If there's one constant about the older generations, it's that they love to tell the younger generations about how much better things were in their time, back when people didn't swear, storks delivered babies and married couples slept in separate beds.
As it pertains to football players of years gone by, they, of course, never got in trouble, never got arrested and were always nice and congenial to their fans.
Obviously, nothing in those first two paragraphs is accurate because I was describing an idealized vision of the past--everything was always much better "back then."
It's no secret the NFL has come under fire in recent years for the "alarming" trouble its players have been getting into, especially domestic violence, murder, drugs and even child abuse in the case of star running back Adrian Peterson. It's always disturbing to turn to the sports section and read about such things. But it's equally troubling to turn to the local or national news section and read about the exact same kinds of things from ordinary, average citizens.
The arguments will always persist between older fans and younger fans about how good things were in the past. But when you actually read about the behavior of players decades ago, like I am right now thanks to the book Immaculate Reflections, written by Jim O'Brien, a sports reporter, writer, author and Pittsburgh sports historian, it kind of validates what I probably already knew--behavior by NFL players was never ideal, no matter what my elders may have told me.
O'Brien rubbed elbows (and bent a few at local bars) with many Steelers legends over the years, including broadcaster Myron Cope, quarterback Bobby Layne and defensive lineman Ernie Stautner, and he witnessed these people and many other legends at their best and very often at their absolute worst.
For example, in the book, he describes Ed Brown, a quarterback for the Steelers in the early-to-mid 60s, as an "exhibitionist and was caught a few times exposing himself in hotel windows."
He talks about Bubby Brister, who quarterbacked the team in the 80s and early 90s and how he upset the Rooneys when they'd hear reports about him "fooling around with female fans in the parking lot at Station Square."
Ben Roethlisberger had to do some major rehabbing of his image, following the accusations of sexual assault and his nightlife behavior that eventually led to his four-game suspension to start the 2010 season. But the way O'Brien talks about the legendary Bobby Layne, who played in Pittsburgh from 1958-1962, it's hard to imagine the Hall of Fame quarterback even lasting a second in today's NFL.
O'Brien describes Layne as "brassy, brusque and disarming." Layne's reputation as a womanizer and huge drinker who liked to party Saturday night, mere hours before kick-off Sunday afternoon, is well-known. But when people talk of his ways--including he and Cope getting out of a DUI or two in their day because they were friends with the local police--their reflections are often accompanied by a chuckle.
Today, Johnny Manziel, a 22 year old quarterback for the Browns, who was known for his partying ways in college and continued them in Cleveland during his rookie season in 2014, has decided to enter rehab because his behavior is seen as a detriment to his career and to his team.
Back in Layne's day, when he was frequenting Pittsburgh's night spots, such as the famous Dante's restaurant in the South Hills that was a popular haunt for Steelers players and sports writers back in the 60s, according to O'Brien, all he needed was Stautner by his side to act as a bodyguard and keep trouble at bay.
O'Brien's candor regarding former Steelers such as Layne and Stautner is rather refreshing, as he tells his often first-hand accounts about the behavior of players in the "good old days."
I've often heard people defend the actions of the players of earlier generations by saying it was a different time and less was at stake. Really? Maybe the NFL wasn't as popular as it is today, and obviously the money wasn't the same. But compared to the rest of society, the stars did pretty well for themselves, and a lot of them were local and national celebrities who were idolized and worshiped by both kids and adults.
I realize we're living in a much more enlightened society than the one that existed in the days of Dante's restaurant, but a person isn't just born with enlightenment--it's not written in our DNA--young people and professional athletes must deal with the same maturity issues as folks did decades ago, and sometimes it takes many years to "get it."
I'll leave you with a quote from Randy Grossman, a former Steelers tight end who was part of the four Super Bowl teams of the 1970s:
"Anyone who thinks the Steelers behaved better in those days than they do now is losing it. People make the good old days out to be better than they really were."