The 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers: Then and Now

17383116Their Life’s Work: The Brotherhood of the 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers Then and Now by Gary Pomerantz
Simon and Schuster (October 29, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1451691629
ISBN-13:  978-1451691627
480 pages

The 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers are an iconic dynasty in the modern era of professional football.  Typically defense wins championships and Pittsburgh had some of the best defensive players ever to don pads and cleats.  But they also had some playmakers on the offensive side of the ball like Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, and John Stallworth.  And let’s give Terry Bradshaw his due for slowly becoming a team leader and competent enough quarterback to lead the Steelers to four Super Bowls in six years.

Gary Pomerantz has gone back and takes a look at this dynastic team from the point of view of the players who made it all happen all those many years ago.  You can truly see the deep bond many of the players developed for a lifetime, particularly on the defensive side the ball, and the importance of that team’s legacy to the not just the players, but the city of Pittsburgh itself.

Central to the book is how Franco Harris became so deeply ingrained in the community becoming a local hero, philanthropist, and businessman.  He also talks about some of the more tragic stories such as the unfortunate decline in health, both physical and mental, of Mike Webster, one of the best centers ever to play the game.  And the great affection and brotherhood that marked the best defensive line in NFL history – Mean Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White, and Crazy Ernie Holmes comes to life as they remember the glory of the past.

Pomerantz was a journalist who covered the Steeler’s in the seventies.  One of the oddest comments in the books introduction is this disillusion with professional football because of brain trauma and the recent studies about the plight of many former players.  Fair enough.  Thankfully the book is well balanced and doesn’t drone on about this topic other than when discussion Mike Webster.

For any football fan this is a book well worth reading and it is a must read for Pittsburgh Steeler’s fans.

Their Life’s Work: The Brotherhood of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, Then and Now

The 1985 Chicago Bears from a Fan’s Perspective

untitledThis is a book written about the 1985 Chicago Bears from a fan’s perspective.  The fans of the Chicago Bears in their 40s today have a dearth of positive experiences to hang their hat on.  They have mostly been in the cold purgatory of failure and embarrassment.  Thus the 1985 Chicago Bears is not only deeply nostalgic for their faithful fans, but the only positive highlight of the Super Bowl era Bears.

I found the fan’s perspective and the author relaying his chance to actually attend the Super Bowl and his reminisces about being a hard luck Bear’s fan a very engaging aspect of the book.  He does a great job of showing what it was like to be a young “adult” in 1985 and experience the excitement of being able to see his favorite team in the Super Bowl.  At the time this eager young cub thinks every football season will be just like “this one” with the Bears winning and competing for championships. Then years later that bitter realization that it was all just a brief fling followed by signs of promise but failure, then slippage into perpetual hibernation.

Cohen does a fantastic job of telling the story of the 1985 Bears from the player’s perspectives too.  The hatred between Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan, the 46 defense and its goal of taking out the “head” or quarterback, the defiant Jim McMahon, and the rotund and entertaining William “The Refrigerator Perry, and let’s not forget that dreadful Super Bowl shuffle.  Then on a sadder note, Walter Payton’s anger over not scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl is addressed too.

And finally the book does a fine job of getting the reminisces of many of the Bears’ players years removed from their glory season.  From quarterback Jim McMahon, Mike Ditka, Gary Fencik, and Steve McMichael, among others, we understand how deeply important that one glorious season was to their legacy.  And then to be acknowledged as the greatest defense of all-time just put icing on the cake.

While I am not a Chicago Bears fan I did enjoy the book.   It is a must read for Bears fans and a fun read for football fans, especially those who remember Super Bowl XX.

 
Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football

Rob Gronkowski and the Gronks

1aa-volumes24----aug--24-art-gc1ob63b-1growing-up-gronk-schober-bkGrowing Up Gronk: A Family’s Story of Raising Champions by Gordy Gronkowski with Jeff Schober
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (July 9, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0544126688
ISBN-13: 978-0544126688
224 pages

I really don’t know why anyone would be particularly interested in this book, unless maybe they are a diehard New England Patriots fan, like me.  It is mostly a vanity project for Gordy Gronkowski, the father of five amazing athletes.  His five sons have all achieved a great deal of success in sports, with three making to the National Football League, one who played professional baseball, and the youngest is an up and coming star in his own right.

This book talks about how his sons achieved that success.  Beyond being naturally gifted athletes Gordy appears to be a somewhat obsessed workout junkie and had his five sons competing with each other in the basement using a workout regime created by Gordy himself.  He created five workout junkies in his own image who were motivated by their father but also by their competition with each other.  This healthy competition resulted in a clan of professional athletes.

The book also provides some details on what their family life was like growing up and how their incredible mother managed to rein in five Gronks (six if you count the father) and cook and clean and drive them around to all their various sporting events.  She is a bit in the background in the book, for the most part, but clearly a hero in her own right.

While the book is not just about Rob Gronkowski he does get more air time here, which is only fair as he is the most successful of the five Gronks.  As a tight end for the New England Patriots he’s had a few monster seasons and could potentially be one of the greatest tight ends of all time.  Unfortunately, his history of injuries, especially recently, will probably derail that dream.  He is described as a bit of a fun loving goofball but a hard worker dedicated to being his best.  But the rest of the brothers get their just due as well and we get a glimpse into the personalities of each.

I did enjoy the read but only because of the Rob Gronkowski angle.  I otherwise would have found it a waste of time and not that interesting.

Growing Up Gronk: A Family’s Story of Raising Champions

Review of Nate Jackson’s Slow Getting Up

9780062108029_custom-19693480dbdea4cd97ec84a6b79740bdae05ca47-s6-c30Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile by Nate Jackson
Harper (2013)
ISBN-10: 0062108026
ISBN-13: 978-0062108029
256 pages

I have very mixed reactions to this book about the life of a football player on the margins.  Let me start off with what I liked about it.

Nate Jackson details his life as a marginal player in the NFL.  Basically he hung on through the practice squad and playing on special teams, with a few stints on the field itself.  If there is a theme to the book it’s twofold.

One is the prevalence of pain and injury in the NFL and how that makes it even more difficult to hang on when you’re always on the bubble of being cut or released. Jackson seemed to be somewhat injury prone with bad shoulders and later a balky hamstring, not to mention a knee injury he suffered.

The second theme is how the players love football, or at least in this case maybe it is a love-hate relationship with football as that is certainly how the account of this career comes off.  I could never tell really whether Jackson hated football or loved it.  But he must have loved it or at least needed it like a drug to go through all he did to hang on to his football career.

And Jackson has seen it all, from the practice squad, to great players on the Denver Broncos, to NFL Europe, and a last, final hurrah in the United Football League, a very, very small league for struggling want to be players and those, like Jackson, hanging on by their bootstraps for one more chance at an NFL career.  (I wonder if the same can be said about the coaches as Jim Fassel coached in the UFL).

The book is told from the point of view of the player and what life in the NFL means, which is a lot of pain, little time with family or friends, and near total devotion to one’s craft and to keeping the body sound.  And for some, the few minutes of glory of being on the field and making a big hit on special teams or a great catch is worth it.

Jackson mostly stayed away from the Xs and Os of the game and personalities. The most we heard about personalities was his great respect for Bronco’s receiver Rod Smith, and how he liked Jake Plummer and Mike Shanahan (the later who gave him a chance at the behest of none other than Bill Walsh).

This was a very interesting account of the daily life of a player on an off the field and what it means to dedicate yourself to the NFL, especially for a player on the margins.

What I didn’t like about the book, and it grated on my nerves throughout, is the smart-alecky writing style.  It’s as if every anecdote and chapter is wrapped in this veil of smarmy humor that comes across, to this reader, and childish and not funny, as I am sure it was intended.  Not that a book like this couldn’t use some of this type of levity, but the entire book is written in that vein.  That was a huge turnoff.

I also really never could tell whether Jackson loved the NFL or hated the NFL or both.  I suspect both given the struggle with injuries and that he mostly grouses about life in the NFL.  But then as noted, he did hang on for as long as he could through the injuries, NFL Europe, and the UFL.  Why put yourself through that if you didn’t love it on some level?  And he never talks about whether he truly cared about winning or losing games.

And I would have liked to read more gossipy scoops on the players he played with like Plummer and Cutler and Brandon Marshall or things going on in the NFL generally.

Finally, even though told from the view of the “common player” it really is about Nate Jackson, not the NFL and really not the other players.

And for these reasons, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile