Tony Pashos is a nine year veteran offensive tackle with the Cleveland Browns. And he has signed a contract for three more years, assuming the NFL lockout ends at some point. After all the games he's played, memories run together. Except of course, when he thinks back to the 2001 Illinois Big 10 champs and all the rewards the nation's 12th ranked team earned.
"You don't remember the individual games as much as you remember lifting trophies and the feeling in the locker room after the wins and losses."
Speaking on WDWS radio during his return to Champaign for his team's 10th year reunion, Pashos shared memories with players who will be lifelong friends.
"It feels good to see these guys. I won something with these guys. I see the rings. It was great, something special, and nobody can take that away from me."
That 2001 team accomplished more than most in the history of the University of Illinois. Interestingly enough, Pashos says the players thought little of specialness while they were going through the season.
"That group was driven. We were bent on winning and doing great things. We weren't admiring what we had done. We weren't patting our backs or considering ourselves an epic team at the time. We just wanted to do what we were doing. That was great. That's the memories you take with it when I see the guys."
Not surprisingly, Pashos praises his offensive line at Illinois. But he is correct in stating that group, led by Luke Butkus, Jay Kulaga, Bucky Babcock, Sean Bubin, Dave Diehl and him was key to a great offense.
"A lot of teams I've been on that are good ones, whether college, pro or high school, it starts in the trenches. I don't think you necessarily need five Pro Bowlers there, but having a good unit of guys that want to win and do good, don't want to regret anything and go out there and win.
"We had a great group of guys who came in. Dave and I were roommates throughout college, and Sean Bubin came right after us. And before us, we spent a lot of time with Luke Butkus, Jay Kulaga, Dan Cutler and the guys from that class. We were around each other for the longest time. We had an edge about us; we wanted to win.
"We were led by Coach (Harry) Hiestand, who I still think is one of the best o-line coaches in the nation. It was a combination of things that helped us become the unit that we were.
"The line was so deep that David actually rotated at left tackle. The great thing about Dave, and it still holds true, is he could play every position. We've seen him do it. We had so much depth, but Coach Hiestand needed to get him out on the field, so he rotated."
The whole offense was loaded with talent.
"We did have a tremendous number of weapons and great high-powered offense. I think receivers is the most underrated group. If you look at those receivers, the way they ended up and what they've done, Aaron Moorehead was a 7-8 year guy for the Indianapolis Colts.
"Greg Lewis was catching touchdowns in the Super Bowl for the Eagles. I believe Walter Young was on the Steelers's Super Bowl team as well as went to the Super Bowl with the Carolina Panthers. And then Brandon Lloyd (led the NFL last year). They were four NFL-caliber receivers. You can have all that, but you have to call the right plays. Coach (Ron) Turner did a great job."
Add fullback Carey Davis and defensive stalwarts Brandon Moore and Eugene Wilson to the mix, and you had a team loaded with future NFL players.
"A lot of us are still playing in the NFL. Brandon Moore is one of the best guards in the NFL, plus me and David. All those receivers. Carey Davis came right after us, and he's won Super Bowls for the Steelers. Eugene Wilson at db. Unbelievable amount of talent we had, along with the chemistry to go with it."
After an injury-plagued season, Pashos is eager to resume his pro career.
"Last October against the Steelers, in the second quarter I thought I had rolled my ankle on their turf. But by the end of the game, it was getting worse and worse. Finally, I felt a loud snap.
"It was the fourth quarter, and we were losing, so I decided I could finish it off. The next morning, I found out I had torn a ligament in my ankle completely off. My season was done.
"I had surgery and rehabbed with the Browns as long as I could until the lockout, and now I'm waiting with the rest of the fans until it's lifted so I can go to camp."
Pashos may not be playing when the 20th year reunion rolls around, but his memories with the Fighting Illini in 2001 will stand out in a life filled with football.