By: Zach Metkler, GZ Sports Report Writer
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Just like the rest of Steelers’ Nation, I have been an avid follower of all things Black & Gold since the moment I was born. Growing up, we came to idolize the players that brought so many victories to the city of Pittsburgh. We thought that we knew everything there was to know about all of our favorite players, coaches, and moments that make the team’s history so rich. But just how much do we REALLY know about them? Let me ask you a few questions.
- Who did Mike Webster tackle into a car on the Pennsylvania Turnpike?
- Who was taken out to dinner at the age of 10 by Art Rooney Sr. and then drafted by him?
- What player did the best impression of Bill Cowher?
- Who had his two dogs chase Troy Polamalu out of his yard and why?
- What Steeler was later blackballed from the NFL?
- Which Steeler was the original target for the play that turned into the “Immaculate Reception”?
- What scares Jack Lambert the most?
- What Steelers’ quarterback consistently talked so fast in the huddle that he was frequently told to calm down by his linemen?
- Who ran out of the Steelers’ dorm yelling “The mongoose is loose!” and why?
- What Steeler knocked Mike Ditka into a goalpost?
- What offensive lineman refused to accept a pass play call because he wanted to get to the bar before closing time?
- What Steeler intercepted Joe Namath three times in one game?
If you were unable to answer these questions, don’t feel alone. Many of these stories and events are all part of the inside view of the NFL that we as fans never get to see. Luckily, we now have the opportunity to read about these stories from the players and coaches themselves about all of the highs and lows from their careers and what made each one so special to that individual and helped sculpt their place in Steelers’ history.
Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades is the newest masterpiece by Ron Lippock that takes us on a journey over the decades to get first-hand accounts from over 400 former Steelers. Many of the names that appear in his book span from the 50’s, all the way through the current and most recent generations of Steelers. Names like L.C. Greenwood, Donnie Shell, Antwaan Randle El, Rocky Bleier, and Tommy Maddox go in depth about their experiences with the organization, but what makes this book so special is our ability to read about the hundreds of players that scratched and clawed their way into the organization. It is these player’s perceptions about the organization that help us get a better image of the adversity, hardships, and successes that each player goes through during his journey in the NFL. Not only does Ron Lippock emphasize the highs and lows, but also the behind-the-scenes moments between players that developed into lifelong friendships. Through these interviews, players reveal the humor and pranks that happened behind closed doors in the locker rooms, meeting areas, and even on-field pranks that we are unable to see as a spectator.
I was fortunate enough to discuss the book with Ron himself in an exclusive interview to dive into the making of the book and what makes it so special, not only to him, but to Steelers fans everywhere and why this book is a must-read for all of us that bleed Black & Gold.
What’s your background and history with the Steelers (as a writer, fan, etc.)?
Well I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and grew up watching those Super 70’s teams. You can’t grow up in Pittsburgh and not be a Steelers fan. For whatever reason when I was young I grew a strong affinity for football – played it whenever possible. The scar on my chin is a testament to that – thanks to running into a neighborhood mailbox as I was running a post pattern (yes- I still caught the pass).
What led you to write this book?
It’s interesting because I wasn’t at first aware of my motivations. I knew I wanted to interview the players in a unique fashion. To bring them more to light as real people. But it really hit me a short while ago. On Twitter, I tweeted a benign happy birthday to Kordell Stewart. And along with the pleasantries of some, there were also the myriad of inappropriate, unnecessary remarks as well. And it made me realize how players are perceived nowadays. Their humanity insofar as public perception is concerned is often stripped away. They are 160 character tweets. Fantasy football stats. Radio and TV soundbites. Heck, even the NFL disallows them from having too much personality else they get fined for too much celebration.
So, I wanted to bring the humanity back to the players. I wanted the public to understand their struggles – with their families, health, faith, finances, post-NFL adjustment…. And to understand what motivated them – success, humor, camaraderie, and yes, money and notoriety. I just wanted to take the opportunity through the interviews and book to make these guys real again. And what better way to do so then by talking to the players of my favorite team and getting their stories.
Its interesting. A number of players have commented on the book – Frenchy Fuqua, John Banaszak, Andy Russell… but the one comment that stands out most for me is by former Steeler linebacker Chad Brown because I think it best encapsulates what I was trying to achieve:
“Most football books don’t have enough of what we read football books for…hearing from the players! Ron gets out of the way and lets the former Steeler players and coaches take the reader into the locker room and on the field with their stories and interview answers. The stories range from the highest of highs and down to the lowest moments of their careers.”
What is your history has a writer?
I’ve conducted these Steelers interviews for over five years now. And not just the players. The coaches, front office personnel, media and musicians, and others with connections to the team. Over 600 total interviews – 400+ of them former players and coaches…
Can you give a brief rundown of the book and everything that is contained in it?
The book breaks down the over 400 interviews I’ve done – from guys that played in the 50’s to current era players, coaches, and front office guys. It spans over seven decades of Steelers football and breaks these down into topics. Humor/locker room antics, the business side of the game, the physical impact of the game, faith, mentoring and coaching, the fans, post-NFL adjustment, and more. Each player has a story to tell and some of the most impactful and funny ones are from the guys that fans may barely remember. But I also talk to the big names – Hines Ward, Andy Russell, Lynn Swann, Dermontti Dawson, Kevin Greene, Kordell Stewart, Tommy Maddox….the list goes on….
What are some of the most notable/memorable stories from your interviews with the former players and coaches?
Without giving too much away, Gary Dunn has some great stories including he and Mike Webster fighting on the PA Turnpike. Troy Polamalu getting chased out of a teammate’s yard by his two dogs (you’ll have to read to find out why). Terry Hanratty, Tom Beasley and others making Jack Lambert of all people miserable by being the constant target of their pranks. Louis Lipps’ attempt to seek out of the Steelers dorms. Some of the less humorous ones include players like Troy Edwards, Bam Morris, Tim Worley, and Hank Poteat discussing why their careers didn’t take off as hoped. And many of the players like Delton Hall, John Hilton, and John Rienstra discussed how difficult the physical toll of the game was and how hard the post-NFL adjustment was for them.
Some of the most interesting ones also came from early Steelers coaches and players from the 60’s and 70’s that discussed the use hypnosis on players and the many surprising reasons why Chuck Noll was one of the most innovative coaches ever in the NFL.
What was the most difficult part about gathering all of the information?
Tracking down and connecting with the players. Writing this book meant playing the part of detective. It probably took me as much time to track down and lock in an interview with many of these players as it did to actually conduct the interviews.
How long did it take you to get everything compiled?
Over five years. From my first player interview (Walter Abercrombie) to the last interview with Steelers coach Woody Widenhofer (who had some terrific Jack Lambert stories).
What would readers enjoy the most about the book?
I think the fact that it’s a book you can pick up over and over and read pieces of and get something new out of it every time. There are hundreds of stories and they are all easily accessible by player and topic. It’s a book that’s easy to take in and most of these stories are new to fans. These aren’t re-hashed stories. These are new insights and experiences from the players themselves. That was the aim of the book.
Is there anything you wish you had been able to put into the book but didn’t?
There are always more players to speak with. I wish I could have gotten them all! But 400+….I think I’ve covered the landscape well across each of the seven generations of Steelers players.
Where all has the book been featured?
Well, it’s on Amazon and Barnes and Noble stores and online. I also did an author tour with a couple of former Steelers in the Pittsburgh area. That was a fun time and I’m very grateful to both former Steelers Craig Bingham and Marv Kellum for joining me on the tour!
What other people have interviewed you about the book?
I’ve been all over the radio – Touch and Wolf, David Todd/ESPN Radio, The Fan, Stan Savran, Chris Mack, SB Nation Radio, Dale Lolley, Chris Mascaro….written up on sites like Behind the Steel Curtain and the Pittsburgh Sports Report. And most importantly I did an interview with THE Zach Metkler!