Interview: Duval Love

Duval Love is a former Offensive Lineman who graduated from UCLA and played 11 years in the NFL for the Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals and made the Pro Bowl. I was honored when he agreed to meet with me to answer some questions for the website.

Who did you idolize in the NFL while growing up?

Well, I was a huge Dallas Cowboys fan and a Minnesota Vikings fan. It’s kind of funny that I wasn’t really a Rams fan. I liked the Cowboys because the offensive line would do that little pause and go up, so I was immediately attracted to that. I was a huge fan of Harvey Martin, Too Tall Jones, Randy White, and Pat Donovan and those types of guys. I always liked linemen. One of my favorite players was on the Miami Dolphins, Dwight Stevenson. He always kind of catered to the linemen. Growing up, I always watched the linemen and as I was getting older I wanted to see if I was reaching 6’2 or 6’3. One day, if I got that tall, I’d be able to play in the pros.

From High School to College to Professional, who was the one person who had the biggest impact on your life?

I’ll tell you the biggest impact is my dad. There’s no doubt about it. To see where he came from and the way he works and what he taught me is amazing. He didn’t go to school, just had a sixth grade education from the south. I’m the only child and my dad’s been there every step of the way, good or bad. I’ve got to take my hat off to him. My parents have been married 45 years and they’ve been real supportive through the good times, bad times, getting into the pros, the Pro Bowl and being indicted. I mean they’ve always been there. I have great parents and my dad’s always been there. He’s been like my big brother and a dad. He’s never let me down. He’s my role model.

A 10th round draft pick makes it. How often did you remind your teammates of this?

First of all, when I got drafted in the tenth round, I was devastated. Everybody was like, “Oh you got drafted!” and I felt like, “Tenth round. WOO. Let’s take off the zero and make it a one.” But you know, after you look back, I was fortunate enough to get drafted but I had my work cut out for me. It seems like in my life I have to do things the hard way. Nothing comes easy. I don’t have that luck of things just dropping in my lap. I always have to do things the hard way.

They had four Pro Bowlers on the line and three adequate back ups. My chances where slim-to-none and slim had just walked out. I lay on the bed that night looking at the roster and I thought, there is no way…I was in the gutter. Then I went to camp and I worked my butt off. Hudson Houck was my line coach. He’s one of the best line coaches in the NFL. He’s the Miami Dolphins line coach now. He had recruited me to go to USC as line coach so we had some history together. He drafted me in the tenth round. I worked hard. I got cussed out every day and I made the team. I was shocked and dismayed but I made the team.

To back up, when I went to Ram Park there was a guy named Ray San Jose. Ray stood out in the parking lot and as you got out of your car he’d call you over and say the head coach wants to talk to you. That meant you were gone. You were cut. And so I remember that final cut, getting out of my car, Ray standing there, bless his heart. I was thinking, “Man if he calls me over there, it’s over.” I took one step, two steps. He looked at me, I’m looking at him. I took a step closer. “Are you gonna call my name or what?” He gave me the old thumbs up. “You made it.”

I walked in the locker room with my chest high and I then saw my lockers because the lockers for rookies were put in the middle. You get these little fake lockers in the middle of the locker room and when they take them down, that meant you were out of there. So I named those lockers “Death Row” because one by one, they were picking you off and you were gone. And mine had a little piece of tape that said Love 67. Then I saw my locker was right next to Jackie Slater with my name on for real and then I knew I was there to stay. I stayed there seven years.

So then you went on to Pittsburgh where you made your first Pro Bowl?

Yeah, I played 7 years for L.A. 1985 to 1991 and then I went Plan B free agency to Pittsburgh. It was Bill Cowher’s first year. Chuck Knoll had retired and Bill Cowher got the job. (Former Defensive Coordinator for Kansas City) Interesting story is you never know who’s looking at you. When I was with the Rams, we played Kansas City in Germany and we were over there for a week. Coach Cowher was the Defensive Coordinator and he had noticed me because we were scrimmaging ever day. Over there in Germany, some guys, no wives, no girlfriends, we were drinking a lot. I was still single. A lot of guys didn’t practice because they were hung over and every day I came out and practiced. Swinging away, fighting, no matter what I did the night before. I came out and I was hustling because I knew I needed to make the team and I wasn’t as secure so I had to go out and bust my butt. And Coach Cowher noticed me and said, “Who’s that guy with the fight?” Every day he comes up with his lunch pail and he’s working his butt off and he noticed me.”

So my name came up on Plan B when he became the head coach of Pittsburgh and he said, “I want that guy on my team.” I was the first guy he signed as the head coach of the Steelers. So the story is you never know who’s watching you. If I decided to take a couple days off because I was too drunk or had 3 or 4 girls the night before, you know. But I came out swinging away every practice, no matter how many beers I was pounding in Berlin because that’s what I love, football. I made an impression on him. I had a great 3 years there. I went all pro.

What one moment do you remember the most from the Pro Bowl?

The one moment was that our center made it, Dermontti Dawson. I called him up and he was two doors down from me. I said, “Hey, what are you gonna wear?” And he said, “What do you mean?” and I said, “I don’t know what to wear.” He said, “Man, we’re in Hawaii, put on your flip flops and wear shorts and your tank top and go down there,” and he hung up on me. I was nervous. Dan Marino, John Elway, Emmitt Smith – all of these great players and now I was one of them. It was kind of hard to imagine myself as one of them sitting in the same room, we’re all Pro Bowlers. It was my first one so I was excited.

So I went down there…I was nervous and I couldn’t talk. I felt like I was tripping over the carpet. I sat down and I said, “Be still.” I was shaking and all the great players came in and I was one of them. I mean hell, you know. It was a great moment. I finally made it. All that hard work had paid off. You know working out 3 times a day, running at 9 o’clock at night, paying the price, all of the things I needed to do. I’d run at 9 o’clock at night when I lived in Laguna Niguel. I’d work out at 6 o’clock in the morning then at noon and after my son went to bed I went out and start running at 9 o’clock, 6 or 7 miles every night. I was in great shape. A lot of nights I didn’t want to run but I was determined because I wanted to be the best. I’d be running and sometimes I’d be crying because I’d be so mad at myself, I’d be like “I don’t want to do this.” I’d start acting like a big baby and I was crying thinking, “There is nobody else running this time of night. I’m the only player in the NFL that’s running this time of night up a hill that’s paying the price. I’m paying the price.” I’d visualize myself. “I’m gonna be in Hawaii. I am gonna be in Hawaii.” And I’d just visualize that when I’d run up those hills I’d think, “This is why I’m running, because I want to be in Hawaii. I want Pro Bowl by my name.”

Being a UCLA graduate, what is your opinion on whether kids these days should stay in college or be allowed to take the money and enter the NFL early? In particular, the Maurice Clarett situation that happened.

I think Maurice made some mistakes, obviously. He probably should have stayed in school. Now his reputation is ruined and he’s not as good a football players as people might think. For a while, they thought he was a really good running back and all a sudden now, his stock has really dropped. He might not even get drafted. It’s hard to say. When you’ve got that type of money out there it’s hard to say no. Especially for some of these guys that don’t come from a lot of money. You just have to make the right choice. Of course you need your education. You can always come back. But if you’re good enough and you’re able to go in the first round, and you have $10 or $15 million sitting there when you sign your name, it’s hard to say no. I don’t think anyone can answer that question unless you’re put in that situation. You have to make a wise choice.

Steroid use has been the big negative issue surrounding Major League Baseball over the last year. As a professional athlete, what’s your opinion on this issue?

Obviously Steroids are illegal and you shouldn’t use them. Obviously some players have and I think it’s obvious. You can tell who the players that have used them are. Some guys use them to enhance their performance so they can play longer. They might not have the God given ability to play so they need to do all they can to make sure they are able to compete with other people. Especially if you’re a young player behind a guy who’s, for example, is hitting 45 home runs and you know he’s on steroids and you’re sitting there hitting 10 home runs and you’re going to be in the minors. It’s a tough call. You want everyone to be on a level playing field. Steroids are bad and can’t be a part of the game. They just cannot and I think the long term effect you’ll see are guys dying at an early age. You can’t really run from it.

What’s your favorite NFL team now?

My favorite team? That’s a good question. Honestly I like the Steelers because I played for them. I used to cheer for the guys I knew but as I’m getting older, all the guys are retiring pretty much. I’m just a football fan in general so I cheer for them all.

Favorite Coach? Bill Cowher still?

Yes, because he coached me. I always wish him well. You know, I like to see the Steelers do well. 15 and 1 last year. It’s hard to have a season like that and then you lose in the playoffs. You do everything right, you know you’re 15 and 1. It’s a tough pill to swallow.

After football, what’s your favorite sport to watch?

I love basketball. I’m a huge Lakers fan. Shaquille O’Neal fan. I’m a little disappointed he got traded. Unfortunately, he and Kobe could not get along. It just disappoints me as a Lakers fan that the two egos could not put that behind them and just play basketball. They had a great thing going on. It’s a horrible season. It’s hard for me to watch them. I know Jerry Buss will turn that thing around because I don’t think he likes to lose.

After leaving the NFL, you like many others, have had your share of problems. What would you have done differently while in the NFL to prepare you for life afterward?

I kind of did everything right, it’s just after I left I made all the wrong moves. House paid for, money in the bank, cars paid for, I was ok. I just made the wrong decision trying to go into business with different people and trusting them to run the business and not know what they were doing. Assuming they could make me money, believing the false dreams and making the mistake of listening to them. If I could do it all over again, I wish I could have just took one year off, lost weight, got my knees operated on and started my coaching profession. I wish I would have done that. My wife had told me to do that but, I decided to listen to myself and go into business and I made a crucial mistake. It’s OK. I’m going to rebound from it. It’s like being on the bottom of a pool…you go all the way down and you just have to bounce up and get back to the top.

I’m sure the media has gotten their facts crossed from time to time. If you could address just on one item, what would it be?

I’m sure that there’s a lot of things out there that people have said and I haven’t really heard yet. What they say behind my back, I don’t know. As far as me giving the money to the guy, I made the crucial mistake of trusting him. He lied to me and I gave him the money and he did other things with it. I got in trouble because of that business deal. You know, I trusted one of these people who lived in my community. I was naïve and made poor judgment in trusting these guys and now I know better.

As a young adult, you set your goal to play in the NFL. Fast forward 10 years . . . what goal have you set for yourself now?

I’d like to be an assistant coach in the NFL and that’s my goal. Just to be a coach to help the young kids who come up the ranks and help them not make mistakes like I made and just be happy.

In conclusion, for fans out there that followed you from the Rams to the Steelers, watched you in the Pro Bowl, is there anything you want to say to the fans about how you’re doing right now?

You know, it’s been tough. I’m a survivor. A weaker man probably would have done different things but I know I’m stronger than that. So I just stay positive. No matter what happens I know it’s gonna get better. Just know Duval Love is a fighter who will rise to the top again.

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