Monday, November 11, 2013

The Boys of Winter

I was a bit young to remember the New York Jets Super Bowl win in early 1969. Joe Namath was always some player who was hurt all the time.

When I was eight, I saw this play live on television.

It was one of those moments you get hooked on a game, reeled into something by a miracle play. It was hard back then to follow a team from afar back in the era when there was only football on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights. There was no ESPN, no football networks. You watched what you could and read anything you could find from the newspapers.

The 1970's Pittsburgh Steelers were a team and franchise that I have great respect for. I do not know if there has been any team in my lifetime that equally embraced its fans while in their embrace. Maybe the Brooklyn Dodgers, perhaps the great teams of the Montreal Canadiens has such a profound effect on the city in which they played. The Green Bay Packers are a entity onto their own.

In his book, Their Life's Work, Gary Pomerantz documents the rise of the Steeler Dynasty though the lives of the players, and reports the impact it had on their lives today.

There's a lot of craziness to the game, and Pomerantz gives us a lengthy glimpse at the men who played hurt and risked their lives for the game they loved - and a couple of the endings are painful to read, even when you know the outcome and history. The book was published just before the death of L.C. Greenwood, leaving Joe Greene the last survivor of the famed Steel Curtain defensive line.

It's also about a family, The Rooneys, who have owned the team from its inception in the 1930's and went though some incredibly bad years on the field until it changed some of its scouting procedures and drafted some incredible players.

In 1974 the team drafted Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster. All four of these players are in the Hall of Fame. In 1964, the Cowboys had a draft in which three players made the hall. No other teams have come close.

Pomerantz has interviews with the great players, such as Pittsburgh icon Franco Harris the backups, like Steve Furness and the character of Frenchy Fuqua - who still will not exactly say what really happened during the Immaculate Reception. He wanted to tell Dan Rooney after it happened, but he told Fuqua to keep it to himself.

There were a couple of things I wanted Pomerantz to get into more: Gerela's Gorillas and more about Broadcaster Myron Cope and The Terrible Towel. Overall, this is a book that will does for football non-fiction what Roger Kahn's masterpiece The Boys of Summer did for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It's a must read for anyone with a casual interest in the history of the game during a time when the players were not isolated from their fan base. I think the ball hit Tatum first.

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