Having previously read and enjoyed Michael Oriard’s Brand NFL, and noticing he’d written other books about football, I decided to seek them out. As previously noted, I’ve acquired Reading Football and have also acquired Bowled Over, but the next book of Professor Oriard’s I read was his autobiography, The End of Autumn: Reflections on My Life in Football. Originally published in 1982 and then re-issued in 2009, I acquired the reissued edition; aside from a brief introduction and afterword, the text of the book is apparently the same and unedited from the first edition.
The End of Autumn goes through Oriard’s football playing career, from a youth and prepster in Spokane, through his time at Notre Dame and later with and to the end of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. Reading it, I was reminded of It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium, John Ed Bradley’s memoir of his time playing football for LSU. Like Bradley, Oriard is torn between the pride he feels as a member of the football team and his status as a valued member of the team and the negative aspects of football; Oriard was more successful than Bradley, though, and it shows in his attitude. He concentrates more on the positive aspects, and particularly the sense of personal superiority he feels as a result of his status as a valued member of the football team, while still sort of acknowledging football was not a cost-free activity. Still, the reaction I had to Oriard was that playing football turned him into a prick, just as much of a prick as his seemingly less-aware teammates; he was a football player, and that meant he was better than people who didn’t play football. Frankly, he made me quite glad the high school I graduated from didn’t have a football team, and the football team at the college I went too was pretty much irrelevant.
So, Oriard comes off as a little bit of a jerk. So what? His NFL career ended three and a half decades after, when he was cut before the 1974 season. Since he graduated high school, there’s been a lot of change in prep sports. Since he graduated college, much of the college football landscape has changed. The life of an NFL player is greatly different; I’d be hard-pressed to believe anybody enters NFL with the blind faith in his coach to look after his (the player’s) best interest, as opposed to the coach’s best interest, that Oriard supposedly had in Hank Stram. Still, some stuff rings true; football players (and athletes in general) are still frequently a favored class, both expecting and receiving benefits and perks non-athletes would never get. The preferred status of being a football player, and showing toughness is a key part of his experience as a prep and in college, but not in the NFL. While there are exceptions, most players in the NFL realize they’re tough enough, and everybody they’re playing with is tough, so players concentrate on playing. Similarly, the NFL is still somewhat of a transition from a college team filled with peers and people in similar life situations to a range of ages with players in a range of different situations, including players with kids.
Given this, how valuable was reading The End of Autumn? For me, I’d say, not really. Oriard confirmed things I’d suspected, but had few insights and the book does feel dated in places. If you do want to read it, I’d definitely recommend acquiring the original 1982 edition; there’s not enough in the 2009 re-issue to make the price premium worth it. While I didn’t like Oriard from reading this book, I’m not going to let it dissuade me from reading anything else he’s written; I’m comfortable with bad people producing good works, not that Oriard seems in any way particularly benighted, but, frankly, reading The End of Autumn makes me think it’s easier than you might think for football to go the way of boxing and be condemned by all and sundry as more brutality for brutality’s sake than proper entertainment.