October 2, 2004 by

Justin Strzelczyk

42 comments

Categories: Sports

Justin C. Strzelczyk, an offensive lineman who spent nearly a decade playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, died on Sept. 30 in an automobile accident. He was 36.

A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Strzelczyk attended the University of Maine and was an 11th-round pick in the 1990 draft. The 6-foot-3, 309-pound NFL guard and offensive tackle played with the Steelers for nine years. On the field, he was known as a serious and competitive player. But Strzelczyk hurt his knee, and was placed on the injured reserve for the entire 1999 season. The Steelers dropped him in 2000.

Known as “Jugs” to his friends, Strzelczyk spent the past four years acting, playing his banjo and riding motorcycles. Divorced last December, he had recently decided to start up a business making customized wheels and hubcaps.

An hour before the fatal crash, Strzelczyk was involved in a three-car accident just west of Syracuse, N.Y. He left the scene and led state troopers on a high speed, 37-mile highway chase in rush hour traffic before crossing over the lanes and smashing head-on into an empty tanker truck. New York police saw Strzelczyk drinking from a beer bottle before he threw it out the window at them. Harold Jackson, the driver of the tanker, was treated at a hospital for minor injuries and released.

[Update: Toxicology results released on Oct. 28 showed that Strzelczyk did not have alcohol or drugs in his system when he died.]

42 Responses to Justin Strzelczyk

  1. Dominick

    I am a die hard Steeler fan and its always sad to hear about one of our guys going down. Especially like this God bless his soul and his family.

  2. jennifer bird

    justin was so fun and always making everyone laugh. he was thoughtful and always there for his friends. he liked talking about his kids. he would talk about going to his son’s wresling practice and how he liked watching him. he loved being a dad. he liked the band third eye blind- i guess it was a buffalo thing- and he even got me backstage, even though they weren’t letting guys back. he always told me that i owed him one, cause all he wanted to do was meet them. i wish i could atleast get him back- so i’ll still owe him one when i see him in heaven! he loved riding his bike with his best friend who rides a trike- and once you get those two together it was all laughs and a good time. i remember talking to him about a play that he was so excited to do- it was his first one. he said it was hard to remember the lines but after he figured it out- he felt like a pro. he will be sadly missed by all who knew him. it’s a sad and too real of a way that he had to leave us. at such a young age this really hits the heart. let this be a eye opener

    • Michael

      He suffered from CTE, a neurological brain disorder that at first was thought to occur in boxers and some jockeys. But recent finding from Neuroscientists find that football players are likely to have this occur. His brain was the equivalent to an 80 year old with Alzheimer’s… And even before him men committed suicide. Ever heard of ‘Iron’ Mike Webster? The steelers hall of fame Center? He died of cardiac arrest…he may have not killed himself, but well, he was 50, his autopsy report shows that his brain was that of an 80 year old also with beginning stages of Alzheimer’s…as you will find out in the movie ‘Concussion’ coming out on Christmas Day into theaters…dr omalu describes a concussion sustained from football as “equivalent to hitting them on the helmet with a sledgehammer” think about that. But Justin and Mike are only a two.. Hopefully you know this by now if not then now you do.

  3. Jason L

    As untrue as this may sound, my family sold Justin our old house in Pittsburgh. I have a picture of me on his lap when I was littler. It’s very sad to hear someone like the person he was to go like this.

  4. Tom

    I met Justin when he was playing at the University of Maine. I followed his career with the Steelers. I am very sorry to hear this news. God bless his soul and his family.

  5. big E

    on 10-29 they determined that he was not drinking that the bottle was a soda bottle he was using as a spit-cup for tobacco. I hate it when they assume things.

  6. Larry

    Justin was a great man. He stood beside me at my best friends funeral as a pawl bearer. His father was my gym teacher in High school. I know him well enough to say that he wouldn’t hurt anyone, itentionally. God bless his kids(who he was proud of) and the rest of the people that loved him, including his mother.

  7. eppy

    Hey, I just wanna say, I really was touched by Justin’s story and I feel for him and his family. This man had accomplished something that few ever get to experience! To play in the NFL and be damn good at it! Not to mention his love for his children and music. Long Live Justin as a Steeler, a family man, and as the person he was!

  8. JSB

    I moved onto the same street as Justin this year and was about 5 houses down, but never had the chance to meet him. Saw him cutting grass a few times, and saw hime drive by quite a few times in his black BMW and always received a friendly wave. It was really hard to read about what happened. Seemed to be a great guy from what everyone has said. I have a brother who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia roughly 10 years ago and it seemed like many of the exact same things that my brother went through were described as having been going on in Justin’s life. It is a helpless feeling watching a loved one suffer like that. There is no “band-aid” to quickly fix the problem. Fortunately for my family we had a happier ending, but also know that we could very easily have been in a bad situation. I never met him, so would never try to diagnose what he was going through, but one thing I do feel strongly about is that mental illness in general is a greatly misunderstood disease. Many negative labels attached by society. My deepest sympathy goes out to his family and friends. God bless him.

  9. Wife of a Steelers Fan

    My husband and I went to one game.Wish we could’ve went to more.He adores the Steelers.What a game it was.Go Steelers!

  10. Jade Walker

    At the request of Mr. Strzelczyk’s family, several comments in this thread have been removed. If you’d like to leave a tribute, feel free to do so, but all notes from spammers and trolls will be deleted.
    Jade Walker
    The Blog of Death

  11. Steve

    I just watched SportsCenter’s description of Strzelczyk’s decline and fall. I’m a Browns fan, but this story made me weep openly. What a horrible thing for his family to have to go through. I wish them peace — and I pray for his children.

  12. Preston

    That was quite a story on Espn just got done watching it. It brought tears to my eyes, its a shame that they cant find cures to these things that make ur mind go crazy. I send my condolences out to his family.

  13. Tammy Steelers Fan

    Just want to say Im sorry for your loss I have been a Steeler Fan ever sense Bradshaw. They are awesome wanted to say my heart goes out to his children and his ex wife I know she seemed to still love him very much. God bless you and I hope when the day your kids ask why I hope god guides you on what to say cause he seemed to be a good man. I like the tub thing about the terrible towel very cute. Well take care.

  14. Leslie

    Hey i am sorry for your loss i watched it on TV and thought it was really sad. i pray for the whole family and his children it is sad that they dont have a father anymore. But he is in a better place in heaven. God Bless You All

  15. gerald

    I just wanted to say iam very sorry for the loss of a great man on and off the feild i am a steelers fan have been 4 a while i remember when he played for the steelers he was great.I juct got done watching his story on sports center like a half hour ago it was a really sad story.Right after that i remember i had the game recorded where he hurt his ankle.I watched it and it was really werid that i was looking at him in te game and now he is gone.But i just wanted to say im very sorry 4 the loss. Bye take care let god be with you.

  16. Jon

    I would like to send my condolences. I heard the story today and I am shocked that some people
    can be so heartless. He’s in a better place now.

  17. Ann

    What tv show was on and who was being cruel? I’d like to say to his family that alot of people will miss Justin and we are so sorry they suffered this loss. May God be with Justin and his family!

  18. Tyler

    i feel that justin was a total and complete inspiration. Its sad to watch old clips of his games and to think that he had such a tragic ending to his career as well as his life.My heart goes out to his friends and family especially his wife and two kids.the NFL as well as the world lost a great man

  19. Sam

    I’m a life long steeler fan from Illinois. Watching the games with friends, Justin became the steeler we followed when the offense was on the field. When he made a huge block or play we’d all cheer liked he’d just carried the ball into the endzone… strange, I know… but there was something about that guy in a Steeler uniform. He looked like he should have been with the great steeler teams of the 70’s. We were sad when he was injured and couldn’t return. Yesterday we were reminded of him and my wife went online to find out whatever became of him and it is very sad to find all this out now. I will be praying for his family and his kids and friends.

  20. Jim

    I saw the piece on Justin on ESPN a few weeks ago, and I just saw the story on Real Sports about retired NFL players, and Justin was brought up again.
    It’s shocking that retired NFL players have a higher rate of depression than the general public, are prone to have their marriages end in divorce within a year after retirement, and are…get this…SIX times more likely to commit suicide than the general population!
    I think the League needs to see what’s going on and come up with a program. And it’s not all about drug use as some would think (the LT syndrome–what happened to Lawrence Taylor– enhances that image). I don’t think Justin was using drugs, yet he was as much a victim of what befalls retired football players as any of them.

  21. Jim from Jersey

    I happened to be watching NFL Total Access on NFL Network a couple of weeks ago and they were showing a video of all NFL players that had passed away . I was totally shocked when I saw Justin. To me, he was the physical image of what the Steelers are all about. The blue collar, hard working, never die mentality. I am a die-hard Steelers fan and want to send my heart-felt condolences to his family and friends.

  22. Pete Bower

    I got to know Justin in Pittsburgh when I was waiter and student at Pitt and eventually
    we became friends. I spent one of my last nights in Pittsburgh with him before leaving to straighten out my life. He was one of the most honest, caring and sympathetic people I have ever known. He encouraged me to get my shit together, we had a lot of the same problems. I only wish I could’ve returned the favor. To Justin and Sabrina, should they ever read this, your Dad was a great and kind person and I know he loved you very much.
    -Pete

  23. Paul

    I went to highschool with Justin. When I met him he was a wirey 6′ tall kid that appeared to barely have an ounce of muscle on him. He came to my house a few times to skate my half-pipe. He was always kind and courteous. Even when I saw him years later after being drafted and he’d put on at least 100 pounds he was the same Justin I always knew. You are always in my prayers my friend.

  24. Justin Baughman

    I had my Grateful Dead, Steal your face/ Steelers shirt on today and some one ask me why I had a shirt like that and why would it be a Dead/Steelers shirt. I explained to the guy who Justin Strzelczyk was and that he was a deadhead/pro football player. I then wanted to read some stuff about J and found this.
    Long live his grizzley bear smile!!
    Keep On Truckin’ Justin!

  25. Will

    Just perusing some old Pictures of the Jugger, me and Friends in happier times while enjoying the best that life had to offer back in Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Wishing he was still around.
    An ol Pal
    Will

  26. Craig Kreger

    I didn’t realize he died in Upstate NY. The NYS Police got it wrong? Shocking! Especially after their work at Attica years ago and other incidents as of late.
    I’m writing a grad thesis now that touches on the fact that once you’re out of football-YOU’RE OUT. The part about him goes like this:
    “As a fan, I was deeply moved to see that former Pittsburgh Steeler offensive lineman, Justin Strzelczyk was killed in what could be considered a “suicide by cop” incident, when he crashed during a high-speed car pursuit with police near Herkimer, New York in 2004. This was a player that probably few people knew or remembered, but I did. About my age, he was a “throwback” from the 1970s. With long hair and a big beard, he most closely resembled “Grizzly Adams.” He was a lineman’s lineman, a “deadhead,” and to many, emblematic of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ working class ethos.”
    Hope you like it,
    Craiger

  27. Diana

    Some new insights…
    Lineman, Dead at 36, Exposes Brain Injuries
    NY Times 6/15/07 (excerpts)
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/15/sports/football/15brain.html?ex=1339646400&en=7ba97dea31ee631f&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink
    WEST SENECA, N.Y., June 13 — Mary Strzelczyk spoke to the computer screen as clearly as it was speaking to her. “Oh, Justin,” she said through sobs, “I’m so sorry.”
    Justin Strzelczyk was killed during a high-speed police chase on Sept. 30, 2004, when his pickup collided with a tractor-trailer and exploded.
    The images on the screen were of magnified brain tissue from her son, the former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk, who was killed in a fiery automobile crash three years ago at age 36. Four red splotches specked an otherwise tranquil sea — early signs of brain damage that experts said was most likely caused by the persistent head trauma of life in football’s trenches.
    Strzelczyk (pronounced STRELL-zick) is the fourth former National Football League player to have been found post-mortem to have had a condition similar to that generally found only in boxers with dementia or people in their 80s. The diagnosis was made by Dr. Bennet Omalu, a neuropathologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. In the past five years, he has found similar damage in the brains of the former N.F.L. players Mike Webster, Terry Long and Andre Waters. The finding will add to the growing evidence that longtime football players, particularly linemen, might endure hidden brain trauma that is only now becoming recognized.
    Largely forgotten, Strzelczyk’s case was recalled earlier this year by Dr. Julian Bailes, the chairman of the department of neurosurgery at West Virginia University and the Steelers’ team neurosurgeon during Strzelczyk’s career. (Bailes is also the medical director of the University of North Carolina’s Center for the Study of Retired Athletes and has co-authored several prominent papers identifying links between concussions and later-life emotional and cognitive problems.) Bailes suggested to Omalu that Strzelczyk’s brain tissue might be preserved at the local coroner’s office, a hunch that proved correct.
    Mary Strzelczyk granted permission to Omalu and his unlikely colleague, the former professional wrestler Christopher Nowinski, to examine her son’s brain for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Nowinski, a former Harvard football player who retired from wrestling because of repeated concussions in both sports, has become a prominent figure in the field after spearheading the discovery earlier this year of C.T.E. inside the brain of Andre Waters, the former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back who committed suicide last November at age 44.

  28. Dennis Brown

    I had the pleasure of being Justin Strzelczyk roommate at the NFL Combine in 1990. I’m just now realizing he is gone. Justin was a very nice down to earth dude; we became very close in the three days we spent in Indianapolis working out for the various teams. I was happy to see him drifted by the Steelers in the 11th round. I was equally happy and surprised to see he had reinvented himself as an offensive line man; In 1993 I had the change to play against him. That game at Three Rivers Stadium was the last I spoke and saw Justin. I would like to send out my prayers to the family and friends of Justin, I know he is missed.Thank you.
    -Dennis

  29. TIM

    I took a trip to training camp in 94 just to see jugs, he was my favorite. Though i met alot of great players i couldnt get near justin cuz he was swapped by other fans like me. I wish i could of met him.

  30. Zach R.

    It’s a shame… I have the pleasure of knowing his family, his son who is a very good football just like his father is also very kind and curteous. He will be a missed member of the Steeler community. May he rest in peace with the Heavenly Father.

  31. Dan Barry

    Justin was truely a gentle giant. He had a heart of gold and was one of the most generous and open people I have ever met. My most fond memory of Justin was a weekend spent at my cousins house in Wilson, NY. We bbq-ed all day, went waterskiing and tubing and had a 3 game basketball tournament where Justin was a beast on the boards and headed back to Danny’s for a fireside guitar session bperformed by by big Jugs! We sang all the old school goodies while he played and we laughed and chilled out enjoying the company of friends and family. It would be the last time I saw Justin. I still can’t believe he is gone. I miss you bro…

  32. A lady friend

    I went out with :Jugs” a couple of times not too long before he died. We met in a bar (he wasn’t drinking) because he struck up a conversation, and we went to get a bite to eat. We went on a couple of dates after that, but I was moving away so we parted ways. We had some deep conversations about God and death – I challenged him on some of his ideas and he seemed open to discussing. He emailed me a few weeks later a very angry message that said “Hey, why do you keep trying to SAVE me?????”
    I felt sad that he was offended – I wasn’t trying to be religous or anything with him…it was more that he seemed so sad and so lost. I just wanted him to have some hope. We didn’t talk after that. I wish I had tried harder.

  33. Steve K.

    I was Justin’s roommate at UMaine, a guy like him doesn’t come along too often. He listened to every story told him, no matter who told it. He remembered the names of people he met and cared enough engage in all conversations regardless of the person’s status. Anyone who knew Justin can attest to that. The game that turned into a career killed him.
    One of his favorite songs was “Roll Me Away” by Bog Seger, it has special meaning now.

  34. 19 leocrest

    i played baseball and basketball with justin and john. i cant believe they are both gone now.and how they went. our neighborhood was so happy when he got drafted and played in the super bowl. now when we see each other we just shake our heads. john would put the fear of God in us as kids when we played dodgeball. he threw so hard. one time when i actually caught his ball it knocked the wind out of me. and john could hit a baseball like babe ruth. we used to hang out in paul murphys fort. much simpler days.1984-1989

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