First and Ten: Top Football Titles for Summer and Fall

The books in this year’s annual roundup of upcoming football titles include historical works, autobiographies, and retrospectives on the current game. Some focus on the quarterback position, others on successful coaching programs, and one on football in pop culture. Three titles rise above the rest, making for the finest of reading experience.

Abrams, Brett L. Terry Bradshaw: From Super Bowl Champion to Television Personality. Rowman & Littlefield. (Sports Icons & Issues in Pop Culture). Sept. 2017. 304p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781442277632. $40. SPORTS

In this second title in the “Sports Icons and Issues in Pop Culture” series, archivist Abrams (Capital Sporting Grounds) covers Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw’s professional football career in three perfunctory chapters. The real focus of this book is the development of the player’s celebrity and exploitation of that persona via pop culture. Abrams examines Bradshaw’s music albums, television and movie roles, commercial advertising campaigns, and books as they interact with American culture and how each was received both by critics and the public. An important subtheme is how Bradshaw’s Southern background (he was born and raised in Louisiana) helped shape his image, and how his popularity contributed to the evolution of the overall perception of the South. The one weakness is Abrams’s attempt to incorporate the “fan’s” view of Bradshaw by relying on interviews and comments from various websites. VERDICT A unique take on Bradshaw’s life and career primarily of interest to students of pop culture rather than football fans.

Arians, Bruce with Lars Anderson. The Quarterback Whisperer: How To Build an Elite NFL Quarterback. Hachette. Jul. 2017. 256p. ISBN 9780316432269. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780316432252. SPORTS

Arians spent 18 years coaching at four universities and 20 more with five National Football League (NFL) teams before becoming head coach, at age 61, of the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. Along the way, he earned a reputation as a maverick with a talent for shaping young quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Andrew Luck. Arians’s mantra for both life and football is “No risk it; No biscuit.” In his first book, he emphasizes the importance of building team trust, caring, and confidence. The story of his life, told here with coauthor Anderson (­Carlisle vs. Army), uses the chronology of his lengthy career as a framework, with other significant experiences mixed in. The mostly first-person narrative combines the coach’s voice with occasional quotes from his wife, Christine, and various quarterbacks. Arians also details what he looks for in a quarterback and how he aims to call a game, but employs little X-and-O specifics. VERDICT A solid biography of an offbeat character that will intrigue any professional football fan.

redstarBell, Upton & Ron Borges. Present at the Creation: My Life in the NFL and the Rise of America’s Game. Univ. of Nebraska. Nov. 2017. 400p. illus. ISBN 9781496200396. $24.95. SPORTS

Bell’s father, Bert, was NFL Commissioner in the postwar era, when the league made great strides in catching up to baseball as the nation’s most popular sport. After Bert died in 1959, 22-year-old Bell began his football career as an equipment manager with the Baltimore Colts in 1960. He worked his way up from ticket sales to scouting to heading the personnel department, later becoming general manager for the New England Patriots and an owner in the short-lived World Football League. In 1976, he moved into journalism, facilitating the first broadcast of the NFL draft in 1977 on Boston’s PBS station and working for local TV and radio outlets. Throughout his life, Bell’s career intersected with athletes and U.S. presidents but always seemed to come back to football. This delightful memoir is filled with telling and colorful anecdotes that shed light on the last 60 years of the sport as well as Bell’s opinions on many matters, including the greatest quarterbacks and coaches he has seen or worked with. VERDICT A highly enjoyable book that should be on every football fan’s reading list.

Carlson, Chuck. Ice Bowl ’67: The Packers, the Cowboys, and the Game That Changed the NFL. Sports Pub. Oct. 2017. 224p. illus. ISBN 9781683580973. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781683581017. SPORTS

Carlson (coauthor, Facing the Green Bay Packers) covered the Green Bay Packers for 11 years and has written several books on the team. On the 50th anniversary of one of the most famous games in football history, the 1967 championship between Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys and Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers, Carlson revisits the contest known as the “Ice Bowl” because it was played in temperatures of -16°, with a wind chill of -45°. This slender title presents new perspectives from Packers’ center Ken Bowman and Cowboys running back Dan Reeves, linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, and defensive tackle Bob Lilly. They discuss the difficulty of playing in bitterly cold conditions, how the game impacted both teams’ futures and cemented a fledgling rivalry that continues to this day. This brief rendering is filled with season and game statistics, play-by-play moments, and where-are-they-now starting lineups. VERDICT Although not rising to the level of Ed Gruvers’s The Ice Bowl: The Cold Truth About Football’s Most Unforgettable Game, this is still a satisfying addition for all football lovers.

George, Thomas. Blitzed: Why NFL Teams Gamble on Starting Rookie Quarterbacks. Sports Pub. Sept. 2017. 208p. notes. ISBN 9781683581079. $24.99. SPORTS

George, former New York Times sportswriter and current SBNation.com national columnist, ultimately concludes in this brief treatise that NFL teams gamble on rookie signal callers because a franchise quarterback is the most important slot to fill for a Super Bowl run. In what reads like a long newspaper article filled with commentary from current and recent coaches and quarterbacks, the author focuses primarily on the contemporary game, with nearly half the book covering 2016 draftees Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, and Dak Prescott. The rest centers on what a rookie quarterback needs to be successful beyond the physical tools: communication and leadership skills, an open relationship with the head coach, football intelligence, a strong work ethic, the ability to process information quickly, and the knowledgeable support of a veteran backup quarterback. VERDICT While there are several interesting quotes from the coaches interviewed, overall the book lacks depth and historical perspective, resulting in a fast read without much lasting impact.

Myers, Gary. My First Coach: Inspiring Stories of NFL Quarterbacks and Their Dads. Grand Central. Aug. 2017. 288p. index. ISBN 9781455598465. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781455598472. SPORTS

Myers, a longtime sportswriter who has written about the Tom Brady/Peyton Manning rivalry in Brady vs. Manning and Joe Montana’s first NFC championship game with the San Francisco 49ers in The Catch, revisits those three quarterbacks and talks with eight others to discuss a father’s ability to shape young signal callers. The tone is inspirational, and the content is similar in almost every story—a supportive father figure who attended all of their son’s games and often played the role of best friend. Myers sometimes varies his approach. For former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Montana, dad was the one who coached him in football and basketball; for current Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, success always has been a bit out of reach. The strongest chapter depicts former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms’s struggles with a nonsupportive father, contrasting that with his attentiveness to his less-successful quarterback sons, Chris and Matt. VERDICT This book suffers from some repetitiveness and is more a tribute to fathers than the sport, making it a nice Father’s Day gift.

redstarOriard, Michael. The Art of Football: The Early Game in the Golden Age of Illustration. Univ. of Nebraska. Aug. 2017. 280p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780803290693. $39.95. SPORTS

Oriard is a former professional football lineman who later spent nearly four decades as a professor of literature at Oregon State University. He combined those interests to establish himself as the premier academic studying football in American culture, perhaps most notably in King Football and Brand NFL. Here, he takes a focused look at the graphic depiction of the game from 1880 to 1920, a period that witnessed not only the growth of American football but the evolution of illustration techniques and styles in the popular press. Oriard’s four-part essay that complements this lavishly illustrated volume investigates the transition from woodcut engraving and halftone printing to cartoons and caricatures, posters and magazine covers, story illustrations and paintings. Through this exploration, the author plumbs the cultural meaning of the messages conveyed, especially as they express the idea of excess, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. VERDICT A gorgeous and thoughtful overview of the visual record of the early years of the game. Highly recommended.

Savage, Phil with Ray Glier. 4th and Goal Every Day: Alabama’s Relentless Pursuit of Perfection. St. Martin’s. Aug. 2017. 336p. index. ISBN 9781250130808. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250130815. SPORTS

Savage, an announcer for the University of Alabama’s radio broadcasts, has known coach Nick Saban for over 25 years, since first working under Saban and Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns in 1991 and eventually serving as general manager of the Browns before returning to his native Alabama in 2009 to join the Crimson Tide Sports Network. In this volume, written with journalist Glier, Savage primarily details how Saban leads the top-ranked Crimson Tide team, also reflecting on Belichick’s similar success with the New England Patriots in Boston. The apt title evokes the unrelenting pressure that both men bring to bear in the operation of their players. In separate chapters, the authors focus on personnel evaluation, recruiting, the importance of practice, teaching and coaching, the evolution of defensive style and defenders’ body types, the opening of the offensive attack, and Saban’s connection to his players and the state of Alabama at large. Since this is also a memoir of Savage’s lengthy career, he offers film study tips and some of his own scouting reports that he delivers to Saban weekly. VERDICT A distinctly original approach to understanding not only Saban’s Crimson Tide team but Belichick’s coaching mind-set as well.

Stewart, Wayne. Remembering the Stars of the NFL Glory Years: An Inside Look at the Golden Age of Football. Rowman & Littlefield. Jul. 2017. 238p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781442274235. $38; ebk. ISBN 9781442274242. SPORTS

Stewart (Stan the Man) contends that the 1950s and 1960s were the golden age of professional football. This latest book contains interviews with several players from that era to support that assertion. Stewart has gathered solid stories and commentary about the time and its stars. The main problem with the book is its organization. Although there are chapters on “The Best Offensive Players,” “The Toughest Players,” and “Hall of Fame Defenders,” the rest reads like a grab bag as it transitions from player to player, sometimes by their position but inconsistently expressed. For example, while Hall of Fame fullback Jim Brown is featured in “The Best Offensive Players,” Hall of Fame fullback Jim Taylor does not turn up until the section on “The Toughest Players.” Similarly, although the first few sections are devoted to Hall of Famers, not all inductees from the time are included. The interviewed players seem to be mostly from the Baltimore Colts and there is very little commentary on the American Football League. The final chapter, “The NFL Then and Now,” works best and is the most focused. VERDICT An interesting book to skim, but its randomness is a detriment.

redstarZimmerman, Paul. Dr. Z: The Lost Memoirs of an Irreverent Football Writer. Triumph. Sept. 2017. 304p. ed. by Peter King. ISBN 9781629374642. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781633198487. SPORTS

Zimmerman, known as “Dr. Z,” covered football and other sports for nearly 50 years as a Sports Illustrated writer and columnist. He was renowned for his extensive film study, thorough analysis of games and players, and distinctive yet caustic voice. At the outset of the 21st century, he began writing his life story but suffered a stroke in 2008. His friend and Sports Illustrated colleague King has done sports fans a favor by editing what Zimmerman had completed, adding supplemental material from Dr. Z’s best work for the magazine to fill out this animated autobiography. The narrative is vibrant and funny, but that no new material will be introduced from this giant of football writing makes this a bittersweet reading experience. Zimmerman was grumpy, loud, opinionated, and droll about everything that meant anything to him. This lively account is filled with great stories from an engaged life, which included sparring with Ernest Hemingway; reporting on Olympics in Mexico City, Munich, and Moscow; and interviewing football greats. VERDICT King has done yeoman’s work in producing this incomplete but brilliant memoir of a singularly fascinating world figure.

John Maxymuk is Head of Public Services, Rutgers University’s Paul Robeson Library, Camden, NJ. He is a longtime sports reviewer for LJ and the author of NFL Head Coaches: A Biographical Dictionary, 1920–2011 (McFarland, 2012)

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