On the Steelers: Three books worth your money

With 17 shopping days before Christmas, there is plenty of time to run out and get these three books. Wrap them, stuff them in stockings or read them yourself. All three of these recently published books are worth the price. They all are about football and life and come with our hearty recommendations.

THEIR LIFE'S WORK (The Brotherhood of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, Then and Now), Gary M. Pomerantz

Clearly, the best retrospective of the 1970s Steelers Super Bowl dynasty written, not taking into account the 40-year-old classic from the 1973 season, "Three Bricks Shy of a Load."

Pomerantz, who covered football once upon a time for The Washington Post, served the past seven years as a visiting lecturer at Stanford University. By reading his book that was published this fall, you would swear he spent those past seven years researching and interviewing people for it.

This is no rehash of the glory years of the 1970s, it's a behind-the-scenes look at those days that goes so far behind the scenes they include the never-before-told intimacies that occurred in the steam room where players wound down after games (all clean, literally and figuratively).

The book has a "Boys of Summer" feel to it at times because Pomerantz visited with many of the players and coaches, not only to get their perspective on life in the 1970s, but their lives today. One shame of it is that he did not write this book a little earlier when he could have talked to Mike Webster, Fats Holmes, Dwight White and Joe Gilliam, among others who have died.

If you are looking to read a volume that recites details of all four of those Super Bowl victories, this is not your book. If you want colorful stories from those years, many of which you will hear for the first time, and an insider's feel as to how the 1970s developed, this is your gift.

To go with the exhaustive research and interviews, the writing is superb, as anyone who read Pomerantz through the years would expect. Throughout the book's 465 pages that include extensive sections devoted to notes, bibliography and an index, can be found writing such as this one paragraph about the moments leading up to the 1974 AFC championship in Oakland:

Oakland Coliseum, pregame. Long and lean, L.C. Greenwood stretched out on a folding chair in a hallway outside the visitors' locker room. There, on a small TV, he watched the Vikings and Rams in the other conference's title game. Just then, the Raiders' Gene Upshaw and Art Shell happened by, like two all-pro ships passing. "Watcha watching, L.C.?" Upshaw asked. Greenwood had none of the puffed up bravado of Fats, Mad Dog or Mean Joe. But even Greenwood couldn't resist this one. "I'm just looking," he said, "to see who we're going to play in the Super Bowl."

Skip the case of Sam and buy this book.

FORGED IN STEEL (The Seven Time-Tested Leadership Principles Practiced by the Pittsburgh Steelers), Tunch Ilkin and Damian W. Williams, With Mark A. Miner.

Like Pomerantz, Ilkin knows how to spin a tale. But he did not do all the extensive interviews and research like Pomerantz. Ilkin lived them. He applies much of his experiences playing football for the Steelers and the years he has been around them as a broadcaster into a book. It is described as "intended to help you, as a leader in your organization, community and family, to tap into the enduring truths behind the well-honed values that make the Steelers great."

It is not a novel idea. Many of those who have played and coached the game believe that it involves such teamwork and dedication that its principles could be applied to many facets of life. But it took Ilkin and friends to put those into book form.

This is not heavy reading, despite the clinical sound of the subtitle. Neither is it dry. Ilkin manages to weave some sense of humor and perspective into it. For example, take this paragraph describing his first NFL play:

I remember the first time I came into the huddle with Terry Bradshaw. It was in my second season and I replaced Larry Brown, who had pulled a hamstring in the second half against the Rams. Inside the huddle, Bradshaw looked at me and asked, "Ready, hoss?" I was very nervous and lied through my teeth, "Yeh, Brad, I'm ready to go." And he said, "Let's have some fun."

BAD RAD, FOOTBALL NOMAD, Dan Radakovich and Lou Prato (Forward by Jack Ham)

Before he became the Steelers offensive line coach, before he became that coaching nomad employed by 14 pro and college teams, Duquesne native Dan Radakovich was an assistant coach at Penn State, first under Rip Engle, then Joe Paterno for his longest tenure 1957-69. He coached for 48 years, including two stints with the Steelers in the 1970s, the first as defensive line coach, the second as offensive line coach.

Radakovich long was regarded as somewhat eccentric among his peers and those he coached.

He has more stories than the Carnegie Library and many of them are right here. Among them is the time in the summer of 1969 when he coached centers at a camp for junior- and senior-high school athletes near Harrisburg, run by the Naval Academy. There, he taught a schoolboy how to long snap and block. The kid's name was Bill, son of then-Navy coach Steve Belichick.

A personal story: Joe Paterno was named head football coach at Penn State in 1966 and he and his entire staff held a football camp in the middle of the woods somewhere in Northwestern Pennsylvania that June. I attended it, at 14 years old and a high school quarterback wannabe.

The players, there for a week, stayed in rustic cabins with no air conditioning and tin roofs. We used one football field that was a clearing in the middle of the woods.

One night, a poker game developed in one of the cabins among the older kids. I sat on a top bunk watching the seniors-to-be play cards as the pot of money grew.

Suddenly, the door to the cabin flew open and two large Penn State assistant coaches barged in and bellowed, "Are you boys gambling?!" It was Dan Radakovich and J.T. White. "You're not allowed to gamble!"

They swooped in on the table, scooped up all the cash, including coins, headed for the door and turned around and said, "Now get to bed!"

I was not surprised, then, that when Radakovich offered me his book to review, he demanded the full price of $26 for it.

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