The Ones Who Hit the Hardest by Chad Millman & Shawn Coyne

Cover of "The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: T...
Cover via Amazon

The sting is beginning to wear off from the heartbreaking Super Bowl loss of my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers – but that game is likely to haunt Steeler fans for a while.

Continuing my attempt at topical or themed reading, I decided to read an appropriate book in the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl XLV.

And one that was in the TBR pile fit perfectly: The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, the Cowboys, the ’70s, and the Fight for America’s Soul.

Steeler fans, those intersted in the history of the NFL and those with a connection to Pittsburgh will want to check this one out.

While at times the differing threads sit awkwardly together, and it is certainly a Steeler focused perspective, but I found it be an engaging and interesting read.

This was a perfect book to read during Super Bowl week. As the title indicates, the book weaves in threads of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and the history of the industrial labor movement to capture the NFL in the ’70s.

For me the three threads varied in interest. Not surprisingly, I found the history of the Steelers absolutely fascinating. The authors do a great job revealing exactly how the Steelers ended up building the incredible dynasty of the 70’s by following Chuck Noll‘s careful plan (build through the draft, mold new players to the system, etc.). They also offer insights into the lives and personalities of the players and their relationship with each other and coach Noll.

It was interesting to learn about the background and personalities of Hall of Fame players like Mean Joe Green, Jack Lambert, Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris. It was also interesting to read about how all these larger than life personalities came together – or didn’t at times – to play as a team.

You learn how Noll basically let Greene do what he wanted since he inspired and motivated the entire defense (not to mention struck fear into opponents). But when it came to the offensive side of the ball Noll struggled to trust Bradshaw and frequently lost his temper with the young QB. It really wasn’t until they won their first Super Bowl that Bradshaw had the confidence he needed.

While the labor history sections were interesting at times, and they provided a better understanding of the city of Pittsburgh and Steeler fans, it didn’t always seem to be going anywhere. At the end you felt like you knew more but were less clear how it all related.

The Cowboys section was equally interesting in terms of owners, players and coaches – the personalities and histories – but it just wasn’t as well developed and flushed out as the sections on the Steelers. The Cowboys were obviously a rival for the Steelers and they reflected a totally different mindset and culture so it makes sense to contrast the two teams and the authors succeed in highlighting the contrasting styles and teams. But it is clearly a Steeler focused book – which is fine with me but worth noting.

This is one of those books where the whole almost seems more than the parts. Not every section works, and all the threads are not neatly wrapped up by the end, but the stories along the way are so interesting that you don’t mind.

In the end what you get is a snapshot history of the NFL in the 1970s through the lens of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys with the labor movement of the steel mills as a background. For Steeler fans I think this is a must read – although those with a strong knowledge of the team in the 70s might already be aware of much of the history.

Anyone interested in the NFL or sports history, however, would find this a fascinating read.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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