Steamboat Springs As the wind gently pushed across Gardner Field on Wednesday afternoon, serving as an alarm clock of change for the leaves and trees adjacent to the field, Tim Krumrie found himself in the place he’s been for the past 27 years.
The cadence of claps and cheers all around, Krumrie bore a grin.
Fall time is football time, and Krumrie is all football.
His flattened nose bears the signs of a 12-year career of mashing his facemask with men much bigger and more physically gifted. His minor limp is a brief reminder of one of the NFL’s most gruesome injuries suffered on its biggest stage.
But for the first time in those 27 years, Krumrie is not with an NFL team. He spent the past 15 years coaching defensive lines with Cincinnati, Buffalo and Kansas City. Prior to that, the Mondovi, Wis., native spent 12 years as an undersized defensive lineman with the Cincinnati Bengals.
But after being let go in January by the Chiefs, Krumrie was out of a job. Having owned a place in Steamboat for five years, Krumrie sold his house in Kansas City and moved to the Yampa Valley.
Steamboat Springs High School football coach Lonn Clementson didn’t waste time.
“It’s like winning the football lottery,” Clementson said about having Krumrie join the coaching staff for the Sailors. “I feel like we have the best (offensive) line and (defensive) line coach available that’s not retired at any level. To hear him speak about football, not just the NFL but the game and strategies, you’re in just complete awe.”
No one worked harder
Krumrie walks with his head forward, leading his body. He’s got somewhere to go and something to do.
Get a little closer and Krumrie’s most identifiable feature are his eyes. The deep blue dots seem out of place on what, pound for pound, was one of the NFL’s toughest players.
Drafted out of the University of Wisconsin in the 10th round in 1983, Krumrie was a long shot to make the team.
He didn’t just make the team, he became the best nose tackle in football. By
1987, he had made the Pro Bowl. In 1988, he notched another Pro Bowl selection and was voted an All-Pro. He led the Bengals to the Super Bowl that same year after leading the team with 152 tackles.
“There were a lot of guys with a lot more talent and ability,” Krumrie said. “I had to rely on technique and basically grit and toughness to overcome some of the athletic abilities others had. But as far as toughness, I respected everybody but feared no one. That was my mindset. You respect your opponent, but you never fear them.”
In the first quarter of the Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers, Krumrie planted his left foot and generated immense pressure on his lower leg.
The result was two breaks in the tibia of his left leg and another in the fibula. Krumrie was taken to the locker room, where doctors wanted to give him painkillers before they reset his leg. Krumrie asked doctors if he’d be able to remember the rest of the game if he took painkillers.
“They said, ‘Probably, but it will be foggy. You’ll be in and out,’” Krumrie recalled. “I said, ‘Well, don’t give me anything. Just set it.’”
Doctors did, but they took him to the hospital before the beginning of the fourth quarter to avoid the post-game hoopla.
Most people, including his coaches, didn’t think Krumrie ever would play again.
But in the 1989 season opener, Krumrie was in the starting lineup against the Chicago Bears.
“He was unblockable because of his persistence,” said Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Coordinator and 2010 NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Dick LeBeau. LeBeau was Krumrie’s defensive coordinator in Cincinnati and one of the only people to tell him he’d play again after his Super Bowl injury.
“He could go sideline to sideline,” LeBeau recalled this week. “His stamina was unlike any I had ever seen. He wasn’t that big, but he was tremendously strong. If you looked in the dictionary for a description of a competitor, I think you would find Tim’s name there. Whoever you think is the toughest player you’ve seen, I’d compare Tim with him.”
Football is football
Krumrie’s return from the injury and subsequent six years in the NFL speak to his toughness.
But get him talking football and that’s when those blue dots transform into bluebird days.
That’s why his time with the Steamboat Springs football team has been a huge help not only for the Sailors, but also for Krumrie.
“This has probably been the best thing for me,” Krumrie said. “You don’t do things for 27 years and stop. I talked to an old (offensive) line coach, I won’t say his name, but he called and said,‘We miss you, we miss seeing you on the field and it’s in your blood. You can’t stop.’ This was the best thing for me. Mentally, it gives me a routine and keeps me in the game. The biggest thing is it keeps me sharp.”
Krumrie relates well to the players. He grew up in a small town, played both sides of the ball and loves to stress technique and fundamentals.
Wednesday’s practice session at Gardner Field included blocking techniques not just for lineman, but also running backs and wide receivers.
“It’s been really amazing,” Steamboat senior lineman Tanner Anderson said. “He really makes us listen. We want to listen to him, too, because he has a lot to say. He knows a lot and it’s really engaging when he’s teaching us.”
Krumrie would love to get back into professional football and is keeping his options open.
For now, though, he’s enjoying the anonymity and outdoor activities that Steamboat offers.
Of course, he’s still on the football field for that 28th year.
“Football is football,” he said. “If you love football you’re going to coach the game. Just because I am not coaching pro football doesn’t mean I can’t coach. So I’m coaching high school, and I’m having a blast. This is where football started. This is where every NFL player started. I’m just lucky enough and fortunate enough to have an opportunity to come back.”