What have you been up to in regards to your career?
Dennis: I opened a new restaurant (Uptown Food and Beverage Co.) in Ankeny back in June.
Do they serve pizza?
Dennis: We sure do.
Do you believe that pineapple belongs on pizza?
Dennis: If somebody wants it, we got it. I’m not a pineapple guy myself.
Growing up in Ankeny, did you always picture yourself playing for Iowa State? When did you know you wanted to be a Cyclone?
Dennis: I never really thought that I’d play football in college, and it didn’t really happen until my senior year. I only played a couple of games when I was a junior because I broke my collarbone a couple weeks into the season and didn’t play for the rest of the season. My coach, Jerry Pezzetti, who’s still there, said that I might get a chance to play college ball. Then, Iowa State and some other smaller schools came along and recruited me. It seemed like a natural fit, so I headed to Ames.
It’s very likely you’re our best linebacker ever from Ankeny, but related to linebackers and Ankeny, how do you feel about how Joel Lanning’s performance this season?
Dennis: Well, I think he’s gotten continually better as the season has gone on. I think that’s the key thing for every player. It’s not where you start at the beginning of the year, it’s how much you can improve as the season goes on. Good players get better every week and Joel, from what I’ve been able to see, is continuing to improve and become a solid middle linebacker.
What are your favorite recollections from you days in Ames?
Dennis: I’d have to say probably, in terms of games, we played in the first night game against Oklahoma. I think it was in ‘84. You know, that was a big deal because all the games before that had been played during the daytime. That was a crazy night. We almost beat Oklahoma. It was an ESPN game. They scored with just a couple minutes left to go ahead and beat us. That was a really big game.
Also, when we beat Oklahoma State up at home and they were ranked pretty high. Thurman Thomas was on the team.
What are your thoughts on the Cardinal colored “MVP” helmets that were issued back in the Criner days?
Dennis: Yeah I didn’t like it. That was one of Jim Criner’s deals. I like everything to be the same for everybody.
Did you participate in the Iowa State “ Home away from home” adopt-a-player program?
Dennis: No, because I was so close to home. I didn’t need that family-thing away from home for the guys that are from other parts of the country. It didn’t really fit for a guy like me that was so close.
What are your thoughts/recollections about playing football on Thanksgiving Day for the Lions for so many years?
Dennis: There was kind of a double edged sword. You liked playing on a Thursday, because back in those days that was the only game that was scheduled that wasn’t either Monday night or Sunday. The Thursday thing was just a couple games on Thanksgiving Day. The Lions are one of the franchises that started that tradition.
The great part about it was you got a couple of days off afterwards. It was tough playing two games in five days, but the flipside of it was you got a couple of days to heal up and get a little bit of a break from the game.
How was it playing alongside Junior Seau?
Dennis: I played alongside some guys that a lot of people know. Chris Spielman when I was in Detroit and Seau when I was in San Diego. Junior was an intense competitor. He was basically the face of the franchise, which was not typical being the defensive player that he was. It’s usually a quarterback or a running back type of deal. He was the hometown boy being from Oceanside, and then goes to USC and then comes back as a first round draft choice. He was a big personality in San Diego.
It wouldn’t be a proper interview if I didn’t bring up the ending to the ‘94 AFC Championship, describe to me your perspective of that play.
Dennis: Lots of people call it the “Immaculate Deflection”, and lots of other people say “you’re the reason why the Chargers went to the Super Bowl.”
I just say “it was a big play and it was a dramatic ending to a big game. It was just one play in the totality of the game. It’s not one play or one player that gets the team to move on in postseason play, or to win a game.
For a team, it’s all about everybody who is there and everyone who contributes that whole week whether it’s through practice, or the trainers getting you ready, or the coaches who make the game plans and help prepare the players to play and then executing on gameday. There’s a lot of moving parts and it never comes down to one play or one guy.
What is your pick in our Liberty Bowl game against Memphis?
Dennis: You know what side I’m on, obviously. I’d love to be going, but, I’m a couple quarters into operating a new restaurant so I don’t get away from it very much. I wasn’t able to get up to a game this year, even though I had some invites from friends. Between that, and my wife and I we have four kids, it’s a difficult time trying to get away due to our kids’ activities and the business.
Iowa State has proven this year; the big thing I saw is that they can compete every week. Week in, week out. Make a few plays here and there through the course of the season and it’s a team that potentially goes undefeated. They’re a team that can compete with anyone in the country, as seen by knocking off a couple of Top 5 teams. I look forward to going down and competing in Memphis and coming away with a win.
Do you have any closing thoughts on Coach Campbell?
Dennis: Well, I think the most important thing about him is that he’s a genuine guy. I think he has a system he believes in. One of the most difficult things as a coach is for you to instill in your players the confidence that they need to go out and compete week in and week out and to also win games that everybody says “oh man, you have no chance, you’re a 20, 30 point underdog in this game.”
When you’re a 30-point underdog, the only people who believe you have a chance to win are the people in that locker room. He’s a guy who has transformed his team’s mentality and has gave them that confidence. Sometimes you need a break for that to happen. Every coach wants to be able to do it, you gotta win a game that you’re not supposed to. When they went down to Norman and beat the Sooners down there, that was kind of like a watershed moment. There were players, up to that point, who weren’t sure they could compete with everyone they played with.
After they went down there and won that game against a team that was in the Top 5 that everyone says you can’t beat them, and to go down there and beat them, it flicks a switch in your mind that’s like “we can compete with anybody.” From there on out it was just a different team.
After accumulating 304 total tackles from 1983 to 1986 as a Cyclone, he would be picked 203rd overall in the 1987 NFL Draft (1 of 3 Cyclones picked in the Draft) by the Detroit Lions. He would stay with the Lions until 1993, and he would spend his last two seasons in San Diego. In 121 total games he would play in the NFL, he started 120 of them.
Thanks to Dennis for doing this interview, and as always, if you have suggestions of former Cyclones to interview leave a comment or tweet me @Jar_Lar.