The literature of pro football continues to grow, albeit slowly. The game has produced little fiction of merit, but the list of good non-fiction gets longer and longer. The newest addition is one of the best: Roy Blount Jr.'s About Three Bricks Shy of a Load (Little, Brown, $8.95).
Readers of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED already know what Blount is up to, as three excerpts from the book ran in the magazine earlier this year. But those articles gave only the barest hint of the quality of the book. Much of the attraction of Three Bricks lies in its leisurely, good-humored pace; read in full, the book proves to be far funnier, deeper and livelier than the excerpts indicated.
Subtitled "A Highly Irregular Lowdown on the Year the Pittsburgh Steelers Were Super But Missed the Bowl," Blount's book is precisely that: a training-camp-to-playoffs account of the team's 1973 season. Comparisons with Paper Lion are doubtless inevitable, and they are by no means unfavorable to Blount. He did not actually participate in the action, as George Plimpton did, but his book contains much the same exuberance and irreverence that made Plimpton's so attractive.
Blount's cast of characters is varied, ranging from such humorists as Offensive Linemen Bruce Van Dyke and Ray Mansfield to the upright, uptight head coach, Chuck Noll, to the gruff, amiable and universally beloved owner, Art Rooney. All are portrayed succinctly and, even in the case of those whose spirits do not wheel as freely as Blount's, sympathetically.
The Steelers, it will be recalled, started 1973 with grand hopes but ended the year being stomped by Oakland. Blount makes no attempt to hoke up the drama of the season; he simply moves along, as the players do, from game to game and problem to problem, so that the book unfolds with the measured movement of the season itself.
Along the way he offers a marvelous jumble of delights. We meet manic fans, hangers-on, groupies, wives, old veterans and near-miss rookies. We get an intimate look at the pain that is an inescapable part of pro football, the camaraderie of the dressing room, the relationships (generally friendly) between black and white players. We even get Blount's semi-tongue-in-cheek suggestions for livening up the pro game. They are almost as lively as his book, and that is saying something.