First-rate football writing from Toperoff (Sugar Ray Leonard: And Other Noble Warriors, 1986), who here tackles the Pittsburgh Steelers' 1988 season. Toperoff didn't have it easy. Having chosen as his subject a team that under its pontificating coach, Chuck Noll, had made it into four Super Bowls, the author wound up having to write about a bunch of losers (with a 5-11 won-lost record). He does so splendidly, however, bringing to life the spirit of football in Pittsburgh, where the game is akin to basketball in Indiana: ""Last season in the NFL there were sixty players who hailed from an area within one hundred miles of Pittsburgh. . .College scouts call it the 'fertile crescent.'"" Toperoff gets dramatic yardage out of the death, just prior to the season's start, of Andy Rooney, 87-year-old patriarch of the team: ""The chief's greatest quality was authenticity. He never was other than a North Side neighborhood guy."" Further drama ensues in descriptions of the season's games (including the early turning point when new, cocky quarterback Bubby Brister persuaded Coach Noll to uncharacteristically change his mind and go for a touchdown instead of a field goal on the fourth down with seconds to go; Brister failed), interspersed with commentary on such subjects as athletes' failure (""when fine athletes are not only beaten but beaten badly, they suffer just like the rest of us, the only difference being the height from which they fall and the visibility that height imposes on them""), and the ""flies""--as the players call the press that hovers around them in the locker room. Unusually thoughtful and literate sports reporting.