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Where are they now: Walter Abercrombie

Friday, November 09, 2001

By Rich Emert, Tri-State Sports & News Service

A weekly check on personalities who played a part in shaping the history of sports in Western Pennsylvania.

Catching up with Walter Abercrombie these days is about as tough as it was tackling the former Steelers running back in the mid 1980s.

Abercrombie is director of education and special projects for the American Football Coaches Association in his native Waco, Texas. That means he is the liaison between the AFCA and coaches at the NCAA Division I-AA, II, III and NAIA levels. He also coordinates a film exchange program between the NCAA and the NFL. He is the director of the professional development series and the program coordinator for the annual AFCA convention and is the Hula Bowl selection committee coordinator.

Add those to his duties as a father of three and husband, and it's easy to understand why he would like to have more than 24 hours in one day.

"I like to stay busy," Abercrombie said, with a laugh. "Football has been a part of my life for so long that I missed it when I was away from it for a while after I was done playing.

"When I first got out of the game, I wanted to remove myself from it, which is why I didn't go into coaching or anything like that. I got into the academic side of things, but I found I still wanted to be part of the game. I enjoyed being a player and now I enjoy being a part of the policymaking part of the game."

One of the jobs of the AFCA is to help provide educational information and tools to coaches to help them in their profession. The association also gives coaches a strong voice in intercollegiate legislation affecting football and a forum for the discussion and study of problems that may arise.

"The convention in January last year attracted 6,000 football coaches from all levels," Abercrombie said. "What we try to do is help make everyone a better coach."

He has been involved with the organization since 1995. Grant Teaff, who coached Abercrombie at Baylor University, contacted him and asked if he would be interested in a position with AFCA. At the time, Abercrombie was working as an academic counselor at Baylor after returning there to get his master's in athletic administration.

"When I was done playing I came back to Waco because my father was ill," Abercrombie said. "I went back to school and got my master's, and then Grant called and said the AFCA was moving its offices from Orlando, Fla., to Waco and wondered if I'd be interested in a job. It just worked out perfectly for me."

The Steelers' No. 1 draft choice in 1982, Abercrombie never lived up to fans' expectations during his six years with the team, although he had two very good seasons.

In 1985, he rushed for 851 yards on 227 carries and caught 24 passes for another 209 yards, scoring nine touchdowns in the process. In 1986, he rushed for 877 yards on 214 attempts and caught 47 passes for 395 more yards. The only problem was the Steelers failed to make the playoffs each year.

Abercrombie is best remembered for what he did in an AFC playoff game against the Denver Broncos at the end of the 1984 season. He rushed for 75 yards and caught passes for another 18 yards as the Steelers upset the Denver Broncos, 24-17, at Mile High Stadium.

That victory put the Steelers in the AFC championship game against the Miami Dolphins. The Steelers lost that one, 45-28, to Dan Marino and company.

"We were a step away from going to the Super Bowl. That was a highlight for me," Abercrombie said. "Playing in that game and doing well in the game against Denver are the No. 1 highlights for me.

"I enjoyed playing for the Steelers. I've still got a lot of black and gold in me and I pay attention to what the Steelers are doing."

Abercrombie, whose career was cut short by knee injuries, played in the NFL for seven seasons. He was supposed to be the next Franco Harris for the Steelers, but never led the team in rushing. He did lead the Steelers in receptions in 1986, but that wasn't what Pittsburgh fans wanted from a running back.

"It didn't bother me," Abercrombie said of the fans' attitude toward him. "I had some big shoes to fill, and there wasn't any way I was going to make the fans forget about Franco."

Abercrombie left the Steelers after the 1987 season and played a year with the Philadelphia Eagles before retiring. He finished his career with 3,357 yards rushing on 847 attempts and had another 1,351 yards on 139 receptions.

He said he probably would have stayed in Pittsburgh if his father, who died in 1992, had not had leukemia. Abercrombie, 42, and his wife Kim have two sons, Wesley, 8, and Warren, 5, and a daughter, Ryann, 2. They live in Woodway, Texas, just outside Waco.

"I haven't been in Pittsburgh in a long time and I'd like to take my family there and see the new stadium," Abercrombie said. "I still have friends who live in town. I'd like to get back up there."

If you have any suggestions or candidates for Where Are They Now?, e-mail Rich Emert at emert196@home.com.

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