Legends Series: Jerry Olsavsky
Jerry Olsavsky didn't come to the Steelers as a heralded high-round draft pick. He was a 10th round selection, a guy who knew he would have to beat the odds to make it. But to know Jerry Olsavsky, is to know he is a guy who can beat the odds.
Olsavsky grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, just 70 miles from both Pittsburgh and Cleveland. While most of his family and friends were Browns fans, having played at the University of Pittsburgh gave him more of a Pittsburgh flavor and a chance to follow the Steelers closely.
He will never forget his first game in Pittsburgh, having the chance to play at Three Rivers Stadium, and everything that followed.
"Your rookie year you have so many memories because it's so new to you," said Olsavsky. "Being from the University of Pittsburgh, and now going to play games at Three Rivers Stadium. I remember my first preseason game thinking this is incredible. Then after that was a bigger game. It's hard to pinpoint because my whole career was a dream come true."
Olsavsky also weighed in on a variety of other topics in this exclusive interview:
What's your best on field memory from your playing career?
"I grew up watching football and loved it. I had a feeling I was good enough, but to make it to the NFL and play for the Steelers was amazing. We got in the Super Bowl, we didn't win it. But those things are a fabric of my life. My rookie year as a whole was a great year. We just kept battling and working together."
* Who had the biggest impact on your career?*
"That is a tough question. There are so many great people involved with the Steelers, whether it's Chuck Noll, Joe Greene, Rod Rust, the defensive coordinator my first year, Mr. (Dan) Rooney. It's hard to look back and pinpoint one person.
"As a think about it, I think about the collection of teammates I had. Tunch (Ilkin), even though he played on offense he would offer advice. Greg Lloyd, I got to be close with him and he influenced the persona of what a football player is supposed to do on the field. David Little was another one, just the things that they would say as we would be going out on the field. When I was a younger player it resonated with me that even though we compete for jobs in training camp, when we go out there on Sunday it's to beat the other team. It doesn't matter where we come from we are all playing together and striving for the same thing. That goes through everybody I mentioned. It's Sunday and we are walking on the field as one unit. That was always great to be a part of. We all had each other's back.
"I remember we started a practice over once when I was a rookie under Chuck Noll. You are lined up against another guy, and in practice it's not like a game. I looked at the guy and I was like, you heard him, it's on and you are getting my best. That is probably some emotion that people didn't know about Chuck because he was always in control of his emotions."
You have been coached by Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, and now with Mike Tomlin. What is it like to have gained knowledge from all three?
"Sometimes it's very humbling. As a rookie I came to the sideline once and I was talking to Chuck and he was yelling at me. And I looked up at the big screen and was like, oh boy, everyone in the stadium sees the head coach yelling at me. That was a little humbling. Later in the year he came up to me and said you had a good game two-gapping the guard. That is a lot of praise coming from Chuck. It was great to be around.
"Then when Bill came in it was a real transition. Bill had so much outward energy. I think some people would tend to miss how intelligent he was with all he did on the field. You could easily say he was a hothead, but he was really intelligent. Chuck was so intelligent, and then Bill really knew what he was talking about. Just to be around that as a player.
"Now to be around Coach Tomlin and see how intelligent he is. He is so intelligent it's amazing. He does such a good job of keeping the players attention. That is something all three coaches had. Chuck had it out of the sheer respect you had for this man with four Super Bowls. Then Bill, with all of the outward emotion and intelligence. Coach Tomlin has it all. As I look at all three of them they are cut from the same cloth, intelligent and passionate about the game."
What did it mean to you to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers?
"Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, it's a borderline place. It's 70 miles from Cleveland, 70 miles from Pittsburgh. My best friend growing up, his dad was a Steelers fan. Most of my relatives were Cleveland Browns fans. The first games I saw were Browns games. When I was in grade school and the Steelers were good, I loved how they played. I always had a defensive mentality. You watched Joe Greene, and Jack Lambert, and L.C. Greenwood and I had admiration for them. I wasn't really a fan, but I liked how they played.
"One of my best memories, it was the last game at Three Rivers Stadium and I got to meet Joe Gilliam. I remember as a kid watching a Monday night game and Joe Gilliam played. The next day in the playground I was Joe Gilliam. I was throwing the ball all over the place. It was great. When I met him, it was such a great memory. That was from fourth grade in the playground to now being a part of it. It was unbelievable. I am so thankful to just be here. Jon Kolb said to me, you wore No. 55 and it meant something to you. That meant a lot to me. I am glad I was able to help continue the legacy and admire it.
"My oldest son was born on my birthday. That is the best present you could ever get. The second best is to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's an honor. People in this city know football, and respect football. To be a part of that fabric is a great opportunity."