Welcome to our new rivalry edition of Steelers Interviews. Throughout the year, our Ron Lippock will be speaking with players you loved to hate from some of the Steelers’ biggest rivals.
Ron spoke with former NFL center Dan Koppen, who spent nine years with the New England Patriots and won two Super Bowls.
First, can you let us know what you’ve been doing since you retired from the NFL?
Well, I’ve been retired for a little over five years now. When you’re in the middle of your career, you wake up every day knowing what you’re doing: what you’re working for and what the end goal is. That’s missing when you retire. When I retired I tried to find my second career.
After a few years I talked to a buddy of mine that was a home brewer, and we decided to take a shot at launching out own brewery. Linesilider opened in 2008. That’s when we got into the craft beer business. t’s been fun going to work every day. We learn something new every day. It’s a lot like the farm to table kind of idea — people want to come to the source. All we sell, we make right here in our tap room and brewery. It’s a family-friendly environment. it’s not like a bar scene.
Getting into the Steelers versus Patriots rivalry. Did the Patriots players see it as a rivalry?
I don’t know if the Steelers players did but we definitely saw it as a rivalry. Any time you see teams a couple of times a year, like it seemed we did with Pittsburgh, and they are good teams, it’s a rivalry. We always looked forward to playing Pittsburgh and had a ton of respect for them.
Any memories stand out to you most about those games?
I think in 2004, during the season they smacked us good in that game. But then we beat them in the AFC Championship game. I mean, they laid off on us in the regular season game. I think we had negative yards rushing in the first half. But we adapted well and won the AFC Championship game to go to the Super Bowl.
What made you guys so effective in adapting to what the Steelers did? It seems like you were often one step ahead?
I think it’s the game within the game. We made adjustment quickly. I think the talent level was at it’s best on both teams. Our guys were just able to make big plays at critical times and situations.
The coaches prepared us well and the players really studied film in those meeting rooms. And we’d take our work home with us. We made sure we were well-prepared. And a key was we didn’t wait until the end of a quarter or half to make adjustments. We made them after every series — the players and coaches. We’d look at the photos and the coaches would listen to the players and we’d make those changes right away. You wait too long and it’s often too late – you’re already far behind. We had smart guys on the team who knew how to adapt quickly.
Who were the guys that you remember going up against most in those games and why?
Casey Hampton was a very good interior lineman and Chris Hoke too who came in when Hampton got injured. Hoke was one of the most under-rated players in the league. He was smart and strong and had a high motor on every play. Kimo von Oelhoffen was one of the strongest guys in the NFL and Aaron Smith was such a smart and strong player. And Troy Polamalu — you never knew where he was going to be. He was such an aggressive and instinctive player.
Any other memories stand out to you personally of those games?
I remember Rodney Harrison taking one back for a touchdown in the championship game and Tommy hitting Deion Branch for a touchdown right before the half.
The fat guys, we don’t talk much. Casey and me — and Hoke too -= we had a good respect for each other. It wasn’t ever cheap. We’d give it to each other and give each other nods and smile if one of us made a good play. We respected each other.
The play that may stand out most for me was when in that championship game we ran a toss to the right side. [Steve] Neal pulled, and I took on the linebacker, and Corey Dillon ran in untouched for a touchdown. The previous game we got handled in the running game, so being able to run like that in the championship game felt good. I’m not sure if it was because we adjusted well or just played better, but that was a big moment. And running well helped our passing game too.
Any thoughts on the state of NFL rivalries today? Have the changes to the game affected those?
I follow now as a fan. I think it really depends on what teams are good that that time. We had rivalries with teams, especially the Jets. We always hated the Jets. And the Steelers, Denver and Indianapolis were rivals too when they were good.
What made the Jets such a heated rivalry?
Honestly I think it was just from the head coach and how things went down there. I’m not sure about what happened but I know he was not happy with the organization.
The game is changing, no doubt. But you have to roll with it and adapt and do your best. It’s the same for every team.. You see the quality of play now suffer a bit early in the season due to the rules changes but as the season goes along it improves. It’s mostly about safety concerns for the players of course. I know many players appreciate those, even if the fans don’t.