Our Ron Lippock spoke with former Colts, Bears, Browns and Steelers punter Chris Gardocki. Gardocki was with the Steelers from 2004-2006 and was the starting punter on the Super Bowl XL winning squad.
First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL?
Hell, since then I’ve been retired. I’ve had two hip replacements and other physical issues. While I’ve been retired my wife has been working as a real estate attorney. I help her out sometimes running packages around, that sort of thing.
Have the injuries all been football-related?
They all have been yes. I threw my back out in ’99 in Cleveland and in turn those back issues affected other things. I started having hip and groin problems and went to Atlanta to get it looked at it and they told me there was nothing left there. The cortisone shots and everything else just took their toll.
Did the NFL help at all with the issues?
Well they focused more on the concussion stuff, but I did work with the NFL and talked to them and get what they called “In the Line of Duty Pay” – they do that for injuries for NFL guys. You go and use their doctors and they assess you for whatever – they have to send it in for evaluation first, but that process was fine.
Stepping back – what brought you to Pittsburgh after playing for a rival team in Cleveland before that?
Well the guy who reached out to me was Ken Wisenhunt who was the special teams coach in Cleveland my first year there. When I was finished at Cleveland and became a free agent, Cowher called me and Kevin Spencer too. Kevin was also my special teams coach in Indianapolis in ’95. So you can say I had a lot of relationships that helped. But the call with Cowher sealed the deal. It couldn’t have been a better place. I was excited that they were interested in me and I was able to sign with them.
Did they give you any fun grief after that well-known incident where you gave the Steelers team the finger in a game?
We didn’t remember much about it. It was just one of those heat of the moment things that happen in games. That’s just part of it. When I got there Joey couldn’t have been a better teammate. We laughed about that for sure.
You held a record for most punt without a block. What was behind that success?
Well for one, I always had good snappers – from high school and college to the pros. It’s all about protection up front and knowing when teams are rushing the punt. That way I shortened my step and get it off quicker. There was one game in Pittsburgh – against Jacksonville – where I had the closest call to getting one blocked. We were punting from our endzone and it was a shortened kick – only 12-to-13 yards back. A guy came free around the end – someone missed a block – and I kicked it under his arm. It only went four yards – it screwed up my average for sure. But it didn’t count as a block!
You played in and won a Super Bowl in Pittsburgh. How did the team – and you specifically – prepare for that game?
It was an unbelievable experience. In 2004 we were 14-2 and lost in the championship game. When I was in Indy we lost to the Steelers in the championship game. I thought 2004 was my last chance to make it. Then we got there.
It was an unreal experience. We’re creatures of habit, as you can imagine. Routine is a big deal and our routines were all screwed up that week. We were in the locker room for 45 minutes after warming up due to all of the hoopla, so we all cooled down again. Cowher did a good job though of keep us all organized and set up all up well. He’d been there before.
The hardest part was right before the game when everything was still happening and we wanted to get ready and loose. On the field once the game started I always made it a point to never look past the line. I just concentrated on the snap and the ball and nothing else.
During practices, how did you handle down time as special teams players have a good deal of down time.
We did have lots of down time true. Once we’re done with our part of practice, we were done. So often times I’d go in and work out instead of just standing around. Or I’d stay out for 45 minutes practicing my steps and bouncing the ball to myself.
Did you practice a lot of spin and directional punting then?
Spin is really big now. I screwed around with it sometimes and with the Australian rules football approach where they kicked end over end. It helps with punts inside the 10 and 20, with it bouncing back. But I was more comfortable with kicking it nose up – a spiral. I could get that to come down and bounce backwards. The kids today – the spin those guys do now. It’s amazing how strong they are and what they can do with the ball.
Any good memories you can share of your playing days?
I do miss the locker room in Pittsburgh – I was close to those guys.
In Cleveland – those guys were a bunch of knuckleheads. Ty Detmer and Eric Rhett were both hunters and played jokes on each other. Detmer put a dead rat in Rhett’s helmet – Rhett screamed when he saw that. To get him back Rhett soaked something of Detmer’s in deer piss and put it in his locker. If you don’t know that stuff reeks. Ty was so mad and that whole locker smelled!
In Pittsburgh Porter was hilarious. Bettis too – always mocking people. The Steelers were so unselfish. They were just good dudes and incredible guys. They were all about winning. That’s why my three years there with Cowher and that team were the best. Those guys were unselfish. It was all about how to win the next game.
Do you follow the game today – visit the teams at all?
I do keep up with the Browns and Steelers. These guys are just amazing today – they’re bigger and stronger. It’s evolution – it’ll always be that way I guess. It’s amazing how good these guys are.
As far as going to see the teams. I’m a hermit now – I rarely go out beyond my neighborhood. I’m not on social media or anything like that. I always loved playing the game but when I was done I was done. I watch soccer now more than football really. I’m a big EPL fan. My son too.
I missed out on a lot of my son’s life while I was playing. My wife and kid lived in South Carolina when I played. I was fortunate that my son was only 11 when I retired. So I could spend time with him. He just graduated college – he went to West Point. He doesn’t get much time off so we take every chance to go see him now.