Catching up with former Steelers defensive end Keith Gary, the team’s number one draft pick in 1981, who played for the team from 1983-88 after not signing and playing two seasons with the Montreal Alouettes.
What are you doing now?
“I have a teenage son, Ian, who is the joy of my life. I spend as much time with him as I can.
“I am working at a transitional home for women and children in the Washington, DC area, which has been very rewarding for me. We help transition them from some being homeless or incarcerated to get back on their feet and find housing and job opportunities.”
How satisfying is that?
“It’s great. The women range in age from 18-24. Fortunately when I was a young man I had the support of my family and friends. To see them coming through now at 18, 19, some with two or three kids homeless it has to be extremely difficult for them. It’s great we can be there to assist them to get back on their feet and be productive citizens in the community and being able to raise their kids in good, healthy environments.”
“Ian is not a sports guy. I don’t know if that is a father who was a professional athlete worst nightmare, is that your son is not interested in sports. I love him, he is a great kid. But I am going to try and get him involved in Steelers training camp. If he spends a couple of weeks there he is really going to like football or he won’t. We’ll find out. I am hoping he likes it. He has great size. At 16 he is 6-2, 240. He is a big kid. I just want him to be happy and successful in whatever he decides to do.”
What was training camp like for you?
“For me it was a great experience. Fortunately I was a first-round draft pick. No great things came along with that back then. Chuck Noll was my coach and things were a little bit different. The days were long, a little more difficult, very competitive. Being a first-round pick people had high expectations of me. It was kind of challenging, but very rewarding. It was great to compete with your other teammates.”
What was it like to be one of Chuck Noll’s first-round picks?
“It’s an honor as they collectively as a team chose me. I was one of the first defensive linemen chosen since Joe Greene in 1969 so that was a big honor. Just the experience to be coached by Chuck, and the players I played with. A lot of the guys who won four Super Bowls were on their way out when I was on my way in. To get a mix of both of that, it helped me. All of that was huge for me.”
Was it intimidating at first having all of those big names on the team?
“It was a little intimidating at first, but once I competed in training camp and did well and was a part of that I fit in well and they accepted me and it was a collective team effort to win.”
What was it like to play for Chuck Noll?
“He was a no-nonsense guy but extremely fair. He treated everyone the same. He knew every day you stepped on the field, whether he was there or not, you had to work hard. He learned about it if you didn’t. He didn’t miss anything. Everyone had respect for him. It was a joy to play for him.”
What was the fondest memory of your playing days?
“The year we had the run in the playoffs. We went out to Denver and beat John Elway. We went to Miami and lost in the AFC Championship game. Every game competing to win and being a part of that was a great experience. It was a lot of fun.”
What did it mean to play for the Steelers?
“Here I am maybe 25 years retired but wherever I go I can mention I played for the Steelers and people treat me like it was just yesterday that I played. The foundation they built here over the years is great. I'm very proud to say I was a Steeler. I talk to other guys in the league who played for other teams and they don’t get near the support I get here from the Steelers. Whatever it is I need, I feel like I can call and I will get the help I need and they will point me in the right direction."