Thomas Dunne Books
In the summer of 1959, most of the town of Braddock, Pennsylvania---along with half a million steel workers around the country---went on strike in the longest labor stoppage in American history. With no paychecks coming in, the families of Braddock looked to its football team for inspiration.
The Braddock Tigers had played for five amazing seasons, a total of 45 games, without a single loss. Heading into the fall of ‘59, this team from just outside Pittsburgh, whose games members of the Steelers would drop by to watch, needed just eight victories to break the national record for consecutive wins. Sports Illustrated and other media descended upon the banks of the Monongahela River to profile the team and its revered head coach, future Hall of Famer Chuck Klausing, who molded his boys into winners while helping to effect the racial integration of his squad. While the townspeople bet their last dollars on the Tigers, young black players like Ray Henderson hoped that the record would be a ticket to college and spare them from life in the mills alongside their fathers. In Striking Gridiron, author Greg Nichols recounts every detail of Braddock’s incredible sixth, undefeated season---from the brutal weeks of summer training camp to the season’s final play that defined the team’s legacy. In the words of Klausing himself, “Greg Nichols couldn’t have written it better if he’d been on the sidelines with us.”
But even more than the story of a triumphant season, Nichols’s narrative is an intimate chronicle of small-town America during the hardest of times. Striking Gridiron takes us from the sidelines and stands on game day into the school hallways, onto the street corners, and into the very homes of Braddock to reveal a beleaguered blue-collar town from a bygone era---and the striking workers whose strength was mirrored by the football heroics of steel-town boys on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons.
IN THE SHADOW OF PAUL BROWN
FROM A DISTANCE, the corrugated overhang outside the hotel lobby looked like the folds of a paper fan, or like the charted performance of a volatile stock. On the lip of the overhang, yellow cursive letters formed the word Kutsher’s. Coach Chuck Klausing and his wife, Joann, were tired after their nine-hour drive from Western Pennsylvania, but the excitement of arriving at the Catskills resort revived them.
“Gee whiz, it’s something!” Joann remarked, taking in the grounds.
“Greg Nichols couldn't have written it better if he’d been on the sidelines with us.” —Chuck Klausing, coach of the 1959 Braddock High Tigers
“I was rather unsure of myself when I started out in the scouting department for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Someone recommended I talk to Chuck Klausing. He was one of the greatest coaches in Pennsylvania, and it didn’t take me long to figure out why. We’d watch game film together and he would spot every mistake every player made. Chuck saw the details, and so does Greg Nichols. This book puts you down on the field and takes you out to the streets of Braddock, Pennsylvania, a gritty mill town that faced long odds during the steel strike of 1959. This is the way a sports book should be written.” —Art Rooney Jr., Vice President, Pittsburgh Steelers
“Can a team make a town forget defeat? There is tragedy in STRIKING GRIDIRON, but much more importantly, there is also glorious triumph. Greg Nichols takes you back to 1959, on the banks of Monongahela River in western Pennsylvania, and puts you on the cinder-covered field with the Braddock Tigers as they set records and win games against the backdrop of a devastating steel strike. Nichols has crafted not only a richly detailed chronicle of that memorable season but also the tale of a team’s heroism and a town’s redemption.” —Mark Beech, Sports Illustrated staff writer and author of WHEN SATURDAY MATTERED MOST
“The Must-Read Narrative Nonfiction Of The Season!”—The Valley Mirror
“Reading Greg Nichols’s STRIKING GRIDIRON will make you forget all about Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky and remember a time when football in Pennsylvania was a matter of national import for all the right reasons. Not since FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS has a writer portrayed a powerhouse high school football team and its coach as vividly as Nichols does the Braddock High Tigers; but Nichols tells a larger tale as well, that of the mid-century American working man whose livelihood may not last the season. The combination is unbeatable.” —Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winner and author of MARGARET FULLER: A NEW AMERICAN LIFE
“Greg Nichols has written a phenomenal account of a football team on the eve of a national winning record, set in a Pennsylvania steel town during a calamitous 1959 worker’s strike. A deeply inspiring story of a coach who knew how to win not just on the field and in the locker room but in the community, how to overcome racial prejudice and treat all as one. STRIKING GRIDIRON is a compelling read with characters that won’t let go.” —Douglas Whynott, author of THE SUGAR SEASON
“If you wish to read a heart-warming story, I recommend you read Greg Nichols' story of how a football team helped heal a town in Western Pennsylvania. Chuck Klausing was the football coach at Braddock High School at the very early stage of his coaching career. I had the opportunity of working with Coach Klausing while I was head football coach at West Virginia University. He was probably the best hire I ever made. I will say he was the wisest coach I ever had. Read this story and you will see what America is all about!” —Coach Bobby Bowden, NCAA record holder for most career wins and bowl wins by a Division I FBS coach
“If it is possible for a town to die of a broken heart, Braddock is it. Ninety percent of our population is gone, along with the amazing, true story of the Braddock Tigers, if not for the scholarship of Greg Nichols. Braddock, conceived in struggle, was built by the heroic sacrifices of tens of thousands of immigrants. There is so much history here—history that literally shaped our nation—from the French and Indian War to Andrew Carnegie. In STRIKING GRIDIRON, Greg has painstakingly related (thereby, preserved) one of Braddock's most accessible and relatable historical struggles: football. As mayor, I am humbled and grateful for what Greg has achieved with this important book.” —John Fetterman, mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania