PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE TY LAW
JULY 30, 2019
Q: After your breakout performance at Aliquippa in 1990, you said that you wanted to be the best you can be, and that's better than good. Was that the mentality of a guy who believed he could be a Hall of Famer one day?
TL: Absolutely. I've always tried to do not only the best I could, but push myself to the limit to see how far I could take it. I knew I was talented, but around Aliquippa, there's a lot of talented people. I knew I had to work harder to get where I wanted to be. I always had a dream of going to college, going to the pros, and being a Hall of Famer, because I got to see the feeling to an extent when I went to stay the summer times with my Uncle Tony [Dorsett] in Dallas. I used to just stare at that Heisman, stare at his Hall of Fame bust, and that right there, it meant the world to me because I realized dreams do come true. He walked the same streets that I did, so why can't I? Why not me? But, I knew there had to be a lot of sacrifice to get to that point. You can't just be a good athlete, because Aliquippa's got great athletes walking around the street every day. What's going to set you apart? I tried to set myself apart by doing everything necessary to achieve my goal.
Q: At what point did you know that your dream of being a Hall of Famer was possible?
TL: The tone was set when I decided to leave college early after my junior season. It was a belief that I had in myself, and I said, “You know what, there ain't no turning back now.” I left and signed with an agent, so I can't go back to college. Once I got [to the NFL], I really saw that I can play and I can fit in, so being a Hall of Famer was something that I threw out there early. In my early interviews, I said that was the goal because I knew if that was the goal, it wasn't about just getting on the field right now or working my way up into the nickel, into the rotation and eventually being a starter. I said from day one that my goal by the time I'm done was to be a Hall of Famer. I set that bar that high, and everything else – to get to that point, I had to work harder, I had to study harder, I had to compete harder. It was the same thing I did when I was at Aliquippa, when I decided to go to the University of Michigan. It was like everything that I am is from my upbringing in Aliquippa, western Pennsylvania, and it just carried on. So, that confidence and that will to win and will to compete, once I got to the NFL, there was no stopping me because in the back of my mind I still see that little kid staring at that Heisman trophy and Hall of Fame bust. So, that was the goal from day one, and I just went for it. And I know you had to play a long time. I know you had to play consistently. They don't just give those things away, no matter how long you played. You had to make an impact, and that's I tried to do.
Q: Do you feel that you get overlooked when people talk about the great players to come out of Pennsylvania because you didn't go to college or play in the NFL in Pennsylvania?
TL: I don't necessarily look at it as overlooked. It's a decision that I made. I was recruited by Pitt and Penn State. It was a small chance that I would have come home, as far as playing for the Steelers, when I was a free agent. I did take a visit there, but that wasn't in the cards for me. I chose to leave because I wanted to make a name for myself outside of Pittsburgh. I had the opportunity, like I said, to go to college there, but you think about it, the one I looked up to the most is Tony Dorsett. He went to Pitt. Mike Ditka, from Aliquippa – Pitt. Sean Gilbert, Derrelle Revis – so on and so forth. So many guys before me went to Pitt. I wanted to do it my way, I wanted to take my own route, and that's why I chose – I knew early on, even when I was getting recruited, I knew I wasn't going to stay in Pennsylvania to play. Period. I went through the process, but I knew early on that I had to make a move and do something different and create my own path. I don't think it was being overlooked at all. It was something that sometimes you've got to get out of your comfort zone to really make a name for yourself, and that's what I tried to do. I think I did OK.
Q: How did your teammates help you get to the position you're in now?
TL: You can't get to the Hall of Fame by yourself. Football, first of all, is the ultimate team sport. A lot of pieces have to come together for you to be successful, and I know for myself that I'm not there on statistical reasons alone. I'm there because I was a part of something special: The New England Patriots and a dynasty, three Super Bowl championships. So, those guys meant everything because we fed off of each other. We were probably the most unselfish team that I've ever been a part of, and I'm not going there by myself. I'm going there from the hard work that we put in together. I might be the guy to stand up there on that stage, but I know that those guys are standing up there with me. Hopefully that'll open up the door, finally letting one of us in, and hopefully that opens up the flood gates for a lot of other deserving guys to one day be Hall of Famers, as well. I couldn't have been who I was without Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, Lawyer Milloy, Rodney Harrison, and the list goes on. I mean, you think about our team – you know, they tend to talk about the ultimate team, there's no individuals. In order to get to where we went, people had to be playing some good football. Individuals had to be smart and be able to play and be able to adjust on the fly. We had a lot of those guys on that team. I happen to be the recipient of such an award through the hard work and the blood, sweat and tears of the guys that I played with, and I'm happy to represent those guys because it's not just me in the Hall of Fame. Those guys are right there with me.
Q: Rodney Harrison mentioned the way you carried yourself in the locker room. How much of your confidence and cockiness was part of your success?
TL: First of all, I think that's a little exaggerated because Rodney's just a silly guy. Sometimes you try to talk a little trash to get yourself going, or just to break the ice, but you know it was a part of who I am – believing in yourself. That's always been my message. If everybody else – coaches can believe in you, your teammates can believe in you – but until you believe it yourself, that isn't going to do anything for you or anybody else. I had to believe in myself, so I tried, and I know how I prepared, so that also helped with the confidence to go in and compete because I knew I worked hard. I felt like I was getting the edge all the time through preparation, and I worked just as hard off the field as I did on the field in preparing to compete. You know, being out there on that corner sometimes gets lonely, even though you have your teammates out there. But sometimes you're tasked with the responsibility of taking this guy out and you have to win a one-on-one battle, and the one-on-one battle happened a lot because of the way our scheme was. So, I had to take a certain edge and a confidence about it. I couldn't always depend on a safety or a linebacker or the pass rush for help. It was me and that other guy, so I had to feel that, “Hey, I'm better than you,” at all times with whoever I'm lined up against. This whole thing – a part of that is being competitive. It's saying, “OK, I put so much work in, I'll be damned if I let you beat me today.” Even though you win some, I lost plenty. But, I went in there with the intent of winning. Every time I lined up across from somebody, I intended on winning the one-on-one battle because of the work I put in. I think that's where it came from. I worked too hard to lose.
Q: You played one of the hardest positions in football, which just became harder because of the new instant replay rules. Are you disappointed to see they are going to have instant replay on pass interference calls?
TL: Yes, I am disappointed in that because it's going to take away from the game. You know, referees are out there for a reason. Yes, they don't make every call right, but something like that – a pass interference – once you start opening that can of worms, it's going to get ugly, and the game's going to get a lot longer. I think it's going to be a lot of grey area because I think the defensive players get the bulk of the pushing and the blame for this or that, but there's a lot going on between a defensive back and a wide receiver, especially when you're running downfield. You've got two of the fastest guys on the field, and things happen in a split-second, so if they start all-of-a-sudden throwing the red flag out to stop the game – this may or may not have been a pass interference – I think it's just going to disrupt the game. It's a little bit disappointing because it's still about the offense, it's about scoring points. I understand the business aspect of it, but you have to let the game be played. And the offense, they're just as guilty of pushing and grabbing and being physical, as well. I just don't know what this is going to do to the game. It's going to be interesting to see, but it's definitely not good in my opinion.
Q: How much have you kept up with Aliquippa football in recent years?
TL: I mean, I'm an Aliquippa Quip until the day I die. A good friend of mine right now is the head coach in Mike Warfield. They're going to be all up and the high school team is going to be up in Canton supporting. They'll be a part of the parade, and it's going to be an awesome time and an awesome experience for [Mike Zmijanac], as well. I think it's great, to me, to have those guys there, but it was time for a change. We're prideful around there, and Mike Warfield, he's played there, he's from those streets, so he can relate to those kids a little bit different. You know, Aliquippa, I'm going to be there a lot more often now that I'm done playing myself and it's incredible what he's doing. So Mike Warfield is going to be there for a long time. Like I said, when those kids look at him, it's just a little bit different when you've walked those streets, when you wore that uniform and have been through the same highs and lows as a kid, to be able to lead those guys. I'm so happy and I'm going to do everything I can to help support those guys.
Q: How important was your upbringing in Aliquippa in shaping who you are today?
TL: You know what, it hardens you to an extent – in a good way, because you see a lot of things, both good and not so good. But, the pride that we have there, and I think my upbringing, the competition has prepared me for everything that I went through in life. My journey stems through what I've done and what I've seen in Aliquippa. You cannot get any more competitive than that, because we competed at everything, every single chance we get. It's like we live to compete or something, and the competition was fierce because it wasn't like I was the best athlete at all times, because we all could play. So, that helped big time. You had to learn early, “How do I separate myself from the rest of the pack and not just be another guy?” A lot of towns, and a lot of places you go to, it ain't that hard. If you're the better athlete, you're the better athlete, but there's just so many guys that were there. Being out there in the streets was tough. You've got to learn to stick up for yourself real quick or you're not going to make it. All of those things from a competitive standpoint, from a mental standpoint, as far as being – like sharpening your knives – being tough, mentally, it was everything to me. To be honest with you, when I got to college, you're thinking it's the next step. It's like, I didn't know then when I was living it, but I know now and I can say it with confidence, that college was easy, the pros, that was easy compared to how I grew up and what I had, what I've seen, and how you had to keep it together. It prepared me for every step, even in business right now. I can always take something back from my childhood and my upbringing and say, “OK, you've got to pick yourself up.” You've always got to pick yourself up and believe in yourself and move forward, and that all stems from Aliquippa.