Bringing you another Pittsburgh Steelers’ interview courtesy of our good friend Ron Lippock of the Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin. Today, Ron talks to former Steelers’ running back Steve Avery. Avery played with the team from 1993 to 1995, catching one touchdown pass during that time. They discuss being a longshot, Bill Cowher’s impact on him, and adjustment to life after the NFL.
Be sure to check out Ron’s book, Steelers’ Takeaways: Player Memories Through The Decades, featuring over 400 interviews with players and coaches, past and present. You can buy it on Amazon through the link provided here.
First, can you let us know what you’ve been doing with yourself since the NFL and how hard the post-NFL adjustment was for you?
I’m the owner of an investment practice. I’ve been in the financial services industry for seventeen years. Now, I provide retirement planning and investment services. The adjustment,…it wasn’t an illustrious career – but I fulfilled a childhood dream. I was a bubble guy – not a superstar. It was a childhood dream but it comes to an end.
It was difficult at first – difficult to figure out what I should do for the rest of my life. You get used to everyone taking care of you and then that dries up. That was a difficult adjustment. Then I got challenged financially, trying to keep up after the other guys. I had to refocus. I’m thankful to my wife and my faith in God. And the Steelers organization was supportive. Anthony Griggs there helped me by talking to companies and got me started. I needed a real job. I had to find my life’s work. Now I found a business that works for my business mindset – it’s a good fit.
The other thing – the intensity level you play at in the NFL. It’s such an intense environment. It’s like being in battle all week and on Sundays. It’s a different mindset, risking your life for entertainment purposes. It was a difficult adjustment – and a big strain on my wife. Dealing with the intensity. I needed to harness that and adjust. It was a lot on my marriage. A lot don’t last after players are done in the NFL. This is one of the issues why. I’m sure it makes some spouses feel unsafe.
Tell me about where it all started – how did you end up in Pittsburgh?
During the draft the Steelers and Oilers both called me as an undrafted free agent so the Steelers knew me then. I chose the Oilers then and made the roster. I was a long shot but I produced in the preseason and made plays on special teams.
I remember beating Lorenzo White and Drew Hill in the 40-yard dash. They were talking smack to me in practice so I said “let’s go!” They important thing was to get my butt in the greatest shape. First impressions last. I ended up finishing the season in Kansas City with the Chiefs. Cowher was there as their defensive coordinator, Dungy was the defensive backs coach and Arians was the running backs coach. I don’t think Schottenheimer got enough credit for all of the coaches he mentored in the NFL. Well, Cowher went to Pittsburgh and eventually signed me and I made the team.
What did Cowher see in you do you think?
I think I made an impression. I always showed up in great shape and gave everything I got. I think the Steelers want guys like that on their team. Guys crazy enough to want to be on special teams and smart enough to be backups. He wanted the backups to know their stuff better than the starters – he didn’t want to have to worry about me. That’s what coaches look for in guys like me.
Tell me some of the funnier moments/stories you remember there?
I wasn’t a big “Your Mama” joke guy. But Fred McAfee – you just didn’t want to get into a verbal smack talk with him. His repertoire of your mama jokes never ended. He and Lloyd would go at it. Guys would get amped up and McAfee had some of the greatest one-liners I ever heard. The whole locker room would laugh. You never wanted to start it or you’d be the one looking humiliated. Lloyd always went 110%. In practice he never slowed down. That made me a better player. If not for him, I wouldn’t have been as good – as accountable. Now, he and I are good friends.
What do you remember most about that Super Bowl run in 1995?
I remember being 3-4. Cowher gave a tremendous speech about showing up – being accountable so the next guy doesn’t have to worry about you doing your job. We had the resolve to go 9-0. We went 8-1 but should have gone 9-0 but Yancey dropped that pass versus Green Bay!
After Cowher’s speech we threw away our pagers. We wanted no distractions. I’ll never forget that speech about being accountable. And the game versus the Bengals when we were down by eighteen in the fourth quarter and came back to win. Slash was created that game!
But that speech – I took a lot of notes. I still have them somewhere. The talk about being accountable – that meant so much to me. We should have gone to the Super Bowl the year before when we lost to the Chargers. We went on the Tonight Show right before the Super Bowl – a bunch of us carried Leno on our shoulders. I remember that well too.
What happened after that season when you left the team?
I hurt my groin muscle that Super Bowl year. I started a couple of games after John L. Williams was hurt but then I got hurt. They drafted Jon Witman that year and I had a sense – that different stare you get that is absolutely painful. It wasn’t that I wasn’t liked – but you just get a different feeling in the air. Coach Cowher said it was one of the toughest cuts he ever had to make. I’ll choose to believe that! He knew I showed up every day and gave it my heart and soul. He appreciated that.
When he said he had to let me go, I just said “Wow.” They give you a chance to burn a bridge. Tom Donahoe asked me if I had anything to say. I could have said anything. I just said “Thank you for the opportunity.” I left after and went into a corner and cried. It was all good – I was thankful for everything. I was a long shot to begin with. I didn’t even have a scholarship in college but I later earned one.
Any advice for kids entering the game today?
I tell kids now – don’t let people box you in or talk yourself out of what you believe you can do. Be dumb enough to believe and smart enough to execute. That’s Steelers football. Play with resolve. Even now with Tomlin, the bar is high.