Thursday, May 19, 2011
Posted: 11:30 a.m.
By Ray Didinger
A regular visitor to the CSNPhilly.com website, Mr. Sinatra, sent along a suggestion. With the NFL lockout in its second month and fans experiencing the early symptoms of football withdrawal, Mr. Sinatra felt I should offer some relief.
He asked if I could put together a list of my favorite football books. It would allow the fans to pass the time until the NFL returns while still staying in touch with the game.
OK, here are two lists: 10 general interest football books and five other books with a distinct Philly flavor.
1. When Pride Still Mattered (2000)
The definitive biography of Vince Lombardi, who still is regarded by many as the greatest coach in NFL history. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Maraniss, the book is meticulously researched and paints a warts-and-all picture of Lombardi. Philly fans will be shocked to learn Lombardi agreed to coach the Eagles in 1958 only to be talked out of it by Giants owner Wellington Mara.
2. Friday Night Lights (1990)
Buzz Bissingers study of a small Texas town where life revolves around high school football. Bissinger, a one-time political reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, spent a year in Odessa chronicling the Permian High School Panthers quest for a state championship. The book spawned a movie and a TV series and while both are good, neither equaled the book, which is brilliant.
3. The Thinking Mans Guide to Pro Football (1970)
Written by Paul Zimmerman, this is part textbook and part love letter to the sport. No writer understands football the strategy, the mindset, the unwritten rules better than Dr. Z, and he spells it out in a way that reflects his profound respect for the men who coach and play the game.
4. North Dallas Forty (1973)
The best football novel ever written. Authored by ex-Dallas Cowboys receiver Peter Gent, North Dallas Forty was shocking when it was published almost 40 years ago for its depiction of drug abuse and general brutality in pro football. The book became a movie starring Nick Nolte as the pot-smoking character based on Gent and the film is worth seeing, but the novel is darker and even more powerful.
5. About Three Bricks Shy of a Load (1974)
Sports Illustrated assigned writer Roy Blount, Jr., to spend a season with the Pittsburgh Steelers and he gathered enough material for a book. Blount humanizes stars like Mean Joe Greene, Franco Harris and Terry Bradshaw, but some of his best chapters are those on lesser-knowns such as Ernie (Fats) Holmes, Ray Mansfield and Joe Gilliam.
6. Paper Lion (1966)
The diary of a Harvard-bred writer (George Plimpton) who goes through training camp with the Detroit Lions to experience what it is like to play in the NFL. The book culminates with Plimpton quarterbacking a series in a Lions intra-squad game. If you ever watched an NFL game and thought, I could do that, the final chapter of Paper Lion will bring you to your senses.
7. The Junction Boys (2001)
8. A Civil War (1997)
The prolific John Feinstein (Season on the Brink) wrote this ode to the Army-Navy rivalry. He pays tribute to the cadets and midshipmen who have taken part in this classic series and the mutual respect they share as rivals on the field but brothers in serving their country.
9. Giants and Heroes (1995)
Poet Dianne Tittle de Laet wrote this tribute to her father, Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle. Her account of sitting in the cold at Chicagos Wrigley Field watching her father play on a crippled knee and lose the 1963 championship game is beautiful and haunting. He was weak and injured, she writes, and thousands cheered as the jackals hunted him down.
10. When the Colts Belonged to Baltimore (1996)
A warm family album of a book written by William Gildea about growing up in Baltimore and going to Memorial Stadium with his father to watch the great Johnny Unitas and the Colts. So richly-detailed, you can almost smell the crab cakes.
Here are five titles for fans that are all-Philly all the time:
1. No Medals for Trying (1990)
What makes this book fascinating for Eagles fans is writer Jerry Izenberg spends a week with the New York Giants as they prepare for a 1989 game with the Eagles. Izenberg lets you listen in as Bill Parcells and his coaches break down film of the Eagles and talk about Reggie White, Randall Cunningham and the rest of those Buddy Ryan players.
2. Bringing the Heat (1994)
Before hitting the best-seller list with Black Hawk Down, Mark Bowden was a reporter for The Inquirer who covered the Eagles for three seasons. He did not come from a sports background, which gave him a different perspective and his book, while not heavy on Xs and Os, brings the personalities (White, Cunningham, Ryan, Seth Joyner, Wes Hopkins, etc.) to life.
3. If Football is a Religion, Why Dont We Have a Prayer (2005)
Jere Longman covered the Eagles for The Inquirer in the 80s, so he knows the football culture in Philadelphia and he captures it in all of its face-painted glory. The book is a diary of the Eagles 2004 Super Bowl season, but it is really a story about the fans who invested their hearts and souls only to have them broken in Jacksonville.
4. NFL Unplugged (2010)
WIPs Anthony Gargano takes you inside the game, getting players to describe what goes on at the bottom of a pile, what veterans do to rookies (they call it hazing, but it is worse), what teammates do to each other (one Eagle pummels another for mocking him during a film session) and other anecdotes that will surprise and even startle even a hard-core fan.
5. Games That Changed the Game (2010)
Much like The Thinking Mans Guide, this book written by Ron Jaworski and NFL Films senior producers Greg Cosell and David Plaut explores the evolution of modern football strategy but does it in a way that entertains as it enlightens. If you want to know how the Cover 2 defense works or why the West Coast offense was developed, this is the book for you.
One final thought
It may be hard to find, but Instant Replay, the diary of Green Bay Packer guard Jerry Kramer, is still a classic. It was published in 1967 and was the first book of its kind, a first-person, written-from-the-inside story of a team and a season. It was done previously by Jim Bouton (Ball Four) in baseball, but Kramer was the first to do it in the NFL. If you have not read it, you should.