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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Pittsburgh Steelers - The Official Team History by Abby Mendelson

The Pittsburg Steelers- The Official Team History by Abby Mendelson
Published by Taylor Trade Publishing ISBN 978-1-58979-668-3
Soft cover, $29.95

With the Superbowl but a few weeks away, today's book review is The Pittsburgh Steelers- The Official Team History  by Abby Mendelson. The Steelers have won six Superbowls, more than any other franchise in history.

I'm not a huge football fan; usually I read and cook dinner while the guys watch the games on Sunday. But one of my son's is a Steelers fan, and I do remember back in the 1970s when I was a kid, how exciting it was to watch Terry Bradshaw and the Steel Curtain play.

Mendelson was a sports reporter in Pittsburgh, and this book is pretty comprehensive. He starts out with a chapter on Art Rooney, called the Chief, the man who purchased the Steelers franchise (then called the Pirates, like the baseball team) for $2500 during the Great Depression.

The Rooney family still owns the Steelers, and Rooney's son Dan followed in his footsteps. Art Rooney became a beloved figure in Pittsburgh, but he retained his common man touch. If anyone needed a few dollars or a kind word, he gave it. Yet he was tough with his own children, believing in corporal punishment.

Mendelson paints a vivid portrait of the fascinating Rooney, interspersing photos and anecdotes throughout the text. He doesn't seem to meet an anecdote he doesn't like about Rooney, filling the text with several similar anecdotes about his various kindnesses to players and others. Less could have been more in this regard.

The Steelers are unique in that the same family has owned the franchise since 1933. That quality also extended to the coaches for the Steelers; they tended to stay a long time as well. Two successful coaches for the Steelers- Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher- are also profiled in great detail.

Although both coaches were successful, each winning Superbowls, they had very different coaching styles. Noll was a product of the 1950s, and he expected that his players would go out and do their job, without much praise from him. Noll "was all business; he came to get the job done, he came to win". He coached the Steelers from 1969-1991, through some disastrous seasons and some legendary years.

Cowher followed Noll in 1992, but he was a much more emotional coach. He believed in talking to the players, getting to know them.  Like Noll, he believed that having a good work ethic was key, that practices were important, and getting the most of out each player would lead to success.

I particularly enjoyed the section on the 1970s Steelers, when they dominated the league with such incredible talent as Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, Franco Harris, Mean Joe Greene, and Rocky Bleier. There is a very shocking photo of three linebackers- Andy Russell, Jack Ham and Jack Lambert- who each weighed about 220 pounds. Today, high school linebackers weigh 250+.

I also liked the section on the Steeler fans, especially on the bars near the stadium that cater to them, places like Froggy's and Owney McManus'. They are die-hard fans, and some of those anecdotes about them are priceless.

This is the fourth edition of the book, but it seems like the latest incarnation of the Steelers, who won the Superbowl XL in 2006, get short shrift. Mendelson does recap every game of that season, but the 2006-2010 Steelers only get one chapter. We don't really get to know Coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Rothlisberger as well as their predecessors.

The Pittsburgh Steelers- The Official Team History overall does a great job documenting one of the most legendary franchises in all of sports. From their rocky start and many losing seasons to the record-breaking six Superbowl trophies, from the fascinating owner Art Rooney to incredible coaches Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher to unforgettable players like Joe Greene, Franco Harris and Ben Rothlisberger, this book covers it all with amazing photos, anecdotes and a storied history. It's a must-have not only for Steeler fans, but for all football fans.

rating 4 of 5 stars

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