Today we chat with Gary Pomerantz, the author of the new book out in stores this week on the 1970′s Steelers, entitled “Their Life’s Work.”
You can see Gary and Steeler HOF RB Franco Harris on the CBS Sunday Morning pregame show and ESPN on Monday.
Here’s what he had to say about the new book, which is a fantastic read.
1. What was your inspiration behind doing a book on the 70’s Steelers? Had it been something you had been thinking about for a long time?
GP: I met these Steelers once long ago. It was summer 1981 – thirty-two years ago. I was young and impressionable, a 20-year old sportswriting intern at The Washington Post. I was given a dream assignment by my editors: Go to the Steeler training camp in Latrobe, Pa. and spend a couple days to see if the NFL’s 1970s dynasty was finally finished.
Nearly all of the stars were still there, and I’m sure that I must’ve been starry-eyed. I interviewed Bradshaw, Franco, Stallworth, Swann, Coach Chuck Noll. As I interviewed Mean Joe Greene, I remember thinking, This guy’s bicep is bigger than my thigh!
They all moved with such swagger. They were special and historic, and they knew it. And they were ALL great interviews. It was like they were lit from within. They were incandescent.
The array of talent on that team was arresting, and so were the personalities. Even a 20-year-old-sportswriter couldn’t miss that. Though I didn’t know it, the seed for this book was planted way back then.
Now football is under the microscope. The game is being scrutinized for its violence. The focus is on brain injuries, certainly football’s highest cost. So I decided that, if I was going to examine football for what it gives to players, and what it takes from them, who better to use as a case study than the best team I ever saw, those men I met in Latrobe 32 years ago?
In my narrative I would follow this team across the decades, through middle age and beyond, to explore football’s gifts and costs.
2. The stories around Art Rooney are simply mind blowing – knowing him as you did, what do you think he would feel about how the Steelers franchise is today?
If the Chief taught his eldest son, Dan, one overriding life lesson about what it means to be a Rooney in Pittsburgh, it was this: You must keep the Steelers viable, and you must keep the team in Pittsburgh, and to do that you must help the league and the city to remain viable. And Dan has certainly done all of that.
The Chief would be quite pleased to see the financial health of the franchise, and blown away by how spiffy and state-of-the-art Heinz Field is. As for that bronze statue of the Chief by Gate D, the way some women lean back into the Chief’s lap as they pose for photos, well, THAT would make the Chief blush.
Remember, he bought the team for $2,500 in 1933. He was betting more than that on some horse races then. To think that this same team has been valued recently at up to $1.2 billion dollars would cause him to swallow his cigar.
3. Any player or person that you interviewed that took you totally by [surprise?] shock in the way they acted as opposed to the way Steeler fans may have portrayed them in the 70’s?
John Stallworth stood out in multiple ways. He didn’t surprise me, but he surely impressed me. Stallworth is not only a Hall of Fame receiver, he’s also a businessman who earned his MBA before retiring from football in 1987. He left football, returned home to Alabama, and built an information technology firm in the aerospace industry. Years later, he sold it for a reported $69 million. Today, he is a minority owner of the Steelers.
That alone is impressive.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “There are no second acts in American lives,” but he never knew John Stallworth.
But even more than that, Stallworth impressed me with his depth, his sensitivity, and his introspection. He’s deeply introspective. He spoke of teammates with such feeling. He is a very classy guy.
4. What is your single fondest memory of writing the book as in a particular moment with a player, coach, person involved?
I flew to Dallas to interview Joe Greene at his home. I brought a DVD of Super Bowl IX with me. I wanted to watch the game with him so that he could critique certain key plays. He told me he’d never watched that game, which shocked me, actually.
Greene sat on a couch in the den, and his wife Agnes sat in the recliner next to him. We all watched it together. Greene paused the DVD numerous times, got up from the couch, and walked to the TV, to point out the intricacies of plays.
At one moment, just as the Steelers pulled away from the Vikings, Greene became joyous. He started chanting from the couch, “Here we go Steelers, here we go!” He was young again, and frankly, it was beautiful to see.
5. Are you among the many that feel that the 1970’s Steelers is truly the greatest team any decade has ever seen?
Absolutely. Let me state it directly: The 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers were the greatest football team in history, or at least since the earth’s crust cooled.
But you don’t need to take my word for it.
Just listen to Bill Walsh, who coached the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl victories during the Eighties.
The old Steeler lineman Gordon Gravelle (1972-76) told me a great story. He said he introduced himself to Walsh at a charity event in California in 2003.
“I remember you,” Walsh said.
And then Walsh thumped Gravelle in the chest with his index finger and said about the 1970s Steelers, “Best team ever!”
Gravelle said, “Well, what about your 49ers?”
Walsh thought about it. He said, “We might’ve given you a run for your money.”
Walsh’s eyes twinkled, and he said as he thumped Gravelle’s chest again with his index finger, “But you were the best team ever.”
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