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Steelers Interviews

Interview with Former Seahawks LB Niko Koutouvides

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With the Steelers hosting the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday, our Ron Lippock caught up with some members of the 2005 Seahawks team that faced the Steelers in Super Bowl XL in Detroit.

In our final interview, Ron talks with former Seahawk linebacker Niko Koutouvides about his memories of Super Bowl XL.

First, let me know what you’ve been doing since your time in the NFL?

Well, going back a bit, In 2010 when we had the owners-players dispute and were fighting over a new CBA, there was the work stoppage.  That was my eighth year in the league. As we know, football doesn’t last forever – I was already trying to find what the next ting was that would excite me after football.

The player admin then in New England  put me in touch with a real estate developer during the stoppage so I could shadow them a bit like an internship.and that continued during my off-times. I got an appreciation for valuable real estate and the economics of controlling real estate in desirable locations.  My older brother worked for a larger developer who never worked on deals under $50 million and saw a lot of smaller deals as a result that they passed on. So we decided to try one of those smaller deals on our own sometime.

Fast-forward to 2017, and I was called into Bill Belichick’s office and was released. Right after that my brother and I found a boutique property in West Hartford, Connecticut and we decided to invest in that.

So you found your next calling?

Yeah. The transition to the next thing is a real struggle. You do something your entire life and that’s your main goal for years – then it’s over and you’re off into the real world. The checks aren’t coming in and your at home with your wife and kids all of the time. It all comes at you. It hits everyone and for some it’s a struggle more than others. Whether you become an insurance salesman, a TV analyst, a coach – you are still judged on your performance like any other profession.

So I was fortunate – I transitioned quickly. My brother and I decided we could start up our own platform. Unfortunately though all of the contracting bids for the property we bought didn’t leave us with anything after their costs. We thought we could flip the property and get something from it, but that’s not what we wanted to do. We wanted to be long-term owners. So we started our own construction company and built an 18-room unit. I poured concrete, swept floors, shoveled snow – I did everything to make sure we stayed on budget and on time. Now it’s a terrific asset and looked good on our resume.

We got more calls for work after people saw what we did. We were trusted because we did it all and stayed invested in the properties. Now, after a couple of more successful investments, our phones are ringing off the hook. And because we stay invested in the properties, we work close with the local municipalities which makes it’s easier to get permitting – and people like working with us because we’re a one-stop shop – no bureaucracy. I have friends who I played with that invest in the properties now – I protect their money more than I do my own!

So let’s rewind – and jump to the Steelers Super Bowl first. How did Seattle approach that game – what did you look to exploit on that Steelers team?

I remember the city was ecstatic. We were thrilled to be in that game. We knew it was going to be like a home game for Pittsburgh – we saw all of those Terrible Towels in the stands.

Ben was young – we wanted t expose him. That was really the plan on defense. They had a great running back tandem in Jerome and Parker – we wanted to keep them in check and keep the ball in Ben’s hands. We knew Pittsburgh had two or three trick plays they’d come in with. Unfortunately our starting safety got injured and when his backup – Pruitt – came in Pittsburgh exploited that with one of those trick plays.

What went wrong besides that?

We could never get into a rhythm – we would do something well then get a penalty. Halftime was obnoxiously long. We just never got into that rhythm. I remember the confetti coming down when the game ended and the security coming in and throwing us off the field – only the winners were allowed to stay.

It’s hard to get over the two Super Bowl losses I was a part of – the Seattle one especially haunts me. I wish they would have let us play more – let us go at each other more. There were a lot of penalties. But you have to tip your hat to Cowher and that Steelers organization. It’s a great organization from the Rooneys to the coaching staff. They were a special team that year – they came in as a wild card team. It was like it was meant to be for them.

Any specific memories you have of that game?

I made my bones on special teams. I was the captain of the special teams. I called the coin toss and we won and deferred. That first kick off, I saw Okobi there and just knew I wanted to run down and smash into him. I don’t know if he closed his eyes or I closed mine first, but I remember running down and somehow I ended up going right between their guys in the four-man wedge they allowed then and clipped the return guy’s legs for the tackle. I’m not sure how I got through!

Me and Larry Foote got into it too. I was a Purdue guy and he was a Michigan guy and we both played on punt teams. He thought he’d jack me up so we talked shit to each other the whole game. It’s an emotional game and we just went at it the entire game.

You played in Super Bowls with Seattle and New England. What made New England different?

New England was just a totally different ball game. Bill treated me like I played for New England my entire career – I had a lot of respect for him. But Bill can be difficult and demanding to work for. If you were a veteran he had more respect for you – but if he drafted you that meant he saw something in you and if he couldn’t get that out of you he’d have no problem replacing you.

What really separates New England from other teams though is their stress on situational football. We’d work on situations that most coaches never even heard of before. Every week we’d focus on different situations so much – we’d see those happen in games and it was like, how did he know? He was a big believer in the hidden yards in special teams too. He emphasized special teams a lot.

He’d switch gameplans every week too. He’d find ways to expose the weaknesses of other teams – he wasn’t afraid to change gameplans every week.

Why can’t all teams do this?

I think most teams don’t think they can implement new gameplans effectively every week. I don’t think they believe their teams can make those adjustments every week. He’d come in with these schemes every week and we’d look at each other sometimes like, you have got to be kidding me. There’s no way we can do that in a few days. But we’d go out there and they’d work – we’d do it. He and his staff just put so many long hours in.

A good example is when we played Tampa Bay in London before Hurricane Sandy. We had a later flight the next day so we were all going to go out after the game to drink and hang out. But they moved the flight to five am to beat the hurricane. We all still went out and got to the airport hung over – half passed out and beat up from the game. But I look over and there’s Bill – at five am – with his laptop open looking at film from last night’s game. And then he flips over to next week’s opponent’s film. at five am! He was just such a football junkie.He never stopped.

Were you surprised that he picked up Antonio Brown?

No – it was a typical Belichick-Kraft move. AB needs New England – not the other way around. We saw what New England did without him already last week. They don’t need him but they’ll bring him in because it’s all about doing everything they can to win Super Bowl number seven. He fell into their lap and he needs them  – he needs a big year. They got him pretty cheaply with an incentive-laden deal. If he can go out and have a big year he can use that for another big payday – so he needs them.

Lastly – who do you see as the rivals for Seattle and New England now? Does Pittsburgh fall into that mix?

When I think of rivals I think of Pittsburgh and the Bengals – when Burfict tried to knock out AB. For Seattle – I think the Rams maybe.

But you look at New England – I just don’t think they have any rivalries. Who really gives them a hard time? It’s hard to see a rivalry when they win all the time. They’re just so dominant

Ron Lippock is the author of Steelers Takeaways and has interviewed over 650 past and present Steelers players, coaches and personnel. You can purchase his book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Steelers-Takeaways-Memories-Through-Decades/dp/1681570076

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