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16 Oct 2013

Book Review: Their Life's Work

by J.J. Cooper

Gary Pomerantz has accomplished the seemingly impossible.

The former NFL beat writer has managed to write a book about the 1970's Steelers dynasty that is not a rehash of stories often retold or old anecdotes rehashed.

That’s a much tougher task than it may seem. Few teams have ever been as chronicled as the 70’s Steelers. We have books by running backs (Rocky Blier’s "Coming Back" and Blier’s "Steel Dynasty"), offensive linemen (Steve Courson’s "False Glory"), books about the defensive line ("Mean Joe Greene and the Steelers Front Four"), by the linebackers (Andy Russell’s "A Steelers’ Odyssey") and about a linebacker ("Lambert"). Stars from the team like quarterback Terry Bradshaw have written books as have role players like Preston Pearson ("Hearing The Noise"). The owner, Dan Rooney, has written a book. We have season chronicles ("Super Steelers") and a reporter as a the fly on the wall ("Three Bricks Shy Of A Load") of a team on its way to Super Bowl success.

And that doesn’t count the hours of NFL Films features on the team. The Sabols were happy to tell the story of the dynasty through footage and interviews during the 1970's and in frequent looks back. In addition to countless features on NFL Films productions through the years, there was a two-hour special NFL Films did on the 70's Steelers, followed by an hour-long "America’s Games" about each of the four Super Bowl champions. Oh, and there’s also the two-hour "NFL Greatest Games" that NFL Films produced about Super Bowl XIII.

By the time NFL Films got around to doing the America’s Games, they had to interview lesser-known Steelers like Randy Grossman and John Banazak to try to dig up stories untold.

So trying to write a new book about the 70's Steelers that isn’t a rehash of all the old stories has become an impossible task for many writers. ESPN’s Chad Millman is a very good writer, but his 2010 book "The Ones Who Hit The Hardest" offered very few insights that a serious Steelers fan didn’t already know.

Pomerantz somehow dug deeper. In part, he succeeded because of the number of people he talked to. An interview with reserve running back Reggie Harrison told the story of the rise and fall of quarterback Joe Gilliam, in part because Harrison was Gilliam’s roommate on road trips.

Joe Greene gave Pomerantz hours of time, which enabled Pomerantz to dig up some stories that Greene hadn’t already shared in the hours of interviews he’s given elsewhere, including the dinners Art Rooney hosted for Steelers players at his house.

Talking to Steelers linebacker Greg Lloyd, a rookie on the 1987 team, gave insights into the last year of John Stallworth and Donnie Shell’s career, as well as the end of Mike Webster’s time with the Steelers.

Pomerantz also got one of the last interviews with L.C. Greenwood before the defensive end passed away, and he was able to explain just how difficult it’s been for some of the Steelers to see so many teammates pass away so quickly. Greene is the only remaining living member of the famed front four of Greenwood, Greene, Ernie Holmes, and Dwight White.

Some of the old chesnuts about the Steelers are still around in "Their Life’s Work." You get the story of Greene mauling Ray Mansfield during his first practice as a Steeler, Chuck Noll’s once-in-a-lifetime inspirational speech before the 1974 AFC Championship Game, the "lost" film of then Alabama A&M star John Stallworth before the 1974 draft, and Terry Bradshaw’s off-again, off-again relationship with Noll. But as he writes them, it’s clear that Pomerantz knows these are well-worn pieces of Steelers lore. He doesn’t build chapters around these stories, instead he uses them to set up stories you don’t know.

There have been many books written about the 70's Steelers. But it’s hard to find one better than "Their Life’s Work."

Posted by: J.J. Cooper on 16 Oct 2013

2 comments, Last at 19 Oct 2013, 12:42am by Raiderjoe


by Jerry :: Thu, 10/17/2013 - 5:02am

I'm glad to know it's worth checking out. Thanks, J.J.

by Raiderjoe :: Sat, 10/19/2013 - 12:42am

May buy biok