Legends Series: Weegie Thompson
If you said the name Willis Thompson to a Steelers' fan, it's likely they wouldn't know who you are talking about. But when you say Weegie Thompson, it's a whole different ball game.
Thompson was a receiver for the Steelers from 1984-89, a steady, dependable receiver who came up big on numerous occasions. He might not have been as flashy or headline grabbing as some of his teammates, such as Louis Lipps and John Stallworth, but he got the job done.
Thompson, who now works in sales and marketing for Potomac Environmental in Virginia, had his most memorable game in 1986 when the Steelers defeated the Green Bay Packers, 27-3, at Three Rivers Stadium. Thompson caught three touchdown passes in a game where Louis Lipps didn't play.
"That was huge," said Thompson. "I really wasn't going to play that week, or wasn't going to start. Someone got hurt and I had the chance to step in and play. I caught a touchdown on the first drive and the game kept getting better and better from there. I was really proud of that. That was just one instance that I enjoyed. But being here with the Steelers, even spending time at training camp, which isn't always fun, just being on the team and with the guys, part of the program, that was great."
Thompson also weighed in on a variety of other topics in this exclusive interview:
What was it like playing at Three Rivers Stadium with the fans, the Terrible Towels, what was that experience like?
"It was a great place to play, and they were great fans. It's a little different setting than they play in now. The music is different I noticed, some of the things are not quite the same. The fans were rowdy, they were loud, and they had those old Steelers songs. I enjoyed it. Three Rivers was great, always good to play at home."
What was the atmosphere like in that locker room? You know, you always hear "Steelers family," it truly is that type of atmosphere, isn't it?"It is. I was telling someone the other day about 'The Chief' (Art Rooney Sr.). When I played he was still alive. He would come in on cold days and walk around the locker room getting some exercise. I think he had a little Rosary in his hand. He would stop at your locker and say hello as you would come in to get dressed. If you were a newlywed, he'd remember and always ask how she was. And always wish you good luck, it was always good luck. That was nice. Of course his son and his grandson were always around and now they're still around. So it was always good. Waiting on the draft I had no idea, but I was lucky to be picked by the Steelers."You talk about coming back to Pittsburgh, being part of that "Steelers family." Is it really "once a Steelers, always a Steeler?""That's the way they treat you, so yes. My kids are Steelers, my son-in-law, he grew up in Buffalo, he doesn't know it yet but his son is a Steeler. We're all Steelers."Who had the biggest impact on your career?"That's hard to say. I played at Florida State for Bobby Bowden, and that's big when you play for him. But you go to the pros and you're playing for Chuck Noll and it doesn't get any bigger than that. But my positon coach was Tom Moore, and he's one of the greatest quarterback/offensive coaches ever I believe. I didn't really know and didn't always appreciate it sometimes, but I played for some great coaches."What was it like to play for Chuck Noll?"I enjoyed it, I liked it. He was kind of my style, all business. He joked occasionally, not much. He was very serious, very schedule-oriented. Of course they all are, I know, but I liked him. I liked him as a coach and I liked him personally."
He was a very cerebral type of coach, so was that a perfect match for you?"It was. It was a good match playing for Chuck Noll. Chuck was always on the field demonstrating and coaching and it could have been any position, at any of the positions. And I liked that. I liked his involvement and getting tips from him out on the field. I enjoyed playing for him and he was a great coach, so well respected that it was quite an honor."
Do you still follow the Steelers and keep an eye on the team?"I do. I watch the Steelers and I keep up with Florida State. I don't always sit and watch a whole game because I'm not really good at that. But I keep up with the Steelers and they're always in it, always in the hunt and always real close. And I'm proud of that."
What did it mean for you to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers?"When I was getting drafted I was just hoping that someone would give me a chance. I couldn't care less who. I just wanted to play. But slowly it becomes engrained as you come up here and play with the Steelers. All of the history and the family atmosphere, the family ownership, the way they treat you, it means a lot. It's not always easy and it's not always fun, but the things that are the most worth it in life are not always easy and fun sometimes. But playing for the Steelers, I feel a real sense of pride when I tell people that."
During your playing days, did Chuck Noll always encourage players to be prepared for life after football too?
"He actually warned us a lot about that. He warned us some about getting on with your life's work. If I heard it once, I think I heard it 10 times. I was telling someone once the other day that we went to Seattle, I think it was the first game of the year, and they whooped us really bad, 31-0, maybe. We came back from it, we had a good season, but it was a terrible way to open the season and flying back from Seattle was a long trip. I think Chuck said he was going to cut all of us, but he encouraged us, and I remember in one speech in particular he said to us, 'I got mine, I'm ready for life. You guys better start planning, or start playing a little better.'"
Who were some of the characters, some of the guys you played with back then that kept the locker room going?"I played with Louis Lipps, he and I were drafted together. Not a real loud, talkative guy, but a great guy to have on your team. I played with John Stallworth, who I looked up to. I thought that was a real honor to play with him, to watch him. I played a little bit with Mike Webster. Of course Stallworth, Webster and Donnie Shell, I played with all those guys for four years and that was a thrill. Tunch Ilkin, Craig Wolfley, I spent time with those guys. They were not only nice guys, but great football players. The locker room was full of good guys. I spent a fair amount of time with Mark Malone outdoors hunting and fishing and doing those kinds of things, I enjoyed doing that."