Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, the Cowboys, the '70s, and the Fight for America's Soul by Chad Millman and Shawn Coyne

When I was a kid, I used to play football in the backyard. By myself. That demonstrates my lack of friends/social skills but also (I like to think) my creativity. I would narrate the games like a TV broadcaster as I tossed a pass in the air to myself or ran a few yards and tumbled in the snow as if I'd been tackled by some non-existent playmate. And when I wasn't calling out a reception by Brian Baschnagel* or a run by Walter Payton, I'd be announcing a pass from Terry Bradshaw to John Stallworth.

I've always been a Chicago Bears fan, but my second favorite team is the Pittsburgh Steelers. I remember buying a Super Bowl book at a school book fair and reading it over and over. Of course, back then there had only been 13 or 14 games—in those days the Roman numerals were still novel (now they're kind of unwieldy). The Steelers were the guys who put the Dallas Cowboys in their place by beating them in the Super Bowls of the 1970s, and I've always hated the Cowboys and that "America's Team" crap. Hence I grew to love the Steelers.**

I couldn't help feeling sentimental when I saw this book on the shelf at Borders (albeit not sentimental enough to read it promptly). I wanted to love The Ones Who Hit the Hardest, but I could only like it. I think the authors had too many topics for the level of detail they wanted to provide. The story suffers with lots of gaps. For example, the founding of the Cowboys is covered in depth, leading the reader to expect a lot about the Cowboys in the book (they are second in the subtitle after all). But aside from Tony Dorsett (who grew up near Pittsburgh in Aliquippa like Mike Ditka), the Cowboys story line is pretty much dropped except their Super Bowl appearances.***

The best evidence that the authors took on too much is that they eliminated Super Bowl XIV, which Pittsburgh also won. Maybe they thought it didn't matter since the Steelers didn't play the Cowboys? It's absurd to tell the story of a dynasty noted for winning four titles without even mentioning one of them (seriously, Super Bowl XIV isn't in the index). They also left out any explanation of how the Steelers wound up moving to the AFC when the NFL and AFL merged.**** Instead of taking on a grandiose four-topic subtitle, they should have focused solely on Pittsburgh (city and team), which gets the bulk of the text anyway.

Most true Steelers fans and/or Pittsburgh residents probably don't need to read this except perhaps the younger ones. It was worthwhile for me, though. I learned a lot, especially about the steel industry and its labor woes. Actually, I liked The Ones Who Hit the Hardest a lot more while I was reading it. It was only after I finished and thought about what had been left out that I felt disappointed.

* Wow, looking at his stats reminds me how pathetic those Bears of the late 1970s and early 1980s were. They had Walter Payton but little else. Imagine playing nine NFL seasons as a wide receiver—including several as the team's #1 receiver IIRC— with only nine touchdowns! And in three years he played in all 16 games yet caught six or fewer passes for the season! Even in his prime, he only had about 30 receptions per year.

** I would never root for them against the Bears, and I don't pay much attention to their roster moves and such. I'm not a hardcore fan, but if they're playing anyone else I like to see them win.

*** Maybe that isn't the best example for me to offer because I didn't really want to read much about the Cowboys anyway.

**** That seems like an especially relevant topic considering that this longtime NFL franchise ended up representing the AFC in so many Super Bowls, and the merger/move occurred within the main time-frame of the book.

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