement on the field was very helpful – he was like a mentor.
On offense, Jon Kolb and I were together a lot He helped me with the techniques when I moved to tackle. I hesitate to use names as there were so many people. And of course Chuck himself. His words gave you confidence. All those things are really big.
Humor played such a big part on those Super Bowl teams. Can you describe how humor affected you as a player and teammate and do you have any examples of some of the hijinks that went on then?
Humor played a big part, especially in the locker room. That’s the place you can relax. We had a number of characters and practical jokesters.
[Terry] Hanratty played a number of practical jokes. I also remember Dennis Hughes who was a tight end from Georgia. He and Hanratty used to go back and forth, taking things out of each others’ lockers, putting that hot gel stuff in people’s shorts. They were always doing something, hiding clothes.
Well, one day, Dennis just got done getting someone with a practical joke. He was so excited that he got someone. He was laughing and walking to his locker. But he doesn’t see his clothes. He just said “Dog gone. Someone stole my clothes!” The whole locker room started howling. It finally occurred to him that he was wearing them the whole time! (laughing).
In 1982 you made the Pro Bowl after eleven NFL seasons. How rewarding and important was that for you – and how surprised were you?
It’s rewarding, being recognized by your peers. It’s a nice thing, a validation of your hard work.
J.T. Thomas in our interview with him described how race and faith had a positive impact on bringing the team closer when it could have created a divide between players then, especially considering the Steelers’ push to draft players from the smaller, historically black colleges. What are your thoughts on how the team was able to unite despite those potential roadblocks and how was it able to do so so effectively?
Everyone has their own interpretation of how things were. Then they look back and use that to say why things happened.
I think it goes back to the draft. Pittsburgh recruited the best players available no matter what and when you say that, it expands where you look. Color doesn’t matter if that’s the priority.
It turns out there was a tremendous amount of talent in the smaller schools. They set up their staff to scout the entire field of available players. They went after all of the field actively and discovered gems that others didn’t look at. We had good talent because of that and were able to field those championship teams.
That instills a confidence in players. That the criteria is how you play – your talent, effort and intelligence. So if you trust the system, you all have an equal chance to make the team. There was no need to worry about the political or social elements. The team was going to keep the best players, no matter what.
What are your thoughts on today’s NFL – both on the new rules and the attitudes of players today?
There’s lots of rhetoric on player safety and they are all good ideas. People talk about maintaining the integrity of the game. You always have to protect that. But what’s most important is the health of the players playing the game. There’s an obligation to legislate the risks of player health. I understand the physical nature of the game and that will always be the case, but you have to legislate those risks to player health.
I see the people who do so suffer through the opinions and politics of doing so. They just have to stay focused and keep safety in mind first.
What are your best memories as a Steeler, and what makes them so?
What I think about most are the guys, the friendships and camaraderie in the locker room. It’s rare to find that outside of the game. The closest thing you have to that is family. You try to develop those relationships on teams. People are the priority and you have to cherish that.
And the opportunity to win Super Bowls. To be able to meet your most difficult objective four times when it’s so difficult to do. Over a career, that’s a lasting accomplishment that you feel good about and appreciate.
Six Steelers Nominated for Hall of Fame Class of 2021
Former Steelers Gary Anderson, Alan Faneca, Casey Hampton, Heath Miller, Joey Porter and Hines Ward are among the modern era nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2021.
Miller was nominated in his first season of eligibility, while Faneca is a five-time finalist and Ward is a five-time semifinalist.
In total, there are 130 nominees, which will be trimmed to 25 semifinalists in November and 15 finalists in January before the five-man Class of 2021 is selected the day before Super Bowl LV in February.
Anderson spent 13 seasons kicking with the Steelers from 1982-94 and is the team’s all-time leading scorer with 1,343 points. He’s the only Pittsburgh player to score more than 1,000 career points and is also the team’s leader in career field goals made (309) and points after touchdown (416). He was a four-time Pro Bowlers, a three-time All-Pro and a member of the NFL’s 1980s and 1990s All-Decade Teams.
Faneca played guard for the Steelers from 1998-2007 after being selected by the team in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft out of LSU. Faneca was one of the most dominant offensive linemen of his era, and was chosen to participate in nine Pro Bowls and was an eight-time All-Pro. He is a member of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team and won Super Bowl XL with the Steelers.
Hampton came to Pittsburgh three years later, in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft out of Texas. The big nose tackle spent 12 seasons in Black and Gold, winning Super Bowls XL and XLIII. Hampton was a five-time Pro Bowl selection and is a member of the Steelers’ All-Time Team.
Miller retired in 2015 after a 13-year run as the Steelers’ starting tight end after being the team’s 2005 first-round pick out of Virginia. Miller is eligible to be elected for the first time. He is a two-time Pro Bowler and a two-time Super Bowl champion.
Porter spent seven seasons with the Steelers from 1999-2006 and became one of the team’s most popular and most-feared outside linebackers. Porter recorded 60 quarterback sacks in 121 career games, ending his Steelers tenure as the second-most proficient pass rusher in team history. He was a four-time Pro Bowler, a four-time All-Pro and a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team. After his retirement, Porter coached with the Steelers from 2014-18.
Ward’s 14-year NFL career was spent carving out a role as one of the most physical players on the Steelers, even as a wide receiver. The Korean-born Ward won two Super Bowls with Pittsburgh and was the MVP of Super Bowl XL after his game-sealing touchdown reception. His impact as a blocker was so well-known that the NFL changed its rules to prevent blindside blocks downfield, which has come to be known as the Hines Ward Rule. Ward was named to four Pro Bowls, was a three-time All-Pro and is on the Steelers’ All-Time Team.
Additionally, punter Rohn Stark, who spent most of his career with the Indianapolis Colts but played the 1995 season in Pittsburgh, was nominated.
The Steelers have three members in the Hall of Fame Class of 2020: safeties Troy Polamalu and Donnie Shell and former head coach Bill Cowher. The enshrinement of that class has been delayed until August 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Class of 2020 will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio on Aug. 7, 2021, while the Class of 2021 will be celebrated on Aug. 8, 2021.
The most recent Steelers players to be inducted were linebacker Kevin Greene and defensive back and assistant coach Tony Dungy in 2016.
Former Steelers OL, Champion Wrestler Carlton Haselrig Dies at 54
Former Steelers offensive lineman and NCAA wrestling champion Carlton Haselrig died on Wednesday at the age of 54.
A Johnstown native, Haselrig attended Pitt-Johnstown, where he wrestled as a heavyweight and won three NCAA Division II heavyweight titles and three Division I titles, becoming the only player to win six individual NCAA titles in wrestling.
He finished his wrestling career with a 143-2-1 collegiate record, going 15-0 against Division I opponents.
Haselrig was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 12th Round in 1989. He started on defensive line, but moved offensive line in 1990 and took to it quickly. He became a starter at guard and earned Pro Bowl recognition in his fourth season in 1992.
Haselrig left the Steelers after the 1993 season. He played one more season with the New York Jets before retiring from the NFL.
After his retirement, Haselrig returned to Johnstown. He took up mixed martial arts, where he had a 3-2 professional record, and also coached and trained players for football, mixed martial arts and wrestling. Haselrig is a member of the Pitt-Johnstown Hall of Fame and was selected to the NCAA 75th Anniversary Wrestling Team.
Mic Drop: WPXI’s Aaron Martin Offers Best, Worst Sports Memories
WPXI’s Aaron Martin joined Mike Asti to discuss some of his best and worst sports memories, both as a fan and ones that he was able to cover. Mike gets Aaron to ponder some “what ifs?” when it comes to Pittsburgh sports, which includes reliving some awful Steelers memories like the 2001 AFC Championship loss to the Patriots.