This is the most dreaded week of the regular season: the bye week. Football is going on but there’s nothing of interest to you because your team doesn’t have a game. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy football and will watch pretty much any game on television. I’ve even been known to watch a CFL, ArenaBall, or UFL game if Modern Family is a repeat and I’m fresh out of Glee episodes on my DVR. However, nothing can truly replace the excitement of watching my Pittsburgh Steelers.
Over the summer, I was sent a couple Steeler-centric books to review. Since there is a lull in regular season action, I thought I’d share my thoughts on them this week. First up, we have From Black To Gold by Tim Gleason.
Tim, who writes under the name “maryrose” for the Behind The Steel Curtain website, pitched the book to me as written by a fan for the fan. Being a curmudgeon, I was highly skeptical. But I can honestly say that is a perfect description for this book. Please don’t take that as my saying it’s written in an amateurish way; the writing is quite good. What I’m saying is the book being “from a fan’s perspective” gives it a unique tone quite unlike any other Steeler book out there (and I’ve read them all).
Let me try to explain. When a sportswriter writes about a game or a player, many times they were either too young to see them first hand or *gasp* grew up in another city following another team. They’re writing based on interviews or newspaper clippings. That’s fine but it sometimes misses the finer details. Let’s take last Sunday’s game for example. A sportswriter’s account might say, “Ike Taylor made an interception.” But only a fan would write something like “Holy Crap! Ike actually came down with a pick!” because only close followers of the team would be aware of Ike’s reputation for having the worst hands in football and then make a joke based on his stone-handedness.
Gleason’s book is full of little details that only a fan would remember. Although instead of things from recent years, his memories primarily deal with the Steelers of the 60s and 70s. I was extremely impressed with his detailed recollections of specific plays from forty years ago that only those who experienced them first hand would remember. He even got to stand on the field during Super Bowl X! Between that, having lunch with the great Johnny Unitas, and attending Kent State when they had a linebacker by the name of Jack Lambert, his story unfolds as almost like the Forrest Gump of Steeler Nation.
I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t point out some constructive criticism. My only real problem with this book is the near 300 page count seems a bit padded at times. Most notably is the chapter devoted to the helmet you see pictured above. It’s been signed by 33 all-time great Steelers. Gleason promises to recount the stories behind the signature but this amounts to a short paragraph biography on each player and a “story” which usually amounts to not much more than, “I went to a card show.”
Anyway, that’s just one chapter which amounts to only about 25 pages of the book so it’s by no means a deal-breaker. Tim identifies a lot of Steeler history with his personal experiences (watching his first Steelers game with his dad, Rocky Bleier serving in Vietnam just like his brother, etc) which gives the narrative a very personal quality missing from other books. But don’t let the fact he’s not a reporter lead you to believe he just wrote this from memory. He conducted several interviews (primarily with Art Rooney, Jr and Rocky Bleier) and even tracked down the oldest living original Pittsburgh Steeler, Ray Kemp.
If you’re a youngster interested in Steelers history or an old-timer wishing to relieve some memories from days gone by, I highly recommend From Black To Gold to any member of Steeler Nation interested in the story of their team told from a perspective you don’t often get: that of one of their own.