The Yucks

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This is a fun little book about one of the ineptest teams in professional football history, the 1976 and 1977 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  As an expansion team the Buccaneers were really put behind the eight ball because their ability to gather talent was limited to has beens or never weres from other teams.  And it showed.  They are the first team to go 0-16 in an NFL regular season.

This book is full of entertaining stories and anecdotes about that team, its entertaining coach John McKay, and the many memorable ways the Yucks found to lose games, from the perspective a fan.  Often very funny, but also with some insights on truly great players who were stuck on a bad team, it is an entertaining read for NFL fans.

The Yucks: Two Years in Tampa with the Losingest Team in NFL History

Raymond Berry Football Autobiography

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Raymond Berry is 86 years old now and just published a short autobiography of his life in football and beyond.  While the prose is a bit stilted at times it is an easy to read and digest compilation of his career.

Raymond Berry is probably best known, along with Johnny Unitas, for the Greatest Game Ever Played when his Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game and first ever overtime game in NFL history.  Berry caught 12 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown in that game and was integral in the Colts’ win.  Those kinds of numbers would be incredibly impressive even in today’s pass happy NFL.  The Colts went on to win the NFL Championship the following year and were extremely competitive throughout Berry’s 12 year Hall of Fame career.

What stands out most about Berry is he was not the most athletically gifted athlete, although he was fast and had great hands.  He persevered and became one of the greatest receivers of all time through hard work and practice, practice, practice.  He and Johnny Unitas were the linchpins of what could have been an NFL dynasty had it not been for the roadblock of the Green Bay Packers under Vince Lombardi.

Being a New England Patriots fan I was most interested in his years as the Patriots head coach including their loss to the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX 45 to 10.  The 1984 Patriots, while they did go 11-5, really played over the level of their talent in my opinion, which attests to how good a coach Berry was.  He makes the assertion that the reason the game was so lopsided is he was a new head coach and installed a new offense that year, whereas the Bears defense under Buddy Ryan had been running the same system for five years.  Thus, had he had more time to install his offense, the level of play would have been more equal.

While the writing is somewhat uneven and the book jumps around subject wise a good bit, it is a worthwhile read for football fans.

All the Moves I Had: A Football Life

Meet Bill Parcells, Bill Walsh, and Joe Gibbs

51-6MwiGHtLGuts and Genius tells the saga of the three heads coaches that truly did dominate the NFL in the 1980’s.  The author walks through the football lives of Bill Parcels (New York Giants), Bill Walsh (San Francisco 49’ers), and Joe Gibbs (Washington Redskins).  Between these coaches, through the 1980’s into the early 90’s, they won 8 Super Bowls and left an indelible print on the NFL.

There are a few key common themes that tie these coaches together besides their winning ways.

First, they were football savants.  While each had their philosophies and systems, especially Walsh with the West Coast Offense, they were also flexible enough to adjust their approach to meet the strengths and weaknesses of their own teams and that of their opponents.  Of the three Walsh probably has the most long-term impact on the game with this short passing game designed to stretch the field horizontally and allow playmakers to get the ball in space and move the ball the down the field.  He also left a much more extensive and successful coaching three than Gibbs or Parcells.

The second theme is leadership.  While each coach had extremely different personalities, they each found ways to connect with and motivate their players to play as a team and achieve more as a unit than they could as a collection of individuals.  They each formed lifelong connections with many of the key players and coaches during their eras.

A third theme is that each started off slow trying to rebuild moribund franchises and had many insecurities and self-doubt.  Even when they were successful, the stress and insecurities almost doubled because the standard was always winning the Super Bowl.  Anything else was almost considered a failure.

Finally, and most disturbing, is the extreme stress and unfathomable hard work it took to accomplish the perfection each chased.  Reading about the extreme stress each felt to win it all, with Gibbs basically living at the football facility to such an extent he missed his sons growing up, and the health, mental, and physical toll football took on these men is profound.

While there is probably nothing profoundly new in this book, it was extremely well written, told in a concise, efficient, and lively prose, and frankly it is hard to put down.  For some reason, at least for this reader, it even provoked emotion and remembrances of the great teams these men led.  And while it goes from one coach to the next from chapter to chapter, that approach worked very well here, and facilitated understanding how these coaches interacted with each other, their teams, and how their journey’s unfolded.

I found this to be a very interesting and worthwhile read.

Guts and Genius: The Story of Three Unlikely Coaches Who Came to Dominate the NFL in the ’80s

Bruce Arians Insights on QBs

downloadBruce Arians deserved a better writer than Lars Anderson to discuss what it takes to be an NFL quarterback.  The book is a mess in a lot of ways with side trips in the middle of chapters that don’t necessarily related to the topic at hand.  There is a good book in here somewhere.

With that said, Arians has a lot of important points to make about what it takes to be an NFL quarterback.  Here he profiles those he has worked with most closely: Peyton Manning, Kelly Holcomb, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, and Carson Palmer.  All are very different quarterbacks but with a lot of the traits Arians looks for in an NFL signal caller.  Unfortunately, a lot of the chapters start meandering into other topics, but nonetheless they are great vignettes about some of the best quarterbacks in the league and one primarily a backup quarterback (Holcomb) who Arians got the most out of.

What is the most important attribute for an NFL quarterback?  First, it’s brains.  To be successful in the NFL a quarterback doesn’t have to be the best athlete on the field, but he probably has to be one of the smartest.  The ability to watch film, read defenses in fast paced live action, and get the ball where it needs to be with accuracy and velocity ultimately is the key.  But football smarts is essential to success regardless of other factors.

You also must have heart.  The willingness to take a big hit to get the ball off, the willingness to play through pain, and the willingness to prepare hard and do what it takes to maximize potential.

You have grit, which Arians defines as “handling success and failure equally”.  You can’t get too up and down over wins and losses but have to compartmentalize and move on to the next game.  If a QB throws an interception or a pick six (an interception returned for a touchdown), the QB can’t get rattled but has to move on to the next play.

And you have to be leader.  An NFL quarterback must be somebody others on the team look up to as an example and want to play with.  And all the traits above set that example.

From athletic point of view obviously an NFL quarterback has to have decent arm strength but it doesn’t have to be a rocket.  Accurate throws to all parts of the field are what set quarterbacks apart.  And the quarterback has to be athletic enough to avoid rush and move around in the pocket, what many call “pocket presence”.  You don’t have to be the best athlete just athletic enough.

As Arians notes, a lot of big armed, athletic quarterbacks have failed in the NFL because they did not posses these traits.

The other interesting part of this book is how some potentially great quarterbacks lack the maturity to play quarterback in the NFL.  Arians was with Baltimore when they scouted Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning as their first NFL draft pick.  Arians walked around both players’ campuses incognito and just asked around about what people thought of them.  Everybody had good things to say about Manning and nothing bad, while nobody had anything but bad things to say about Leaf.  So that ingrained in Arians a clear lack of leadership and we see what happened to Ryan Leaf.

Overall this was an interesting book about NFL quarterbacks, just annoying disjointed and unorganized at times.

The Quarterback Whisperer: How to Build an Elite NFL Quarterback

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.

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

 

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.

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