Reading and Thinking Football

Football, including books thereon and idiosyncratic thinking thereabout

What I’ve Been Reading (Football)

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I continue to read books about football without any particular interest in specifically reviewing them. Thus, I have continued to write quarterly recaps of what I’ve been reading instead of individual book reviews. These are the football-related books I read in the fourth quarter of 2014.

1. I was hoping Michael Weinrib’s Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games would use the fourteen weeks of a college football season to trace its history and development. That book, if done well, could be quite interesting. This is not that book. Instead, Season uses fourteen games from college football’s history to engage in what’s really free-form riffing on college football history. Using individual games to put changes over time in perspective is a reasonable idea-I thought it worked reasonably well in The Games That Changed the Game-but when you’ve read as much about college football history as I have, Weinrib’s treatment of history doesn’t teach you anything. What’s left with Seasons if the history part is all old hat is Weinrib’s emotional takes; given I generally avoid his published articles and his style is the same, or at least similar, here, I did not find that content of value either.

2. David George Surdum’s Run to Glory and Profits: The Economic Rise of the NFL during the 1950s is certainly a book that’s Not For Everybody. It’s an academic book by a university professor economist rather than a breezy history by a working journalist. Stylistically, you have to be fine with academic writing to appreciate Run. Neither of those bothers me, and I was curious about the topic. The issue with a book like this that tries to detail the inner workings is you need data from somewhere. David Harris’ The League was able to take advantage of the disclosures made particularly in the Al Davis antitrust suits, as I recall. Surdum’s data on the financials of NFL teams from the 1950s comes from congressional hearings. And, really, it was all about TV-the NFL translated extremely well to the small screen, and the increase in TV money really powered the economic rise of the NFL. One of the themes that runs through Surdum’s book is standard economic principles applied to the NFL during the period in question, including the economic rationality of Leaugethink; it came from Pareto optimality, not the willingness of big city teams like the Giants to sacrifice their own interest. The rising tide lifted all boats-New York’s rise was just relatively smaller than it was for some other teams. If you’re interested in the subject and willing to deal with this sort of book, it’s a useful read, though some of Surdum’s “NFL follows basic economic principles” points did, at least for me, fall into the “duh” category.

3. On Steve Almond’s Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto, my general commentary is that books described as manifestos are almost never quality reads, and this book is no exception to that general observation. I concur with the general points, and conclusions, of this Amazon review.

4. Just from the title and the basic description, I did not expect to enjoy Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game, but I ended up liking Mark Edmundon’s book a fair amount. Edmundson uses his experience as an unaccomplished high school football player to write about sports more generally, the good and bad sides of football, and its role in relationships, including his with his father and with his son. Unlike Almond’s book, or Flynn’s War on Football from the other side, or Easterbrook’s King of Sports, Edmundson recognizes the duality of so much about life and how the same lessons work and can be used for both good and ill. Compare also John Ed Bradley’s It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium, which is similar in some ways but was not as satisfying to me as Edmundson’s piece.

5. Even if I were in the habit of writing more detailed reviews of individual books, I don’t think I would have written a detailed review of Bruce Feldman’s The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks. That would not reflect whether I found the book interesting, or worthwhile; it was fascinating, and I devoured it. Rather, Feldman’s book looks at you might call the QB guru industry, and the highly technique-specific training of quarterbacks, including Trent Dilfer’s work with the Elite 11 and turning high school prospects into college quarterbacks, and George Whitfield and particularly his work with Johnny Manziel and turning college prospects into NFL quarterbacks. As an analyst, this is a long way from my forte; I’m not one to improve even moderately unschooled quarterbacks in the high school games I’ve started attending the last four years. Of course, that isn’t the book you want if you’re involved in that process; The QB is the story of how people are treating that process, not an instruction manual for the process itself, which seems to be the source of some of the negative Amazon reviews. Accepting that for what it is, it’s a highly enjoyable book, and it’s easy for me to see why Feldman apparently got interest from non-sports outlets interested in the more general story of training and development contained in The QB. One of my favorite football reads this year, and Bruce’s best book.

6. How much of what’s in Nunyo Demasio’s Parcells: A Football Life is really new? I haven’t read either of Parcell’s previous autobiographies, so I can’t say how much it adds to those, but the answer does not seem to be much, certainly in the pre-2000 period of his life. About all that might be new is confirmation the Jets would likely have drafted Peyton Manning with the first overall pick had he come out in the 1997 draft, to which a Jets fan friend replied “Well duh.” Though Parcells’ name is listed first on the page, this is a third-person biography told in Demasio’s voice rather than a first-person autobiography told by Parcells. This book got me thinking about Parcells’ lasting influence on the game; he’s rightly in the Hall of Fame for his work as a head coach, but how much was there to him other than “Yeah, he was a really effective football coach”? I struggled with that question while reading this book, and I don’t have a satisfying answer, plus this is not the sort of particularly revealing (auto-)biography that is worth reading because of the candid revelations contained with it. I didn’t dislike this book; I just didn’t get that much out of it.

Best of 2014 coming when I finish it, which should probably be later today or in the next couple days.

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Written by Tom Gower

January 2, 2015 at 15:37

Posted in Book Reviews

One Response

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  1. […] read some about football. I read more about other things. I told you about the football books I read in the fourth quarter of 2014. Now I will tell you about some of the more interesting of the other […]


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