Review: Playing Through The Whistle

Even if I weren’t connected to it, I’d have to agree that Aliquippa, PA is a remarkable place.  It has placed a steady steam of players into the NFL, been the source of two landmark Supreme Court labor decisions, given us the Pink Panther theme music, formed Mike Ditka, and produced my parents and grandparents.  The demographics and population of the town has also reflected the rise and fall of large scale manufacturing in America.  S. L. Price beings the place to life in Playing Through The Whistle in a way that’s engaging and consistent with my limited experience with the town.

As a sportswriter, a look at the football history of Western Pennsylvania raises your eyebrows. Just listing the stars – Hall of Fame members – who grew up and learned to play within 50 miles of Pittsburgh is startling.  A deeper look reveals a steady stream of both successes at all levels and strong prospects that don’t pan out.  There are a lot of factors that can distort the reality and the perception of that record, but as a writer it’s a story that must make you drool.  Price clearly couldn’t resist, and captures that duality.

I’m glad he couldn’t.  He digs in to the stories of the residents, the stars, and the history of the place and presents it dynamically. My experience reading the story of the place – so far – is certainly colored by my tenuous connection. Seeing names in print that I would hear as a kid visiting the place made a lot of the narrative real to me.  Beyond the names, the rhythms and emphasis in the stories from residents sound like the stories I’ve heard.  It’s remarkable to hear the tenor of them change in the years after my parents left.  I remember hearing my grandparents decrying many of the events that Price describes.  It’s enlightening to hear the events from a reporter with only a professional attachment to the place and compare them with how decades-long residents talked about them.

Even without that sort of history, Price balances the backdrop of the region and the specifics of the town admirable.  His research – historical and interviews – are remarkable.  Beyond the facts, he brings the place and the story to life. Coming into the area through the remarkable sports successes makes the other historical discussions accessible to a readership that might not usually look at history.

Strongly recommended.

Comments are closed.