I have very mixed reactions to this book about the life of a football player on the margins. Let me start off with what I liked about it.
Nate Jackson details his life as a marginal player in the NFL. Basically he hung on through the practice squad and playing on special teams, with a few stints on the field itself. If there is a theme to the book it’s twofold.
One is the prevalence of pain and injury in the NFL and how that makes it even more difficult to hang on when you’re always on the bubble of being cut or released. Jackson seemed to be somewhat injury prone with bad shoulders and later a balky hamstring, not to mention a knee injury he suffered.
The second theme is how the players love football, or at least in this case maybe it is a love-hate relationship with football as that is certainly how the account of this career comes off. I could never tell really whether Jackson hated football or loved it. But he must have loved it or at least needed it like a drug to go through all he did to hang on to his football career.
And Jackson has seen it all, from the practice squad, to great players on the Denver Broncos, to NFL Europe, and a last, final hurrah in the United Football League, a very, very small league for struggling want to be players and those, like Jackson, hanging on by their bootstraps for one more chance at an NFL career. (I wonder if the same can be said about the coaches as Jim Fassel coached in the UFL).
The book is told from the point of view of the player and what life in the NFL means, which is a lot of pain, little time with family or friends, and near total devotion to one’s craft and to keeping the body sound. And for some, the few minutes of glory of being on the field and making a big hit on special teams or a great catch is worth it.
Jackson mostly stayed away from the Xs and Os of the game and personalities. The most we heard about personalities was his great respect for Bronco’s receiver Rod Smith, and how he liked Jake Plummer and Mike Shanahan (the later who gave him a chance at the behest of none other than Bill Walsh).
This was a very interesting account of the daily life of a player on an off the field and what it means to dedicate yourself to the NFL, especially for a player on the margins.
What I didn’t like about the book, and it grated on my nerves throughout, is the smart-alecky writing style. It’s as if every anecdote and chapter is wrapped in this veil of smarmy humor that comes across, to this reader, and childish and not funny, as I am sure it was intended. Not that a book like this couldn’t use some of this type of levity, but the entire book is written in that vein. That was a huge turnoff.
I also really never could tell whether Jackson loved the NFL or hated the NFL or both. I suspect both given the struggle with injuries and that he mostly grouses about life in the NFL. But then as noted, he did hang on for as long as he could through the injuries, NFL Europe, and the UFL. Why put yourself through that if you didn’t love it on some level? And he never talks about whether he truly cared about winning or losing games.
And I would have liked to read more gossipy scoops on the players he played with like Plummer and Cutler and Brandon Marshall or things going on in the NFL generally.
Finally, even though told from the view of the “common player” it really is about Nate Jackson, not the NFL and really not the other players.
And for these reasons, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t recommend it.