Our Ron Lippock spoke with former Steelers defensive back Brent Sexton, who played with the Steelers from 1975-77. Sexton was with the team during their Super Bowl X win over the Dallas Cowboys.
First, can you let fans know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL?
I launched OneVoice, which is a platform for medical institutions of all sizes. It’s an efficiency software using artificial intelligence and voice recognition. I co-developed it with a company in Pittsburgh, actually in the early 2000’s. We worked on the technology together. It all starts with speech. We help doctors and medical staffs be more effective, enabling them to do voice activated medical records instead of point and click, which they hate to do. We also have tools for medical coding using speech, as well as data analytics for medical organizations looking to understand their patients more.
How hard was that post NFL adjustment for you?
When I retired form the NFL, I started several businesses of my own. One in New York, in Long Island near Oyster Bay. I did that for four years and sold the business because I wanted to move back to North Carolina. I was in sales and marketing basically, until 20 years ago when I started the OneVoice business.
It was different after the NFL. I can tell you that every July when I smell the freshly cut grass, it reminds me of training camp in Latrobe! I enjoyed my time there. We had tremendous success and I met a lot of great friends and had great experiences there. Especially coming out of a very small school like Elon, out of the NAIA, it was a fantastic experience.
Coming from a small school like Elon, were you surprised to be drafted by the Steelers? How did you find out?
When I was drafted I thought, gosh, Pittsburgh? I just knew its reputation as the Steel City. But when I got there, I loved it. It is one of the greatest cities with some of the greatest people I could have imagined. I loved living and playing there.
I wasn’t surprised at being drafted by the Steelers. I knew Pittsburgh was interested. Bill Nunn was coming by once a week my senior year as were six or seven other scouts, so I had a good idea of where I might go, just not how high. You never really know that, but when I was drafted in the fifth round it was a big moment, especially coming from such a small school. I was excited to be with a team that just won the Super Bowl the year before and honored to be associated with the Rooney family. There was a lot of hoopla about it. It was very exciting.
How did you learn you were drafted?
Well, before the draft the teams with the most interest in you call you to make sure they have your correct number and know where you’re going to be. Pittsburgh was one of the teams. When I was drafted Bill Nunn called me and then the Rooneys got on the phone and congratulated me and told me that I’d get my draft information soon and would come up with the other rookies next week.
What was the hardest adjustment for you to the NFL and who helped you most to make that adjustment, and how?
It was very nerve-wracking, but in a good way. Coming from a little college with 1,200-1,500 students, you show up in Latrobe — the team having just won a Super Bowl — the town was nuts. Training camp was packed with fans. I didn’t come from that kind of environment. It was a big adjustment. I was there with draft choices, guys from Notre Dame, Michigan, UCLA, Oklahoma, and here I was from little Elon College. I thought, man, I’m going to last one day and get cut. But I managed to make it through. There was so much competition though. So many guys competing for so few jobs.
Who helped you through all of that adjustment and how?
Chuck [Noll] was very matter-of-fact. He told me I was here for a reason and I wouldn’t have been there if I didn’t know what I was doing. All they were there to do was make me better. He was very methodical about the way he did things. Very straightforward. Other teammates helped me too, especially J.T. Thomas, who I was behind on the left side. Bud Carson was helpful too.
There wasn’t any one thing they helped me with. You wouldn’t be there if you didn’t have the skillset, though of course some guys were more skilled than others. But most of it was mental — learning the playbook. Jack Lambert and I became good friends.
Both of you small school guys?
Yeah, but that wasn’t uncommon in Pittsburgh. Nunn had a habit of finding talented players in small schools like Mike Wagner, Mel Blount, Donnie Shell, Joe Green …
Was it frustrating playing behind so many talented guys and struggling for playing time?
It is what it is, really. What was really frustrating was the fact that I had a chronic knee injury that hampered me a lot. I had three knee surgeries while I was in Pittsburgh. I was pretty fast when I first got to camp. But the pounding I took every day, two practices a day, took its toll on me. That was really frustrating.
You won a Super Bowl in Pittsburgh. As a young player were you able to appreciate then how rare that was?
Not really, no. You don’t really appreciate it until you look back. We didn’t realize how good those teams were then. Not until we look back years later at those 70’s and late-80’s teams do you realize that. It was a special time and a special organization.
Any funny moments that stand out of your time in Pittsburgh?
Terry Hanratty was the big prankster in the locker room. There was no runner-up to him. He did all the things, the rubber snakes in helmets, all kinds of stuff like that.
I do remember one night out. I was heading back to my apartment and it had just snowed and iced the roads heavily. We were given cars by the local dealership to use and I just about got to the apartment when my car slipped on the ice and hit a parked car. I drove away and went back to the apartment afterwards. Jack Lambert and I were roommates and I told him what happened. The next day I was on the practice field and Ralph Berlin came up to me and told me there was a sheriff’s deputy in the lobby waiting to see me. That someone was in the car I hit and was seriously injured. Jack had told a lot of guys at camp about my accident so everyone was looking at me now.
So, I went with Ralph through the treatment room into the lobby where they said he was waiting for me and it turned out to be a prank. Lambert was behind it and told Ralph what to do! Man, I thought that was it. The whole time walking to the lobby I thought I was going to get arrested and go to jail for leaving the scene of an accident!
That day I made a pact to myself to get back at Lambert.
I’m still working on it! But when I do it will be awesome!
So you were released in 1977. Why and how hard was that for you? What did they tell you?
I had the knee injury and I couldn’t pass the physical any more. I was invited in by a couple of other teams, but couldn’t pass their physicals either. I ended up in New Orleans and they were close to signing me, but at the end they felt I wasn’t going to be able to make it through a season. At that point, I felt enough was enough and I retired from the NFL.
Do you watch football still today? Any thoughts on the game today?
I do watch but I’m a little disappointed in the NFL today. Back when we played players would stay on teams for six to ten years. You could build a fan base. Now with free agency, there is so much movement I just don’t enjoy following it like I used too. It was rare back then that players moved from team to team. I’m still a Steelers fan and still love my old town and team, but I find that aspect a little bit disappointing.