A name that will live in infamy for all Steelers fans. Our Ron Lippock spoke with former Cleveland Browns running back, wide receiver and return specialist Eric Metcalf who played with team from 1989-1994 before moving on to the Falcons, Chargers, Cardinals, Panthers and Packers.
First, tell me what you’ve been doing since your time in the NFL?
Well, I was coaching track at the University of Washington last year. Now I’m coaching a few athletes who run professionally and consulting on shoes for Nike Track & Field – I’ve been doing that for a little while now.
Who helped influence you as a coach?
I think Wayne Tate – he’s the jump coach at Notre Dame and was my track coach at Texas. He shaped how I coach. I’ll say everybody in track and field talks to one another so you get a lot of information from a lot of different people.
How did track an field helped you as an NFL player?
To be honest, it’s the running. People just don’t like to run. When you do track & field, you’re constantly moving. Sometimes you don’t anything out of it for a long time, and that can be frustrating.
In football – those guys just don’t like to run. They don’t see the benefit. Some of the guys have come back and told me they wish they had done track & field after all though, I mean, at the combine, what’s the one thing everyone obviously thinks about first about the combine? The 40 time! So… if that’s the case, why don’t football players do what the fastest people in the world do if they’re trying to be fast too?
I’ve asked this to a lot of other guys – from your perspective do the fans or the players get more intense about the rivalries?
I think for me, players get intense but it depends on what is happening in the division. If the game is important for the playoffs and to win the division, players get more into it. Overall though, I think it’s the fans. It’s like a college rivalry, the Browns and Steelers. The fans hate the other team. As a player, you really have to be there a while to fully understand it.
How did you guys prepare for those Steelers games? What did you do differently as a team?
The coaches told the players that the Steelers were the team you had to beat if you wanted to make it to the playoffs. On the home or on the road you knew you had to win those games. I remember Bill Belichick tried to rile us up once by telling us they were tougher than we were. That we had heated benches and they didn’t use heated benches. What he didn’t say was that the Steelers had heaters blowing hot air at the players too!
But everybody knew that if you wanted to make it to the playoffs, you had to beat the Steelers.
Did you do anything differently to prepare for those games?
I don’t think I did. I just knew those were big games and they had good players like Lloyd, Lake, Kevin Greene. They had good defensive linemen too but I didn’t have to worry about those guys so much. I didn’t have to block them – just beat those other guys. But those others guys – you know they could wreak some havoc – there are two Hall of Famers in that group!
Any moments stand out to you most?
Ha! You just want to hear it, don’t you! Those two punt returns for touchdowns in one game. That was obviously my best game versus the Steelers. Putting us in a position to win that game was special. The most fun I ever had on the field was after that second touchdown. Just how excited my teammates were and to hear how loud the fans were was tremendous. Especially knowing I wasn’t even supposed to play that game!
It would have been even more fun if Joe Carter didn’t hit a home run a couple days before to win the World Series. Otherwise I would have been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He stole my thunder!
And back to my rookie season, when we beat the Steelers 51-0. We got to trash talk the whole game!
Oh one other memory to share. I think it was in ’94 – it was the last game of the year and we were losing – Pittsburgh was beating us pretty good. We knew we wanted to beat them to establish something for the following year – just to establish something. Well at the end of the game I dropped a touchdown pass. It was the first time I ever dropped a touchdown pass. I don’t know why it happened. And even tough it wouldn’t have made a difference in the game, it took everything I had to keep from crying.
It was Pittsburgh. And even though we wouldn’t have won anyway, it just felt like it would have meant something.
Did you ever think – why are they actually kicking to me? What are they thinking?
No – we’re all paid to do our jobs. The coaches expect player to go down the field and make the tackle like we expected our to block those guys.
We game-planned for punt returns a lot the whole year. It’s funny because after the first punt return safety Devin Moore came up to me and told me “You know we’re going to get another one, right?” I didn’t really believe him at the time. But we had guys who were committed to blocking because they knew they had a guy who could score. And sometimes. you have guys on the other team who just don’t like covering punts – like Veterans who had been on the field the whole game.
What do you think about the rivalry between the two teams today?
I don’t know if it’s really a rivalry because Pittsburgh had been killing us over the last 20 years. We’re good on paper now but we still have to win games between the lines.
Browns fans think it’s our time. But they know you have to beat the Black and Gold first. Being good on paper is fine, but the real benchmark is beating Pittsburgh. Until you do that it means nothing.