Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book Review: The Ones Who Hit the Hardest

Chad Millman and Shawn Coyne's The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, the Cowboys, the '70s, and the Fight for America's Soul is perhaps the least satisfying book I've reviewed on here to date. That's not to say it's the worst book on the list, because it's not, but a book actually on the 1970's Steelers, the 1970's Cowboys, their rivalry, and in the broader context of the U.S. in the 1970's could have been a very interesting book.

Rather, we get about 175 pages on the Steelers of the 1970's, 50 pages on the Cowboys of the 1970's, and 50 pages on the United Steelworkers Association's history of the 1970's, focusing on the election of 1976. I may have thought Perfect Rivals was slanted toward Notre Dame, but Carroll tried to write a book that treated both schools fairly. Coyne and Millman, by contrast, make no such pretense; despite the subtitle, this is book about the Steelers of the 1970's with other stuff thrown in, apparently because people are incapable of reading more than 20 or so pages about the Steelers at a time without digressing into another topic.

The USWA portions are particularly disappointing; they had some interesting challenges, and there can be a real and valid debate as to the extent to which a union can and should cooperate with and challenge the main employer(s). In fact we've seen this debate in the NFLPA, with Gene Upshaw criticized by some sources for being too cooperative with the NFL and Paul Tagliabue. De Smith, at least in rhetoric, has cut a very different image, but how much of that is the uncertain labor situation and how much truly is a different attitude is another question. The problem is, aside from the USWA being headquartered in Pittsburgh, its story is completely separate from the Steelers, the Cowboys, and their rivalry to be the NFL's team of the 1970's.

There's just enough material on the Cowboys to be slightly interesting, at least if you don't really know that much. Given the Cowboys' second banana status in the book, it's probably not too surprising to see much of the Cowboys content focused on Duane Thomas, his impact as a rookie, and then his squabbles with The Powers That Be in Landry and Schramm, plus native western Pennsylvanian (and son of a steelworker) Tony Dorsett.

Even the Steelers portions of the books aren't fully satisfying. The worst crime is the end; the book abruptly ends after the Steelers' third Super Bowl championship in Super Bowl XIII over the Cowboys, and completely ignores that they won Super Bowl XIV the next season. Other facts that don't fit conveniently in the narrative, like the 1977 season, are covered in little detail or elided over in one manner or another. It's a pretty well-told story, but a disappointingly incomplete one.

I'm not sure I regret reading The Ones Who Hit the Hardest, but I am glad that I didn't spend money acquiring it and doubt anybody other than fans of the Steelers of the 1970's will find it any more satisfying than I did. Not generally recommended.


Jon said...

Thanks for the reviews. To my knowledge, you are the only decent source of football book reviews online.

I live in central Connecticut and the Steelers have some fans here. I knew one family who moved from Pittsburgh in the late 70s and they brought their fandom with them. I suspect there story is not atypical and this is a partial explanation for why the Steelers' appeal extends beyond western Pennsylvania.

Scott Schmith said...

I'd like to second the disappointment: The authors set out trying to portray the rivalry as 'blue collar, working class team' vs. 'arrogant, entitled superstars'. Although The Steelers were painted pretty well as the scrappy underdogs, so little attention was paid to The Cowboys that the theme seemed to just fade away. This book seems like it was rushed out, so Dallas (and oil-rich Texas) was never adequately developed as a meaningful foil to the scrappy heroes of the book.