neal olkewicz: the prison guard linebacker

(courtesy photo)

They don’t make them like Neal Olkewicz anymore.

That’s not an indictment of the modern-day athlete. It’s merely a statement of fact.

Anyone in doubt can feel free to name one player on today’s Washington Redskins who you could honestly envision working during the NFL offseason as a prison guard. Yeah, that’s what I thought. It ain’t happening.

For 11 seasons (from 1979-89), Olkewicz quarterbacked the Redskins defense as the middle linebacker. Although he was never the biggest dog in the fight, Olkewicz won over the fans with a blue-collar work ethic on and off the field.

He was a part of two Super Bowl winning teams and was named one of the franchise’s “70 Greatest Redskins.” Simply put – when Joe Gibbs talks about “core Redskins,” you should probably just close your eyes and picture guys like Olkewicz.

We caught up with Olkewicz during the team’s alumni day last week to see what he’s been up to and to figure out why in the hell a professional football player would actually moonlight in a local prison.

Before we get started, what are you up to these days?

“I’m living up in Maryland,” Olkewicz said. “I’ve got a vending machine business that keeps me pretty busy and I’m just trying to stay healthy.”

How cool is it to have a reunion of sorts like this and to see so many old, familiar faces?

“It really has been a long time, but better late than never,” he said. “A lot of these guys, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen them. Some of them, you see at different golf tournaments and stuff like that, but some of these guys, I haven’t seen in years.”

You were chatting with your former teammate Clint Didier earlier. How good is it to see him?

“It’s great, especially with him running for political office,” Olkewicz said. “I don’t think I ever would have guessed that, but I wish him the best of luck.”

I’ve got to say, you’ve turned into a local internet sensation lately with you posting a bunch of throwback photos on your Facebook page. Have you seen all the attention fans are giving these photos?

“Yeah, I’ve been digging up a bunch of my old stuff and it seems like people are really enjoying it,” he said. “It’s been good for me too to go back and look at all that stuff again. The older you get it really helps you to appreciate what we were able to do.”

You’ve been away from the game for a while now. how closely do you follow today’s Redskins?

“Oh, I follow them very closely,” Olkewicz said. “I always try to catch them on television and I go to a game a year. I’ve definitely been following them the whole time, but I think I’ll follow them a lot closer with Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan here. I’m pretty excited about them.”

Is it true that you actually worked as a prison guard during your playing days?

“Yeah, I worked two years in Fairfax County,” he said. “Salaries were a lot different then and you had to do something during the offseason. Law enforcement was my major and I didn’t know how long I was going to play at that point, so that’s what I did. It’s a little different pay scale now. But they’re still out there on that field doing something a lot of people only dream of doing and they deserve to get compensated for it.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and say if you’re working in a prison during the offseason that it’s going to keep you fairly humble and hungry, right?

“Yeah, I think we were a lot hungrier back then, but it’s still the same game,” Olkewicz said. “They’re still out here every day in this heat, running into each other and it’s still a tough sport.”

You said you’re excited about Shanahan and Allen being on board. I take it you think this year’s team is capable of more than what we’ve been subjected to these last few years?

“I think so. They’ve got a good group of players,” he said. “And with Donovan McNabb on board, they’ve got a lot of leadership that will help them get a few more wins. I really think this year is going to be a lot of fun.”


  1. Hap Haszard
    June 23, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    I thought Dexter Manley also worked as a prison guard at one time, before he was on the other side of the bars.

  2. Milhouse44
    June 24, 2010 at 9:28 am

    When I worked near College Park in the early 2000’s our company had a Olkewicz Vending Machine. Neil came every other week and filled the machine himself. I would ask him footbal questions here and there before I was told to get back to work. My one clear memory was when I asked him “where do you keep your Superbowl rings?” and during our conversation that is when I found out that there was a runner-up ring presented to the losing team of the Superbowl that he got when they lost to The Raiders. Really a soild guy and a hard worker.

  3. daved
    June 24, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    was that lorton penitentiary he worked at you think?

  4. Mike Greenan
    May 17, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    I went to Phoenixville High with Neal. He was a solid guy who even though a high school stand out in football. He was always there for a neighborhood pick up game and always game for a Cycle ride. The day I saw him playing for the Skins was a heart warming for me. They kept miss pronoucing his name but when they showed him on the side line without his helmet there was no doubts. He was a class guy back in 73-74. I am so happy he got to live the dream. He is an inspiration to many who got the privilige of knowing him. Thanks Neal
    Best of Luck in all your endeavours Neal.

  5. Mike Rose
    October 13, 2013 at 10:09 am

    A lot of people might not remember that Neal was the union rep for the team during the strike season of the late 1980s. The Redskins were the only team that didn’t have a player cross the picket line– and they went on to win the Superbowl that year. I spoke to him once about that. He saw a connection and was justifiably proud of both achievements. Solid, decent guy.

  6. Mark LaFave
    April 23, 2017 at 11:14 am

    Neil is the ultimate example of why the combines are BS. Too short, too slow. Not big enough! Will over skill!! One of my boyhood heros growing up in Maryland and both a Terps and Redskin fan. I can’t tell you how often I heard he was going to be replaced and just outplayed the competition. Awesome guy. A role model!

  7. Jack Galvin
    April 21, 2022 at 7:05 pm

    What an AWESOME “BLUE-COLLAR” Conservative MAN…..One of MOM & DADS FAVORITES….As well as the rest of our FAMILY…..We’ve been DIEHARD REDSKIN FANS since 1937 in our FAMILY…..As well as TERP FANS since the 50s……

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