With your new contract it looks like you're a lifer here. What's that mean to you?
It means a lot. You've got a lot of guys come here for four years, and there've also been a lot of great, great players who played here a long time. I was looking over the media guide at how many years the guys have played. Hines is right up there with his years and he's in the top 10 of those guys. It means a lot to play here that long, but to be an accomplished player for that long? It means a helluva lot to me.
It didn't look like it would happen that way. Did it to you?
I knew I was going to be here. I was pretty much wanting to be here, but at the same time you've got to make 'em believe that it could go the other way. I really didn't want to, but you've got to make them believe that. Know what I'm saying? To make them do the right thing you've got to make them believe you could go the other way. But the whole time I wanted to be here. Ain't no question about that.
Were you that confident that they wanted you too?
Yeah. But at their price they wanted me. A lot of people say the Pittsburgh Steelers are cheap and they don't pay guys and this and that. But I don't get mad about that, because what they do works. It works for them and you can't be mad because their system works. We win games; we're always in the hunt for Super Bowls. What they do works, but you've got to let them know you're going to make the best decision for your family.
You must've been embarrassed when Mike Tomlin put you on the PUP list and had you working by yourself on another field. Did you think you'd be a lifer then?
I wasn't embarrassed. It was more of a deal where I don't think he knew me. I'm the type of guy who believes you shouldn't judge me until you know me, and we were just getting to know each other. My thing is: If I come in whatever weight, at the end of the day you can ask anybody around here that by the time the season starts I'm going to be ready to play. He didn't know that. But at the same time he's the head coach and he's got to do what he feels is going to work. I guess he felt like he was going to embarrass me and get me down to a certain amount of weight. But anybody who knows me – which he didn't at the time – knows that that don't bother me at all.
Weren't you saying some pretty bold things at the time?
At the end of the day we're all grown men. He's a man like I'm a man, so I'm not going to sugarcoat things. I know what I've done in this league and I know what I'm going to do on Sundays. I felt like he didn't know me and he judged me off what he saw, and that's fine. But at the same time I feel like I was accomplished enough to deserve a chance to do it my way.
Tomlin has downplayed size when grading players. Is there a chance he's not enamored with players with your body type?
He told me when he first got here, he said he watched film and was surprised I stayed on my feet as much as I did. With me and him, it was about getting to know each other and I think now we pretty much understand each other.
Are you in better shape than you were last year?
No, not really. I went to the Pro Bowl last year. The first Pro Bowl I went to, one of my best seasons, I came in and failed the run test. (Bill) Cowher didn't say anything. He came to me and said ‘Hamp, I'm disappointed you didn't take care of your business.' I made the Pro Bowl that year. I look at it like this: A lot of the times I come here in shape, I get lax and get out of shape by the time the season starts; when I come in a little heavier and have to work, my mindset is ‘Hamp, you've got to get ready to go.' So that's kind of the way I've always done things. I come in a little out of shape to make myself mentally work hard. If I come in in good shape, I'll get snacks at night, eat, whatever, because I tell myself, ‘I'm in shape. It don't even matter.' But I like to put myself in the frame of mind that says ‘I've got to go.' Just like when I was in college and had to write a paper, I'd wait until the night before to do it. It's my mindset.
You seem to have some rebel in you. You like to do what's not expected. Am I reading you right on that?
I don't think I'm a rebel. I just do my own thing. Like I said, a lot of guys get all worried about coaches, but at the same time we're in it together. They need us just as much as we need them. So I do my own thing, say whatever, because, at the end of the day, what can they really do? They can be mad, but they've been mad before. Know what I mean? You don't like what I had to say? Well, I don't like everything you say and we're both grown men. That's just how I look at it. I look at stuff a little bit different. Just like with my coach. If he's on us because coach Tomlin's mad, and he's getting mad at us, I'll say, ‘Come on, Mitch, you know we didn't practice that. Don't be pretending to be mad at us just because Tomlin's on y'all's ass.' He'll just laugh about it because he knows I'm telling the truth. I'm the type of guy who'll call that type of stuff out. Most of the time people laugh about it because they know it's true but it's just the way things work. I understand that, but I'll still say something.
It must be a dream to play for reasonable people like John Mitchell and Dick LeBeau, isn't it?
It's pretty laid back. I'm a big fan of coaches who played football, because a lot of the times you get coaches who never played so they feel like everything has to be perfect. But when you get coaches who played, they understand that you weren't trying to make that mistake, that you weren't trying to do this, or you weren't trying to do that. And when they know you – like my coaches know, like Mitch, that they don't have to say anything to me because I'm so mad at myself. I'm harder on myself than anybody. People might look at me and say I'm kind of lax a lot of the times and that I don't care, but guys who know me know that I'm a prideful guy and that stuff really, really bothers me. I just don't put it out there and let it be seen.
Do you still work as hard as you did in college?
Yeah. I work hard. If you go talk to the strength coach, anybody in the weight room, they'll say I'm one of the hardest-working guys on the team. I'm in there all the time and working. But just because I'm a big guy, people don't think that or see that.
You joke a lot, too. Like when Aaron Smith came over to tell you not to be late for the meeting, and you said to ask Mitch if he could hold the meeting without you. Guys like Chris Hoke wouldn't even joke about something like that.
No, Hokie don't do that. But I'm going to be there on time. I might not be there five minutes before, but I'll be on time. I'm a timely person. I may have been late – late, late – a couple times my whole career. I'm always on time, but it don't seem like it because I'm just slow motion. Like, I might walk to the huddle, but at the snap I'm full speed. You'll never see me jogging to the ball. I'm always running. For people that know and watch, they really know that.
It seems like the biggest people on the team are the hardest workers. That must be a dream for a coach like Mitch.
No question about it. That comes from Aaron. Aaron kind of leads the group by example. He does everything the right way, and Mitch accepts nothing less than that. I think those two guys kind of set the tone for the whole defense.
So what do you sense this year for yourself and the defense?
I think we're good. I think expectations around here are so high. We finished 5 in the league and that was a down year. Most teams would be happy as hell to finish like that.
Other people expect a down year for you guys, don't they?
Yeah. But I think getting Troy (Polamalu) back is going to be huge for us. We have to keep him healthy. The main thing is staying together, and having Troy will make the biggest difference. Ain't no question about it. I think Ryan (Clark) without Troy, Troy without Ryan, just ain't nothing right back there.