Jan. 31, 2011
This week Greg Warren’s parents, Bob and Debra, will make the 1,300-mile drive from Mt. Olive, N.C. to Arlington, Texas, to see their son take part in his third Super Bowl. Warren, a deep snapper for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was a four-year lettermen at UNC who graduated with degrees in biology and exercise and sport science. Warren was a member of the Steelers’ Super Bowl squads in 2006 and 2008, and recently spoke with TarHeelBlue.com about his NFL career.
TarHeelBlue: How are you preparing for the week ahead? Are the logistics any easier now that you’ve been through this twice before?
Greg Warren: When you have a parent that doesn’t want to fly to Dallas and another one you have to convince to drive that far, it doesn’t make the preparations as easy as you would think. They are going to drive 20 hours from eastern North Carolina to Dallas. My dad is hardcore. He said he’s going to stop halfway in Alabama and meet some family. They also drove to the one in Detroit and the other in Tampa.
THB: With parents that won’t fly, I guess it’s good you went to school at North Carolina then?
GW: Yes, and it’s good that I’ve played my entire career in Pittsburgh, because the eight hour drive isn’t all that bad.
THB: This is your third Super Bowl in six years in the NFL. How does this one compare with the others?
GW: It’s just as exciting as the first one. The night after we beat Green Bay, I probably didn’t sleep but for a few hours. Knowing what is going to come up for us with all the festivities we get to be a part of even added to the feeling more than the first couple of Super Bowls. It’s definitely exciting. We don’t go to any of the parties, but the media days are fun, and it’s a great chance to go around and see the city. In Tampa, we went to the beach. This time we’ll be able to go to all the local restaurants and see the town a little bit.
THB: How do you differentiate this one?
GW: The first one happened so quick, because it was my first year in the league and is was almost like a blur. It was like that whole season I was just trying to make it and stay in the NFL. At the time, the Super Bowl was just another game. I’m glad I didn’t overthink it because it might have changed things. The second time I was hurt, so I feel like the third time will be more special, because I can appreciate it a little more. Being injured twice and tearing two ACLs, I didn’t know if I’d ever get this opportunity again. It really makes you appreciate every game and especially a game of this magnitude.
THB: Describe your injuries and how you were able to make it back on the field?
GW: I tore the (left) ACL in the seventh or eighth week of the season the year we went to the Super Bowl in 2006 I tore my (right) ACL last year with two games to go in the season. A guy fell on my leg. It was actually someone on Green Bay, coincidentally. I don’t even know who it was. There was no time on the clock, the game was tied and all we had to do was kick an extra point to win. I snapped the ball, we made the extra point and a guy who was trying to jump to block the kick landed on our right guard and they both just fell into the back of my right leg. I haven’t missed one day of practice including summertime workouts and all the others we do. It’s really been a blessing how fast I’ve been able to recover from both the knee injuries.
THB: What will your schedule consist of the next two weeks?
GW: We’ll practice for a week here in Pittsburgh before we leave for Dallas. Then we’ll practice a week in Fort Worth and practice at TCU. It’s awesome just to go to another city and prepare for a game like this. I’ve never played at the new Texas Stadium and I think I’ve only seen it once on TV. I think it’s going to be something really exciting to be a part of.
THB: Describe the differences between playing for Coach Cowher and Coach Tomlin.
GW: They are both real methodical in their preparation. Every detail is planned out for specific reasons. Coach Cowher was more revered and you didn’t say much to him. He’s one of the best motivators I’ve ever been around. He would let you know what he expected of you and if you didn’t produce, he would let you know. That was about the extent of it. Coach Tomlin is a little more of a players’ coach. He really likes to hang around the locker room, hang around the guys. He really relates to all the guys real well. He’s just one of those guys that’s way more involved than a lot of coaches are in players’ personal lives. I feel honored to have been coached by both of them, because they are great coaches, great motivators, just two completely different styles.
THB: Did you ever think you would have a chance to play in the NFL?
GW: At the end of my fourth year I still had another year of eligibility for football. I was going to go ahead and graduation – as I did – and just go along with my life away from football. Coach (John) Bunting asked me if I would come back for a fifth year and if I did, he expected I would have a very good shot for the NFL. That was the first time I’d ever heard that. I started thinking about it and I was able to get into grad school. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I came back and had a successful year, but it didn’t seem like I had many looks from any scouts. I had a couple of phone calls from some teams, but I wasn’t expecting much. Immediately after the draft the Steelers called and said they wanted me to compete with their guy for the job. Even then, I didn’t know how much chance I had. I decided to take the opportunity and just do my best. I had a good summer and had a good training camp and they decided that they were going to make the move and change long snappers. The rest has been an awesome ride. I’ve been a part of three Super Bowls now and hopefully can continue into my seventh season next year, which is something I never would have dreamed of.
THB: Did you think your career was going to be over when you got hurt the first time?
GW: The good thing for me was that I had signed a new three-year contract the summer before I got hurt. That was probably one of my saving graces was the timing of everything. Timing has been so fortunate with me. Coming into Carolina I was able to redshirt and be behind two great long snappers (Beamon, Helton) that were seniors and then the spot was wide open. Having that contract enabled me to have a little more leverage to come back the following year and compete. I almost finished the following year out if it wasn’t for somebody falling on my leg in the second-to-last game of the season.
THB: If you had not been convinced to come back for your fifth year, what do you think you would be doing now?
GW: I’d probably be a high school biology teacher. I feel blessed. I pray every day thanking the Lord that he’s done this for me. My life has totally been changed for the better. I’ve been able to do a lot of charity work, which I love to give back, help kids and help those in need. I’ve really been able to use this as a platform to give back in a lot of ways.
THB: What kind of charity work have you been doing?
GW: I did some charity work at UNC by going over to the Children’s Hospital on Fridays before home games. Now, I help out with a golf tournament in Durham called “Sport For Special Kids.” They contribute to kids with disabilities and birth effects and helping them in their daily lives. I also give to the Garth Brook’s charity called “Teammates For Kids.” The great thing about that charity is that everything contributors give, they triple, 100 percent of the money goes to kids and Garth Brooks pays all the overhead. I give back to my hometown. My peewee football coach, Alex Ferrell, has built a football field in the center of town out of absolutely nothing. He put lights on it, bleachers, turf, a scoreboard. We put a field right in the middle of town where we can provide a place to get kids off the street and have something to do. He’s done all the work, I’ve just helped him springboard the monetary aspect of it.
THB: How often do you get back to North Carolina?
GW: My fiance’, Ashley Keesee, is from Goldsboro so in the summertime we’re around there constantly. She is a grad student at East Carolina so we are waiting until she is done this April to begin planning the wedding, which will be April 28, 2012. I get back to Chapel Hill once or twice a summer. I try to go to the Spring Game. Certainly, I’ll enjoy coming back more often whenever I’m retired.
THB: Do you still follow the Tar Heels and what is your opinion of where the program stands?
GW: Of course, I follow them. Even with the adversity they faced this year, I’m excited for them. I think Coach Davis did a heck of a job with the players there. I think they’ve got a lot of talent even though they were missing key players for a majority of the season and they showed a lot of perseverance throughout the season and determination. It was awesome to see them go out there and fight and be competitive. I think great things are happening around there.
THB: Many Carolina fans are interested in the progress of Kyle Jolly, a former Tar Heel who is now on the Steelers' practice squad. How is his doing?
GW: Kyle is a great guy and he's been on our practice squad all season. From what I hear, the coaches like him and he has a chance to make the squad again next year. He's working with one of the best offensive line coaches in the country, so he has a lot going for him right now.
THB: What are your thoughts on Green Bay?
GW: I think they are a heck of a team. I had no idea they were a sixth seed because they’ve been playing at such a high level. I think Aaron Rodgers is one of the best. We were watching highlights of him this week and he just makes plays. I think the key for us will be to keep him scrambling and get him rattled. He reminds me a lot of Roethlisberger because he can allude the guy coming off the edge when it looks like a sure sack and get away and make a big play out of it.
THB: How did your time at UNC prepare you for the NFL?
GW: I think it just smoothed my transition in addition to getting a great education. The atmosphere on campus made the transition easier for me. Chapel Hill’s not a big city by any means, but coming from a small, rural town like I did, that atmosphere helped. Being on the football team gave me discipline, structure. It allowed you to be away from home, but not away from all the rules and discipline. It was really awesome to be a part of Tar Heel nation.