What I’ve Been Reading (Football)
Hey, I wrote this post the 13th day after I “wanted” to back in the first quarter, too. I read some about football, yet still without any desire to go back to reviewing each book I read. These are the football-related books I finished the third quarter of 2014, none of which I have yet reviewed on here.
I actually started Roy Blount’s About Three Bricks Shy of a Load … and the Load Filled Up a couple years ago, and only got about 50 pages into it before giving up. As far as “giving up too early” goes, this is up there with my failure to read Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, and evidence of a terrible character flaw on my part. I found the first 50 or so pages a bit of a slog once again. Then the season begins, and Three Bricks really begins to shine. One of my most common laments about football books is they’re not very good by the standards of books; Three Bricks more than passes that test in addition to being insightful into the lives of football players. Strongly recommended.
I’ve mentioned before my interest in Fox Conner. There is no good biography of him, despite him being worthy of a biography, in part because he made it hard to write a biography of him by destroying all of his letters late in his life and even the young people he mentored, like Dwight Eisenhower, are dead and therefore unavailable to be interviewed about him. That was the problem Chris Willis had with his book on Joe Carr, The Man Who Built the National Football League. Unavoidably, Built ends up feeling a bit antiseptic, as Willis is forced to impute Carr’s motivations and in some cases his precise actions. Just how much role Carr versus people like George Halas and other early owners played in transitioning the NFL from the 1920’s days of small towns to the mid-1930’s league of teams in big cities (and Green Bay) is a nearly impossible question to answer in the twenty-first century, as official league minutes cannot give you the answer. Built is also pretty focused on Carr’s work as NFL president to the exclusion of his other activities; that Carr was president in the 1930’s of a number of baseball minor leagues is mentioned in passing. A more comprehensive biography, or one with better sources available, could have discussed how that came to be and how his work there compared and contrasted to his NFL work. Also, I’d like to see Roger Goodell running, oh, the Pacific Coast League, the Midwest League, and the New York-Penn League instead of spending all his time at 345 Park Avenue. Only for those with a strong interest in the early NFL.
Curse my obstinacy and antiquated rules, for I wrote (part of) a book and didn’t plug it here. Yes, Football Outsiders Almanac 2014, the latest version of our annual, came out, and I didn’t devote a post to it for the petty reason that I hadn’t bothered to finish reading all the college football parts of it. For my money, it’s still the best season preview publication on the NFL out there. PDF available in addition to the dead tree, for a discount, and it looks great on the iPad. Disclaimer: as an author, I got a free copy and a share of the royalties from purchases.
Robert Smith’s The Rest of the Iceberg is another book I started a few years ago but didn’t actually finish. When the library remaindered a copy, I snagged it and eventually polished it off. Written after his retirement at a time when he probably could have continued to play effectively, Iceberg details Smith’s more-interesting-than normal personal story, including his conflicts at Ohio State and his struggle to achieve productivity with the Vikings. More thoughtful than most NFL players, Smith’s thoughts on non-NFL subjects still looked like the insufficiently considered opinions of most people in their 20’s, thought that just leaves the book with a down ending. The more interesting question is reconciling Smith the man who saw he was more than a football player with Smith the media member, an interesting exercise beyond the scope of the book (which was published in 2002). Only for real die-hards.
In contemplating Dave Revsine’s The Opening Kickoff, I wondered if I really wanted to read another book on the early history of college football? It seems like well-trod ground, with little interesting to add, but Revsine managed it. The most interesting part was the story of Wisconsin star Pat O’Dea, which I hadn’t been familiar with before. Recommended to those with an interest in the subject.
Perhaps the most important story of the past decade or so of college football is the transition of the SEC from pretty good conference to all-powerful behemoth, where schools that are not real traditional powers like Ole Miss and Mississippi State are at the top of the polls. I would like to know more about how that transition happened. Notwithstanding its title, Ray Glier’s How the SEC Became Goliath is not the book I was looking for.
With those, I was at 11 football books read through nine months. I’m currently at 13 and should be at at least 15 by the end of the month. Based on reading trends, that’s a bit under my pace of 19 per year over the past six years, but a few more ephemeral titles or taking some entries off the back list can take care of that.