Football Roundup, August 2012

This season’s football books present strong material for the full range of fans, whether they like new gridiron biographies, rich histories, salty memoir, or some serious sociological inquiry with their reading.

Baker, Jim & Bernard M. Corbett. The Most Memorable Games in Patriots History: The Oral History of a Legendary Team. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. 2012. c.368p. illus. index. ISBN 9781608190676. $24. SPORTS

Focused on a bakers’ dozen of top Patriots games, this lively volume (delayed from publication during last year’s lockout) essentially covers the history of the franchise, combining oral history, text narrative, and statistical analysis. All but one game here, from the very first Boston Patriots AFL game in 1960 to the 2007 Patriots win over the Giants to complete their 16-0 season, were Patriot victories. In each chapter, Baker (The Most Memorable Games in Giants History ) and sports broadcaster Corbett cover the basic background of the game, the opponent, the game itself and the consequences. At the end of each chapter are sidebars and tables with interesting and quirky information related to the game. At times, these can drift pretty far afield, but they’re also fun and enlightening. VERDICT Very well researched, written and edited, this entertaining book will be of interest to all football fans, whether or not they love the Pats.

Cook, Kevin. The Last Headbangers: NFL Football in the Rowdy, Reckless ’70’s: The Era That Created Modern Sports. Norton. Sept. 2012. c.304p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780393080162. $26.95. SPORTS

Tied to the 40th anniversary of perhaps the most famous play in NFL history, the Immaculate Reception of Franco Harris that enabled Pittsburgh to beat Oakland in the closing seconds of a 1972 playoff game, this vibrant history of 1970s pro football focuses not only on the players but on how the game was played. The author’s contention is that the decade was the end of an era in which the players ruled on the field and coaches played a much smaller role than today. In that freewheeling time, the game was played often with a savage brutality best exemplified in the period’s prime hard-hitting rivalry of the Steelers and Raiders to determine the league’s dominant team. While the successes of the 1970s Dolphins, Cowboys, and Vikings are noted, the emphasis here is on the two teams in black jerseys. The rise of Bill Walsh’s scripted 49ers in 1981 is seen as the onset of the contemporary game played more as a coaches’ chess match. The only problem with this book (at least in galleys) is that it is riddled with minor inaccuracies that are distracting to knowledgeable readers. ­VERDICT A well-told tale of interest to all football fans.

starred review star Daly, Dan. The National Forgotten League: Entertaining Stories and Observations from Pro Football’s First Fifty Years. Univ. of Nebraska. Oct. 2012. c.424p. bibliog. ISBN 9780803243439. pap. $26.95. SPORTS

This is the most entertaining football history since the author’s own Pro Football Chronicle , authored with Bob O’Donnell (1990). While this new book takes a decade-by-decade approach similar to the earlier volume, there is no repetition in content. Daly (sports columnist, Washington Times ) relies on personal interviews as well as deep and wide newspaper research to uncover some of the oddest and most engaging long-forgotten stories from pro football’s first 50 years. These true tales illuminate how the game was once played and how it has evolved over time. The lively and often humorous sagas from these pages include several pieces on overlooked records and unusual statistics, a compilation of quirky plays in which the goal posts played a part, the development of both soccer-style kickers and the kicking game, and the dark secrets of gridiron legends Sid Luckman, Tommy Thompson, and Otto Graham. VERDICT The best football book of the year. It should be read by every football fan.

Drape, Joe. Soldiers First: Duty, Honor, Country, and Football at West Point. Times Bks: Holt. Sept. 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9780805094909. $26. SPORTS

Sportswriter Drape (New York Times ; The Race for the Triple Crown ) covers the 2011 football season at West Point. He provides a clear view of the experience of the cadets, all of whom recognize that there are things of greater significance in life, and in their obligations, than football. Having conducted many interviews, Drape recounts the season mostly through the eyes of several prominent players and the head coach, with the rich history of West Point itself folded in. Unfortunately, the book would have held greater interest if the 2011 Black Knights had done better than finishing 3-9, including another loss to Navy. VERDICT Drape succeeds at capturing the spirit of football at the U.S. Military Academy well. His book will appeal primarily to those interested in the service academies, football and all.

Eisenberg, John. Ten-Gallon War: The NFL’s Cowboys, the AFL’s Texans, and the Feud for Dallas’s Pro Football Future. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2012. c.336p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780547435503. $27. SPORTS

Former Baltimore Sun sports columnist Eisenberg’s best book, Cotton Bowl Days (1997), was a memoir of his growing up a Cowboys fan in 1960s Dallas. This volume returns to the first three years of that decade when the Cowboys of the NFL and the Texans of the AFL vied for the city’s then-limited interest in pro football. When it was proposed that the two teams play a game to determine who leaves town, some wags joked that the loser should be forced to stay. Ultimately, Lamar Hunt’s AFL champion Texans moved to Kansas City to become the Chiefs in 1963, ceding Dallas to the ’Boys. Through extensive interviews, a Texas-sized territorial war over players, fans, and facilities is vividly relived. ­VERDICT Concisely and affectionately told, this delightful book should appeal to all football fans.

starred review star Freeman, Mike. Undefeated: Inside the 1972 Miami Dolphins’ Perfect Season. It: HarperCollins. Sept. 2012. c.320p. photogs. bibliog. ISBN 9780062009821. $25.99. SPORTS

Keyed to the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Dolphins, this book recalls the only NFL team to go through an entire season without losing. Despite that unique accomplishment, this exceedingly smart, disciplined and dedicated team is generally underappreciated in history because of its lack of superstars and its weak schedule. In detailing the assembly and accomplishments of the Dolphins, Freeman (national columnist, relies heavily on the coach, Don Shula, and exalts his legacy above all. All key players are profiled and prevailing issues such as race relations are explored, but there is not much game action in the book. VERDICT Timed well and professionally written, this work will be in demand as the definitive book on a signature team.

Holley, Joe. Slingin’ Sam: The Life and Times of the Greatest Quarterback Ever to Play the Game. Univ. of Texas. Oct. 2012. c.328p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780292719859. $24.95. SPORTS

In 1944, two-way football legend Sam Baugh accomplished a football trifecta that will never be repeated: he led the NFL in passing, punting and interceptions. Baugh is best known as the greatest passer of the first 40 years of pro football and is still considered one of the all-time greatest quarterbacks as well. Yet this work is the first all-inclusive biography of this giant of American sports history. Holley includes background on Baugh’s ancestors, his Texas boyhood, and time starring at Texas Christian University; recounts his heroics as a player and coach; and details Sam’s family life and post-playing career as a contented West Texas rancher. The Baugh that emerges from the page is a simple, honest, confident, direct man with a salty tongue and wry sense of humor. The book’s only flaw is some confusion over early football strategies and tactics. ­VERDICT This serious and thorough biography will be welcomed by all football fans and should be of interest to American history buffs as well.

McKnight, Michael. Intercepted: The Rise and Fall of NFL Cornerback Darryl Henley. Univ. of Nebraska. Oct. 2012. c.488p. ISBN 9780803238497. $27.95. SPORTS

Coming from a comfortable middle-class upbringing, ­Da­rryl Henley had no idea how quickly his charmed life as a Los Angeles Rams cornerback would disintegrate once he became involved in a boyhood friend’s drug deal. Henley involved one of the team’s cheerleaders in the deal, and her questionable testimony at Henley’s trial helped convict him. Add in Henley’s attempt to bribe a jury member and his subsequent ill-conceived venture to have the judge and the cheerleader killed by the mob and you have a riveting, sordid tale of drug trafficking, complete with allegations of zealous Drug Enforcement Agency misconduct and judicial indiscretion. Through meticulous investigative reporting, the author systematically details Henley’s missteps and transgressions, but still concludes that the initial drug trial was a miscarriage of justice. VERDICT This crime story page-turner will likely draw more readers of true crime accounts than football fans.

Manoyan, Dan. Alan Ameche: The Story of “The Horse.” Terrace: Univ. of Wisconsin. Sept. 2012. c.286p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780299290108. $26.95. SPORTS

Ameche is an odd choice for a biography. While he is still somewhat remembered as the 1954 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and for scoring the winning Colts touchdown in the first sudden-death NFL championship game in 1958 (hyped as the “greatest game ever played”), defeating the Giants, the All Pro fullback had a brief NFL career and died at age 55 nearly 25 years ago. There was much more to this first-generation American than football, however. Sportswriter Manoyan shows that Ameche was a successful entrepreneur, generous philanthropist, and humble, hard-working family man whose life stands in stark contrast to many of the biggest stars of today’s game. VERDICT An admirable subject, but reader interest will probably be limited to Colts fans and University of Wisconsin followers.

Mealer, Bryan. Muck City: Winning and Losing In America’s Last Football Town. Crown Archetype. Oct. 2012. c.336p. illus. ISBN 9780307888624. $25. SPORTS

Belle Glade, FL, is a depressed small town on the shore of Lake Okeechobee that historically has been economically reliant on sugar corporations. Known as “Muck City” for its rich soil, it is now a dysfunctional community plagued by high rates of poverty, drugs, AIDS and violent crime, but still has produced more than 30 NFL players over the years. Focusing on several players from the Glades Central High School Raiders, six-time state champions, as they try to succeed in the face of long odds, this book profiles the 2009 season—the final year of Coach Jesse Hester, a former Glades player who once played pro football. Mostly, the book functions as a well-reported snapshot of the present disheartening reality of life among the underclass. VERDICT Of interest more to sociologists than to football fans.

Patoski, Joe Nick. The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America. Little, Brown. Oct. 2012. c.816p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780316077552. $29.99. SPORTS

This immense history of the Dallas Cowboys differs in focus from other team chronicles. Titles like Peter Golenbock’s Cowboys Have Always Been My Heroes and Jeff Pearlman’s Boys Will Be Boys looked primarily at the players and coaches. Patoski, however, broadens the scope and examines many more peripheral but noteworthy aspects to the team: its front-office machinations and finances, the Cowboys’ innovative computer setup in the 1960s, the image and impact of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, and, finally, the history and culture of Big D itself. There are occasional trivial factual mistakes in the galleys, but Patoski provides a comprehensive record of everything to do with the iconic franchise of America’s Team. ­VERDICT Cowboy fans and football historians will find this volume an appealing addition.

starred review star The Pro Football Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Book: Where Greatness Lives. Grand Central. 2012. 320p. ed. by Joe Horrigan & John Thorn. ISBN 9780446583961. $34.99. SPORTS

Horrigan (vice president, communications & exhibits, Pro Football Hall of Fame) and Thorn (Total Football ) have compiled this 50th-anniversary commemoration of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH. A beautifully laid out volume, it combines essays, quotes and photographs to recount the history of the game and the hall itself. Pictured in both black-and-white and color are well over 100 artifacts of the hall’s collection, including programs, ticket stubs, contracts, official letters, play diagrams, advertisements, uniforms, equipment, and trophies. The 11 essays are written by prominent journalists, historians, and broadcasters, and are tied to each decade of pro football. Quotes from every one of the Hall’s 267 members augment the photos and the text. VERDICT While the book does not aim to be an encyclopedic history of the game, it is informative, enjoyable, and thorough in its own way. Any fan would enjoy paging through this coffee-table volume.

Ruettiger, Daniel “Rudy” with Mark Dagostino. Rudy: My Story. Thomas Nelson. Sept. 2012. c.292p. ISBN 9780849948398. $24.99. SPORTS

The popular 1993 movie Rudy told the sentimental, but true, story of Rudy Ruettiger, a working-class kid from a family of 13 children who aspired to play football for Notre Dame despite having little physical ability, and who beat the odds to do so. Rudy just barely graduated from high school, served in the Navy, then attended community college before reaching Notre Dame in his mid-twenties. In 1975 at age 27, he appeared in the Fighting Irish’s season finale for 27 seconds, even sacking the quarterback in one of his two plays. He spent the next 18 years struggling to turn his 27 seconds of fame into a movie. VERDICT Ruettiger is now a motivational speaker; this book is his story and his message (no mention of the 2011 SEC complaint against him for alleged stock scamming), but most readers have long since moved on. His book may appeal to some Notre Dame fans.

Sapp, Warren with David Fisher. Sapp Attack: My Story. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne Bks. Aug. 2012. c.304p. photogs. ISBN 9781250004383. $25.99. SPORTS

The cover blurb for this autobiography of a seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle and likely future Hall of Famer advertises the subject as “Big Man—Big Mouth—Big Laughs.” They left out Enormous Ego. Here the trash-talking Sapp relays, in his own loud voice, his side of his frequent on-field skirmishes and controversies from the University of Miami to the Tampa Bay Bucs to the Oakland Raiders to his current gig as an analyst for the NFL Network. Sapp notes that the irony of the NFL paying him to say the same sorts of outlandish things that they would fine him for saying as a player fits in with the incongruity of the league’s marketing the hard-hitting nature of the game while trying to eliminate the sport’s violence. VERDICT In a breezy (some would say windy) style, Sapp’s autobiography is a bit of amusing light reading for most football fans.

Yeatter, Bryan L. Joe Namath, Game by Game: The Complete Professional Football Career. McFarland. Oct. 2012. c.380p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780786470365. pap. $49.95. SPORTS

Yeatter takes a unique approach, offering a game-by-game account of the football icon’s professional career. Namath had a major impact on the development of pro football as the nation’s leading sport in the 1960s, but is as well remembered for his off-field celebrity as for his on-field heroics. Relying on a wealth of contemporary newspaper resources, the author recounts each Namath game over his 13 pro years. While preseason games are noted briefly, regular season and postseason matches are given thorough, detailed, and precise write-ups. It would have made for easier browsing if a box score and Namath’s stat line were included at the top of each game, but the book remains tremendously useful in understanding the quarterback’s career. While Yeatter argues for Namath’s Hall of Fame talent, the general impression one is left with is how wildly inconsistent he was and how reckless a passer. For example, Joe threw a disturbing 29 interceptions returned for touchdown in his career. VERDICT Obsessive? Perhaps, but Jets fans and football historians will be excited by this unprecedented work of research.