Five Great Football Books to Get You Through the Official Slowest Week in Sports

This is officially the worst sports week of the year. Some people refer to the second week of April or thereabouts – the time between the end of March Madness and the beginning of NBA and NHL playoffs – as the “sports doldrums,” but it really can’t compare to the last week in July.

Unlike some folks, I love summer sports. July is one of my favorite months on the sports calendar. I love the British Open, Wimbledon and the Tour de France – the old world trifecta of summer sports. Since before the Wright brothers, men have been vying for those three trophies over much the same ground that they are still contested today. You need look no further than Tom Watson last year at at Turnberry or John Isner this year at Wimbledon to know that the grand old dames of individual sporting events still have what it takes to tingle.

I also love this stuff because it comes on TV early in the morning. You can watch all the golf or tennis or bicycling you want, while many have barely risen, and still spend your summer afternoons doing summer afternoon things. Most summers there is also a good international soccer tournament to round out the sports offerings, not to mention the steady drumbeat of the MLB season grinding along.

Nevertheless, all but baseball finally came to a shuddering halt on Monday, and we are apparently left with nothing to ponder except which unfortunate team will find itself desperately needing the services of one Terrell Owens, a.k.a. “The Player” to Bill Parcells.  (Note: It is hard to believe, but Parcells really did this. He routinely refused to identify one of his own players by name, and he is still permitted to run an entire football team virtually unsupervised.)

When you look at the sports calendar, the last week of July puts the early-April sports doldrums to shame. In the days between now and the full-throated beginning of college and pro football training camps, we will be treated to several indoor tennis tournaments, the water polo world cup and the European track and field championships. As hard as it may be to believe, The Beverage just can’t get fired up for any of that.

But have no fear. When it gets so hot outside that it feels like a bus exhaust on your face, you know that pointy football is just around the corner. The assorted preview magazines are here to get you by until they line it up for real, but you know where to find that stuff if you want it, and I’ve never really enjoyed reading about how many special teams starters are returning at Purdue. That is the stuff we read because there isn’t anything else.

Don’t settle for the fantasy football guide. There are plenty of good gridiron books out there to combine your late-summer vacation reading with your fall football preparation. Here are five recommendations, with links to Amazon (where all five are available for immediate download to your Kindle for $10 or less):

Next Man Up John Feinstein. If you really want to know what the player personnel business looks like in big-time pro football, this is the book for you. Truth is, you may not want to know, and you may enjoy it a bit less once you do. Life for an elite football player is nasty, brutish and short, and if you’ve bought into the NFL Films mythology of the noble warrior athlete with stirring orchestral music accompanying his every stride, Feinstein may burst your bubble. The cruel calculus wielded by front office men like Ozzie Newsome of the Baltimore Ravens – the book’s ultimate focus – renders human beings in the prime of life down to a commodity, bought and sold if not at auction then something like it. Newsome’s motto, “Right player, Right price”, sums it all up nicely. The average length of an NFL career is something like four years, and this book makes even that seem like a long time. (Note: You should follow the link for a cool Sporting News list of the 120 best numbers in sports. My favorite is the 259 pitches that Nolan Ryan supposedly tossed over 12 innings in a 1974 game.)

Friday Night Lights H.G. Bissinger. Still the best football book out there, and the perfect counterpoint to Next Man Up. Before the movie, and the TV show, there was the real deal. Just Odessa Permian Panther football. Mojo power. I remember it from real life as a vague legend of the high plains. Before cellphone video, Sports Center and the Internet, you never really saw things like 1980s Odessa Permian football. You just heard tell of them, through rumor and reference, stories in print and maybe a static, black-and-white photo. Buzz Bissinger’s classic book makes it all technicolor and real. Bissinger has lately become something of a weirdo, but Friday Night Lights perfectly captures the essence of why most of us ever played football and what we loved and hated about it when we did. In the process, he also tells the remarkable and often overlooked tale of the 1988 Dallas Carter football team, the arch-evil opponent at the end of the Permian story. The details of the Carter plot element were largely lost in transition to the screen, but it is a compelling story, especially if you harbor any half-rememberence of the real-life events, as most Texans of a certain age and inclination will.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer Warren St. John. I am not really that fond of ‘Bama Fan. Long before the “Crimson Tide” speared Colt McCoy’s throwing shoulder to win the national championship, ‘Bama Fan had already risen fairly high on my mental list of the 10 Most Objectionable People at Disney World. Since then, it has reached new heights. As annoying as Gator Fan was in pre-annointing Tebow the Heisman winner last year, ‘Bama Fan is now ten times worse. They are justifiably very proud of the fact that they won the national championship, and there is nothing that they won’t do with puffy paint and glitter to make sure you know about it. However, ‘Bama Fan offers a unique opportunity to study the rabid fan in the wild, and this book is as pure an explication of devotion to team in American sport as you will find. If you want to read about some people who are definitely more fired up for the start of football season than you are, this is the place to start.

Dixieland Delight Clay Travis. Travis does basically the same thing that St. John does in Rammer Jammer, only he expands the palate to the entire Southeastern Conference, the self-proclaimed (perhaps accurately) Best Conference in College Football. This is decidedly low-middlebrow stuff, and it includes a section on “Women of the SEC” and faux-lurid stories about frat parties. Travis is something of a poor-man’s Sports Guy, and this book is a fun page turner that reads like the episodic series of columns that it is. You could probably read it cover-to-cover on a long plane ride and end the trip mildly amused and more ready for football season, and isn’t that really the point of life?

Twelve Mighty Orphans Jim Dent. Think Hoosiers meets Seabiscuit (I am summarizing the back cover so as to spare you reading Vern Lundquist’s quote). This Depression-era true story of the Mighty Mites of Masonic Home is written for a broad audience, and it hits its mark as true four-quadrant fare. It seems certain to eventually find its way to the silver screen, though not likely in the hands of these people. Read the book so that you can say you knew the Mighty Mites before they were famous.

Hope you enjoy one or more of these books and make the most of the last fleeting bits of summer. In a few weeks, it will be hard to remember when there wasn’t any football to watch.


6 Responses to “Five Great Football Books to Get You Through the Official Slowest Week in Sports”

  1. 1 am i the ice in your beverage July 27, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    kind of embarrassed that i’ve only read one of these. afraid to read next man up for the cautionary reasons you give (even though i usually like feinstein’s stuff) and can’t stomach an sec or ‘bama focused story. bring on the mighty mites!

  2. 2 Gary the Bartender July 28, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Great suggestions on the books. The big point of debate raised by your post, though, is, which is the worst week of sports. SI puts out the swimsuit issue in later february because that week — after football is over but before College Hoops gets serious (which is to say, before the 2nd regular season UNC/Duke game, which is followed by conference tournaments and March Madness); and about when pitchers and catchers report. NBA and NHL are at the bottom of their boring grinds. Euro soccer may be a savior for this week, but I contend it is worse than the april week mentioned above.

    The other slow time is the early december period after College football conference championship games, but before the bowls, which is also after the NFL playoff spots are largely decided and peyton manning plays like 10 minutes in his games. This isn’t the answer, because there is football, but, there is not much football and it is of limited consequence, so, its worth mentioning. College Hoops are in the period where the big guys play the little sisters of the poor (after teh Thanksgiving tournaments are over). NBA/NHL is no help.

  3. 3 The Beverage July 28, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Second week in February is arguably packed compared to this week. I think that SI puts the swimsuit issue out then because that’s when people sell swimsuits, but I may spark some dissent on that. Even if you don’t like the college basketball available, or the NHL or NBA, they are on, every night. Not to mention the west coast swing in golf and the Daytona 500. Ditto early December. There is legit nothing on right now except baseball. No soccer. No whacky individual sports. ESPN tries to make us believe that the WSOP is going on right now, and I think I saw a softball world cup game the other day (is that possible?). Having said that, the Rangers game last night was awesome! Cliff Lee is much better than the other guys.

  4. 4 sudie July 29, 2010 at 6:19 am

    I have only read Friday Night Lights and Twelve Mighty Orphans. Think I’ll read about ‘Bama next. Do appreciate the suggestions. I know you’re touting football, but I sighed during the last hoorahs of golf thinking I should reread Dead Solid Perfect. Thanks.

  5. 5 The Beverage July 29, 2010 at 11:17 am

    If the blog survives until next spring, I will do a great golf books post in the pre-Masters April sports doldrums…Dead Solid Perfect will possibly be on the list.

  6. 6 the dos xx man July 29, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Very interesting. My friends

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