View Full Version : Former Hercules (Carlton Haselrig) still doing battle

07-22-2009, 09:44 PM
Former Hercules still doing battle
Posted July 22, 2009 @ 10:07 a.m.
By Tom Danyluk

I saw the name Carlton Haselrig the other day. A mixed martial arts spectacle, a cage brawl, where men kick the hell out of each other any way they can, Christians-versus-Lions style, trying to make themselves a couple bucks only without the nets and the tridents and without Nero looking on.

"Cruthless" Haselrig, it read, whatever cruthless means. That was the nickname, and there he was among the unknowns of the evening's undercard. And that's kind of sad, because two decades ago he was more like Hercules, one of the demi-gods. Of gilded bronze, the Son of Zeus. Back then, mortal combatants held no place at his side. And this lasted for some time, until one day Hercules just disappeared.

Twenty years ago, Haselrig was a wrestler. No, he was the wrestler. A magnificent force at 6-1, 275 pounds, he was the king of the heavyweights. He dressed for a school called Pitt-Johnstown and he claimed three straight Division II championships. Then, for something to do, he took on the Division I guys from places like Iowa and Oklahoma State and wiped them out, too. It had never been done before, six NCAA titles in three years. And it won't be done again because they passed a thing called the Haselrig Rule no grapplers moving up in class, i.e., save some trophies for the human types.

So he moved into pro football, despite never huffing a down in college. The Steelers took Haselrig in the 12th round of the 1989 draft as a what-the-hell choice, a throwaway. The payoff was staggering; within four years it was Carlton Haselrig, Pro Bowler.

"Lord, he was a natural," former Steelers offensive line coach Ron Blackledge says. "I mean, one of the most unique guys I've ever been around. He knew so much about balance and leverage from his wrestling, and that translated directly into football. Carlton was raw when we got him, but he progressed by leaps and bounds. Chuck Noll was shocked at his fast grasp of football, how he was able to learn things almost immediately."

"I'd played defensive line in high school," Haselrig says, "so, on paper, that was my 'natural' position. The Steelers first put me at nose tackle. Mean Joe Greene was my position coach, and that was sort of an intimidating thing. I was a Steelers fan all my life. You know, Mean Joe Greene if you want to play defensive line for the Steelers you gotta be like this guy. But it was disappointing. He wasn't a really good coach. He wasn't a technique type of guy. He just wanted fire and desire out of you, the motivator business.

"The Steelers played that tilt-nose defense the nose tackle playing his man at an angle, not head-up. Well, my impulse as a wrestler was always to square up with my man. Had I been allowed to do that I would have played a lot better at that position. Instead, I made a lot of false steps in practice. I was behind on the footwork."

Eventually Noll flipped him to the scout team, offensive line duties, imitating the enemy of the week. And it was there that Haselrig's talents erupted, throwing around bodies and clearing roads and tearing up the place.

"I was under the impression that if I worked hard, did everything I was supposed to, I'd eventually get to play," he says. "So my motor was running at all times. Being on the offensive scout team, all I had to do was read a card for my assignment. There was no thinking involved. I really took that job to heart. I'd be knocking these dudes' heads off, knocking linebackers silly ... knocking everybody cold.

"The Steelers had a need on the offensive line at that point. Their first-round draft picks John Rienstra, Tom Ricketts weren't working out. And they had smaller guys playing, like Craig Wolfley and Terry Long. Noll was still trying to run the ball but these guys were getting mashed. They didn't have the physical-ness that I brought to the game."

Noll once ruled the world with that running attack, so it was a sense of nostalgia and self-preservation that led him to taking special notice in Haselrig, his newest right guard.

"During my first year on offense, coach Blackledge was hurt and wasn't there," Haselrig says, "so Noll took over the offensive line. He was my personal coach. We'd sit there late at night, after the rest of the offense had gone home, and teach me about pre-snap reads, what to look for, what to see. He conveyed it so easily that the next day, when I went out to practice it all fit together. And once I got all that down, the sky was the limit."

He explains how it all worked, the transition from arm bars and hammerlocks to chin straps and trap blocks.

"You always heard them say about me, 'He knows how to use his leverage.' Well, I felt like there were sensors in my hands from the wrestling, knowing how to shift a man's body weight, making him go from here to there. The footwork, as well. In wrestling you're constantly moving, trying to move your guy.

"It's the same thing in football. I'm coming off the ball, I'm going to explode into you. As for pass blocking, to get to the quarterback you've got to come through me. All I've got to do is stand in front of you. I might not even have to touch you. Now, once you come to me Boom! I can snap you down just like that because all your weight is already pointed forward. Once I got everything into place, it was easy.

"My best move in wrestling was the snap-down, and that's what worked for me in the NFL. Guys would try to get inside, try to push and bull rush, I'd just snap their hands down and they're gone. They're totaled. They're on their face. I'd just bust them in their face with the helmet, get the locks on 'em and snap 'em straight down. And these were NFL players, all of them. There are no punks there."

He talked about his archenemies, the ones who gave him fits him in the ring William Fuller, Tim Krumrie, Pierce Holt, Ray Childress, John Randle.

"Some great battles with those particular guys. Why? Because of their toughness, big engines that ran all day. You could mash their brains in the ground, their eyeball would be hanging out and they're still coming back at you just as hard. No time to relax, no breathers, man.

"And then there were some dudes who were surprisingly easy. Once you got that first hit on them it was over. You knew you were going to have an easy day. Some of the Giants were like that Mike Fox, Eric Dorsey ... big as a pillar but soft as drugstore cotton."

"Haselrig was so tenacious," says Childress, a former All-Pro defensive tackle with the Oilers. "One of the hardest working linemen from that era, a very hostile player. But you could tell he grew up on the edges of the game. What I mean is that at times he was overaggressive, trying to dominate you on every snap. Sometimes you could use that against him, to influence him out of the play. But not very often."

By the end of the 1992 season, Haselrig was an all-conference performer, a killer surging toward the peak of his craft. The Steelers were back as division champs, this time under Bill Cowher. But things got strange there. Something didn't feel right. As Haselrig looked down from the mountaintop he describes a sensation you rarely hear in pro football circles too easy.

"My first reaction to (the Pro Bowl thing) was 'Whoa! That's huge,' " he says. "But then shortly thereafter I felt nothing. I think it was sort of a letdown because I thought it was going to be a lot harder. It made no lasting mark on me because of what I had to do to achieve (Pro Bowl honors), not knowing what it was that put me over the top. I was just doing what I was supposed to be doing, hitting people in the mouth, being where the ball is at, playing the game the way it's supposed to be played. But what I eventually realized was that I had already gone through some of the hardest stuff in my wrestling training."

By '93 he had lost it, the fire, the desire to play. It was gone. In its place, two devils narcotics and liquor. And then in an instant, as suddenly as he arrived, Hercules came tumbling off the mountain.

"I got hurt, a few injuries," Haselrig says, "and I then got in trouble with some substances. Then a suspension. I got to thinking, '[the Steelers] are shooting me up to keep me playing. What's the difference between them doing it and me doing it?'

"I'll say I liked playing football, I didn't love it. I loved to play in the games, the actual physical competition, but I had gotten away from the things that made me successful. Instead, I was burning the oil all hours of the night, hanging out with cats who weren't on the team. I was young, goofy, had a lot of money, a who's-gonna-stop-me-mentality, not realizing that the drinking and drugs were tearing me up. Eventually I just quit. I didn't want to play anymore. The Steelers tried working with me, but they gave up, too. Yes, I blew it."

Haselrig is 43 years old now. He lost his prime. He lost his driver's license, and he lost that mixed martial arts gig the other night, too, via a tap-out in the first round.

For now, he's just trying to get along. He's trying to get by. Even so, it's still hard to picture a true Hercules on anyone's undercard.

(He was a great Steeler. I hope things work out for him. - mesa)

Galax Steeler
07-23-2009, 03:37 AM
Thanks for the read Mesa.

07-23-2009, 05:50 AM
I remember him well as he was just two years younger than me and wrestled in the same district as I did. I believe he first took up wrestling as a senior in high school just before the March tournaments. He won districts, regionals, and states to go 10-0 for his high school career. At least that is what I think happened (memory is the second to go). He was one of the most pure athletes I've ever seen or come across. Sad to see him walking a dead end street these days, but it doesn't sound like he has major regrets. All the best to him.

07-23-2009, 07:23 AM
What a great read mesa - thanks! :drink:

Great memories of a man who was simply put - a BEAST on that OL. Trying to get by him or through him was near impossible. :tt02:

Much luck to ya big guy. :drink:

07-23-2009, 09:38 AM
I would have liked to seen a younger aggressive Hasselrig wrestle against Lesnar.

07-23-2009, 10:13 AM
Shame he went down the worng path as he could have possibly been great...

07-23-2009, 11:19 AM
Well, that story sucks.

I mean, it was interesting, but kind of a shame. The guy had a ton of talent, but it sounds like he just wasted it because he got bored.