'Quick Talk' w/ Roy Blount Jr. "About Three Bricks Shy...", Bret Dougherty, 9/15/2005

'Quick Talk' w/ Roy Blount Jr. "About Three Bricks Shy...", Bret Dougherty, 9/15/2005

Every American professional sport has it's decade of glory.

Most people could argue that the Major League Baseball reached it's most pristine time frame in the 1950s. Undoubtedly, the NBA reached it's pinnacle in the 80s. Yet, when you consider the NFL either the AFL/NFL days of the 1960 or the pass-happy days of the 80s could arguably be the best of times for the NFL.

Each era is defined by the top-tier teams that existed during it's era. Looking at the history of the NFL, whether you're a fan of any decade, no era was as colorful, eccentric, harsh and entertaining as the NFL in the 70s. And perhaps that is due to the rivalry that existed between the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers of the mid-1970s.

What made the NFL great at the time were the characters that made up the game. The battles of the NFL Players Association and NFL ownership for better or worse did not yet have a major impact upon the game, and although the marriage of network television and NFL had been consummated, the nation still was not fully tuned into the wackiness that existed within the locker rooms of the NFL.

Roy Blount Jr., who was a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, took on the mission of peering into the eyes of the animals within the game by spending an entire season with the colorful characters of the 1973-74 Pittsburgh Steelers. By utilizing "a lot of heavy-duty listening," from the start of the NFL Draft, he chronicled players' aggression, the locker room wackiness, race relations, and the economic conditions surrounding the team and the city of Pittsburgh with an incredible amount of depth and wit. He also was able to access a team that was fighting to achieve the ultimate goal, a Super Bowl ring that would be the first for a beloved franchise.

In the new introduction issued in the 2004 reissue of "About Three Bricks Shy...And the Load Was Filled." Blount Jr. stated. "Only now can we realize how irreproducible this book is...You had to have great characters who were athletes rather than mounds of flesh and were funny without being derivative, and you also had to have the right--which is to say, exploitative--economic conditions. . . . So it was a rare moment in history that I had the great fortune to be a tangential part of."

I caught up with Blount Jr. after his appearance as a panelist on the NPR radio show "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." In a short interview, I asked him a few questions about the NFL, the book, and why he chose the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1973.

BD: Roy, this past year was the 30th Anniversary of your legendary book on the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers, "About Three Bricks Shy...And the Load Filled Up.". Do you still enjoy the NFL as much as you did then?

Blount Jr.: Well, when I wrote the book, I was in my 30's. I was also writing for Sports Illustrated in the mid-70s, which was a magic time for both the magazine and the sports world. So, it was a much different time to enjoy the NFL because the personalities, access, and issues that were surrounding the game were different. The NFL nowadays is much more corporate. It's less fun.

BD: What's makes it less fun?

Blount Jr: The guys in the NFL back then were not much different than ordinary people. Look at the guys now...They're too buffed up...They have $40 million dollar contracts. How you can you relate to them?

Back then, you could size up to a guy, and he could be the same size of your uncle or that neighbor that you knew. They were just ordinary guys. So, it's a lot different for me now.

But do I enjoy it? Yeah...I do. My son is a huge Steelers fan, and I still watch Steeler games with him. To let you know, when I do watch the Steeler games, I wear my Mel Blount #47 jersey that Mel gave to me...It finally fits me now. It was always too big because it was oversized to fit shoulder pads, but I fill that out with my weight now.

BD: What inspired you to portray the Steelers for a season?

Blount Jr: At the time I was writing a lot about the NFL for Sports Illustrated. One night, a group of us writers and editors were in a bar in New York City, and someone suggested that I spend a season with a football team. I laughed it off at first, but I thought it was a good idea because no one had really done it before. Plus, the NFL was so colorful then

Now, everyone at SI loved the Raiders...And for a good reason...They were colorful in their own way. I understood that. But I had already done a story on the Steelers. I loved the Rooneys...Art Rooney walked to the stadium for every game..The family was great and each person cared for not only the game, but also was heavily involved with the community.

The immediate choice would be to choose a team from New York or LA. Yet, those teams were in major media markets. In order to create the story, the players had to be accessible so that knocked out those two cities.

Also, the season before had just seen the "Immaculate Reception" between Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris. So, there was a lot of magic going on with the orgranization. The players were all colorful, eccentric, and they were deeply rooted into Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh was a great town with the blue collar workers, the small bars, and the local pride they had for the team and their city. It was just a great setting for a fun team.

BD: Within that team, did you have a favorite guy on the team that stuck out for you?

There was way too many great characters on that team to single one out. That team had Frenchy Fuqua, Dwight White, LC Greenwood, Joe Greene, Andy Russell. There were so many characters. They were wild, loose, and fun. I couldn't single one out. Every player was colorful and each one was a loose individual in his own way.

BD: I'm assuming that's why you went with "About Three Bricks Shy of a Load.."?

Craig Hanneman a nose guard/Defensive Tackle out of Oregon State told me that the guys on that team "were crazy...so crazy that they were about three bricks shy of a load."

So, it was an apt title for it because everyone was so eccentric on that team.

Personally, I wanted something different, or at least shorten it to "Three Bricks Shy of a Load." But the publisher was set on "About Three Bricks Shy...And the Load Filled Up." with the thirtieth anniversary. They did it for other purposes.

I always liked that "Three Bricks Shy..." title, that everyone refers to, but that anniversary title was the publishers choice.

BD: You're known as one of the best sportswriters ever at SI, and as a fan of your columns in the 70s...I'll support that statement wholeheartedly. Why don't we see much of your sportswriting anymore?

At 63, I have too much pride now. To be in a locker room with a 23 year old who is earning $14 million a year and making you wait for an interview while he's drying off his feet...That requires too much humility than I can muster. There are just too many other interests out there now.

However, it was great for me at that time. I was able to see a lot of the country. And I was able to meet some great people across the country. Like when I wrote a Sports Illustrated article on Vida Blue called "Humming a Rhapsody Blue." His high school football coach from Mansfield, Louisiana, and the people from that community were absolutely and incredibly great people.

Those are great people that you get to meet because of sportswriting. That was great...If it weren't for sportswriting, I wouldn't have seen a lot of the country to meet those people.

BD: Roy, thanks a lot...You're one helluva writer. I appreciate the talk.

Blount Jr: Thank you.

Bret Dougherty is a sportswriter and current graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill. Bret is a co-host of WXYC SportsRap (9 PM Sundays on FM 89.3 & www.wxyc.org). He is also a music DJ on WXYC. You may check in for more of his interviews, articles, and interests at www.bretdougherty.com..

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