Thirtieth Anniversary Edition
Any number of writers could spend an entire season with an NFL team, from the first day of training camp until the last pick of the draft, and come up with an interesting book. But only Roy Blount Jr. could capture the pain, the joy, the fears, the humor—in short, the heart—of a championship team.
In 1973, the Pittsburgh Steelers were super, but missed the bowl. Blount’s portrait of a team poised to dominate the NFL for more than a decade recounts the gridiron accomplishments and off-the-field lives of players, coaches, wives, fans, and owners. About Three Bricks Shy . . . is considered a classic; Sports Illustrated recently named it one of the Top 100 Sports Books of All Time. This thirtieth-anniversary edition includes additional chapters on the Steelers’ Super Bowl wins, written for the 1989 paperback, as well as a new introduction by the author.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
ABOUT THREE BRICKS SHY
ABOUT THE TITLE
I got all my stuff together one time, and then I couldn’t lift it.
Pro football players are adults who fly through the air in plastic hats and smash each other for a living. I now know a bunch of them, and I think they are good folks. They are made up, loosely speaking, of rickety knees, indoctrination, upward mobility, pain tolerance, public fantasies, meanness, high spirits, brightly colored uniforms, fear, techniques, love of games, Nutrament (a diet supplement used, sometimes with steroid drugs, for “bulking up”), corporate kinesthesia, God-given quickness, and heart. Sober, one of them told me, “What it boils down to is, sacrifice your body with a picture in your mind.” Drinking, one of them told me, “When I’m on the football field I’m a knight in shining armor. When I’m selling insurance I’m just an asshole.” Stoned, one of them told me, “You can be hit so hard it burns.” High on the game he had just played, one of them told me, “There was no other world outside it. There was nothing.”
But there was a rich penumbra. I recall the afternoon of November 11, 1973. The Pittsburgh Steelers were beating the Oakland Raiders, 17–9, in a tempestuous game, in Oakland, on national TV. It was drizzling rain, great hunks of ill-rooted sod were flying through the air, sea gulls were frenetic overhead, Oakland fans were roaring and pulsing ambiguously … it was like standing in the eye of a tumbler washing machine, only noise and throat-figures all around instead of soapsuds and clothes. Steelers were running off the field with snot on their moustaches and glee and strain and grass blades in their eyes, and Craig Hanneman, a reserve defensive end from Oregon with whom I had often chewed snuff, turned to me on the mushy sidelines and cried:
“You picked the right team! Oh, a great bunch of guys! And a bunch of crazy fuckers! I’m crazy too! We’re all about three bricks shy of a load!” Hanneman’s last sentence—as an expression of wild approval, which I shared, tinged with then-unintended undertones of fallibility, which I tried to register as the year went on—summed up my six months with the Pittsburgh National Football League team better than anything else.
I spent the 1973 NFL campaign, from the first day of training camp in July through the draft in January, loafing with (to use the old Pittsburgh term for hanging around with) a rich mixture of Steeler or Steeler-related persons: players, coaches, scouts, fans, wives, girl friends, relatives, media people, front office people, hangers-on and prospects. I fooled around the periphery of practice, habituated the dressing room, experienced games from the bench, and followed people home. I helped Mean Joe Greene, the tackle, buy his wife a birthday card; lost 11–10 in electronic Ping-Pong to Franco Harris, the running back; heard Terry Bradshaw, the quarterback, sing his own songs and speak of welding; considered stereo buys with Frenchy Fuqua, the running back; chatted up nurses with Moon Mullins, the tackle-guard; played the horses with Art Rooney, the patriarch; and listened to Center Ray Mansfield’s little girl play “Faith of Our Fathers” on the clarinet. I talked labor-management with vice-president Dan Rooney (management) and player rep Andy Russell (labor, but he sells tax shelters). I threw my arm out returning Kicker Roy Gerela’s field goals to him in the cold; elicited catcalls from Palm Springs residents by dropping (in street shoes) eight end zone passes from Quarterback Terry Hanratty; and sprained my ankle and had it taped up with a vengeance by trainer Ralph Berlin. I reminisced fleetingly about candy bars with head coach Chuck Noll, met a man who steals phonograph records for a living (can’t give his name), saw tackle Jon Kolb’s goat, and was helped up off the floor by Bill Nunn, the scout, at 3 o’clock in the morning in a black after-hours club in Jackson, Mississippi. I gained some thirteen pounds of Steeler-related beer and perhaps an ounce or two (from pushing on the leg-weight machine while talking to people with knee injuries) of Steeler-related sinew. I shared linebacker Jack Ham’s shampoo, interviewed at her insistence Mrs. Bruce (guard) Van Dyke’s obstetrician, and heard the word “collision” used as a transitive verb. I hardly ever did anything I wanted to do.
By just sort of drifting around, and not having any readily discernible immediate objective, I became more intimate than a press person, more detached than a football person, and possessed of a certain amount of gossip from all angles. As the bricks in the load shifted, I acquired interstitial inklings of how players, coaches, scouts, fans, press and front office people fit together and how they viewed each other. (Generally, as necessary evils.)
On the one hand the Steelers in ’73 didn’t make the Super Bowl, or even, as they had the year before, win a playoff game by a miracle; on the other hand none of them was caught up by tragedy—though two of the coaches were fired, two of the marriages broke up, and Mansfield, the veteran center known as the Old Ranger, did once offer, if it would help my narrative, to die of a pinched nerve. The Steelers won ten of their fourteen regular-season games and made the playoffs, but they were proved not to be as inevitable as they and their supporters thought they were. The previous year was the year the franchise lost its maiden, winning its first title, but ’73 was a year that innocence was lost. I never had a headier year in my life, though, than I did checking out the various feels and levels of the Pittsburgh load of bricks.
I doubt that Chuck Noll—a constrainedly low-keyed man and reputed gourmet cook who speaks in terms of programming, preparation, adulthood and “good experiences”—would like to think of his team as being three bricks shy of a load, which is comparable to playing with less than a full deck. But what deck that is worth anything can ever be said to be full, and what is so boring as a complete, neatly squared away load of bricks? “We don’t have the peaks and valleys,” said a member of the NFL champion Miami Dolphins; neither do expressways through Kansas. The great thing in sports and nature is the way bricks slip and reassemble in unexpected combinations. That, for all the coaches’ planning, is how the Steelers won games and lost them. The Steelers and the people around them were a great miscellany of minds, bodies, backgrounds and visions of reality, held firmly but hazardously together by the goal of winning all the marbles. In ’73 they won only a good share of them—like most enterprises they fell short at the end, and heads rolled and players felt bleak and the fans in Pittsburgh very nearly started saying “The Same Old Steelers” again. But the Steelers’ mix was more than their aim.
I want to thank the Rooneys, Noll, engagingly upfront publicists Ed Kiely and Joe Gordon, and everybody else in the Steeler organization for the access and help—not to mention the almost unlimited Vitamin-E-and-wheat-germ pills and cigars—they afforded me, and Andre Laguerre, Roy Terrell, Ray Cave, Gil Rogin, and Tex Maule of Sports Illustrated for their guidance and sponsorship; and the men in Black and Gold—Hanneman, just for instance, for the title and the snuff.
Table of ContentsContents Introduction Introduction to the 1989 Edition One - About Three Bricks Shy 1. About the Title 2. A Little Background 3. Why Pittsburgh 4. Names 5. First Dip into the Scene 6. Training Camp 7. Moosie and the Old Ranger 8. Contact 9. The Exhibition Season 10. Noll 11. Beating the Lions, the Browns and the Oilers 12. The Premises 13. Steelers Away From Work 14. Good-bye, Johnny U. 15. Fandom 16. The Bengals, the Jets and the Bengals 17. Terry and Terry and Joe 18. The Chief and Family 19. Burning Out the Redskins 20. Race 21. Mad Dog 22. Oakland and Denver 23. The Body 24. Scouting 25. Loosing Two Barely 26. Franco, Frenchy and Preston: Dancing and Blowing 27. Mean Joe 28. Money, and Supe 29. Hands 30. The Playov Two - . . . and the Load Filled up 1. Super Bowl, 1975: "You're a Part of All This" 2. Super Bowl, 1975, P. S. 3. Joe Greene: "He Does What He Wants Out There" 4. Ray Mansfield: How to Raise Your Boy to Play Pro Ball 5. Super Bowl, 1976: "You Can't Cover It" 6. Super Bowl, 1976, P. S. 7. The Short, Happy Life of Joe Gilliam 8. Holding Out with Blount 9. Swann's Way 10. Super Bowl, 1979: Spots and Water and Rock 11. Super Bowl, 1980: Still Can't Cover It 12. Dwight White: Mad Dog Retired 13. "Franco Thinks Out Everything" 14. Blount in Georgia
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GO STEELERS!!! BIG BEN IS THE BOMB!!!!! YEE HAW!!!!