About Three Bricks Shy… And the Load Filled Up
by Roy Blount, Jr.
Original Copyright 1974; Other Material Added Through 1989
Rating – 6.5/10
Summary – Three Bricks is a good look at one of the NFL’s most-memorable teams, the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers. But – given the book’s acclaim – it also has a surprising number of drawbacks.
Review – Way back in 1978 and 1979, I first started to watch pro football. I wasn’t quite ten years old then, and my Dad and I would watch the games as he explained some of the finer points to me. On one issue there could be no doubt – the Pittsburgh Steelers were the team. In those two seasons, they won their 3rd and 4th Super Bowls. As I got older, I learned more about football, but I don’t think that the game ever seemed quite as amazing.
In 1973 – just before the Steelers won their first championship – writer Roy Blount, Jr. spent six months following the team from training camp through the playoffs. The resulting book – About Three Bricks Shy of Load – came out in late-1974. About Three Bricks Shy… And the Load Filled Up includes the original text, with updates on the Steelers after the original book’s publication.
To me, the main attraction of Three Bricks was its inclusion as #29 on Sports Illustrated’s list of the Top 100 Sports Books of All Time (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/si_online/features/2002/top_sports_books/1/). I enjoyed Three Bricks, but I was mildly disappointed, given my high expectations. The book is good, but I expected it to be better.
To be sure, Blount does a lot of things very well. He has a flair for “capturing” the people around The Steelers. Readers come away from Three Bricks with the feeling that they know Steelers stars such as Terry Bradshaw, “Mean” Joe Greene, and Ernie “Fats” Holmes. Blount seems particularly interested in center Ray Mansfield and defensive back Mel Blount, and readers learn a lot about these two men and how they came to play professional football. Also, Blount became close with a number of “lesser,” largely-forgotten players, such as tough-guy defensive back John Rowser and snuff-dipping defensive lineman Craig Hanneman. (It is a quote from Hanneman, by the way, that provides the book’s title).
Another great aspect of the book is how well Blount “captures” both Pittsburgh and one of its leading families – the Rooneys , who own the Steelers. Blount offers a benevolent picture of the Rooneys as fun-loving, “everyday people” who happen to have a lot of money and own a football team. (Blount says that he tried to find a dark side of the family, but couldn’t). The book also provides a vivid picture of Pittsburgh as a smokestack-filled, “City of Broad Shoulders,” that plays into outsiders’ preconceived impressions. For instance –
“People – including a good many in Pittsburgh – tend to look upon Pittsburgh as a Loser town. Perhaps it is the ‘Pitts’ in the name, suggesting depression. Perhaps it is the immigrant millworker image of the population. Perhaps it is the fact that Pittsburgh has never been westerly enough to imply frontiersman, easterly enough to imply sophisticates, or middle enough to imply stolid prosperity. Perhaps it is the the fact that the Steelers went forty years without a championship of any kind. Perhaps it is the soot.” (page 13). (I wonder if Pittsburgh’s natives would agree with Blount’s impressions).
As I’ve said, I like Three Bricks, but I’m not crazy about it. One problem is that Blount goes off on several dull tangents that break the book’s momentum. In one, he spends several pages discussing nicknames that he would like to give each Steeler; in another (pages 169-171), he suggests rule changes that he thinks would improve football. For instance, Blount suggests that defensive lineman should not be allowed to hit the quarterback, but should instead grab a flag from around his waist to “down” him; he also writes that one member of each team should perform a halftime routine to entertain the fans, with the better performer earning points for his team. Bluntly put, I hated this section.
Another problem that arises on occasion is Blount’s tendency to go off into flowery prose about the joys of football. (It reminds me of George Will writing on baseball). Consider –
“The very idea of a seam between individually patrolled zones implies a highly refined formal arrangement of persons; and it is an idea, moreover, which is not at all without application beyond football. Originality in anything is primarily a matter of finding the seams between zones. The zones were closing in on French painting in the 1890s, and then the Fauves found a seam.” (page 166).
The “new” section that Blount added after Brick’s initial publication is a mixed bag. The material contains several magazine articles that Blount published on the Steelers. I particularly enjoyed Blount’s accounts of his attempts to cover the Steelers’ Super Bowl wins. Unfortunately, this section gives the reader the impression that it was “tacked on” without enough editing. For instance, one chapter details a 1977 holdout by Mel Blount, but – frustratingly – the book contains no information as to how the holdout ended.
Football fans – especially Steelers fans – will enjoy Three Bricks. But the book has some definite drawbacks.