The saga of the rise and fall of the 1970s NFL powerhouse.
Pomerantz (The Devil's Tickets: A Night of Bridge, a Fatal Hand, and a New American Age, 2009, etc.), a veteran sports and general journalist (Washington Post and elsewhere), steps back and forth in time, blending moments from specific games—Franco Harris’ celebrated 1972 “Immaculate Reception” and its aftermath get a nine-page treatment—with interviews and observations from recent days. The author’s focus is, unsurprisingly, on the principals in the production: the Rooney family (Art Rooney is “The Chief” throughout), coach Chuck Noll, quarterback Terry Bradshaw, receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, running back Harris, center Mike Webster, linebacker Jack Lambert and defensive lineman “Mean” Joe Greene. (An interesting section covers the filming of Greene’s noted commercial for Coke.) But the other players—and some wives—get their moments, as well. Pomerantz’s diction is sometimes excessively enthusiastic and forced—the Rooneys were like John Adams and John Quincy Adams, Lambert was like both King Arthur and Hemingway, Pete Rozelle like Caesar, Webster, a gladiator. The great strength here, however, is the author’s hard but sympathetic look at what’s happened to everyone since those years: the drugs (Joe Gilliam), the madness (Mike Webster), the estrangements, the financial successes and failures, the effects of injuries and the many deaths. The author reports on the surprising number of former Steelers who have died before reaching age 60, as well as the many Steelers inducted into the Hall of Fame. Pomerantz ends with a series of portraits of his key subjects, and Stallworth imagines just one more sauna experience with the old crew who used to gather there to avoid celebrity’s crush.
A work of great affection—for people, a violent sport and magical moments.