What I’ve Been Reading (Football)
Pardon the lack of content here lately. I have a suitably long, esoteric, wonky piece on a subject of minimal actual importance most of the way done, but in need of further revision. That may end up here, or it may end up on Football Outsiders. I also have another long piece that will end up at Football Outsiders in the works, though I may not finish that until the weekend. I continue to write reasonably regularly at Total Titans-team blogging is sometimes fun and interesting, sometimes annoying and frustrating, but most importantly, it’s a way to force myself to write regularly as opposed to going through the typical blog life-cycle. That’s especially important because my most regular content here were link dumps, for which I can use Twitter if I care to, and book reviews.
And, on the book review front, I keep reading books without any particular interest in writing reviews of them. These are the football-related books I’ve read this year, none of which I have yet reviewed on here.
The good news is that Rich Cohen’s Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football is not just another book on the 1985 Bears. That is good because Steve Delsohn’s Da Bears already covered that ground, and pretty well. Unfortunately, in his effort to present a different book than Delsohn’s, Cohen instead finds an unsatisfying middle. His take on the 1985 unit is more personal, which I found unenlightening and annoying to read (I don’t care enough about my feelings about a particular team to write them down, let alone Random Fan X’s). An additional part of his attempt to write a different book than Delsohn’s was to write more about the Bears beyond 1985. This is a perfectly reasonable idea, but he told me nothing important about the Bears I did not already know. The largely positive Amazon reviews make me wonder if I’m not the best reader of this book. I think if you’ve read your Delsohn and know your pro football history, you won’t find much to hold your interest here. If you haven’t, your mileage should be greater.
I actually thought Daniel Flynn’s The War on Football: Saving America’s Game could drag me out of my book reviewing torpor. That lasted perhaps 20 pages into the book. Unsurprisingly given that Flynn writes for the American Spectator, this is more what I think of as a political/affiliational book. Before I made the executive decision to stop caring so much about politics, I read plenty of those types of books. Some, though not many, were actually good and could be read profitably by someone who did not already agree with the author. I did not find War on Football to be one of those.
Were there any valuable takeaways from Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile, Nate Jackson’s memoir of his time in the NFL? No, but I still found it a very enjoyable library read.
Just off the title, I was worried Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game by Allen St. John and Anissa Ramirez would be a poppy re-hash of Timothy Gay’s Football Physics (which I am reminded I never bothered to review)*. As the excerpt published at Football Outsiders made clear, it thankfully is not. It’s still poppy, and unfortunately I ended up auto-texting this book nearly as much as I did Flynn’s. By auto-texting, I mean that given the subject matter and the link, I could easily picture in my head the text an author would write on the subject. Using the excerpt as an example, no huddle + chaos theory = taking advantage of initial conditions, like Peyton Manning catching the Titans in base personnel and going straight down the field in the game in Indy I attended in 2006 after struggling to find consistent success up to that point in the game. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this book a lot more than I did Flynn’s, but that enjoyment proved pretty ephemeral.
*-I ended up not reviewing Football Physics for a simple reason-I couldn’t write a review I found even remotely satisfying. My experience reading the book was bound up with my experience taking the class that at most high schools would have been called AP Physics C. How much of what Gay was telling me what just a straightforward application of Mechanics 101 from that dimly-remembered experience with Halliday and Resnick, and how much of it was really advanced stuff? I never answered that question for myself and could not see that making for a satisfying review, yet I couldn’t write a different review. So, I just dropped it.
Last week, I wondered on Twitter what we should think of a book where the author straightforwardly presents quotes where the speaker is absolutely and unequivocally wrong in their recall of certain facts. It would be quite tedious to independently verify every fact in a non-fiction book, so you as a reader are trusting the author’s ability to present facts accurately. Such quotes at least degrade the amount of trust you have in an author-a friend put down Boys Will Be Boys after Chad Hennings’ quote about leaving the Air Force to join the Cowboys because of Clinton defense cuts (spoiler alert: Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas when Hennings joined the Cowboys). What if there’s no one quote but two that clearly stood out as unequivocally wrong? What if the same book also has some copy-editing howlers, referring to “Lovey” Smith and “Mark Tressman”? Even if you can get beyond those, be warned Tom Callahan’s The GM: The Inside Story of a Dream Job and the Nightmare That Go with It does not deliver quite the inside scoop that the subtitle might lead you to believe. Callahan did seem to spend a good bit of time with the 2006 Giants in Ernie Accorsi’s final season as general manager before retiring, but this isn’t really a Bringing the Heat-like portait of a team- or even GM-season. Rather, it’s a series of portraits of Accorsi’s life and career and work as a general manager. Some of that info, if you’re willing to trust it, seems pretty good, like Accorsi’s scouting report of Eli Manning at Ole Miss. On the whole, though, it’s not as deep a book as the one I was hoping it would be.
I have no particular plans for what football books to read next, aside from noting that after I spent all that money on Anatomy of a Game and Finding the Winning Edge, I really should go ahead and read them already. My only football book acquisition this past quarter was Ray Glier’s How the SEC Became Goliath, though I did also pre-order Bruce Feldman’s forthcoming The QB, slated for a November release. Non-football reads post for this 1Q 2014 coming soon.