Wow, what a whirlwind the past few days have been in Steeler Nation. No need for me to rehash it for you, though it is worth noting that news broke late Monday that a Pittsburgh judge has dismissed the disorderly conduct charges previously held against Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Jeff Reed. The usually reliable kicker who moonlights as a nudist is off the hook this time, but considering the dark cloud resting squarely above the proud franchise, I'd advise Reed to be careful and avoid any sort of trouble if he has any desire to continue his career in Pittsburgh beyond the 2010 season.
As if writing about all the latest developments and conversing with you all throughout the day wasn't enough, I also got a real nice surprise in my inbox this morning. A note from Chad Millman, a senior deputy editor of ESPN The Magazine and the man behind the witty, informative, and conversational 'Behind The Bets' blog on ESPN.com. You may be familiar with his name if you ever listen to Bill Simmons' 'B.S. Report Podcast'. Simmons likes to wager on sports and his go to guy for a good long talk is Mr. Millman.
Anyway, Millman has a book coming out in September that Steelers fans will be interested in reading. The book is co-authored by Shawn Coyne, a Pittsburgh native now enjoying the freedom to be a choosy and particular literary agent following his tremendously successful career in the publishing industry.
Sounds intriguing! But let's take a step back and note that sports books like that often leave the reader a bit unsatisfied. There's typically lots of ground covered in only 200 or 300 pages (sports fans can't read more than that!!), and though I'm over generalizing here, they're often written by the same cast of characters that seem to pump out a book every 18 months or so. Many of these writers are naturally gifted story tellers, but in my humble opinion, their acumen to observe and notice the most intriguing details of a story is often compromised by an adherence to a predictable narrative - rise to fame, fall from grace, an on-going quest for personal redemption (both on and off the playing field).
Millman and Coyne? The real deal. And no, I'm getting noting out of this. In fact, I get plenty of similar requests to promote this or that. I usually decline politely. But I was instantly impressed and captivated by Millman when I heard him several times recently on Simmons' podcast. Sharp as a whip, super well connected, a prescient and cogent analyst of both sports and the public's endlessly dynamic perception of the sporting landscape, and finally, a seemingly cool dude that would be fun to watch a game or cruise the strip in Vegas with. Needless to say, I was thrilled to hear from him and his project.
As for Coyne, I'll try to wrap up the gushing, but his name rings out amongst the upper crust of the publishing world. He too is smart - magna cum laude from Harvard smart - but that's not as important to this project as is the fact that he's a Pittsburgh native and the son of a music teacher and a long standing and well respected union leader of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Pittsburgh. Salt of the earth, smart as hell, and all the contacts in the world at this stage in his life - not a bad combination for telling a great story.
Anyway, rumor has it that BTSC's own mary rose has a book about the Steelers coming out sometime this summer. It's been endorsed by Art Rooney Jr. by virtue of the forward he agreed to write in it. I can't wait for that, and neither should you. I'll also be putting together the preseason publication once again. And now, throw this gem into the mix come September and you've got yourself two books that will surely be outstanding reads and my not quite as impressive annual that should at least get you psyched for the return of football come September.
What follows is choice excerpts of the book that were recently shared on ESPN.com. It's worth reading what they've decided to share in its entirety, but I've just selected several paragraphs I found fascinating.
Way back in the spring of 1973, a couple of days before St. Patrick's Day, Dan Rooney was sitting in his office at Three Rivers Stadium. It was after five. Most of the people on the Steelers' staff had gone home. His phone rang, his private line, and when he picked it up he heard his wife. She sounded anxious, troubled. "Ernie Holmes just called me," she told him. "He's in trouble. You better call him right away."
In March 1973 Holmes was in Texas when he and his wife separated. He worried he'd never see his kids again. He was overextended financially -- "I was the successful one in my family and helped people out," he told a reporter back then -- and knew he was facing an expensive divorce. He needed money, and he'd asked Rooney to help him. Without promising anything, Rooney told him to come see him in Pittsburgh, that he'd help him work it out.That night, Holmes jumped into his car and raced through the night and the next day to Pittsburgh, without sleeping. He arrived after the Steelers offices had closed, so he kept driving, onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike until it became the Ohio Turnpike. He was distraught and tired and battling demons in his head, real and imagined. At the scene of an accident he stopped and told a police officer that trucks were trying to cut him off. But the cop ignored him. Back in his car, Holmes grew more paranoid as traffic built up around him, blocking his car. He pressed on the brake, he pressed on the gas, lurching forward ever so slightly.
He was convinced the trucks were after him. He pulled a shotgun from the floor and started shooting at the tires of passing trucks. He stuck his shotgun out the window, already blasted open by his own bullets, and kept shooting. The state police were on his tail now, chasing him at ninety miles an hour. He veered off the main road, blew out a tire, and jumped out of his car, running into a nearby forest. He carried his shotgun with him.
A police helicopter swirled overhead and Holmes, surrounded by state police, began shooting at it, hitting an officer in the ankle. Moments later, surrounded and exhausted, he was finally in cuffs. Said one officer afterward: "We could have killed him a dozen times."
"That night in jail, Holmes called Dan Rooney. "We'll do everything we can for you," Rooney told him. "Try not to worry." It was a Saturday. Holmes would be in jail for the weekend, until a judge could hear his case and consider bail. He slept with a stick by his side, unaware that he was the biggest man in the cell.He went all out on every play, in practice and in games, blindly attacking -- every snap he didn't win was a threat to his livelihood. But the ferocity with which he played came from a deeper well than where most players find personal motivation. Something seethed inside him. "I don't know what my life is," he once told Time magazine, "except there's something pounding in the back of my head."
Occasionally he'd stop by Dan Rooney's office to talk, worried that people were out to get him. During practices veteran Steelers offensive linemen had to ask him to slow down so they didn't get hurt. Holmes played low, and used his helmet like a ram's horns, butting opponents under the chin to knock them off balance and, literally, make their head spin. "He had a look that was really scary," says former Steelers safety Mike Wagner. "I think he wanted to beat people to death -- within the rules of the game."
But this is how he lived, all the time, at the extreme edges. Once, at a party in a restaurant hosted by defensive line coach George Perles, the Steelers entered a back room to find a gluttonous spread: A full roasted pig, piles of pasta, roast beef. They attacked the food at first, pouring it down their throats, before they finally slowed down, everyone settling into chairs with full bellies and heavy breaths. Terry Hanratty, the backup quarterback, walked in at that moment. "And there is Ernie Holmes almost contented," Hanratty says. "Then he looks at the pig's head, throws it down, cracks it, and starts eating the brains."
To reiterate, I chopped up the excerpts so as not to just include the whole things, so take a moment to read it in its entirety and with its proper flow. There's other anecdotes well worth checking out.
This is going to be a treat for Steelers fans, Cowboys fans, nostalgic fans who yearn for the blood baths that transpired more regularly (and without interruption from NFL headquarters) back in the day, and for us younger fans that can't seem to satiate our appetite for the history of the NFL and the players that helped pioneer America's true national past time.
Looks like the preseason annual and the highly anticipated comprehensive history of the Steelers from MR will be off the press first, but come September - when we're all collectively patting ourselves on the back for making it through another offseason - we'll have 'The Ones Who Hit The Hardest: The Steelers, the Cowboys, the '70s and the Fight for America's Soul' to enjoy. And hopefully sometime before then, we'll see if Millman or Coyne will join us on the site to answer whatever questions you all may have.