The 1985 Chicago Bears from a Fan’s Perspective

untitledThis is a book written about the 1985 Chicago Bears from a fan’s perspective.  The fans of the Chicago Bears in their 40s today have a dearth of positive experiences to hang their hat on.  They have mostly been in the cold purgatory of failure and embarrassment.  Thus the 1985 Chicago Bears is not only deeply nostalgic for their faithful fans, but the only positive highlight of the Super Bowl era Bears.

I found the fan’s perspective and the author relaying his chance to actually attend the Super Bowl and his reminisces about being a hard luck Bear’s fan a very engaging aspect of the book.  He does a great job of showing what it was like to be a young “adult” in 1985 and experience the excitement of being able to see his favorite team in the Super Bowl.  At the time this eager young cub thinks every football season will be just like “this one” with the Bears winning and competing for championships. Then years later that bitter realization that it was all just a brief fling followed by signs of promise but failure, then slippage into perpetual hibernation.

Cohen does a fantastic job of telling the story of the 1985 Bears from the player’s perspectives too.  The hatred between Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan, the 46 defense and its goal of taking out the “head” or quarterback, the defiant Jim McMahon, and the rotund and entertaining William “The Refrigerator Perry, and let’s not forget that dreadful Super Bowl shuffle.  Then on a sadder note, Walter Payton’s anger over not scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl is addressed too.

And finally the book does a fine job of getting the reminisces of many of the Bears’ players years removed from their glory season.  From quarterback Jim McMahon, Mike Ditka, Gary Fencik, and Steve McMichael, among others, we understand how deeply important that one glorious season was to their legacy.  And then to be acknowledged as the greatest defense of all-time just put icing on the cake.

While I am not a Chicago Bears fan I did enjoy the book.   It is a must read for Bears fans and a fun read for football fans, especially those who remember Super Bowl XX.

 
Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football

Rob Gronkowski and the Gronks

1aa-volumes24----aug--24-art-gc1ob63b-1growing-up-gronk-schober-bkGrowing Up Gronk: A Family’s Story of Raising Champions by Gordy Gronkowski with Jeff Schober
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (July 9, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0544126688
ISBN-13: 978-0544126688
224 pages

I really don’t know why anyone would be particularly interested in this book, unless maybe they are a diehard New England Patriots fan, like me.  It is mostly a vanity project for Gordy Gronkowski, the father of five amazing athletes.  His five sons have all achieved a great deal of success in sports, with three making to the National Football League, one who played professional baseball, and the youngest is an up and coming star in his own right.

This book talks about how his sons achieved that success.  Beyond being naturally gifted athletes Gordy appears to be a somewhat obsessed workout junkie and had his five sons competing with each other in the basement using a workout regime created by Gordy himself.  He created five workout junkies in his own image who were motivated by their father but also by their competition with each other.  This healthy competition resulted in a clan of professional athletes.

The book also provides some details on what their family life was like growing up and how their incredible mother managed to rein in five Gronks (six if you count the father) and cook and clean and drive them around to all their various sporting events.  She is a bit in the background in the book, for the most part, but clearly a hero in her own right.

While the book is not just about Rob Gronkowski he does get more air time here, which is only fair as he is the most successful of the five Gronks.  As a tight end for the New England Patriots he’s had a few monster seasons and could potentially be one of the greatest tight ends of all time.  Unfortunately, his history of injuries, especially recently, will probably derail that dream.  He is described as a bit of a fun loving goofball but a hard worker dedicated to being his best.  But the rest of the brothers get their just due as well and we get a glimpse into the personalities of each.

I did enjoy the read but only because of the Rob Gronkowski angle.  I otherwise would have found it a waste of time and not that interesting.

Growing Up Gronk: A Family’s Story of Raising Champions

Kate Buford’s Superb Biography of Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe

Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe by Kate Buford
Knopf 2010

ISBN-10: 0375413243
496 pages

Kate Buford has written what is likely to definitive biography of Jim Thorpe. Jim Thorpe is considered by many to be the greatest athlete of the 20th century. Thorpe was a part of the Sac and Fox tribe and grew up on a reservation in Oklahoma with a tough, alcoholic father. After running away from a number of boarding schools in his youth his father finally sent him to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The boarding school, dedicated to the education and acculturation of Indian youth into white society, is where Thorpe came under the tutelage of Glen Scobey “Pop” Warner who helped coach and guide him in track and football. Thorpe’s biggest claim to fame was the infamous gold medals he won in the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 Olympics, thereafter being proclaimed the greatest athlete in the world. He was also a football star for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, helping the team beat such notable gridiron institutions such as Harvard, Penn, and Army (West Point).

Three are really four phases to Thorpe’s life. The first being his upbringing on an Indian reservation and mostly left to run free and find his own fun and games. He was a very active outdoorsman which is a partial explanation for this developing into a phenomenal athlete. While unconventional, constantly running, jumping, hunting, and playing games certainly kept him active as a youth.

The second phase was his stint at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Once his talents were shaped at Carlyle he became not only a world class athlete, but THE world class athlete.

The third phase was his time as a professional athlete. After leaving Carlisle, Thorpe played both professional baseball and football, but football is where he really made his name and become one of the all-time greats in that sport. In fact, he was part of the founding class of athletes who established football as a professional sport and was among the first class enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. At the time professional football was frowned upon by many but it was a way that Thorpe could continue this athletic career and really the only skill he had to make money.

The fourth phase of his life was his post-athletic career, which for the most part could be called vagabond. He suffered through failed marriages, mostly his own fault, was most estranged from his children, suffered from alcoholism, and was often financial broke. He did manage to parlay his name into many a career as a bit actor in Hollywood playing the role of an Indian in Westerns, and eventually stood up for the rights of Indians to get jobs sometimes going to others (as long as they could pass for Native American) and equal pay with white actors.

One could say that he struggled with is post-Carlisle life because he became used to the structure and loose discipline Carlisle afforded him, and as a pampered athlete mostly had everything taken care of for him. He never really learned true applicable skills there outside athletics, or even personal skills such as money management. Thus his late adult life was often a struggle.

Finally there is the bizarre story of how Thorpe came to be buried in Thorpe, Pennsylvania with his ex-wife basically selling his remains to the town which renamed itself after him. His family is currently in court trying to have his remains returned for burial in Oklahoma. But you can’t beat having a town named after you and a beautiful memorial. Maybe he should just be allowed to stay there.

This is a superb biography, and very fascinating look at one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe

Review of Nate Jackson’s Slow Getting Up

9780062108029_custom-19693480dbdea4cd97ec84a6b79740bdae05ca47-s6-c30Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile by Nate Jackson
Harper (2013)
ISBN-10: 0062108026
ISBN-13: 978-0062108029
256 pages

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.

Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile