A Worthy Biography of Ken Stabler

512g898CtmL._AC_UL320_SR212,320_This is a different kind of biography.  The author says part of the idea of writing the book was show a different side of Ken Stabler than the womanizing, heavy drinking, partying Stabler of his youth through his NFL playing career.  He wanted to show the side of Ken Stabler that genuinely care about people, including his teammates, his kids, and even his ex-wives.

So we have three sides of Ken Stabler.

First, the rebellious, woman loving (in many ways), and partier Ken Stabler of his youth through his football career.  Stabler was not only upfront about his partying ways, he kind of bragged about it.  And he embraced the bad boy image of the Oakland Raiders.  It is hard for me to believe that Bear Bryant had two of the most iconic rebel rousing athletes of their day at the University of Alabama in both Joe Namath followed by Ken Stabler.  Both got into deep trouble with Bear Bryant because of their wayward ways and eventually rehabilitated themselves with him.  Also interesting, both love the Bear and it seems the Bear deeply cared about them too.  Stabler continued his fun loving ways with the Raiders, having a lot of fun along the way.

Second, there is the athlete Ken Stabler.  In some ways that goes hand in hand with the rebelliousness as an average athlete probably just doesn’t get away what Stabler did in college and the pros.  He was obviously and outstanding athlete who eventually won a Super Bowl ring and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Here the author makes a strong case for Stabler as a Hall of Famer.  Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? He was certainly a great leader on the football field and the right one for the Raiders.  I think he does belong partly because you couldn’t think of the NFL in the 1970’s without Stabler.  He was a gunslinger and he won a Super Bowl.  But, he also had a woeful number of interceptions.  He had a touchdown to interception ratio of of .87.  But his statistics easily stack up against other Hall of Fame quarterbacks of his error.  Terry Bradshaw, who’s career almost parallels Stabler’s, had statistics that closely mirror that of Stabler and Stabler has a better career passer rating than Bradshaw.  So yes, he belongs.

Third there is the empathic Ken Stabler who cared for his teammates, his family, his kids and his friends.  He was, by all accounts, a great father to his kids even after his divorces and even more so after he retired from football and had more time with them.  He stood up for his teammates and while it might sound odd now, was colorblind.  He exhibited traits, even at the University of Alabama, where he treated all equally regardless of race.  And in his later years he chilled out and relaxed with family and his grandkids.

Stabler had a grand life and this biography does him justice.

Snake: The Legendary Life of Ken Stabler

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The Real Brett Favre

51zqcudgjnl-_sy346_.jpgJeff Pearlman has written several books that peel the varnish off and gives us a glimpse at the real lives of sports stars.  This book about the life of Brett Favre is no exception.  It reveals the great, the good, the not so good, and the bad.  It’s all here.

This biography of Favre does a great job of filling in his childhood, high school, and college days which many people are not as aware of.  Brett started out as a prankster and living life hard (or to its fullest) and he never really quit.  The book details his rise in the National Football League and offers many anecdotes about his behavior, both good and bad, but also about his unbelievable play on the field.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Brett Favre is his almost Jekyll and Hyde nature.  He can be unbelievably kind to young fans and those in need, but unbelievably cruel to some family members and teammates.  His practical jokes sometimes went a little too far bordering on meanness.  He is a good family man but also a philanderer.  He basically behaved, even as a superstar, like a juvenile with too many hormones and too little brains.   He also became addicted to alcohol and painkillers while in the NFL.

Another interesting aspect of the book is Farve’s father Irv and how he really latched onto Brett’s fame and fortune and started living out his own dreams through his son.  He also was a philanderer and spent a lot of time around the team, in bars, and bragging about who his son was.  I didn’t know much about Irv until this book.

Finally the book of course talks about Favre’s incredible Hall of Fame football career.  Despite the prankster attitude he took football seriously and clearly loved playing the game.  He had one of the best arms in NFL history but his biggest downfall, as the title of the book suggests, was he was a gunslinger.  He often took chances he shouldn’t have so in addition to the many passing records he holds, he also holds the record for most interceptions in a career.  I would argue that Green Bay would have won more than one Super Bowl had Favre not had a tendency to throw interceptions in the playoffs.

The details about his move to the New York Jets and then the Minnesota Vikings after Green Bay Packers got fed up with the uncertainty of whether Brett really would retire or not is well told here.  There was a lot of drama in Green Bay around Brett’s departure and he didn’t help matters by playing into the drama with his coy indecisiveness for a few years.

The only fault I have with the book overall is there really isn’t much that is new here except some of the interviews conducted during the book.  But a lot of what is chronicled here is mostly already known.  The book does a nice job of pulling it all together go and weaving together the narrative of Brett’s life on and off the field.

New England Patriots Super Bowl XLIX Highlights Video

untitledNew England fans will no doubt want to have this video as part of their collection which has an hour long recap of the Patriots’ 2014 regular season and postseason games, with extensive highlights of the Super Bowl XLIX win, 28-24, over the Seattle Seahawks.

Other than being a New England Patriots fan, I would rate the video to be about average.  While it does a decent job of providing a nice recap of the regular season, it could have done more to build the drama throughout the season.  While New England ultimately went 12-4, there was some real drama early in the season.

Despite blowing out a poor Minnesota Vikings team in Week 2, the Patriots looked very mediocre after four games.  They were humiliated in Week 4 by the Kansas City Chiefs and not only looked like a pedestrian team, they looked like a bad team.  The offensive line was a mess, Brady didn’t look like Brady, and the entire team looked like it could be headed to “has been” status.  There was even talk in the media about Brady being benched.  That’s just how bad it was.

While this video plays up the fact New England looked pretty poor in that game and captured the theme “we’re on to [choose team]” mantra the coach and players adopted after the Kansas City game, it missed a lot too.  For example, it really should have included Belichick scoffing at a reporter when asking if the “QB position would be evaluated” implying Brady could be benched.  And it could have shown some of the commentary in the media about the Patriots being “a bad team.”  But it didn’t.  And that would have made what came next even more powerful.  The Patriots righted the ship and went on to win all but two of their remaining games.  One was a close loss to Green Bay at Lambeau field and the final game against Buffalo where most of the starters rested.  And of course, they won the Super Bowl.

The video does a better job with the playoff wins against the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts and of course the Super Bowl.  The Ravens game was particularly close with tricky formations and a trick play to secure the win after being down by 14 points twice.

The New England Patriots seem to always be in heart stopping Super Bowl matchups that leave viewers on the edge of their seats until the final gun sounds.  Super Bowl XLIX in which the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 is no exception.  Seattle was able to pull off a miraculous drive at the end of the game to almost win it, only to be thwarted at the goal line by an interception by the unheralded rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler.  The video is at its best covering this game and its magnitude for the legacy of Brady and the Patriots

Of course everyone will remember the season for the ridiculous Deflategate drama at the end of AFC Championship Game.  The video never mentions it, and as a Patriots fan I am not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.  It was definitely a part of the story leading into the Super Bowl and had to be a distraction for players and coaches so I feel the video should have somehow deftly handled it because it was part of the full story of the season.  That it’s completely missing seems odd.

The special features in this addition are nothing special or worth mentioning.  I wish they could have put together a better package for that as they have done in the past.

http://amzn.to/2oplcok

Overall, of course Patriots fans like me will love the DVD despite its drawbacks.

 

Solid History of the Dallas Cowboys

51wvpftrt1l__sx327_bo1204203200_This is a nicely comprehensive history of the Dallas Cowboys.  The only caveat I have is much of the history is already known.  But I enjoyed the book nonetheless.

The first section of the book up to the 1960’s is a bit of a bore and was more about the history of Dallas and building up to the creation of the Cowboys in 1960 and the cultural backdrop of “everything is bigger in Texas.”  It does a decent job of that, and was thankfully short.

The next section covering the 1960’s was reasonably well done as well, but since much of that covers the showdown between Clint Murchison, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL, and Lamar Hunt, the owner of the upstart AFL Dallas team, the Dallas Texans, is more thoroughly done elsewhere.  Nonetheless this is a critical part of the team’s history and was well written.  The best part of this section was on the field issues and the story behind Don Meredith, a very solid quarterback who just didn’t quite get Dallas over the hump.  But it’s also the story of Bobby Hayes who had his best years in the mid-to-late 1960s but eventually declined due to cocaine abuse.

Had it not been for the dominant Pittsburgh Steelers, the 1970’s Dallas Cowboys might have had more than two Super Bowl wins.  But this was a great decade for Dallas and well chronicled here.  This was the also the decade of Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach and it was refreshing to see a solid, grounded individual not prone to the decadence and excesses we see in players in future years.  The book also does a good job of chronicling the story of Danny White who took over as quarterback when Staubach retired.  He was also a good quarterback but the Cowboys were in decline and he never was able to bring them back to a path of glory.  He simply took over the reins at the wrong time.

The 1980’s saw the Cowboys as a mediocre team at best slogging through the decade toward a rebuilding era in the 1990’s.  This section starts to get into the impending sale of the Cowboys and the ultimate complete turnover we see under Jerry Jones in the 1990’s.

And of course the 1990’s was the decade of the Cowboys, Jerry Jones, Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin, with a host of stars on the offensive line and in the defense as well.  This decade is well chronicled as well, especially the furor over the firing of Tom Landry, and then the shenanigans and bad blood that developed between Jones and Johnson, leading to the firing (or mutual parting of the ways) of these two egomaniacs.  This episode in Dallas’s history was soap opera material and has been very well told in the press, but here we get it in one big sour lump.  Dallas won three Super Bowls in four years, but afterwards saw, again, a precipitous decline as Jerry Jones insisted on being the owner and general manager of the team.

The book goes through 2011 with the Cowboys still struggling to be a relevant team again.

Overall I thought the book was well done but so much of the history I already knew, I at times got a little bored with it.  Nonetheless, this is a must read for Cowboys fans, and a book pro football fans will fine enjoyable.

The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America

Good Biography of Lamar Hunt

huntDespite an uninspiring writing style this is a very solid biography of Lamar Hunt.  Better yet, I learned a good deal about Lamar Hunt I didn’t know.  Most readers will recognize Lamar Hunt as one of the found fathers of the American Football League which competed directly with the well-established National Football League.  After a rather successful half decade the Hunt was then instrumental in the merger of the two leagues, creating the modern, NFL we know today.

Lamar Hunt was born not with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, but many golden spoons.  His father was a billionaire and Hunt inherited a vast amount of wealth that allowed him to pursue his own dreams and goals with little concern about the financial consequences.  He fell in love with football in college and as an adult desperately wanted to own an NFL team but was spurned by the old guard.  So Hunt did the next best thing, he found a group of like-minded men and created his own football league.

While getting a professional football league up and running and successful against the established, old school NFL was a daunting challenge, Hunt managed to do just that.  And despite eventually having to move his inaugural Dallas franchise to Kansas City, his team and his league thrived.  So much so, that eventually the NFL was compelled to merge with the AFL to avoid escalating player salaries and competition for television viewers.

The most interesting thing about Hunt through all this was his decency and humanity.  Unlike many who didn’t earn but were handed vast amounts of wealth who slid into slovenly habits and narcissism, Hunt was considered by his peers to be very nice, decent man and one who worked hard at his passion – sports.  Even during the intensive rivalry with the NFL’s expansion franchise the Dallas Cowboys, he managed to stay friendly with Dallas’s other billionaire football owner Clint Murchison.

The other amazing thing about Lamar Hunt was the other sports he was passionate about and some he helped get off the ground.  For example he was an original minority owner of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls.  He helped create the modern open era tennis by co-founding the World Championship Tennis circuit and is in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.  Finally, Hunt is instrumental in first bringing professional soccer to the United States as an owner of a Dallas professional soccer franchise, despite it rankling owners in the NFL.  While the league eventually collapsed, it was the precursor to today’s Major League Soccer.

The story of Hunt and the AFL-NFL merger is well told in other places but this biography also does that seminal event justice, while expanding ones knowledge of just how instrumental Hunt was in the sports world in general.

While the writing lacks a lot to be desired, the content is worth the effort.

Lamar Hunt: The Gentle Giant Who Revolutionized Professional Sports

Review of The Mannings

This book about the Manning family is execrably written, so much so that I frankly wanted to quit reading the book because it was horribly annoying. There are way too many times the author imputes emotions to individuals when he has no idea what the person was actually feeling. Worse, he constantly makes juvenile analogies that are trite to the point of making the reader cringe. It is a very amateurish writing style and a rather amateurish book.

While this is an advanced reading copy, two other items that were irritating is in one chapter Archie’s father is 5 foot 6, and in the next he’s 5 foot 7. In most instances it’s his father’s words, “just be a nice guy,” that drove Archie and his nice guy charm and demeanor, one that was not fake or a put on. But in one instances this is attributed to his mother. These are trivial in terms of the overall narrative, but noticeable and distracting nonetheless.

With that said the book did have some redeeming qualities which, overall, made it barely worth reading. First, I never fully understood the level of fame that Archie Manning had throughout the South, especially in his home state of Mississippi and adopted state of Louisiana. He was nearly a household name after his college stint at Ole Miss as its starting quarterback. Second, the book does an excellent job of describing how Archie’s stern but beloved father and his suicide drove Archie to want to excel on the field and in life, and later how it drove him to spend as much time as he could with is sons and tell them how much he loved them. Archie’s background and family history in a small Mississippi town to become regionally famous paints a clear picture of how Archie handled himself when in the pros, a very good quarterback playing for a horrible team. He kept his head up and marched on.

The book also does a good job of telling the story of Cooper Manning and how, while not a great athlete, would have very likely had a solid college career as a receiver at Ole Miss and how his discovery of a spinal condition that forced him to quit football drove his younger brother Peyton to strive to greatness and professional football to fulfill Cooper’s unfulfilled dreams.

Peyton’s personality has a hard worker, studier and leader comes through strongly in the book as well. His vast knowledge of football, football history, and studying the playbook are legendary. The contrast with the demure Eli Manning is very interesting. Much has been made of Eli’s laid back demeanor, shyness, and some would argue lack of leadership. But it turns out that Eli has been shy and laidback since he was a child. And he never studied football, at least its history, like Peyton did. But he has been successful in his own way nonetheless.

The insights into the personalities of the Archie, Peyton, Eli, and Cooper, along with their family history are very interesting and shed a lot of light on this famous football family.

I do have a few more complaints about the book, however. This book seems to be more about Archie Manning than this two football playing sons. Peyton Manning gets a lot more airtime in detailing his recruitment to the University of Tennessee and his years in college and the pros than Eli. Eli, in some respects, especially his college and professional career, seem almost an afterthought.

Two controversial issues that did not get enough detail or interpretation include the sexual assault allegations about Peyton Manning when he was at Tennessee, and the “forced” trade of Eli Manning from the San Diego Chargers to the New York Giants when he was drafted number one overall by the Chargers.

In the first instance the author does, again, a very amateurish job reporting the incident. He basically takes some things he heard in the media and throws them in the book to check off the box. And some of what is stated in the book is disputed in other media outlets. It’s a really sloppy job of reporting the event.

And very little is detailed about all the behind the scenes actions that lead to Eli being traded from the Chargers to the Giants after he was drafted, with Archie and Eli essentially saying he would not play for the Chargers. Odd given the Chargers were not that bad of a team at the time. There is a big gap in the book on this issue.

The book concludes with Peyton’s ultimate retirement after Super Bowl 50 and does decent job of describing the proud Manning family and the difficulty but inevitability of Peyton’s decision.

While this book has some redeeming qualities, that it’s poorly written and structured makes it a bit frustrating. The Manning’s deserved a better chronicler of their journey.

http://amzn.to/2b7eGZY

 

 

Troy Brown: Patriots for Life

5182Gc8256L__SX332_BO1,204,203,200_This is a very workman like autobiography of Troy Brown.  And that’s fitting, because Troy Brown was a very workman like special teamer and wide receiver for the New England Patriots for 15 years.

The first few chapters Brown tells about his life growing up very poor in South Carolina and sports being his primary outlet.  Being on the smaller side he had to work hard and out compete other players to get ahead.  His entire football career is defined by that.

While he had a standout career in high school, he was not highly recruited and ended up playing junior college.  Luckily he caught the eye of a coach at Marshall University in West Virginia and received one of the last scholarships.  He went on to have an excellent career at Marshall winning the 1992 Division I-AA National Championship as a receiver and kick returner.

Troy Brown was drafted in the 8th round by the New England Patriots in the 1993 draft and almost didn’t even make the team.  He was cut at the end of Preseason and thought his football dream was dead, but luckily for the Patriots, Coach Bill Parcells re-signed him in October.  He spent most of his first seven seasons with the Patriots primarily as a kick returner, and slowly got a chance to start getting in the rotation as receiver as time went on.

His first year as a full-time starter was 2000, when new coach Bill Belichick saw something in his work ethic and talent that he really liked.  It was the right call.  In 2001 Brown had 101 catches and a pivotal role in the offensive as New England went on to upset the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.  He also had an excellent year in 2002.

But, when 2003 rolled around, Troy Brown was relegated to a lesser role in the receiving care.  He had been in the league 10 years at the point and the younger, fresher legs of the likes of Deion Branch were highlighted.  But Brown played a pivotal when New England went on to win back to back Super Bowls in Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX.

Troy admits being upset that he didn’t start in the Super bowl XXXVIII against the Panthers but he played a pivotal role catching eight passes for 76 yards.  The following year Brown spent larges amounts of time playing defensive back because of injuries and again played a pivotal role in Super Bowl XXXIX covering the Philadelphia Eagles slot receivers.  He is a jack of all trades.

Troy Brown certainly didn’t want to retire after his 15 years in the league but father time caught up with him.  He had a great career as a lifelong New England Patriot.

This book will give the reader lots of insights into the character of Troy Brown and what it was like to be on championship winning teams and what it means to persevere.  In this case the underdog comes out on top.

Here is my tribute to Troy Brown written the day I heard he was announcing his retirement:  https://cdbaker.wordpress.com/2008/09/21/tribute-to-troy-brown/

Patriot Pride: My Life in the New England Dynasty