The other day my daughter asked me how I managed to complete the massive job of not only writing a book, but printing it, publishing it, storing it, distributing it, marketing it, and selling and shipping it.
I told her the same way she became one of the leaders of her college soccer team: one step at a time.
I remember dropping her off at Ohio University in the July before her freshman year. Before I could get back to Pittsburgh, she was calling me crying and asking me to turn around and pick her up, that she didn’t want to play anymore, that she wanted to enroll in the local community college.
She was looking at the entire mountain instead of the first step, so I convinced her to take that first step and just practice and stay for a week.
Three years later she’s a team leader, honor roll student and enjoying as good a social life as possible during a pandemic.
For me, the first step was kind of like hers. It was done before I even got to the point of writing the book. She went to Athens highly conditioned; I went to my desk in January of 2020 ridiculously organized.
I had kept detailed notes from my 12 years of covering not only Troy Polamalu, but the Steelers in their entirety. I transcribed all of my interviews from every day I had spent in the locker room. I also kept all of my stories, blog entries and the numerous smart-ass remarks from The Morning After and other such streams of consciousness I had delivered to my readers behind the paywall at SteelCityInsider.
I also checked back with sources of off-the-record information from old interviews to see if they could now be used on the record.
For an example I’ll use my interview of scout Mark Gorscak from the night we watched Ben Roethlisberger play at Miami, Ohio. I used that info off the record back in 2004, but Mark was so uncannily on-the-money about Ben’s ability that I knew he would approve of me putting it on the record some 16 years later. And he did.
So, that was the organizational process. I began sorting through all of that at the turn of the new year with the idea of writing two books, one about that era in general and one about Troy. But since Troy was the spiritual leader and only Hall of Famer on a defense that led those teams, I opted to merge the two, thus the enormity of this book.
Detailed interviews were next. There’s not much to say about interviewing people other than this: listen.
I don’t think I listened well enough. Sometimes you think about your next question while your subject continues to talk and you miss obvious follow-ups.
Sometimes I shake my head about college journalism classes. You don’t need college to learn how to talk to people. You. Just. Need. To. Listen.
It’s a skill on which I’m still working.
Then came the writing. I prefer early mornings, and that’s how I started in early March.
I was into my third month of meditating, a New Year’s resolution. I had begun studying the “mindfulness” genre about that time, and one of the “gurus” had written a book called The 5 AM Club. I heard his spiel on YouTube, ordered the book and began taking his advice on spending the 5-6 a.m. hour exercising, meditating, praying, journaling and reading.
I received the book in early June and immediately became precise with his plan. It was easy for me because I’m always awake that early, and with the gyms closed it was the right time to begin my “prison workouts” at home, and those are perfect for 5 a.m., especially when you have to hit the couch to meditate for 20 minutes and don’t have time to drive home from a gym. As an aside, I like how push-ups, sit-ups, burpees, etc. have made me more lean and taken away the bulk and nagging pinched nerves that come with weightlifting.
But anyway, that hour, that golden hour, that sacred hour, became the perfect warm-up for my two-hour writing blocks, and in those blocks I slowly but surely laid down the tracks of this book.
It was a long process. It still is, dealing with a minor glitch that Amazon’s sprawling automotons have turned into a major glitch, with Barnes & Noble’s old-school retail approach, and the other current-day problems that come with self-publishing. But, really, it’s better than letting these people take all the money.
So I took it one push-up, one meditation, one prayer at a time, and whenever I do get brave enough to read back through my own work these days, I still laugh and cry at various points. I’m that happy with the product.
Whenever you put your heart and soul into something, you often are.
As much as I would like to thank Devin Bush and Minkah Fitzpatrick for kick-starting me into finally getting around to writing this book, the more I realize I instead must thank a guitarist.
Hang on for the long explanation, lol.
It was about November of 2019 when I began to realize that with the Steelers having traded their Nos. 1 and 3 picks in the upcoming draft, the customers at my site – SteelCityInsider – wouldn’t be nearly as excited for the April draft as usual.
It’s a subscription site, and it warms my heart there are still those who believe in paying for good information and hard work as opposed to reading re-writes at an aggregation site.
My customers have been reading my draft work and putting food on my table every spring, and, spurred on by their thirst for knowledge, the draft has become one of my specialties over the years.
Some of my customers still remember my pre-draft exchange with the esteemed Tony Pauline back in 2003. I had suggested the possibility of trading up for Troy Polamalu, while Tony, our expert guest visiting in a live chat room, simply laughed out loud.
I got the better of the exchange that time, but I don’t mean to diminish Mr. Pauline’s expertise, which he’s proven time and again over the years, even to this day.
My point is that the draft is a big deal for our site and for me personally. But once I realized that the April of 2019 trade for Bush had cost the Steelers their 2020 third-round pick, and that the in-season trade for Fitzpatrick that year had cost them their 2020 first-round pick, I realized the coming draft would be a hard sell to purveyors of quality football information.
I also realized I would finally have time (or maybe that I had no more excuses) to write the book that had been flowing throughout my consciousness for a full decade.
As I wrote in the book, I came up with the idea to write the story of Troy during the 2010 season.
Troy didn’t care much for the idea. Again, as pointed out, he shuddered over the idea of a full book about him. There’s absolutely no humility in sitting down for day-long interview sessions about oneself, and we all know the high level of Troy’s humility and his intention to remain humble.
I also think some of the problems of his childhood might have prohibited him from placing blame on family members, or even mentioning they were a possibility for part of the blame.
If that makes sense.
Read any interview of Troy today and he has nothing but love for a mother who took him 800 miles away to her brother to be raised, and for a brother who left the bosom of Troy’s immediate family to prove his mettle in a gang instead of on a field. On the other hand, Troy never mentions the father who left him for another family on the day Troy was born. Perhaps resentments remain toward him, but it’s clear he has nothing but love to the others in his family who appeared to have hurt him.
Not that it’s my place to lay such a claim. I’m just thinking out loud.
Anyway, I changed the approach for the book. I told Troy I was seeking out two other authors – one to write about his youth; one to write about his spirituality – to complement my portion on his days with the Steelers.
Troy didn’t seem to care that the female author I had asked to write on his spirituality took him outside of the locker room during the first week of the two-week Super Bowl window that season.
She didn’t want to enter a male locker room, and Troy respected that. He also didn’t mind that she had lassoed him and took him away from the mobs that hoped to ask him about stopping Aaron Rodgers.
That Troy was rarely available for interviews that first week in Pittsburgh always brings me a chuckle, because no one but me knew where he was during open locker room periods.
But the author of the intended childhood portion – Troy’s cousin Tafe’a (Brandon in the book) – decided against his third of the book. And the other author said she needed more time to discuss Troy’s spirituality in order to write it correctly, that those pre-Super Bowl 45 interviews were merely introductory.
Well, it became obvious that this idea was not going to work. So, I decided to do the entire biography myself.
Again, not that Troy actually minded me doing a book about him. At one point during media day that Super Bowl he turned to me from the podium and said, “You’ll appreciate this story.” He then told of a high school sporting event that no one else but the author of his biography would care about.
Yet, getting him to sit down and talk about himself for hours? That was not going to happen.
Troy told me to wait five years or so, that maybe he would change his mind, “When I actually do something important with my life.”
I waited. Asked again. Waited. Asked again.
He was raising his children. What could be more important to Troy Polamalu? Yes, he might one day feed all of the poor, but today he still had to consider the most precious gift given to him: his family.
However, while Troy wouldn’t talk about himself, he directed other members of his family, his friends, his old teammates to talk to me.
With my notebook expanding each year, it seemed as if every spring I pondered whether it was time for a cohesive narrative. But every spring I thought better of writing a book because I wanted to eat, I wanted my family to eat, and the draft provided that type of abundance.
In 2020, the excuse of covering the draft was no longer be valid. I realized that in November of 2019. And at the time I was in the middle of reading a tremendous biography about the guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Stevie, of course, had died in a helicopter crash some 30 years ago, and, of course, wasn’t available to sit down with the author, Alan Paul, and discuss his life.
Stevie did sit down for periodic interviews, and Paul and fellow co-author Andy Aledort kept meticulous notes – just as I had during my 12 years of interviewing Troy throughout his career.
But Paul and Aledort let friends, family and bandmates tell the story. It was set up in script form, with the speaker’s name followed by a colon. This, I realized, was the perfect way to tell Troy’s story, because those around Troy spoke not only with reverence, but they shared the nuance that made Troy such a complex person. There was no way to share that type of nuance without letting them speak at length.
I called Alan Paul because I had gotten to know him from his previous book about The Allman Brothers Band. I’m a huge fan of their music, and when I reached out to Alan on social media to thank him for his work, he thanked me for my work. He told me he’s from Pittsburgh, is a huge Steelers fan, and was familiar with my coverage.
We became friends, so I naturally read, and loved, his next book on Stevie Ray Vaughan. I called to tell him I was stealing his style. He laughed and said, “For a book on Troy Polamalu? Absolutely!”
Two days later, I realized that Alan would be the perfect editor for this book, and he agreed to take on the task, and it all began to fall together from that point forward.
So, it wasn’t so much Devin Bush, or Minkah Fitzpatrick, or Kevin Colbert, who re-ignited my passion for this project. It was Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Hey, long live rock, right?
But that’s why I became inspired to once again fire up this project.
In my next blog entry, I’ll share how I went about the actual writing of this 425-page story. It’s a story that might help young writers, but the intention is that it will help anyone who aspires to producing meaningful work.
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