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12 things I learned about pro football history

I thought I knew a lot about pro football but "The Ones Who Hit the Hardest" was full of surprises.

By Ross Atkin / December 3, 2010

The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, the Cowboys, the '70s, and the Fight for America's Soul By Chad Millman and Shawn Coyne Penguin 336 pp., $26


In the 21st century, why would anyone want to write a book about a pro football rivalry from the 1970s? The answer is woven throughout The Ones Who Hit the Hardest, which gets more to the point with its subtitle: “The Steelers, the Cowboys, the ‘70s, and the Fight for America’s Soul.” Coauthors Chad Millman and Shawn Coyne tell the story of these colorful, influential, and distinctively different franchises as they vie for superiority during the first full decade in Super Bowl history.

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The book’s climactic, final chapter recounts their clash at Super Bowl XIII on Jan. 21, 1979, when the Steelers won 35-31, in a game this writer witnessed from the auxiliary press-seating area of Miami’s Orange Bowl.

Here are 12 things I learned from this book:

1. After a miserable 1-13 record in 1969, the Steelers wanted to hire Penn State’s Joe Paterno to coach the team but he wasn’t interested. Instead, they turned to little-known Chuck Noll, an assistant coach with the Colts and the team’s defensive mastermind. Ironically, Noll was hired after the Colts lost to Joe Namath’s New York Jets in a huge upset in Super Bowl III.

2. Tex Schramm, the president and general manager of the Cowboys, got the idea for using a computer to organize scouting information about players after seeing how effectively IBM was able to tabulate data at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif. In a technological breakthrough for football, the Cowboys had software developed that they first used during the 1964 draft, when Dallas selected three future Hall of Famers: Roger Staubach, Mel Renfro, and Bob Hayes.

3. Rookie quarterback Terry Bradshaw was supposed to be the Steelers’ savior, but in his first home game in Three Rivers Stadium, he played so poorly (4 of 16 with one interception against Houston) that he was booed, pulled from the game, and cried in his car afterward. For the season, he threw four times as many interceptions as touchdown passes.

4. The Cowboys transformed their image in a number of ways, partly by moving their offices into a fancy, upscale tower and also by uniform changes designed to project a classy, modern look. Silvery helmets and pants replaced white ones, but the home jerseys, in a departure from the league norm, were white, which projected a certain good-guy quality.

5. Dallas running back Walt Garrison, when asked if he’d ever seen stoic head coach Tom Landry, who filmed every practice to check for mistakes, smiled and replied, “Nope. But I’ve only been here nine years.”


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