Steve Wisniewski perfectly embodied the then-Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders brand of football during his era: mean, tough, and hard-nosed.
Wisniewski was an eight-time Pro Bowler who excelled at the guard position in his 13-year NFL career.
His exceptional blocking skills allowed Raiders running backs Bo Jackson, Marcus Allen, Napoleon Kaufman, and Tyrone Wheatley to wreak havoc on the opposition on a regular basis.
Although Wisniewski was a first-rate offensive lineman, he took a lot of flak for his style of play.
He even racked up $65,000 in fines in 1995 and had been labeled as one of the dirtiest players in the NFL.
Despite the allegations, he is one of the nicest guys off the gridiron.
In terms of Steve Wisniewski’s football legacy, he is the epitome of hard work in the trenches.
Steve Wisniewski was born in Rutland, VT on April 7, 1967. He is the youngest of six children.
Oakland Raiders Pro Bowl linebacker Matt Millen told The Los Angeles Times‘ Mark Heisler in 1989 he remembered Wisniewski as a quiet boy while he was growing up.
He also remembered Wisniewski as an averaged-sized boy. However, he never doubted Wisniewski would become a football player someday.
Millen took a hint from Wisniewski’s genes: if he developed a thick body like his dad and brother Leo, he was a shoo-in for the gridiron.
Football runs deep in Steve Wisniewski’s bloodline.
Leo Wisniewski eventually played three seasons as a Baltimore Colts defensive lineman in the early 1980s.
He named his son Stefen as a tribute to his brother.
Stefen was a journeyman offensive lineman who suited up for the Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs, and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Steve Wisniewski wrote in his 2015 book, Hand on the Line: Challenging Men to Follow God’s Call, that he had a freak accident when he was just three years old.
A car struck him, pinned him under its chassis, and dragged him across the pavement in front of their upstate New York residence.
Wisniewski’s injuries were so severe his legs were shattered. He also sustained permanent nerve damage.
He also revealed in his book he struggled with dyslexia as a child and grew up disinterested in school.
Wisniewski had to attend special education classes because of his condition. He grew up loving those classes because the teacher rewarded him with candy for good behavior at the end of the week.
He eventually learned to read at his classmates’ level when he reached middle school. He credits his love for both reading and sweets to the special education classes he attended as a child.
Wisniewski’s parents divorced after a 31-year marriage when he was a sophomore at Westfield High School in Houston, TX.
Despite Steve Wisniewski’s early afflictions as a youngster, he persevered, earned a college diploma, and became an eight-time Pro Bowler in the National Football League.
College Days With The Penn State Nittany Lions
Steve Wisniewski majored in marketing at Penn State University.
He suited up for Penn State Nittany Lions head football coach Joe Paterno. The team was a juggernaut in Wisniewski’s first two seasons.
No. 1 Penn State went 11-1 in 1985 but lost to the third-ranked Oklahoma Sooners in the 1986 Orange Bowl, 25-10.
The Nittany Lions would make up for it the following season.
Wisniewski was a member of the 1986 undefeated Penn State Nittany Lions squad. They beat the top-ranked Miami Hurricanes in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl 14-10 for their fourth national title.
Steve Wisniewski was a college football champion.
“It was a remarkable experience,” he told the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. “We were 23-1 my first two years there.”
“My brother Leo had played there and I wanted to go where I knew I could get a good education, plus playing for Coach Paterno, he puts academics above athletics.”
Prior to Wisniewski’s memorable sophomore campaign at Penn State, Millen had dinner with him.
Millen was in his seventh season with the then-Los Angeles Raiders by then.
He noticed Wisniewski weighed around 240 lbs., which was very lean for an offensive lineman.
Wisniewski explained to The Los Angeles Times three years later that Nittany Lions head football coach Joe Paterno wanted it that way.
Paterno was an old school coach who wanted lighter linemen who were quick on their feet.
It was completely different from the way offensive line coaches wanted it in the National Football League: the heavier they were, the better.
Just Announced: Nittany Lions Steve Wisniewski and Kerry Collins on 2016 @NFFNetwork @cfbhall ballot. #WeAre pic.twitter.com/erl7YEoLhg
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) June 2, 2015
Wisniewski beefed up to 270 lbs. when he was a senior in the 1988 NCAA season.
Paterno told him anything more than that is too heavy for a guard. Wisniewski would eventually bulk up and play to his full potential with the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders in the NFL several years later.
The Nittany Lions were nowhere near the juggernaut they were in Steve Wisniewski’s first two seasons in Happy Valley.
Penn State averaged seven wins in 1987 and 1988. In sharp contrast, the team averaged almost twelve victories in 1985 and 1986.
Wisniewski finished his college football career as one of four Penn State offensive linemen who earned First-Team All-American honors twice.
He earned the distinction from The Sporting News and the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA).
Steve Wisniewski is also just one of two offensive linemen who became Penn State’s Most Valuable Player since the award’s inception in 1978.
Pro Football Career
The Dallas Cowboys made Steve Wisniewski the 29th overall selection of the 1989 NFL Draft.
The Cowboys then traded Wisniewski and sixth-round pick Jeff Francis to the then-Los Angeles Raiders (currently the Las Vegas Raiders) for three other draft choices (Daryl Johnston, Rhondy Weston, and Willis Crockett).
On this date in 1989, a deal on Day One of the NFL Draft sent us Steve Wisniewski from Dallas.
Wiz logged eight Pro Bowls and two first-team All-Pros in his 13 seasons. #OnceARaiderAlwaysARaider pic.twitter.com/2vCyt6T4Z5
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) April 23, 2018
Pro Bowl linebacker Matt Millen had a great first impression of Wisniewski during his rookie year.
“As a football player? He’ll be great,” Millen told The Los Angeles Times’ Mark Heisler in August 1989. “And I don’t say that about too many guys.”
When Wisniewski played his last down for the Penn State Nittany Lions he bulked up to 282 lbs, which was in time for the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, IN in February 1989.
He eventually tipped the scales at 290 lbs. when the Cowboys drafted him two months later.
Steve Wisniewski’s weight would eventually peak at 305 lbs. during his pro football career – a startling 65-lb. difference from the time he won a national title at Penn State in 1986.
A bulkier and more formidable Wisniewski joined head coach Mike Shanahan’s squad at right guard.
Wisniewski fortified a Raiders offensive line that featured center Don Mosebar and right tackle Bruce Wilkerson.
Before every game, Wisniewski sat by his locker, closed his eyes, and visualized his blocks. It helped him focus and settle down before he and his teammates took the field.
With Wisniewski on board, the Raiders averaged nine wins per season from 1989 to 2001.
They made the postseason five times during that span.
The Raiders’ best seasons were in 1990 and 2000 when they won twelve games but lost in the AFC Championship Game each time.
During Wisniewski’s time in Oakland, he and fellow offensive linemen Kevin Gogan and Dan Turk intimidated their teammates who slacked off.
The trio pinned the guilty player against his locker until he made amends.
Gogan learned a pin move from Wisniewski that involved placing the offensive lineman’s hand to the pass rusher’s inside hip.
The karate-like move produces ten pounds of pressure that stops the pass rusher dead in his tracks. Unfortunately, officials typically call a holding penalty when they see it.
OL Guard Steve Wisniewski. A true Raider legend pic.twitter.com/j5G9BifaA3
— Rob Wallace (@robwallace714) February 6, 2022
Wisniewski played for Jon Gruden for four seasons in Oakland. The latter convinced him to put off retirement in 2000.
Raiders owner Al Davis and general manager Bruce Allen took it a step further: neither of them took no for an answer regarding Wisniewski suiting up for Oakland for one more season.
Allen and Gruden told Wisniewski during training camp in July 2001 the offensive line sorely needed his leadership.
Wisniewski relented and played for the Silver and Black for one more year.
During their time together, Gruden told The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Adam Hill he discovered Wisniewski wasn’t just a ferocious competitor, but he was also a great human being:
“When I came to the Raiders, I’d heard a lot of things about Wiz. The word was he was a great lineman and a tough, mean, ornery guy.”
“When I got here, he was everything people said as far as being a lineman, but he was also one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever been around.”
Gruden also lauded Wisniewski for his power, incredible football knowledge, and versatility: he could play any position on the offensive line with ease.
According to Gruden, Wisniewski’s durability – he started in 206 of a possible 208 games for the Raiders – set him apart from other offensive linemen.
The former Raiders mentor also thought Wisniewski’s quiet leadership stood out.
“He is first in line for all the drills, never makes excuses,” Gruden told Hill. “He’s not overly vocal, but when he says something, it carries a lot of sting.”
Wisniewski promptly returned the compliment in his 2015 book Hand on the Line: Challenging Men to Follow God’s Call.
He described Gruden as “a brilliant offensive coach” with “the heart of a lion.” He felt Gruden’s ability to convince an average group of players to play to their full potential was second to none.
Despite Wisniewski’s outstanding character traits, he also incurred hefty fines from then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue during his 13-year NFL career.
The pinnacle came in 1995 when Tagliabue slapped Wisniewski with $65,000 in fines for his on-field shenanigans.
Ironically, Steve Wisniewski was never ejected from a game in his thirteen seasons in the National Football League.
Wisniewski has also been a fixture in many of the dirtiest NFL players of all-time lists. ESPN even ranked him the fourth-dirtiest player of any team sport behind basketball Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, per Hill.
Even an anonymous Raiders teammate told SI.com Wisniewski “is probably the dirtiest player of all time.”
Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Dan Saleaumua took Wisniewski’s side: the former considered the Raiders great a hard-nosed blocker who never took a play off, per SI.com.
For his part, Wisniewski thought the “dirty” label he got from many detractors was way off the mark.
He told Sports Illustrated (via The Las Vegas Review-Journal) in 1996 he has a clean-cut image. He also doesn’t wear jewelry, sport any tattoos, or abuse drugs. Wisniewski doesn’t curse and never seriously injured defensive players he had blocked in the past.
He’s a family man who has several youth and church commitments. Wisniewski also coaches his young children in soccer.
February 1, 1998 … #Raiders WR Tim Brown, G Steve Wisniewski & DT Chester McGlockton @ Pro Bowl. pic.twitter.com/Aqcil0bgOo
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) February 1, 2022
Steve Wisniewski retired after the 2001 NFL season. He was an eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-Team All-Pro selection.
Wisniewski is also a member of the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team.
Despite Wisniewski’s accomplishments on the NFL gridiron, many pundits are left wondering why he’s not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It’s been more than twenty years since Wisniewski hung up his cleats yet he doesn’t have that elusive bust and gold jacket.
That could change sooner than later.
Wisniewski was identified as one of 122 modern-era nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022 on September 22, 2001.
UNDERRATED AND OVERDUE!!! Steve Wisniewski is eligible for enshrinement into @ProFootballHOF. Go to their website to vote for Steve and other Raiders! pic.twitter.com/sdb6m0QCk2
— 🕷Black Widow🕸 (@BlackWidowR8R) September 22, 2021
Wisniewski was a top-rate interior lineman who blocked for the likes of Bo Jackson, Marcus Allen, Kenny King, Harvey Williams, Tyrone Wheatley, Napoleon Kaufman, and Charlie Garner.
These are some of the top running backs in Raiders franchise history. They wouldn’t have gained significant career yardage had it not been for Steve Wisniewski.
Wisniewski admired his former Raiders teammates Matt Millen, Howie Long, Jeff Hostetler, Don Mosebar, and Bo Jackson the most.
He lauded these men for their strength, character, and conviction.
“From early on I sought to model my career, my actions on the field, and my style of leadership after these guys,” he wrote in his book Hand on the Line: Challenging Men to Follow God’s Call.
Wisniewski also expressed his disappointment in his book about not winning a Super Bowl title with the Raiders organization.
Whenever Wisniewski wrote pre-game notes on the handouts the coaches gave out, he typically included quotes from the Bible.
One of his favorites is Psalm 28:7 which reads:
“The Lord protects and defends me; I trust in him.”
He also loves Psalm 91:2 which reads:
“You are my defender and protector. You are my God; in you I trust.”
Wisniewski and his family have resided in the Bay Area since 1995 – the year the Raiders relocated to Oakland.
He became a member of National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame on June 10, 2004.
The Raiders hired Wisniewski as an assistant offensive line coach in 2011. Wisniewski served as the Stanford Cardinal’s strength and conditioning intern the year before.
Wisniewski was thrilled for his nephew Stefen when the Raiders made him the 48th overall selection of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Both uncle and nephew share the same Penn State and Oakland Raiders background. They worked on offensive linemen drills while Stefen was on vacation in his formative years.
The older Wisniewski told ESPN’s Bill Williamson in June 2011 he never asked the Raiders to draft Stefen. He said the team knew all about his nephew’s upside and its desire to draft him.
Steve Wisniewski was thrilled for Stefen when he played for the eventual champions Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII in 2018.
“I have no wisdom to give him,” Wisniewski told SFGate.com’s Matt Kawahara. “But I’m just absolutely thrilled for Stefen.”
Wisniewski is currently a licensed minister who shares his faith in the Northern California area, per The Las Vegas Review-Journal.
He has served as a pastor at The Well, a non-denominational church in Danville, CA his former Raiders teammate Napoleon Kaufman founded.
His nephew Stefen followed in his footsteps when he announced his retirement from the NFL in August 2021 to become a pastor.
Steve Wisniewski told PolishSportsHOF.com in 2004 things are going well for him and he doesn’t miss playing on the gridiron.
He has continued attending Raiders games and talking to some of their active players in his retirement years.
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