Neal Olkewicz played 11 seasons with the Washington Redskins and became a fan favorite for his “blue collar” work ethic. Along the way, “Olky” collected over 1,500 tackles and was the anchor of Richie Petibon’s top 10 defenses. He also won 2 Super Bowl rings and a place on the 70 Greatest Redskin’s list. Olkdog was kind enough to grant me this interview in which he discusses a wide range of topics including his beard, the 5 O’clock club, and NFL Union issues.
FP: How does an undrafted, undersized middle linebacker from Maryland go on to play 11 seasons and 150 games in the NFL?
NO: I had a real instinct for finding the football, loved to hit people and didn’t like them hitting me. I worked hard in the weight room to give me strength to offset my size and was smart enough to learn my assignments quickly. Didn’t get hurt much and when I did I usually could play through it and I was fortunate enough to be part of a winning team.
FP: The Redskin’s locker room had quite the group of characters back in the 80’s (Riggins, Theismann, Manley.) Is there a story that sticks out in your mind that you can share?
NO: I always felt what happened in the locker room stayed in the locker room!
FP: You were a fan favorite because of the way you played the game and how you handled yourself on and off the field. What was it like to play in RFK with those old stands rocking?
NO: I loved playing at RFK in that era and wouldn’t trade it for all the money in the world. I still get chills when I watch the highlight film when the stands were rocking and the fans were chanting “WE WANT DALLAS”!
FP: You recorded over 1500 tackles in your career, but scored just 1 TD. What do you remember about that play?
NO: It was a screen pass to Walter Payton, we had audibled to a man coverage right before the snap and I got between him and the quarterback, reached high and pulled it in and ran about 20 yards for a touchdown. It turned out to be Joe Gibbs first win as a Redskin coach since we were 0-5 at the time and the rest is history!
FP: Do you follow/root for the Skins today, and who’s your favorite player currently playing for the Skins?
NO: I still follow the Skins and Chris Cooley and London Fletcher are probably my favorites.
FP: To your Alma mater for a moment. Do you follow the Terps football and basketball teams and what do you currently think about them and where they are headed?
NO: I’m a big fan of the Terps, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the football team hasn’t reached a plateau and that Gary Williams will work his way out of their current situation.
FP: Do you wear your Super Bowl rings?
NO: I only wear my Super Bowl rings occasionally, usually when making a football related appearance.
FP: What is your relationship like with the Redskin’s organization today?
NO: I have no relationship with the Redskin organization other than the NFL Alumni.
FP: What was your favorite moment on the football field, and do you have any regrets about your career?
NO: My favorite moment was the NFC championship game vs Dallas in 1982 and I have absolutely no regrets about my career.
FP: Are you still working the beard?
NO: Gave up the beard a few years ago, too much grey now so I’m going with the clean cut look now. Some people say I look younger now than when I played because of it!
FP: The Redskin’s basically had a dynasty from 82-91 (4 Super Bowls, 3 wins.) Do you feel that you guys should be better represented in the HOF?
NO: I think it’s only a matter of time until a couple of our HOGS are inducted to the Hall of Fame to join Darrell and Art.
FP: You played at a time when the money was certainly good, but by no means near today’s standards. There are many players from your era that suffer from permanent injuries suffered on the field, and I feel the NFL has not done enough to give back to the players who got the League to where it is today. Organizations like Gridiron Greats have had to step up to help. What’s your take on this issue?
NO: As a former player rep who endured two strikes and had the only team that had no one cross the picket line, I am disgusted by our Unions indifference and the owners half hearted attempts only because of Congressional pressure.
FP: My grandmother owned Margaret’s Inn in Herndon, VA back in the late 70’s and worked at The Event as a bartender. Ever drink a beer served by her?
NO: I’m sure I had many beers served by your grandmother!
FP: Were you ever invited into the 5 o’clock club for a beer?
NO: The HOGS finally invited me into the 5 o’clock club the last few years of my career because they felt sorry for me because all my drinking buddies had retired or been cut by then!
FP: Mel Kaufman passed away last week. What would you like to tell Skin’s fans about him?
NO: Mel Kaufman was a class guy and one of my best friends on the team. He was an unsung overachiever much like myself and was a true Redskin. I will miss him.
Neal, you are a true Redskin and a true gentleman. Thanks for the interview.