From former sports anchor John Steigerwald, a tell-all worth telling
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Chuck Noll performed the greatest coaching job of anyone in professional sports. Bill Cowher ruined Kordell Stewart. A statue exists of Art Rooney Sr. not because he was successful in sports but because he was a nice guy. Women are Joanie-come-latelies to sports.
Not my opinions, but those of John Steigerwald in his recently published memoir, "Just Watch The Game." If you've known Steigerwald as I have for 30 years or if you've sat next to him for only 30 minutes, you know he has opinions and is not shy about sharing them. He does this and more for 231 pages that I found as interesting as any sports book, including a good memoir by Myron Cope several years back.
Like Cope, Steigerwald had a front-row seat to the Pittsburgh sports scene for more than three decades as first a sports radio broadcaster and, for most of the time, as a television sports anchor/reporter for WTAE and KDKA. He also grew up here in the '50s and '60s. He covered Super Bowls, World Series, Stanley Cups and about anything else played with a ball or puck in Pittsburgh and some that didn't, like heavyweight boxing championships.
And, like Michael Moorer, the fight champ he covered, Steigerwald pulls no punches, including some roundhouses he hurled the way of some former bosses at KDKA-TV.
This is not a collection of famous or big-time sporting events Steigerwald has covered since the 1970s. It's a book about people -- including a day spent in a car with Satchel Paige -- and he takes on icons, including Mister Rogers, PNC Park and women sportscasters.
There is much on the Steelers here, including why he believes his "cousin" Noll (you'll have to read the book for the answer to that) was better than any other coach or manager in North American pro sports history. It's because he built his dynasty from scratch; when he took over as coach in 1969, the cupboard was bare except for a handful of players.
His opinions on Kordell Stewart, many of which I hold myself, go against the popular belief that he was not a good quarterback.
He writes about covering the 1979 World Series when housed in a private home in Baltimore with Bill Hillgrove and Bob Prince and some hilarious "Gunner" stories that cannot be repeated here.
Steigerwald recounts playing pickup ball as a kid and how kids no longer play ball anymore unless it's in an ultra-organized league that includes "snack mommies."
He's been friends since 1971 with another Pittsburgh native, Mike Douglas, better known as Michael Keaton, who played Batman among many movie roles. He joined Keaton in a luxury box to watch a Pirates game in Three Rivers Stadium one day when the actor turned to him and said, "Man, this is great. You get paid to come to these games ... What a great job."
After pausing, Keaton added, "Of course, I have a pretty good job, too. I spent all day yesterday kissing Michelle Pfeiffer."
The title of the book came from John's father, who took his son to a Pirates game in the 1950s and noticed young John paying more attention to what the vendors were selling than the action on the playing field. His father nudged him and instructed, "Just watch the game." It's been a Steigerwald motto ever since.
He detests much of the hoopla that surrounds sporting events these days that owners feel is needed to attract an audience, including the all-you-can-eat section at PNC Park.
"I remember one year when the Pirates' yearbook had the Pirate Parrot on the cover," Steigerwald writes. "Intelligent people actually thought that there were enough parents out there who would be willing to buy four tickets to a Pirates game so that their kids could watch a guy in a parrot suit. It turned out the guy in the Parrot suit was really funny because he was high on cocaine most of the time, but that's another story."
He predicted on the air in 2001 that PNC Park would be the worst thing to happen to Pirates fans because the owners would now sell what is known as the "Game Experience" -- fireworks, bobbleheads, food, the view -- harder than the game itself, and 10 seasons later it still holds true.
Retired from KDKA-TV, he tells stories that management of that station probably would prefer he hadn't, including how virtually all of their newsmen and women scheduled to cover a Super Bowl would root against the Steelers to get there (again, you'll have to read the book to learn why).
There is nothing politically correct here, including a chapter with the title "Thanks for the Mammaries" and a knock at women teachers as they pertain to boys playing sports. "The scary thing is that we're going to have a generation of adult males who were feminized by this nonsense and lots of them will think it's normal to think of tag as a dangerous game," he writes.
Appropriately, then, some readers will be offended but Steigerwald will not be offended by that. He welcomes it. He writes that his dad was "actually of the opinion that people who weren't opinionated were boring. I tend to agree with that opinion."
So, if you don't like opinions, especially if they don't mirror yours, don't read the book. It's irreverent, politically incorrect and as fun to read as any "sports" book you'll pick up.
"Just Watch The Game" is available in most local bookstores or at www.JustWatchTheGame.com.
First Published November 21, 2010 12:00 am