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Wolfley brothers grinded their way to success

This is the seventh in a series of Saturday stories profiling the Greater Buffalo Sports? Hall of Fame's Class of 2012.


The Wolfley brothers speak an octave below bass and rattle off grandfather-like stories without effort. It's easy to mix up Craig and Ron; they're both successful NFL players turned radio announcers. On Oct. 17, they'll accomplish something else together: induction into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

But before they tasted success, the Wolfleys were poor kids in Orchard Park. In a family of four children, their father – a truck driver – made $16,000 in a good year.

"I played 10 years in the NFL and I shouldn't have been there 10 days," Ron said. "It's so beyond my expectation of being a poor kid growing up in an affluent town."

Ron (now 49) was a dynamic special teamer who went to four straight Pro Bowls with the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals from 1986-89. Big brother Craig (54) played offensive line for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1980-89. He started 102 of 129 regular season games.

Before Craig and Ron played for Syracuse and West Virginia, respectively, they were standouts in Western New York, Craig at Orchard Park, Ron at Frontier.

"I've said all the time Orchard Park is a town that is built on a hill and the higher up you go on the hill, the more money you have," Ron said. "And we lived below sea level on a dead end street. It's beyond my wildest imagination.

"I just tried to do the best I possibly could do. To think the people I know and love and the city that I love, I'm getting honored for what I've done, it's so humbling. I just feel unworthy."

Craig said he and his brother have always been close and peaceful – "we weren't the Gronkowskis," he said – but they still had some sibling feuds.

"We boxed, but we didn't have money for gloves, so we wrapped socks around our knuckles," Craig said.

Craig laughs when he thinks about Ron's first NFL season. In 1985, Ron's Cardinals traveled to play Craig's Steelers. Craig knew his coaches were game planning to kick at Ron, who was an excellent lead blocker on kickoffs.

"All night long at dinner I was fretting about my little brother getting targeted," Craig said. "I'd start to have a conversation then I'd zip it. Just when we got back to the hotel, he got out of the car and I yelled, ‘Ron!' … I said ‘just watch out.'

"He went on and did fine anyhow. It was really funny, the quandary I felt as a brother."

The brothers gush about their hometown, which they each visit at least once a year. Their mother lives in nearby Rushford.

"I am most humbly honored that people in my hometown would think enough of me and would honor me in such a way. It's hard to put into words," Craig said. "The people of Buffalo and Western New York … I've always loved the area. There's a special place in my heart for everyone there, and I will always be enormously grateful for the opportunities that were given to me."

Craig just sold his boxing and martial arts gym in Bridgeville, Pa., a facility he owned for the past 20 years with his wife, Faith. The couple has been married 19 years and has three boys, three girls and two grandkids. Craig is a sideline reporter on the Steelers' radio network and co-hosts a radio talk show there with former teammate Tunch Ilkin.

Ron lives with his wife, Stephanie, and their two children in Arizona. He wants to be remembered as a blue-collar guy who was a product of his hometown. He misses playing football more than anything.

"Until I no longer had the game of football, I didn't realize that it defined who I was," Ron said. "That was a hard lesson to learn.

"As a football player, I'm always going to miss the playing days. That was the best way a man could possibly make a living. Are ya kidding me? Paint your face up, smear the eye black on, run down the field as fast as you can and bury your head into a man the size of Saturn. That is a way every man ought to be able to live. It was so much fun."

His big brother wasn't always a star offensive lineman. Craig was determined to be a running back in high school.

"[Former OP head coach] Harris Weinke said, ‘You can play fullback until the very first time you fumble the ball. The very next play you have to play line,'" Craig said. "I fumbled and he was true to his word. I had a fine future as an offensive tackle."

Craig was no one-sport athlete. After finishing his football career with the Minnesota Vikings, he competed professionally in boxing, sumo wrestling ("that's a really ugly visual if you think about it," he said), weightlifting and martial arts. Craig also holds a black belt in jiu-jitsu and finished fifth in the 1981 World's Strongest Man contest.

Ron played until 1994, including stints with the Browns and Rams. He now co-hosts a sports radio talk show in Phoenix and is the Arizona Cardinals' color analyst. He also owns a restaurant, Wolfley's Neighborhood Grill, in Phoenix.
The youngest brother of the bunch, Dale, was an offensive lineman at West Virginia.

Craig and Ron seem to have done pretty well for a couple of underprivileged kids. When the deep-voiced brothers tell compelling stories of their playing days, they do so with child-like enthusiasm. They talk about how much they love Orchard Park. Perhaps it was the Wolfleys' wealth – their attitudes – that kept them in the league past 10 days.


The Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame's 22nd annual induction dinner will be held Oct. 17 at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom. Tickets are sold out. To purchase auxiliary seating, call Tina Pastwick at 693-3807.