Former Colts Player Joe Staysniak Talks Family, Football & Life On the Airwaves
Photographer / Amy Payne
Though he stood 6′ 5″ and weighed 240 lbs. by the end of his freshman year of high school, Joe Staysniak says playing pro football was never on his radar.
“I recognized the small percentage of kids who make it at a professional level so I never saw that dream on the horizon,” says Staysniak, who grew up the middle child in a family with four siblings. His mom, a school teacher, and his dad, a police officer, instilled in their children the importance of maintaining a good work ethic.
“They were both incredibly hard workers, and we all wanted to make them proud,” Staysniak says.
That they did. He and his brothers and sisters all thrived academically and athletically in swimming, football and volleyball. In fact, four of the five kids received a college scholarship.
“Our whole family started swimming at a young age,” Staysniak says. “On weekends, we were up at three in the morning to travel to all-day swim meets. We didn’t have big, fancy vacations together. We had swim meets.”
Though he adored basketball, football seemed a better fit for his physique and once he set his mind to playing, his only goal was to be offered a college scholarship. Ultimately, he landed one with Ohio State, starting all four years as an offensive lineman. He was part of the 1986-87 Ohio State Big Ten championship team that defeated Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl Classic.
During his NFL career, he played for the San Diego Chargers (1990), the Buffalo Bills (1991), Kansas City Chiefs (1992), the Indianapolis Colts (1992-1995), the Green Bay Packers (1996) and the Arizona Cardinals (1996).
Staysniak has fond memories of playing with the Colts due to the camaraderie he built with his teammates. They bonded over intense workouts in the weight room and taking the field during crazy snowstorms or blinding rain. And, of course, there was the 1995 AFC Championship game against the Steelers with Jim Harbaugh as quarterback where the Colts came close to winning, which would have advanced them to the Super Bowl. But it’s the everyday things that Staysniak treasures most.
“Honestly, some of my favorite memories involve lunchtime, just before going out to practice,” says Staysniak with a chuckle. “The guys would sit around the equipment room watching the financial channel and discussing stocks.”
In 1994, sportscaster Bob Lamey invited Staysniak to join him every Monday morning to talk about the game.
“I said, ‘I’m just a no-name offensive lineman. Why me?’” Staysniak recalls.
“Because you’re trustworthy and I can depend on you to show up every Monday at 7 a.m.,” Lamey told him.
“I ended up having a lot of fun doing it,” says Staysniak, who parlayed the gig into a 25-year radio career. He’s now a weekday morning sports radio talk show host for WIBC and WFNI in Indianapolis. You can hear him between 7-10 a.m. on 1070 the Fan and 93.5 FM on “The Jeff & Big Joe Show.”
“Getting up at 4:30 a.m. isn’t easy, but it leaves afternoons open to spend with my kids,” Staysniak says.
He likes the variety of topics he and his cohost, Jeff Rickard, cover.
“No day is ever the same, and you never know how it’s going to unfold,” he says.
In interviews, he likes when they hit on issues that spark conversation — like social justice or topics that make people uncomfortable.
“You wouldn’t think that sitting behind a microphone jabbering about sports would make a difference but it does,” Staysniak says. “It gives people a release from everyday problems and provides a forum to talk that’s not political.”
As for today’s generation of entitled athletes who seek fame and fortune above all else, Staysniak has no patience for them. He gets perturbed with guys like running back Ezekiel Elliott, who wanted to break his contract due to money disputes.
“Being greedy and wanting more money before your time comes takes away from somebody else,” Staysniak says. “I have a problem with that.”
And running back Melvin Gordan claiming that he wasn’t getting paid enough makes Staysniak roll his eyes in disgust.
“I have a hard time crying that $5.6M isn’t enough for you to play a kids game for half a year,” Staysniak says.
He notes that while some owners are more willing to pay out the money than others, that doesn’t make it right.
“They went to a salary cap to save themselves because they were spending so much money on quarterbacks, drafting them and signing million-dollar contracts as unproven rookies,” Staysniak says. “But now they are right back to paying gobs of money for high-profile positions like that. At some point, there’s not going to be any more money to go around.”
Another topic Staysniak feels passionate about is parents behaving badly.
“Parents are screwing up high school athletics because they feel they can yell and scream and be jerks at games,” he says.
Officials are dropping like flies as hot-headed parents hurl insults at the field or on the court in every sport — basketball, football, wrestling, etc.
“Refs are dwindling, and if you don’t have refs, you don’t have games,” says Staysniak, who suggested to Bobby Cox, commissioner of the IHSAA (Indiana High School Athletics Association), that any parent who is thrown out of a game should be forced to enroll in the referee course.
“At the very least, they’d learn something and appreciate what the officials do a bit more,” he says.
He suspects a big part of the problem is the inundation of social media in society.
“It used to be a big deal back in the day when you got written up in the paper,” he says. “Now everyone’s got their own YouTube channel. Parents and kids think they are better than they are.”
Staysniak and his wife, Pam, have been residents of Brownsburg since 1995. He regularly emcees local fundraising events such as Habit of the Heart, an organization that provides emergency assistance to families of Hendricks County.
“It may be children who struggle in school because they need hearing aids or dental work,” Staysniak says. “It may be a family who is displaced due to fire or a woman escaping domestic violence.”
He also donates time to Seeds of Hope, Inc., a nonprofit that offers transitional housing for women recovering from alcohol or drug addiction. The annual Seeds of Hope fundraiser will take place November 23 at the new Colts complex on W. 56th Street. In addition, Staysniak helps the Rotary Club raise money for veterans to go on Honor Flights.
“Anything in Hendricks County I can do, I try to help because that’s home,” Staysniak says.
In his free time, he likes to fish, boat, camp and mow his 20-acre lawn with his Dixie Chopper. He’s got a woodworking shop that he set up when he first married but never devoted time to. Once he’s an empty nester, however, he plans to dive in.
He, Pam, and their two sons, Nathan (20) and Lucas (15), take regular camping trips to Gatlinburg and enjoy family reunions at his brother’s cabin in Wisconsin. They’ve also made trips to Hershey and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania — combining their love of chocolate and history. And in the spring, they try to get away to an all-inclusive resort in Cancun.
Though Staysniak spends three hours a day talking on the radio, he’s a private, unassuming person.
“I tire of the Antonio Browns who like to brag on themselves,” he says.
The solution? For starters, he suggests people — particularly young folks —put down their phones and look up at their families who love them.
“I always had my brothers and sisters to come home to,” he says. “We were tight, so when negativity came at me, my siblings rallied around and instilled confidence in me.”
He hopes to instill the same values in his boys.
“The goal for everyone should always be to make the world a better place,” he says. “I want my kids to be leaders of the next generation.”