Author chronicles Steelers' dynasty
In 1981, 20-year-old Washington Post intern Gary Pomerantz visited Steelers training camp seeking answers to the question of whether a dynasty had ended. Time would prove that it had. But inside Pomerantz, something was ignited.
“Though I didn't know it at the time, my work on this book began on that August day,” he would later write.
Now a veteran journalist and author, Pomerantz wrote “Their Life's Work: The Brotherhood of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, Then and Now.” Thirty-two years after his trip to Latrobe, Pomerantz and some key figures from those glory days gathered at the Heinz History Center on Wednesday for the official book launch and to reminisce about a special, if not wholly unique, collection of football players and distinct characters.
It was more than about winning, although there was plenty of that.
“The brotherhood is authentic. It's deep. It's impressive,” said Pomerantz, who worked on the book for three years, interviewing more than 200 people. “It made me think about the special friendships I've had in my life.
Pomerantz acted as emcee, entertaining the audience of about 250 with a monologue both witty and heartfelt, then tossing questions to the guests. Present on stage were former players Andy Russell, Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier and Steelers owner Dan Rooney, son of “The Chief,” Art Rooney, the legendary, larger-than-life figure who founded the franchise.
“(Art Rooney) took great pride in knowing all of his players by name but also knowing something about each and every one of them,” Bleier, the running back who overcame serious injuries sustained while fighting in Vietnam.
“He set the culture of the Steelers,” said Harris, Bleier's backfield partner. “It had a big effect on me, watching how he treated people. He treated everybody the same.”
The Steelers' dynasty of the 1970s, described as a “force of nature” by Pomerantz, won four Super Bowls in six seasons and sent nine players to the Hall of Fame, including Harris, plus their coach, Chuck Noll, and both Rooneys.
“They were historic, and they knew it,” Pomerantz said. “And this team had an arresting array of personality and talent.”
Combining both with maximum effect was defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene, another Hall of Famer who Russell, a 12-year linebacker, labeled the best player of the 1970s. Bleier, echoing others, called Greene the best Steeler ever.
“No player in the NFL did as much for his team as Joe Greene,” Russell said.
Perhaps no player was as intimidating, either. Pomerantz recalled how Greene once threw his linemate, Ernie “Fats” Holmes, out of the game for not knowing the plays. When assistant coach George Perles told Holmes to go back in, Holmes, who could be a scary guy himself, responded, “Not till Joe says it's OK.”
The Steelers won their fourth Super Bowl after the 1979 season. It took 26 years to win another, but the allure of those '70s teams and their bond with the fans remains powerful.
Tom Ravis, 70, of North Hills, plunked down $20 and bought a book “to see how the framework of the Steelers developed from the early days,” he said. “The fabric of Pittsburgh, the Steelers played a real role in that.”