Our Ron Lipppock caught up with former Steelers defensive back Dennis Meyer, who was drafted by the team in 1972 out of Arkansas State and spent two seasons in Pittsburgh before moving on to play in the CFL, where he coached after his retirement.
First, tell me a bit about what you’ve been doing since your time in the NFL?
Well, I coached in the CFL for 18 years. After I was cut by the Steelers, I played in the CFL for three years for Calgary. After that I broke my arm and that ended my career. I got a job after that coaching in the CFL as a secondary coach.
I came back to the states in ’96 and started teaching and coaching football. I did that until I was 65 and then retired here in The Villages in Florida.
How hard was the post-NFL adjustment for you?
Well, as I like to say, life just dropped in my door. I just got opportunities I was grateful for and was able to make the most of what I did. I really enjoyed the CFL. It was a passing league which was much more fun playing safety.
Were you surprised to be drafted by the Steelers in 1972?
I was dumbfounded, to be honest. They called me and told me I was just chosen in the sixth round. I think it was Artie. He said congratulations. I said “really?” I hadn’t heard anything from them before that. I had no idea they were looking at me. I thought Dallas would draft me, they were the ones who kept up with me and called me every once in a while to see how I was doing. I never heard from Pittsburgh.
Looking back it couldn’t have been better. The Rooneys were unbelievable people I enjoyed my two years there.
Did anyone take you under their wing a a rookie and help you?
Not really. Jon Kolb one was one of my best friends. Ed Bradley and Steve Furness were rookies, like me and we were friendly.
Like I tell people, in high school you think you’re great at football. Then in college you have to start all over again and prove yourself again. They all get bigger, stronger, and faster and you go. Then in the NFL you have to start all over yet again to prove yourself.
Unfortunately, I was not as good as the other guys. That’s why I got cut. I have no grief about it. They were first class all the way. It just gets to a point where your skills aren’t as good as others. Donnie Shell ended up taking my place on the roster, so it was a good deal the Steelers did that.
Did that experience help you as a coach?
The hardest thing to do as a coach is letting people go. Telling them that their dreams have come to an end. That’s the hardest thing as a coach. I’ve been there and know what it’s like to see your dream taken away right there. That’s just the way it is. It’s a business.
Frustrating being one season away from a Super Bowl ring?
What probably made it the most difficult is that a teammate told me they kept another defensive back who never touched the field. And he got a ring and I didn’t. That was the hardest thing, but it is a reality check.
Any good memories of your time in Pittsburgh you can share?
The most fun we had was with Jon Kolb. He had horses and we’d go out and ride them on his farm. It was just a great release during the week on days off.
We had some characters there of course. Frenchy Fuqua — it doesn’t get any more outlandish than that!
And I’ll never forget Joe Greene in a game I think versus Cleveland. It was on a screen pass. An offensive lineman pulled out and hit Joe from behind. Joe got up and grabbed the lineman by the shirt and told him if he ever did that again he’d kill him. They ran the same play later in the game and Joe realized it. He turned around and clotheslined this 270 pound lineman so his feet were in the air. It was unbelievable. I’ll never forget what happened there on the field.
The doctors back then were funny too. When I got a concussion they took me off the field. The doctor held up three fingers and asked me how many fingers he had. I told him 10. Well, he must have thought I was in pretty bad shape. “10?” he asked me. I told him that he asked me how many fingers he had, not how many he had in the air. “If you asked me that,” I told him, “I would have told you three!
Any advice do you have as a former coach for guys trying to become professionals now?
First of all, the physical part of the game, that is what it is. You just have to prepare. But I tell people today, more than anything else, be yourself. You have to prepare to be a good football player, but when it comes down to it, you’re not just a football player.
Any thoughts on the way the NFL has changed over the years?
The game has changed so dramatically now. It’s just my personal wish, but my thought is, I wish the NFL would go with a CFL-sized field. So many guys are bigger and faster now, but the field hasn’t changed to accommodate that. So everyone gets to a point now more quickly. It would allow defensive backs to play like defensive backs and make more plays on the ball without worrying that they’d get called for a penalty every play. It’s crazy how they are calling those plays. I think making the field bigger would make it a better game.