Welcome to our new rivalry edition of Steelers Interviews. Throughout the year, our Ron Lippock will be speaking with players you loved to hate from some of the Steelers’ biggest rivals.
Today, Ron spoke with former Bengals tight end Tony McGee who played with the Bengals from 1993-2001.
First, can you tell us a bit about what you’re doing now since your time in the NFL?
Well, I own a logistics company located here in Orlando, Florida. We have a 50,000 foot warehouse and do importing, exporting, and other logistics. We have a warehouse in Los Angeles too.
I also founded BRO – it’s a foundation for disadvantaged kids like I was- helping young men by engaging and mentoring them with leadership and personal development work. Those are my two big initiatives.
How hard was the post-NFL adjustment for you?
I had a lot of opportunities when I was done with football. You’d think that would be good, right? Well, it sounds good, but it was too much. I was involved in TV, real estate, a sports complex. I played 11 years in the NFL which meant that everyone got a head start on me in business. So trying to do all of those things was more of a disaster than a good thing.
I started questioning my business partners, and they finally told me if I thought I could do it better than I should do my own thing. So I focused on my own thing, told them to run those other businesses, and got my own office.
I applied a lot of the things I learned in football – those principles of discipline and hard work – and it worked out for me.
I asked others this – in talking about the intensity of the Steelers rivalry – is that more of a fan thing – or did the players really feel that as well?
No, absolutely not. The players took the rivalry very seriously – especially with a conference opponent and a storied franchise like Pittsburgh. And the stuff like the Von Oelhoffen hit on Carson Palmer.
When I played, Pittsburgh wasn’t as storied, but the defense was formidable. LeBeau loved to blitz our ass the moment he got off the plane! No matter what we did, when we tried to beat the blitz by throwing in the flat, it always seemed like Carnell Lake was there to bust up those plays.
We were all young then – we didn’t have the veteran leaders then like they had in Pittsburgh. I think we would have been much more successful if we had more leaders – even a guy like Boomer. It would have helped us with those dark days versus Pittsburgh then.
We were just too young. I remember as a rookie having to face Greene and Lloyd. Welcome to the NFL bro! They tossed me around for years. I remember one game years later playing against Lloyd after he was hurt and tossing him around finally. That felt good!
How did your coaches prepare you for those games?
Apparently not well enough! We didn’t win enough for sure. I felt like we were always out-prepared and out-coached. In the NFL, if you line up all of the players the differences are marginal talent-wise. It comes down to the intangibles – the coaches and front office. I think we didn’t do things the right way at times.
Not being in the playoffs for years hurt our morale – the Steelers had a mental edge and had the leadership they needed.
I also think LeBeau liked to put his finger in the eye of the Bengals. He didn’t leave the way he would have liked to and I think he really liked to get back at us.
What failed about your approach then, from your perspective?
I think the zone blitz they ran – we couldn’t execute against it. I think we reacted too much to the defense – we were too worried about it.
We didn’t utilize the tight ends enough. We should have run two tight ends and just kept throwing it into the flat. We could have fallen for five yards! I just think they liked throwing it to Pickens and Darnay Scott – they were big guys who could run and jump.
Who were the guys that got fired up in Cincinnati for those games?
The skill guys were the ones who got the most fired up – Darnay, Carl… they got the most worked up. We got some nasty guys on the offensive line finally – but they were too nice at first. We needed some nasty, mean guys with snotty noses and mean attitudes. We finally got guys like Willie Anderson – and Dillon at running back liked to run trough people. It just took time to get guys like that. Even Jeff Blake – he had a couple of good years and got so fired up – you could hardly understand him with that Florida accent!
Any rivalry memories stand out most to you?
Yeah but not a good one. When Akili Smith was quarterback, there was a game when he threw two passes that got me just annihilated. The one, I thought I swallowed my mouthpiece. I caught the ball on the sideline and just got blown up by the cornerback. I was good friends with Jerome Bettis and he was standing there when it happened and yelled out to me “Hey – are you alright T?”
I also remember the game where we let Eric Green score on a 71 yard touchdown. How do you let that dude run 71 yards? That was disappointing.
You mentioned earlier about the Kimo Von Oelhoffen hit on Palmer. Did you and other former Bengals players think that was intentional?
I was in Dallas then, but if I had to guess I’d say it was unintentional. That’s just not the type of dude he was. I knew him in Cincinnati and he had a high motor, but he wasn’t the type of guy to try and intentionally injure someone. We all wanted to annihilate the other guy but not in a dirty way. Except for Bill Romanowski – that guy was a dirtbag!
Who were some of the guys you went up against that made the rivalry big for you?
The defense in Pittsburgh was much different later on when I was older Greene and Lloyd were gone, and as a veteran I learned how to block and hold some and get away with it too!
LeVon Kirkland and I had some good battles. He’s drop back in zones a lot and we’d figure out finally not to throw it into his zone – to make him move. Use curls in other areas. He was big and fast but not so nimble. So I was able to have some success against him – even blocking him at times.
I faced Lloyd more often than Greene for some reason, When he was hurt I remember Carl Pickens yelling at him – telling him he wasn’t so great now, was he!
They just came in with more confidence. It was a good rivalry, we just came out on the wrong side of it too often.
What do you think of the rivalry today?
Well as I think of it, is it really a rivalry? I mean, I hope and pray we get to that. But it’s pretty one-sided still. My wife went to Iowa and she always asked if the Iowa-Michigan rivalry was really a rivalry when they never won games. So, is the Bengals-Steelers really a rivalry? I don’t know.