My email inbox has been increasingly filling with "press releases" from the companies with whom Steelers players have endorsements. I generally glance over them to make sure I'm not missing anything of actual interest and then chuck them straight into the round file.
But the email I got the other day with the heading "GILLETTE CLEAR GEL DEODORANT CELEBRATES THE START OF THE NEW NFL SEASON WITH ONE-OF-A-KIND "TRAINING TRACKS" MUSIC VIDEO" caught my attention, and not just because of the all-caps screamer. No, it was "music" that did it. So I set it aside for future perusal, and, given my schedule this week, it probably would have remained there for a while, until I got a follow-up email saying Ramon Foster was available for an interview, and was I interested?
Was I ever! So I set up an appointment for a phone interview on Thursday afternoon, and then started frantically trying to figure out what this was all about.
First, I went and watched the music video. And it's pretty awesome. Most non-musicians, and many musicians for that matter, don't think about things we consider noise as having pitch, but unless there are so many pitches happening at once that it is a blur, they do. I remember amusing/annoying/astonishing my parents as a child (I don't really know which it was) by announcing that our car's turn signal was an F and a C.
All by way of saying that while there is no "tune" in this video, there's a lot of pitch, and it is really cleverly done. Here it is:
I remained somewhat mystified, though, as Ramon Foster doesn't appear anywhere in the video. (He addresses this in the interview, as you will see shortly.) But a bit more research revealed that he was involved in the video series which preceded the music video, the "Built for Training" series on NFL.com. I watched all five of them, and they are marvelous, even if the ending is a bit heartbreaking (for me at least.)
The premise: Gillette selected six players, three rookies and three veteran mentors, to follow through training camp. The three pairs selected were Giovani Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals, mentored by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Kayvon Webster of the Denver Broncos, mentored by Champ Bailey, and Mike Golic Jr of the Steelers, mentored by, naturally, Ramon Foster.
The videos follow the rookies through camp, preseason games, and final cuts. Bernard was a second-round pick, Webster a third-round, and Golic was of course undrafted. The other two rookies made it through the cuts. In the case of Bernard, we know this to our detriment. Webster had the good fortune that his mentor was injured, thus throwing him in as a starter, and he, after some initial growing pains, apparently carried himself well.
As we all know, Golic was cut in the last round of cuts, and is currently a "free agent."
If you haven't watched these videos, I highly recommend them. The first episode, for instance, features a wry and ironic tour of Mike Golic Jr.'s luxurious digs in the dorm at St. Vincent's college. There's loads of good stuff in there, so don't miss them. To watch them in order, you'll have to look for the first video, as they are in reverse chronological order on the site.
But on to the interview. Rather than giving a full transcript, I'm going to pick and choose. If enough of you request the transcript in the comments I'll publish it later. But here's the meat of the interview:
Rebecca Rollett: Although this interview is in conjunction with the music video which has just been released, I gather you weren't actually involved with it.
Ramon Foster: I wasn't. But if I had been in there it would have been a masterpiece.
RR: What did they leave out that you think would have made the difference?
RF: You just need a lineman, just point blank period—the sounds they would make blocking and so on. Although if they had been recorded it would have been kind of embarrassing.
RR: I watched the "Built for Training" videos, and thought they were very interesting, although they were also bittersweet, knowing that Mike got cut. As to the mentoring aspect, when you were signed by the Steelers, did you have a mentor, and if so, who?
RF: My mentors were the older guys—Willie Colon, Trai Essex, and Chris Kemoeatu. Those three guys right there took me under their wing like nobody before.
So when they asked me to do this "Built for Training" program with Mike Golic, it was easy for me because I wanted to give back the way the guys had helped me...I was glad to be a part of it. It was kind of bittersweet, like you said. Mike was a really good choice for that. I still think highly of him even though he's not with us right now.
RR: I ran across something you said in a Post-Gazette article last May in which you were asked if you still had a chip on your shoulder, being a UDFA and all. You said "I'd be a fool not to think that way. I tell the young guys, if it's me or you, I'm going to step on your head to get the job done." I can totally see this, but how do you reconcile that with your role as a mentor?
RF: What I meant by that comment was, I'll help you as much as possible because you never know when there's a point when we may need you. Like Mike Golic—we might have needed him to start a game if I was out with an ankle injury or something like that.
As far as helping you, you asking me a question, I'm all for that, because you're only as good as the guys behind you. If one of our guys has to come in [because somebody went down] and no one had told him about certain tecnique things that he could have improved on in camp and stuff like that, that's when you become a fractured team, where there's a big drop-off from [the starters to the back-ups.]
But when it comes down to one earning a job, so far as starting, I'm going to be the one to show myself to the coaches better. That's what I meant by that.
RR: When the new class comes in, how is it decided who mentors whom? Or do you all mentor the new guys? Is this one-on-one mentoring like you did for the Gillette series unusual?
RF: With me, I'm always trying to give back, so when I see a guy who really wants to be a part of something, really wants to get better, I'm all for helping them. They just sort of find you, although you seek them out as well...I can't really explain how you do it, you just find the guy, and you can tell whether or not he wants the help...
RR: On another topic, what about Fernando Velasco? How difficult is it to come into a new team and learn enough of the offense in a week to play? Did you and David DeCastro help out with the calls?
RF: He did a really good job. Being thrown into the fire like that, I think he handled himself really well. There were a few things here or there that will get better from week to week as he becomes more savvy in our offense...He was a physical guy and he hustled, so you didn't really see much if he made a mistake because of how he played.
RR: About Maurkice Pouncey's injury—what about cut blocking? I was always glad the Steelers didn't do it, because of the possibility of injuring someone. It's massively ironic to me that the first attempt the Steelers made to do it resulted in an injury to their own lineman. Why didn't they use it before, and why now?
RF: We never used it before because we hadn't been an outside zone running team. I guess it's one of those things where if you can't beat em, join them.
RR: I suppose. I was just disappointed that Mike Tomlin thinks it should stay in the game. Brett Keisel is totally pissed, the d-line hates it.
RF: As a player, you don't really want that sort of blocking scheme to injure another guy, whether he's on the same team or the opposite team. If you injure a guy, that's his livelihood. It's just one of those rules, maybe it will get changed next off-season. But as of now teams are okay with it.
RR: Now, if you don't mind, a few personal questions. I was at training camp this summer one day when you all were running sprints after practice, and Antonio Brown's son started running along the sidelines next to everyone. Antonio was obviously very proud of him. You have a son about the same age, correct? I was wondering if there is any sort of "dad" competition between you two, and/or the other guys with kids about the same age?
RF: No, not really. I'm sure when the kids get older and understand how to compete that'll be something we'll watch - what son goes to what college. But right now we just like to see them having fun.
RR: I'm very interested in the educational component of college. I know you spent five years at Tennessee, but I can't seem to find what you majored in or whether you graduated. Would you mind telling me that?
RF: Proudly graduated in December 2008 with a sociology degree.
There was more, but that's the essence of it. (I'm definitely leaving out my injury rant : ) He's a really nice guy, and was very forthcoming. I think he was surprised I wasn't asking questions like "why does the offensive line suck?" but that's not my style. I've always wondered why reporters do that. It drives me nuts. "Tell us, Mark, what did it feel like to blow the save in this game?" What the heck is he supposed to say? "It felt great! I love messing with my coaches' and teammates' minds. After all, they totally take me for granted. Maybe they'll care a little more about their closer now!!!!"
So enjoy, and let's beat the Bears tomorrow night! Ramon, I'm looking at you.
*Or should I say "Men's Personal Care" interview?
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