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September 19, 1994 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 1994-09-19

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TheMichigan Daily - SPORTSMonday - Monday, September 19, 1994 - 3

* BRElT FORREST

Cocozzo
The ex-Michigan star discusses his
collegiate and professional career

In his career at Michigan, Joe
Cocozzo continued the Wolverines'
long tradition of outstanding offen-
sive linemen. Wolverine offensive
guards have been honored 15 times
century as All-Americans includ-
ing three consecutive awards in 1990-
'92. Cocozzo, known for his smart,
intimidating style of play, was All
Big-Ten and All-American in 1992
and played in the 1993 Senior Bowl.
The San Diego Chargers made
Cocozzo their third-round selection
in the NFL Draft and the
Mechanicville, N. Y. native has gone
to earn a starting role on his new
m. Daily Sports Writer David
Rothbartspoke with Cocozzo last week
about his experiences at Michigan
and in the NFL.
Daily: When you were younger,
playing high school football, did you
have a dream of playing in the NFL?
Cocozzo: No. My dream, believe
it -or not, was just to play Big Ten
football. I never thought about the
S s until beginning to midway
oughmy senior year at Michigan.
Then I just started hoping some team
would pick me up.
D: How did you choose Michigan?
C: I liked the players. Greg
Skrepenak was my host and he showed
me around and I had a great time. I
thought about Notre Dame and Syra-
cuse and UCLA, but Iliked Michigan
best.
D: After your senior year, you had
to know you'd be drafted by an NFL
team. Were there any places you es-
pecially wanted to go to?
C: I just wanted to get picked as
soon as possible. It was the third round.
[ was extremely happy. Wherever I'm
atj can always fly home. I'm never
more than a few hours away.
_ D: What's your best memory of
ur career at Michigan?
C: The 38-31 win over Washing-
ton in the (1993) Rose Bowl.
D: And your favorite memory so
far with the Chargers?
C: Either (last year's) Monday
night game with Miami or my first
NFL start (against the Houston Oil-
eis). We drove down the field and
kioked a field goal with three seconds
to win. The best win, though, was

this year's game with Denver.
D: In that victory over the Bron-
cos, you drove 89 yards in 19 plays
for the winning touchdown. It must
have been exciting.
C: It was miserable. It's hard to
breathe up there (Mile High Stadium
in Denver). You start sucking air. It's
hard enough just playing at sea-level
but when you're not used to the alti-
tude you start dying. When players
get hurt and they're down on the field,
you get a breather. That's all that
saved me.
D: The Chargers are off to a 2-0
start after the wins against Denver
and Cincinnati. It's the team's best
start in 13 years. Are the Chargers for
real?
C: If we keep playing like we've
been playing, with not too many inju-
ries, we'll be in the playoffs. This
team was in the playoffs two years
ago, and last year we lost a number of
close games. If we'd won any of them,
we'd have been in. Everyone on the
team expects us to do well and win
and go back to the playoffs.
D: The transition from college
football to the pros is clearly a diffi-
cult one. Who has showed you the
ropes in the NFL?
C: The best coaching I've had has
been from my teammates on the (of-
fensive) line. Some of these guys have
been in the league for six, seven years.
Courtney Hall has been here for nine
years. He's been a big help.
D: What is it like to play with
Junior Seau?
C: He's an unbelieveable athlete.
He works hard. He has all the tools.
He's a great leader and a great player.
D: A lot of Wolverines have gone
on to professional football in recent
years. Derrick Alexander was drafted
in the first round by Cleveland. Elvis
Grbac, Steve Everitt, and others have
made it on to NFL teams. But for
every player that makes it in the pros,
there are 20 that don't. Many Wolver-
ines go undrafted. Does the education
that football players receive at Michi-
gan prepare them for life outside of
professional football?
C: I should say so. It's the Univer-
sity of Michigan! Everyone that I
went to school with has a degree now

and they all have jobs.
D: With so many Michigan ath-
letes around the league, you often
play against your former teammates.
Is it difficult to separate your compe-
tition from your friendship?
C: You ignore them during the
game, but afterwards you're still
friends. You bullshit with them.
There's always a common bond.
D: Linemen take a pounding ev-
ery Sunday. You get beaten and bat-
tered. How hard is it to get out of bed
on Monday morning?
C: It varies. The younger you are,
the easier it is on your body. I'm sore on
Monday mornings, but through the
course of the day I work through it. We
have Tuesdays off, so by Wednesday
I'm pretty much feeling back to normal.
D: Jerry Kramer, the offensive
guard for the Green Bay Packers who
was a key member of their Super
Bowl teams in the late 60's, discusses
in his autobiography his endless
preparation for the defender he had to
face on Sunday. Studying the indi-
vidual matchup would give him night-
mares, especially if it was Alex Karras
or Merlin Olsen. Do you ever get
scared when you see who you'll be
going up against?
C: I'm always a little nervous be-
fore the game. This weekend it's my
job to guard (the Seattle Seahawks')
Cortez Kennedy. I know it'll be a
tough job. Some guys try talking trash
on the line, but that doesn't intimidate
me.
D: Offensive guard is an under-
appreciated position. You don't get a
lot of attention from the media or the
fans. Who recognizes the job that
you're doing?
C: My teammates on the line are
the ones I'm playing for the most. We
work together as a unit to keep the
offense alive. Everyone knows how
well everyone else is doing, so after
the games we let each other know that
we saw all their good work. We take
care of each other. ,
D: At Michigan, your predeces-
sors on the line were Dean Dingman,
who received All-American recogni-
tion for his work in 1990, and Matt
Elliott, who was honored in 1991.
What was it like to play behind these

guys?
C: Dean was an unbelievable
player. He set a standard for us all to
follow. He'd be playing in the NFL
now, but he blew out his knees.
D: Injuries are such a constant
part of the game. If Tyrone Wheatley
had sought you out for advice last
winter whether he should stay at
Michigan or go on to the NFL, what
would you have told him?
C: With something like that, the
person has to make their own deci-
sion. Everybody has their own goals.
Certain things are important to cer-
tain people. If (staying at Michigan)
was the right choice for him then, it's
still the right choice, even after the
injury. He'll be back for the Big Ten
season, if not sooner.
D: There are NCAA rules that
prohibit players from receiving cash
or gifts from coaches and fans and
also restrict them from working a lot
of hours. Is this a problem at Michi-
gan?
C: I've never been involved or
seen anything at Michigan where any-
body got a dime. I remember Ricky
Powers did a speech and afterwards
they tried to give him money and he
said "I can't take this," and they got
mad because they didn't understand
he wasn't allowed to take money.
They thought he was being impolite.
I was (at Michigan) with Elvis and
Desmond and nobody ever got a dime.
D: With your busy schedule -
practice, film sessions, gameplan
meetings and workouts - do you get
a chance to see the Michigan games
on Saturdays?
C: You bet. I saw the Notre Dame
game. I was going crazy. There's a
bunch of Notre Dame guys (on the
Chargers) and we watched it together.
It made it that much better. It's hard to
believe, with all those injuries, they
could still win the game. Everyone
just stepped up and pulled together.
D: How far can Michigan go this
year?
C: They can go all the way.
They've had a hell of a start.
D: What does "all the way" mean
exactly? The Rose Bowl? A national
championship?
C: Everything.

K ^BRETT FORREST
Forrest Fires
There can only be
one true Dream Team
D ream Team II?
You want to call the 1992 United States Olympic basketball
contingent a "dream team"? This is not a problem.
That time around it was a tremendous publicity scene, a show of
patriotism, a first-time occurrence.
But it should have been a one-time occurrence.
Every subsequent American basketball team competing in an international
event should not be forced to carry the weight of that moniker. Even Sylvester
Stallone stopped making Rocky films after No. 5 (we pray).
Perhaps a little history lesson would come in handy right about now,
before we get carried away.
In 1972 a team from Canada engaged in what it thought would be an eight-
game hockey clinic against a backwater club from the Soviet Union.
Who played on that dream of a Team Canada?
Phil Esposito;Bobby Orr, Ken Dryden and Bobby Clarke - just to
name a few Hall-of-Famers.
But the Canadian squad was torpedoed in several home-ice venues,
drowning by scores of 7-3 and 4-1. The Canadians did finally prevail - but
only after Clarke broke the ankle of the Soviets' top skater.
Since that Challenge Cup series, an increasing number of countries have
become bona fide hockey powers.
Thanks to the NBA's worldwide hoops exportation, the same is bound
to happen to USA Basketball.
So let Shaquille O'Neal dunk on tiny Frenchmen now. Just be
forewarned that an intimidating Charles Barkley-like power forward from
Cameroon will undoubtedly return the favor some day.
And what will be so dreamy about that?
This whole Dream Team thing betrays an underlying American arrogance.
Why change the rules to enable the United States' best professional
players to compete on an international level? You would be hard-pressed to
discover a sporting enthusiast anywhere on the globe who would dispute
the notion that the United States lays claim to the world's best hoopsters.
Or, for that matter, that Canadians are still the best hockey players.
Therefore, let it go. Allow a ravenous band of college players the chance
to put on the stars and stripes and go for broke against the best from every
country except their own.
I remember when then-Michigan hockey standouts Cam Stewart and
David Oliver played for Team Canada in 1992's USA Cup. They related how,
after slipping on their jerseys before the first game, they sauntered to a nearby
drinking fountain. The two were startled by a mirror hanging on a wall next to
the fountain.
As they looked at their reflections, red maple leaves draped across their
chests, Oliver and Stewart shook in their skates, unadulterated feelings of
pride and national responsibility pumping through their veins.
Many NCAA basketball players are being robbed of this chance.
Sure, there are some tournaments in which college players can compete
on behalf of their countries. But in the marquee events - Olympics and
World Championships - these players are shut out.
So call it a Dream Team, if you must. And stock the squad with the
absolute best. And blow out every overmatched team on the globe.
Just remember the lessons the Soviet Union's hockey team taught the
expertly arrogant Canadians 22 years ago.
"It is Russia's game now, after the most sobering week in Canadian sports
history," wrote Sports Illustrated's Mark Mulvoy in 1972. "In just seven days
the Russians destroyed the 100-year myth of Canadian hockey superiority and
the 50-year legend of National Hockey League invincibility."
Hey Shaquille, can you say Cameroon?
- Forrest Fires appears in this space every other SPORTSMonday.

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