It’s just past 1 p.m. on a Tuesday. At the OceanView Inn and Sports Pub, I have the chance to meet up with two-time Super Bowl champion Gary Dunn, defensive tackle of 12 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Following an hour of stories, laughs, Super Bowl memories and a prediction on the game this year, we head out back to the pool for a photo op at the big chair. Those around the pool take notice.
“I got to get a picture myself,” said one gentleman sitting poolside.
In his Steel Curtain shirt with his right hand clenched, Dunn’s Super Bowl bling shines.
Exiting the pool, a lady takes notice.
“You must be Gary Dunn,” she says.
Growing up in Miami and playing football at the U, Dunn was drafted by the Steelers in 1976. He went on to have quite the career, wreaking havoc on quarterbacks with the likes of Joe Greene and the vaunted defense. It led to wins against the Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII and the Los Angeles Rams the next year in Super Bowl XIV. Serving as team captain for four years, Dunn ranks ninth on the Steelers’ all-time sack list.
In 1996, Dunn and college roommate and friend, Los Angeles Rams All-Pro Dennis Harrah, took to a new career as they purchased the OceanView Inn. Neither one had been in the business before, so they had to learn fast. And they did. Today, it’s a popular spot for locals and visitors.
“We said, ‘Well, here comes the school of hard knocks,’” Dunn said. “I remember I was here and saying, ‘Them trash cans are getting full. Who takes them out?’ They go, ‘You do.’ I go, ‘Where’s the trash guy?’ They said, ‘You’re the trash guy.’”
Name: Gary Dunn
Have a fond memory of the OV? Dennis and I just bought the place two days ago. We were sitting just looking around when all of a sudden the door opened up. In comes a chicken flying around an older guy by the name of Rusty. Feathers are going everywhere and Rusty’s chasing the chicken around here, knocking down tables. Everybody at the bar just sat here with their drinks. Dennis and I were like ‘What the hell was that?’ They go, ‘Oh, that was Rusty. His chicken comes here all the time.’
What do you miss most about playing in the NFL? Number one thing, the guys. To play football, you build up to the big game on the weekend. There’s lots of ups and downs, and you wait for the game and you’re pumped up for it. It’s exciting to play. Regular life, you kind of just cruise along, you know?
How were you able to play 12 years as a defensive tackle? Total luck. We played a four-man front, two defensive tackles and two ends. Half my career was there. I could stay pretty healthy doing that. Then they went to a three-man front and moved me to nose tackle, and that’s where I started to take a beating. I would say it’s like playing out in the middle of U.S. 1 here in traffic. They’re coming from everywhere … double-team almost every play. No matter what, someone’s going after your legs. The stuff they used to do in my days, now they would throw you out for …
How are you doing healthwise? I’ve had a bunch of leg problems with knee replacements and infection. I’m on my fourth knee on my right leg. That’s been my main health problem, but I’m walking. They can’t just give you a pill. They have to take it out of your body and give you antibiotics. Back in the day when I played, if you tore the cartilage, they took it out. They operated on me for cartilage 10 to 12 times. The last four to five years, I played on legs with no cartilage. That caused a lot of damage and that’s affected me later in life.
What was life like after the NFL? It’s hard, especially to go back out. Football’s what you’ve done. A lot of time you think you know what’s going on out there but you don’t. The guys nowadays are making money. It’s much different. Me, I couldn’t sit there and retire. I had to go and make a living because I didn’t have nearly enough money to retire. I came away with a little bit, enough to buy this place and buy a house. That’s about all I had.
Is the NFL doing enough to help players of your era? Nowadays, they got programs and things to help guys, which is good. They got a lot of stuff for the guys now that we didn’t have. Pensions for guys like me, right now, there’s a push for the FAIR, Fairness for Athletes in Retirement Act, where they’re trying push the pensions of guys who played pre-1993 up to present-day pensions. Hopefully there’s a big push to do that. They’re all getting older anyway and won’t be around longer anyway.
What was your relationship like with the Rooneys? ‘The Chief,’ we called him, Art Rooney Sr.; talk about a classy gentleman. He used to live near the stadium and would walk to work. And it wasn’t a great neighborhood on the north side of Pittsburgh. He’d walk through there and no one would mess with Art. One time in the off-season (it was funny as heck) I picked a postcard up. The Rooneys used to own horse tracks. I picked up this postcard and it was a horse’s ass. I said ‘What the heck is that?’ Turn it over, and it said, ‘Gary, I saw this and thought of you, Art Rooney Sr.’ We used to talk a lot.
How did your first sack go down? I’ll tell you who my first sack was my rookie year — Joe Namath. It was funny. I’m in there playing the Jets and I go. He sees me and he drops to the ground. I basically sacked him with my foot. I launched myself at him. I was going to take him out. I went over top of him. I came to the sidelines and Joe Greene comes up to me and says ‘Hey rook, we don’t hit him like that.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He goes, ‘He’s good for the game. Wrap him up, lay him down. Don’t take him out like that.’ I was like, ‘I’ll be damned.’
Is there a quarterback today you wish you could get after? QBs nowadays, shoot, they’re all so fast. I don’t think I could sack any of them. Especially Lamar Jackson. Forget it. I hate playing against that, especially as a lineman. You’re finally getting through the pass rush, and you’re working your whole 300-pound pizza, and you take that pizza to the QB and he gives you a juke and he’s gone.
What defensive player today impresses you most? Nick Bosa is really good. JJ Watt is one of the more impressive guys I’ve seen.
Your dream team defensive line would be? I would have to go with guys we had on our team: L.C. Greenwood, Joe Greene, Dwight White and I’ll also go with Ernie Holmes in his prime. Those guys, when they came up to Pittsburgh, they were impressive.
What was the feeling playing in your first Super Bowl? It was awesome. The game got pretty tight with the Cowboys. You go to the game and you’re excited, all of sudden when you’re going, you go, ‘You better win the thing.’ There’s no reason to go all the way and not win the thing. What I also found out is champagne stings your eyes pretty good. I’m in there and they’re shooting them in my eyes. Nowadays, they all wear goggles.
Were the emotions any different the second time around? It was still great. It’s so hard to get there. When you finally get there, just to be able to win the thing, it’s such a relief to go do it all. I’m sure if you lose it, like with the second game I played against Dennis and the Rams. He lost the game. So he was on the other end of the thing.
Do you ever give Dennis any grief about that? It’s kind of funny. You go to these functions and everybody’s seeing the rings. They’ll have an NFC championship ring, which everyone is looking at it and saying ‘That’s great!’ I go, ‘You think that’s great, that’s called the loser’s ring. That’s what you get when you lose. Here’s what you get when you win the game.’ They hate it every time. Art Cooper, who I played with at Miami, he played with the Broncos. I do it to him all the time. He’ll have his AFC ring on.
Any plans for the Super Bowl? We’ll be here. We’ll have our usual drink specials and buckets of beer and all that stuff. We usually put seats and a big TV outside on the sand and we just have a good time.
What’s your prediction? I want KC to win. I want Andy Reid to win. I tell ya, the Niners defense is scary. If they can just rush four guys and handle Mahomes, then that’s going to be a problem.
Finish these sentences…
My go-to drink after a long day is … vodka soda with lime.
My family would tell you that I like to … boat anywhere in the bay.
Playing in the NFL was a … great time and great experience with great fans and a great organization.
This year’s Super Bowl score will be … Kansas City, 32-28.