Book Review: The Ones Who Hit the Hardest

When “The Ones Who Hit the Hardest” came out last year in hardback, it was on my must-read list, but somehow I never got around to actually checking it out. The book, written by ESPN editor Chad Millman and Shawn Coyne, took a different approach than most ’70s Steelers books by focusing on the Steelers-Cowboys rivalry while also contrasting that to the life of the steelworkers who lived in and around Pittsburgh.

But now that the book has been printed in paperback, there’s another chance for me, and other readers, to take a look at the most recent addition to the library of ’70s Steelers nostalgia.

Chad Millman is a very good writer, which is apparent throughout the book. But there are times where it feels like Millman’s writing ability is needed because there isn’t much meat to the story. Millman and Coyne interviewed more than 30 players, coaches, front office personnel and others involved with the ’70s Steelers and Cowboys. Unfortunately, apparently most of the players and coaches they interviewed were tapped out when it came to telling interesting new stories.

So you get the story of Joe Greene’s arrival in training camp and his humbling of Ray Mansfield. You also get Greene tossing the football out of the stadium against the Eagles, Jack Lambert picking gravel out of his legs while the Steelers scout him and the normally even-keeled Chuck Noll inspiring his team before the ’74 AFC Championship Game by telling them that the best team in football was sitting in his locker room.

They are all great stories, parts of the canon of the ’70s Steelers, but they also are stories that you likely know by heart if you are a serious Steelers fan. And unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of new surprises to make up for all the stories where you already know the punch line.

It’s not fair to say that it’s not possible to still dig out new gems about the ’70s Steelers–just witness what NFL Films managed to do with its outstanding America’s Game series. The episodes focused on each of the four Steelers’ Super Bowl championship teams from the 1970s managed to both unearth some new stories from the team’s greats like Greene, Terry Bradshaw and Mel Blount. But they also dug through less picked through ground by talking to lesser-know Steelers like Randy Grossman and John Banazak.

It seems that Millman and Coyne tried the same approach, as Cliff Stoudt and other lesser-noticed Steelers were among those interviewed, but time after time, the book quotes from the America’s Game and other NFL Films documentaries. Other Steelers books like Terry Bradshaw, Rocky Bleier and Andy Russell’s biographies are also used as source material.

So when it comes to recommending the book, I’m surprised to say that it depends on the level of your fandom. If you are a current Steelers fan, but one who doesn’t know all that much about the 1970s Steelers, “The Ones Who Hit the Hardest” is a perfect way to understand the original Steel Curtain dynasty. It’s well written and it’s a pretty comprehensive explanation as to how the Steelers were built.

But if you are someone who can recites John Facenda’s narration of John Stallworth’s 75-yard touchdown in Super Bowl XIII by heart (yes, guilty here, “John Stallworth is known as white lightning . . . smooth with a strong finishing kick” is running through my head right now) and deconstructed every utterance in the America’s Game series like a rabbinical scholar studying the Talmud, than it’s hard to say there’s much here you don’t already know.

“The Ones Who Hit the Hardest” will be released in paperback on Aug. 30 for $16. It is published by Gotham Books. A review copy was provided to Steelers Lounge. Steelers Lounge will conduct a random drawing to give away that copy to a Steelers Lounge reader. If you are interested in taking part in the drawing, email JJ Cooper at jj(at)steelerslounge.com (sorry I originally had the wrong address here, thanks to ELSM for pointing out the error).

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