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Eason still basking in Super Bowl victory glow
07.07 nick eason 1
Kids check out Nick Eason’s Super Bowl ring after the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end finished his talk Thursday night at Guyton Civic Center. Eason’s appearance was arranged through the Reclaiming Our Children organization. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

The Eason File

A former Class AA state basketball player of the year at Toombs County, Eason went  on to hold several weight lifting records at Clemson, including a 510-pound bench press and a 780-pound mark in the squat. He held the strongest total weight in school history. “That just came from hard work,” he said.

 At the NFL combine, prospects are asked to do as many repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press as possible.

When he first got to Clemson, Eason did 12. At the combine, he did 39.

Career stats (NFL)

Games-61, tackles-75, sacks-3.5

There are perks to winning a Super Bowl.

In addition to the ring the winners get, there are trips to Disney World and visits to the White House — complete with getting a picture of the president on your cellphone, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Nick Eason said.

The Steelers, thanks to their dramatic Super Bowl XLIII victory over Arizona, got a behind-the-scenes tour of the White House and some face time with President Obama.

“I got to talk with the President for about two or three minutes,” Eason said. “I got a picture of him on my cellphone.”

As part of their visit to the White House in May, the Steelers players also helped bag 3,000 CARE packages for soldiers overseas.

Eason’s journey from a star high school player at Toombs County in Lyons to the White House as a Super Bowl champion — the rings have 63 diamonds and are worth about $30,000, he said — was full of twists and turns. While he was at Clemson, Eason tore an Achilles tendon in practice. He dropped back in pass coverage and leaped to intercept a pass before losing his balance.

“I thought, ‘who tripped me,’” he said. “I got back up, I just collapsed.”

Eason, who was on track to graduate early, considered leaving before his eligibility was up. At Clemson, he was a first-team all-ACC selection at defensive tackle in 2002 after racking up 62 tackles and seven sacks. He was the Tigers’ defensive MVP in 2000, though four of his teammates were first-team all-conference picks.

Rocky Mountain low

He was considered a top draft prospect, and ESPN opted to follow him on draft day. But when the first day of the draft and the first three rounds were done, Eason’s name hadn’t been called. Eventually, he was taken by Denver in the fourth round.

“I was supposed to go the first day, but that didn’t happen,” he said.

Teams call players to tell them they have been drafted, and players can refuse the offer, Eason said.
“You can say no if you want to,” he said, “but I’ve never heard of anyone saying no.”

His first season, 2003, was spent on injured reserve. He started the next year with Denver before the Broncos sent him to NFL Europe and the Scottish Claymores.

“I was in Glasgow, Scotland, for three months. I was miserable,” he said. “I got to know how a foreign person feels when they come here.”

When he returned to Denver, he placed on the practice squad — “You get beat up on for three days a week for $100,000 a year,” he said.

But as a practice squad member, a player can sign with other teams. Cleveland came calling, and Eason answered, going from one of the league’s top teams to one of its worst.

“I’ve done signed a three-year contract,” he said of his deal with Cleveland. “I asked myself, ‘What have I got myself into?’”

Hello, Cleveland

He made his debut in a NFL regular season game on Dec. 19, 2004, as a member of the Browns. While there, the Browns fired head coach Butch Davis, and the reaction from players took Eason aback.

Eason got a phone call on Tuesday to come to the team headquarters, normally an off day in the NFL, and he worried about what was going to happen.

“That’s the day you get cut,” he said.

Instead, Eason was told it was Davis who was out of a job. Browns players celebrated, he said.

“I’ve never seen a place party when a coach gets fired,” he said. “Someone ordered cupcakes.”

With his contract in Cleveland up, Eason opted to pursue other teams.

“No matter how hard we tried, we still lost,” Eason said of his time with the Browns, who were 14-34 in his three seasons there.

He visited San Diego and Seattle before meeting with the Steelers before the 2007 season. His visit there was notable as he met with the defensive line coach and noticed who he thought was another player in the office who was in on the meeting.

It turned out to be new Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who was the youngest coach in the league at the time.

“He’s a great guy, though,” Eason said of the third-year coach. “He’s a young guy, but he’s a student of the game.”

In the Steel City

As a member of the Browns, one of the players Eason despised the most was Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. When he got to Pittsburgh, his locker was right next to Big Ben’s.

“And now he’s my quarterback and my locker is right next to his,” Eason said. “We didn’t have a conversation for two or three months.”

Eason said media day at the Super Bowl “was the craziest” day for him. “The stadium is completely empty, except for these stands and the horn blows and then thousands of reporters are in there asking you all kinds of questions,” he said.

He also got to meet Beyonce, Snoop Dogg and Denzel Washington and saw Dennis Rodman and the Kardashians during Super Bowl week in Tampa, Fla.

“It was fun,” he said. “It was something I hope I get to do next year.”

There were some anxious moments, understandably, in the waning seconds of Pittsburgh’s dramatic 27-23 victory over the Cardinals in February. Larry Fitzgerald’s catch and run of 64 yards had given Arizona a 23-20 lead with 2 minutes, 47 seconds to play.

“It did look like we were going to lose the Super Bowl,” Eason said. “It was tough watching Larry Fitzgerald running down the field. But we’d been behind the 8-ball before.”

Santonio Holmes’ acrobatic catch in the end of a 6-yard pass from Roethlisberger with 42 seconds remaining, however, gave Pittsburgh the win — even if Eason wasn’t sure his teammates was able to keep his feet inbounds on the reception.

“I thought Santonio was out,” he said. “I don’t know how he stayed in.”

The Steelers open training camp July 30 and they will have full contact during camp. But once the season starts, Tomlin doesn’t have the players in full pads, Eason said, figuring they’ll get plenty of hitting in on game days.

“Obviously it worked, because we just won a Super Bowl,” he said.

Life in the NFL

But what the NFL is mostly is  classroom work. Teams practice three days a week, usually Wednesday through Friday, for about two to two and a half hours a day. Mondays are reserved for film review.

“I sit in a desk and I may work for about eight and a half, nine hours,” Eason said. “I’m in a classroom all day long. We get a playbook (a few inches) thick and we get three days to learn it.”

And the penalties for not following the rules can be steep, too. Falling asleep in a meeting is a $1,200 fine, Eason said. A cell phone going off in a meeting? That’s $700. Miss a practice? “It’s $9,000 right out of your check,” he said.

Eason also got fined by the NFL for having his shirt untucked on the sidelines after he had come out of a game for good. That levy was $5,000. A Federal Express package from the league office on a player’s chair Monday morning is the tip off a player has been fined, he said.


He also recounted the time he was knocked out in a playoff game against Jacksonville and he wasn’t sure who did it.

“They said all you saw was the bottom of my cleats,” Eason said. “I still don’t know who hit me.”

It’s known as getting “gotten” in players’ parlance, and as he regained his senses, massive nose tackle Casey Hampton came over to Eason.
“He said, ‘Man, stay down. I need a rest,’” Eason related.

As for the Super Bowl ring, he’ll wear it for the rest of the month.

“Then it’s going in a safe,” Eason said.