In 1990, the Giants had just defeated the 14-2-0 San Francisco 49ers 15-13 to advance to Super Bowl 25 in Tampa. In the process, they had ruined the Niners chance at a third-straight Super Bowl victory. The Giants’ defense was the heart of the team, but the offensive line was its soul.
Center Bart Oates had arrived to the Giants via the United States Football League and had already won two USFL titles. RG Bob Kratch was an early third-round pick in the 1989 college draft while on the leftside, T William Roberts and G Eric Moore were each first-round selections in the 1984 and 1988 drafts, respectively.
And at right tackle? Doug Riesenberg. Sixth-rounder Doug Riesenberg to be exact. Talk about out-of-place. And for several years he was just the young buck sitting behind starting tackle Karl Nelson on the depth chart. But when Nelson was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease and had to sit out the 1987 season, Riesenberg was next man up.
And he fit right in with those first-rounders and excelled, was a starter for a Super Bowl winning squad and eventually started 132 games.
Today, Riesenberg teaches Geometry and Algebra I at Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis, Oregon. Big Blue View caught the former right tackle at his high school job to find out why he switched from the defensive line to the offensive line, which former Giants’ running back was his favorite, and whether his Super Bowl 25 winning squad thought they realistically had a chance against Buffalo after the Bills had defeated them during the regular season and then won the AFC Championship Game 51-3.
BBV: In high school in Idaho, you were an accomplished discus thrower and also played football and basketball. Did you ever have any Olympic track aspirations after being a three-time state champion, and why did you choose football over the other two sports?
RIESENBERG: For me, track represented a way to stay in shape and to experience competition as an individual. Football and basketball are team sports, while in track I was responsible for my success or failure individually. My line coach in football was also one of my basketball coaches and coached the throwers in track. Coach Doug Fisher had been a multi-sport athlete at the University of Idaho and was very instrumental in my development throughout high school. He was relentless in his approach to making each day count and never waste an opportunity to get better. I was very fortunate to have won the discus competition three years in a row. I knew, however, that I had very little chance to be competitive at the next level. A simple search of results from other states would reveal that my marks were nothing special. As for choosing football over the other two sports: both were extremely fun to be a part of, but ultimately I felt I could have the most impact on the football field so it became an easy choice.
BBV: Your father was a professor at the University of Idaho yet you went to Cal instead. You were a highly-recruited athlete and had lots of choices. Why did you choose a school so far away from your home, and was the fact that you wanted to study engineering made Cal a much better option for you?
RIESENBERG: The whole recruiting process was complicated, especially for a somewhat naive 17-year-old kid from northern Idaho. At the time I found myself thinking more about football than my studies and might not have made the choice to go to California had it not been for a quick discussion with my parents. They said they would support me with any decision I made, but they felt California was the best option if I had decided to leave Moscow, Idaho.
BBV: At Cal, you played defensive end and then in your senior year switched to the other side of the line. Do you think that the fact that you played only one season on the O-line might have been the reason you dropped into the sixth-round of the 1987 NFL draft?
RIESENBERG: I guess I never really considered it a “drop” to be picked in the sixth-round by the Super Bowl Champions. I thought of it instead as a great opportunity to perhaps get with a successful team with which I might have a chance to learn more about playing the position. Playing in the NFL was not on my radar until after my senior season, when I started to hear some whispers that it might be a possibility.
BBV: NFL Network recently aired an entire segment of “A Football Life” on the 1990s Dallas Cowboys offensive line blocking for Emmitt Smith. You played on an equally talented and stellar unit with Oates, Roberts, Kratch and Moore. How do you compare the Cowboys line and that Giants line?
RIESENBERG: I am not sure that I am the best person to compare the two units. I think Coach Parcells and the rest of the offensive staff knew what they wanted the Giants offense to be: a compliment to the defense. Especially during the 1990 season, Coach Parcells kept talking about ball control, eliminating turnovers and “running with power.” He never spoke about scoring more points, but instead maintain possession and eventually turn each drive into either a switch in field position or points. I think the Cowboys were designed to put points on the board, perhaps to cover for their defense.
BBV: Was playing for Bill Parcells a love/hate relationship?
RIESENBERG: The farther away I get from playing for Coach Parcells the more I can understand what he was all about and his motivation for doing things his way. He was a master at getting the most out of people. He could figure out what makes each one of his players perform their best and he used that knowledge to push his team to be their best. I remember always feeling better prepared for the games both physically and mentally than the other teams. Especially in the NFC East, he seemed to have a plan on how to beat the other teams and it worked. People often ask if I would play for him again if I had the choice: I usually respond by saying absolutely, mainly since I wanted to win and his teams always had a chance.
BBV: What are the main differences in playing guard and playing tackle?
RIESENBERG: In my era, playing against more ODD fronts the guards had to run block inside linebackers who have a chance to create momentum before contact, while tackles were usually covered by a defensive end not more than a few feet away. The impacts playing guard were significantly more violent. When pass blocking more often tackles work alone, while guards might have a double team opportunity.
BBV: When you found out that the Parcells had finally named you the starting RT after Karl Nelson was diagnosed with cancer, who was the first person you told?
RIESENBERG: My wife Vicki. Parcells had the habit of getting to know young players right before their first start by having a sit down meeting with them. Mine was in the locker room one morning before meetings. I had just been taped and he called me over and started to ask questions about my family and plans for after football. Older players walked through smiling because they knew what was going on. He didn’t tell me, Fred Hoaglin did. Boy was I scared - Charles Mann followed by Reggie White. What a way to start one’s career.
BBV: In today’s game contracts are all about guaranteed money. In your playing days it was all about if you played lousily you would be benched or cut. True or false?
RIESENBERG: The NFL historically has little compassion for poor play. One or two games maybe but not much more.
BBV: What advice would you give your 21-year old rookie self?
RIESENBERG: 1) Have confidence in your abilities, 2) learn as much as you can from everyone, and 3) learn to love/trust the process. OL’s need the most practice of any position.
BBV: Do you play fantasy football, and if so, if it were the 1990s who would be your running back: Rodney Hampton, Joe Morris or O.J. Anderson?
RIESENBERG: I do not play fantasy football, but I would take any one of those guys on my team any day against anybody. O.J. epitomized “running with power.” Joe Morris was one of the most determined players I ever knew. Rodney Hampton had the instincts of a top running back, which made our jobs very easy. We revised our blocking approach one year to take advantage of his vision of cutback lanes.
BBV: Which was a tougher and more physical game: beating the 49ers on the road in the NFC Championship Game or defeating the Bills in the Super Bowl?
RIESENBERG: I’m not sure one was more physical than the other. Both teams were offensive juggernauts. Both teams had defenses that flew around. I think the 49er game was more mentally draining since Hostetler got hurt for a while; Matt Cavanaugh came into the huddle and told us not to screw it up, which broke the tension in the huddle. The ending was wild: the fumble recovery and ensuing field goal and the relief after was phenomenal. Parcells made the Super Bowl week just like going back to training camp. We arrived early Monday morning and had one of the toughest practices later that day. He knew we needed to get after each other to ensure we had great practices. Therefore, while the week was tough, the game was played on pure adrenaline and most of it was a blur. I do remember sitting on the sideline not wanting to watch the kick at the end. What a helpless feeling!!
BBV: The Giants lost to the Buffalo Bills during the 1990 regular season, and then the Bills killed the Oakland Raiders 51-3 in the AFC Championship Game. Did the locker room have the feeling that the Bills were that much better than the Giants and perhaps didn’t have a chance in the upcoming Super Bowl?
RIESENBERG: I’m not sure Parcells and his cast of veterans would have let those thoughts go around the locker room. Remember we beat the Bears 31-3 and ended the 49ers three-peat the week before. Like I said previously, one of the best things playing for Parcells and Bill Belichick was the knowledge that they would have a plan to beat the other team. We learned to trust them.
BBV: What was your favorite memory of Super Bowl 25?
RIESENBERG: The drive starting the second half. It was a perfect example of what we were all about: ball control. Coach Parcells often spoke of making the other team feel helpless. I would assume that the Bills felt a bit out of control during that drive – we converted third downs and kept the chains moving – ultimately scoring a touchdown. I do not recall how much time it took off the clock, but it was awesome.
BBV: Other than money, what are some of the main differences in the NFL today than when you played?
RIESENBERG: The players are significantly better (bigger, faster, stronger, better skill sets), the offenses are designed to perform at a higher level, the game is faster, and the rules have been relaxed a bit to allow less harassment by the defense. Offense generates buzz and puts fans in the seats.
BBV: Do folks in your neighborhood treat you as Super Bowl royalty or are you just another teacher taking the garbage can out to the curb?
RIESENBERG: Just a teacher.
BBV: How much difference are playoff games compared to the regular season games?
RIESENBERG: They are a completely different game. I’m not sure one understands this until you lose a playoff game. Losing to the Rams (especially the way we did) struck home. I think it made us better; more of us knew what to expect the next time around.
BBV: What defensive end or linebacker gave you the most grief in your career and did you go to his retirement party?
RIESENBERG: Reggie White. And for some reason I wasn’t invited.
BBV: After the Super Bowl year, Parcells retired and RB coach Ray Handley took his place. The Giants then went 8-8 and 6-10 with almost the exact same lineup on offense and defense. What were the main issues those two seasons?
RIESENBERG: No comment.
BBV: You are a large man yet without the daily grind of practices and constant weightlifting. How are you not 400 pounds?
RIESENBERG: The atrophy of old-age has set in, combined with not eating as much and I haven’t ballooned up to 400 yet. I try to work out at least five days a week. Not as intense as when playing, but enough to keep everything moving.
BBV: If you could only listen to three music groups or bands, who would that be?
RIESENBERG: John Coltrane, Metallica, and EDM from Germany.
BBV: While playing did it ever occur to you that one day you would be in a high school classroom as a teacher, and what is your personal student classroom cell phone policy?
RIESENBERG: Never had a thought of teaching, always entertained the idea of going back to electrical engineering. Unfortunately, computers had changed so much in the time I played with the Giants that it wasn’t practical to even think about computers as a profession. We live in a world with cell phones. I try to help my students understand that they need to be able to do work without them if necessary.
BBV: After football, you have coached the offensive line at the high school level. Are high schoolers today any different than when you played at Moscow High and was this a way to stay in the game?
RIESENBERG: Kids have access to so many more things, whether it be other sports or hobbies now that football needs to do a better job of making the game more accessible for a wider variety of kids. Coaching was a way to stay involved with football without playing. It was a natural extension of teaching. Kids are different outside playing a game. I try to see concerts, plays, and their other activities just to see kids in a different light. Usually, they are very passionate about their outside activities, much more than for Geometry.
BBV: How many of your students come into your classroom with the knowledge that you are a Super Bowl Champion and once made a living from pushing, shoving and pounding other grown men?
RIESENBERG: None. I retired before most of them were born (I teach 9th and 10th graders mostly.) Some find out eventually, but that dies away when they understand that it was so long ago and that my primary goal is to help.
BBV: What are the challenges facing today’s students versus when you and I were in high school?
RIESENBERG: Too many things vying for their attention constantly. I thought MTV was revolutionary, but it was only at home and on the one TV for the house. Now it is called YouTube or Instagram or Twitter and it is everywhere they go, 24 hours a day.
BBV: What are your fondest memories of being a New York Football Giant?
RIESENBERG: It’s funny, answering these questions at this time of year I keep remembering Thanksgiving Week. The NFL at times is very tense and stress inducing. Recall that I came into the league during a strike year (I stayed out – never thought of crossing the lines) that made things very uncomfortable, to say the least. However, Thanksgiving Week was awesome. People’s attitudes were different, they asked to have practice early on Thursday (nothing was omitted per Coach Parcels.) I think one year we even had a bunch of snow to add to the festivities. Overall it was a much-needed change of pace.
Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association