First – a lot of things going on – let me know what you’re still involved with these days?
Well, several things. The biggest part of my life is still with my construction company – I’m a general contractor and the majority of my time is still spent there. And I’m still on the speaking circuit – that takes up some of my time. There’s always something going on there. And my book is back to it’s second printing of 10,000 – so we’re celebrating that as well with various promotions.
And you have a special even soon at the Heinz Center correct?
Yes – July 8th at the Heinz Museum Vietnam Veterans Exhibit we’ll have a meet and greet and Q&A with me, Jon Kolb and John Banaszak ,who many don’t know both also served in Vietnam. Larry Richards will be MC’ing and Dick Hughes will also be there – he is a friend of mine who was against the war and was in Vietnam taking care of orphaned children. Ben Stahl will also be there – he is a former Navy guy and Gulf War veteran who is now the program director for the Veterans Leadership Program taking care of Vietnam vets.
What drives you to continue to work so hard for these causes?
The biggest thing is the identity factor – especially with Vietnam. I have a commitment to giving back to veterans. If not a spokesperson – at least I can be a poster child of the Vietnam era. The war never really had a strong spokesperson for the needs and changes taking place for the veterans.
That’s part of who I am – I want to make a difference and help veterans heal wounds that have existed for years.
Do you still keep in contact with the Steelers organization?
I think my position is no different than that of most of the former players. I have always been associated with the team and that experience. Not on an official basis, but I’ll always be a part of that dynasty and that relationship – and all of what that mans to fans around the world.
The team will call upon us when needed to go to training camp, fantasy camps – and we just went to Mexico City for a camp there – the eighth year of that camp. Wow – what a great fanbase they have there!
What are your thoughts on the changes this team made this offseason?
I think I’m looking forward to watching how this unfolds. AB and Bell are gone so we’ll see how they all come together now and if they can be the team they should be. I think they can be the team I thought they’d be last year before the distractions and rise to the occasion.
They should win the division I think. I thought they would last year but who knew the distractions would happen. The offense should still be good. AB was double-teamed a lot last year and guys stepped up like JuJu – and I think those guys can step up again this year too. The defense was the weak spot last year and they have quicker linebackers who can cover backs and receivers. We’ll have to see if the secondary – especially those younger players – can step up and improve this season. And they have some talented guys who need to step up too on defense and play to their ability – I think some can and need to play at a Pro Bowl level. I’m excited about the upcoming season.
Do you think there’s a stronger return to the run game league-wide and with this team specifically now that defenses have gotten smaller?
I think defense still wins championships. The best way to win because of that is to control the ball, and you do that through the running game, and that reduces turnovers. I thought last year’s Super Bowl was great, but many thought it was boring. Not enough big plays and big passes. For me, I thought that’s what made it exciting. Every play mattered. It was a ball-control game. I liked that and would love to see the running game come back and be a bigger part of the game again. I would be happy to see that as a former running back!
I spoke to the former executive director about the younger players in today’s NFL – and one point he brought up is that there are fewer military veterans in today’s NFL which he felt helped diminish the level of discipline amongst today’s players. Do you agree?
Look. I think this younger generation isn’t different than any other generation. I have to remind people that those 60’s and 70’s generations weren’t milquetoast. We had guys crossing picket lines, protesting the war, the civil rights movement. And we had the sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll era. We had our own turmoil and distractions. But I think the character of players is they still want and need to be led.
Now, they may want to have a voice in things, but they want structure and an organized culture. That’s what football is about. The majority want that structure and will follow it if they feel they can respect you.
Young people will respect that if they feel they are being respected. Some just get misled by leadership. That starts at the top – there have to be guidelines that say this is who we are and how we do things here. Everyone can have their own thoughts on what freedom means to them – they just have to have the structure that says here, we do things a certain way.
Do you think people romanticize how it was when you played versus how it is today?
No- we went to church every day then! Ha – no – you’re right. In all seriousness, the difference today is we all have iPhones now. So instead of stopping to help someone they take a picture first. That’s just the culture we live in now.
The other thing again is leadership and peer pressure. Leadership ultimately has to come from your peers. Not just from the coaches and GM. Team leaders have to show other guys that this is how we do things here. It’s stronger when it comes from peers.
So you’re right, Our generation’s players made their fair share of mistakes too. But lucky for us we didn’t have cell phones!
How do teams then counter distractions and issues that come from social media and other issues versus how they did so then?
I think it’s several things. At first it does start with the top-down structure – what do the Steelers stand for?
That should trickle down through the coaches to the players. I truly believe this – that players at all levels want to be led and have the standards set out for them. That hasn’t changed.
Look at the Patriots – love or hate them. Look at what they’ve achieved over the last 17 years – and you don’t hear about any problems they have – not that become public anyway. They have continuity and little turmoil – why? I assume the owner and coach have a good relationship as they’ve been together for so many years. And Bill Belichick has been the main constant there. So you have to ask yourself what he’s doing there that makes the team react so strongly around him. He set the standards for his team and isn’t afraid to implement them and even change them when he needs to.
Money is one of the biggest tings but I think that’s about ego. That’s their biggest measure of how a player determines their value and whether they are better than another player. It’s how they compare themselves to other guys. It can mean more distractions if it isn’t handled well.