Undercover: 'Their Life's Work: The Brotherhood of the 1970s Steelers, Then & Now'

“Their Life’s Work …” is a necessary read for anyone with an interest in the Steelers and professional football.



Watching the Pittsburgh Steelers this season has been an exercise in frustration. Injury after injury after injury. And that was just the first game! Is the team in a period of decline or one of rebuilding? Depending on the game you’re watching, it could be either.

It makes this writer long for the days of the legendary Steel Curtain. My earliest Steelers memories are of watching Mean Joe Greene smash through opposing linemen and, after the whistle blew, seeing Greene continue to stomp on his enemies. Will we ever see the likes of that team again? Listen to the music of the names — Jack Lambert, Frenchy Fuqua, John Stallworth, Franco Harris, Dwight White, Rocky Bleier, Ernie Holmes. That’s not a team; that’s more like Mount Rushmore. But as time continues to creep in its petty pace, the men who once looked as unbreakable as the steel for which they were named must succumb to age.

Chuck Noll, Steelers head coach from 1969-1992, had many sayings in the locker room. One that stuck over the years, which he often used when he felt the men were not playing up to their potential, was “your life’s work.” As Gary M. Pomerantz succinctly puts it in his excellent new book, “Noll was saying there would come a time, even for future Hall of Famers, when the game would end and the rest of their lives would begin. What will you do then?” “Their Life’s Work: The Brotherhood of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, Then and Now” is the story of what happened next for these legends.

First Pomerantz provides the team’s history. Starting with The Chief and his acquisition of the squad in 1933, Pomerantz briefly takes the reader on a tour through the years of losing seasons until Noll’s 1969 arrival and the bedrock of the team’s wonder years. Pomerantz, once a sportswriter for “The Washington Post,” composes his prose in an unadorned, punchy style that fits the subject at hand. His coverage of the Super Bowl years — four championships in six seasons between 1974 and 1979 — puts the reader on the field and in the locker room.

While not quite the fly-on-the-wall team coverage outlined in Roy Blount Jr.’s seminal “About Three Bricks Shy of a Load,” Pomerantz’s book is every bit as essential — perhaps even more so because he takes us with team members after they walked away from football. It’s here that Pomerantz distinguishes himself.

For each success story examined, including John Stallworth’s multimillion-dollar contracting company and Franco Harris’ tireless charity work, there are also tragedies. The heart of the book, much like that of the team in its glory days, is Mike Webster. The indefatigable center was an unmovable rock on the field; however, once his football career ended, rootlessness and confusion took over his life because he suffered from a neurodegenerative brain disease after years of head-on collisions.

“Their Life’s Work …” is a necessary read for anyone with an interest in the Steelers and professional football. There are a great many pleasures to be had in the company of these men — in the tales of their youth and now in their later years. What may surprise you, as it did me, is just how moving the story of the 1970s Steelers remains.


Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Your 10 best bets for this month.
Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Peers, players, and regular observers know him to be one of the best coaches — and people — in college basketball.
15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

From east to west — and north and south — these are the region’s salons and services that make our cut. Having a good hair day doesn’t have to be so difficult after all.
Home of the Year: 2015

Home of the Year: 2015

This year’s selections include a Richland Township house built to appreciate its 160-acre lot and Shadyside garage that was renovated into a stunning, modern dream home.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

14 Life-Changing Home Products for 2015

14 Life-Changing Home Products for 2015

Home expert Boyce Thompson previews this year's Duquesne Light Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show and speculates on which products will become fully integrated into our homes soon.
How Big a Salary Do You Need to Own a Home In Pittsburgh?

How Big a Salary Do You Need to Own a Home In Pittsburgh?

Pittsburgh tops nationwide list for home affordability.
Why the Browns Could Take a Few Social Media Tips from the Penguins

Why the Browns Could Take a Few Social Media Tips from the Penguins

It seems the 'Burgh's boys of winter are popping up everywhere on the Internet.
Table for 36, Please: Penguins Invade D.C. Restaurant

Table for 36, Please: Penguins Invade D.C. Restaurant

One item on the menu got a lot of attention.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in March

Your 10 best bets for this month.
Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Jamie Dixon: Winning His Way

Peers, players, and regular observers know him to be one of the best coaches — and people — in college basketball.
15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

15 Buzzworthy Pittsburgh Salons

From east to west — and north and south — these are the region’s salons and services that make our cut. Having a good hair day doesn’t have to be so difficult after all.
Home of the Year: 2015

Home of the Year: 2015

This year’s selections include a Richland Township house built to appreciate its 160-acre lot and Shadyside garage that was renovated into a stunning, modern dream home.
Preserving August Wilson's Voice

Preserving August Wilson's Voice

Todd Kreidler, who helped to conceive the Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright’s final written work, returns to Pittsburgh to direct that play, continuing his mission to keep the master’s words alive.
Review: Tender Bar + Kitchen

Review: Tender Bar + Kitchen

Lawrenceville hot spot Tender, once favored primarily for its libations, now is known as well for its culinary offerings.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module