Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today’s NFL
By John Feinstein
“Next Man Up” is an inside look at a year behind the scenes of a National Football League team. John Feinstein, a well-regarded sports writer, spent the 2004 season with the Baltimore Ravens. It is a well-written account of what it’s like for the players, coaches, and owners to go through an NFL season—and, in this case, a disappointing one, as the Ravens did not make the playoffs.
The pressure on coaches and players is tremendous and the physical toll of the game on players palpable. While there is nothing that is going to shock or be particularly new to NFL fans here, it nevertheless is very interesting.
The Ravens in 2004 were a team with high hopes that failed to make the playoffs. There was tension on the team between offensive and defensive coaches because the defense was great and the offense pedestrian at best. Interestingly, that tension didn’t seem to seep in among the players.
We also get a look at Steve Bisciotti, the new Ravens owner, and his style of leadership and what he expects of his players and coaches.
Additionally, there are interesting insights into players like Ray Lewis, kicker Matt Stover, malcontent Chris McCallister, Neon Deon Sanders, and others. Terrell Owens and the fiasco of the Ravens trying to trade for him also makes a cameo appearance. Then-coach Brian Billick also is explored.
Finally, there are certainly themes to this team, such as the role of religion, the development (or lack thereof) of young quarterback Kyle Boller, the firing of Matt Cavanaugh (offensive coordinator) at the end of the season, and even insights into Dan Snyder, the brash owner of the Redskins, through the eyes of Mike Nolan, who used to coach for him.
And the overriding theme of the book is the intense pressure on players and coaches to win.
Overall, this was a worthwhile and interesting book for NFL fans, but not that insightful for someone who spent a year with a team, from the draft and workouts to being at each game and several coaches’ meetings. Also, at times, Feinstein makes unnecessary, petulant commentary on things unrelated to the book (like taking swipes at Al Michaels), which I found somewhat childish and detracting.
Nevertheless, NFL fans should enjoy this one.