Review: Their Life’s Work

Gary Pomerantz has put together a nice piece of sports journalism in Their Life’s Work.  Sports journalism, by its nature only matters to you if you care about the sport, and in this case the team, involved.  Because the topic is the late-1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers,  it’s probably the team and era I most care about in sports.  Pomerantz covers the emergence of the 1970’s Steelers with a raconteur’s touch, spinning out the yarns well known to football fans of the era with fresh aplomb.  All the largest figures of the era, management and players, are brought to life – most in their own words from interviews.  He retells the myths without completely overshadowing the blemishes.

In the second half of the book, Pomerantz looks at where these men and the Steelers institution have come 40 years later. Those monumental days have cast long shadows into most of the lives involved, and he does a good job capturing the many paths that led from being one of the greatest football teams in history. Some have been destroyed by the game – Mike Webster’s life after leaving the NFL was a prime driver for the current crisis in understanding traumatic brain injuries.  Some have flourished in ways that the game never touched.  And many are still part of NFL.

As interesting and important as following the players is, I was equally interested in the state of the team itself.  How the sons of storied owner Art Rooney came to terms with deciding who would run the team and how held my interest and I generally couldn’t care less about boardroom politics.  Keeping the Steelers as a franchise that conducts its business in a way that fans can be proud of is essential to the team’s appeal.  It’s revealing to see the difficulties involved with doing that when egos collide.

Many people will not care about any of this.  I do primarily because watching these men perform heroic feats on the field was a key part of my childhood, reinforced by my family’s closeness with the city and football culture there.  I idolized these guys, and some of my earliest reading was biographies of key players.  It’s equally interesting to look back on those times from a more mature perspective, and to see what became of these men after they fell off my radar.  Pomerantz brings it all to life.

Strongly recommended if you have any interest in the era.

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