How a team of vagabonds made a charge at football history
The year 1963 percolated with dreams big dreams. Martin Luther King Jr. had one, and he articulated it to an audience of a quarter of a million people assembled in a commitment to civil rights. President John F. Kennedy had his own dreams, one of which involved sending a man to the moon. Prosperity and new technology fostered the belief that in the USA anything was possible. In western Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Steelers, their fans, and the Irish American family that owned the team also had a dream: to end 30 years of futility on the field and bring the city its first NFL championship.
Author Rudy Dicks recreates the Steelers 1963 season game by game and profiles the ragtag squad of rejects, misfits, and scalawags that coach Buddy Parker jury-rigged into a contender. He shows how a group of unsung players banded together to overcome tough breaks, injuries, and a losing tradition, challenging the more glamorous Cleveland Browns and New York Giants for a conference title and a berth in the NFL Championship Game.
Dicks details the travails of the team as they staged weekly dramatic comebacks and rebounded from painful losses, complementing his tale with reminiscences and insights from former Steelers. He traces the individual stories of players like Buddy Dial, who became a star receiver after being cut by the Giants; kicker and defensive end Lou Michaels, who escaped a life in the coal mines; and Andy Russell, who disdained a career in pro football but turned into a perennial Pro Bowl linebacker and a Super Bowl champion.
The year 1963 became one of the most tumultuous years in American history. Children died in an Alabama church bombing, the conflict in Vietnam worsened, and the country would be forever scarred by an assassination in Dallas. Dicks places the 1963 Steelers quest in the context of a nation admiring a young boxer named Cassius Clay, a music phenomenon in England called The Beatles, and the switch from black-and-white to color TV sets. Game photos and training camp shots round out the text.
The 63 Steelers examines not only how a team of overachievers fought for a championship but also how proud men overcame adversity and united for a cause. The Pittsburgh Steelers now boast six Super Bowl titles and possess a rich and respected past, but the magical 1963 season came close to making dreams come true for an entire city.
Rudy Dicks is a freelance writer from Pittsburgh. He worked in newspapers for nearly 30 years as a reporter, copy editor, sports editor, and managing editor for daily papers in Ohio, New Jersey, and New York. As a sportswriter, he has covered boxing, basketball, major league baseball, college and pro football, and track and field.