What Makes the Cleveland Brows — Well, the Cleveland Browns

81xogvlrxul._ac_ul320_sr208,320_I bought this book on a whim because I like reading about football.  I am a New England Patriots fan but I do share the misery of losing seasons with bleak prospects for the future.  From 1987 to 1995 the Patriots had a losing record every year except one, including seasons of 1-15 and 2-14.  We also had bad ownership until Robert Kraft bought the team and turned it around.  Much of what happened to the Patriots during that span of time is a lot like what has happened to the Browns.

This book lays out the key themes that have made the Browns the worst team in the NFL for the last decade.  Let’s lay it out here.

Bad ownership. While the three owners during this time are not bad guys like a Victor Kiam or Daniel Snyder, they certainly did not know how to establish a winning team.  They never came up with a structure that was clear on who was running football operations, so internally GMs, Head Coaches, Team Presidents often worked at cross-purposes.  With no structure and no accountability in place, the Browns have churned though coaches and front office personnel with no continuity in place.  A losing formula.

Horrible drafts.  The author goes through just how utterly awful the Browns drafts have been.  Every year the first-round yields busts and before the rookie wage scale, salary cap issues.  Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft???  It doesn’t get much more disastrous than that.  Add to that players they missed out on that they could have drafted like LaDanian Tomlinson and Kalil Mack.

Bad quarterbacks.  I don’t even recall how many bad starting quarterbacks the Browns have gone through in the past decade.  Tim Couch got hurt behind and awful line then Brady Quinn turned out to be a bust.  From Tim Couch to DeShone Kizer it’s been 1st round draft pick busts, perineal back up quality quarterbacks (Doug Pederson, Brian Hoyer, Colt McCoy), or has beens (Trent Dilfer, Jeff Garcia, Jason Campbell).  Not a winning formula.

Bad Coaches.  Up through and including Hue Jackson, the Browns have had bad head coaches.  The author has some affinity for a few of them but frankly I just don’t see any of the coaches as quality head coaches.

No culture.  The Browns created a losing culture by having zero stability in leadership positions and not establishing one voice to run football operations.  Mike Lombardi, who was briefly the General Manager of the Browns, said they never established any kind of culture, much less one of winning, which is needed to be a winning franchise.

Hope for the future?  Time will tell.

This book might be painful for Browns fans but it certainly lays out the reasons for its abysmal showing the past two decades.

The Browns Blues: Two Decades of Utter Frustration: Why Everything Kept Going Wrong for the Cleveland Browns

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What It Takes to be a Winning NFL Team

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Gridiron Genius covers a wide range of topics and is grounded in the author being in the NFL for 30 years and around some of the best minds in the game.

The author, Michael Lombardi considers his three key mentors and greatest NFL minds Al Davis (despite his quirks), Bill Walsh, and Bill Belichick.  He lays out what he considers the ingredients to establishing a consistently winning franchise.  I won’t cover every detail here but hit the big picture.

Culture.  The team has to have positive, supportive, and winning culture to be successful.  Personal agendas among owners, coaches, and players undermine teamwork and undermine the team’s ability to succeed.

Leadership.  Leadership comes from all levels of the organization from ownership, coaches, and players.  But the key cog in the wheel that keeps a team going in the right direction is the head coach.  He sets the tone for the entire organization and the team.  If the team doesn’t respect the head coach (even if they don’t like him) then the ability to succeed starts to fall apart.  The quarterback is also key on a team. For better or worse, the quarterback is at the center of attention and in today’s NFL you can’t win without a good quarterback.

The program.  Another key to winning football, of course, is talent evaluation but with a caveat.  All teams have specific systems on offense and defense they run and player evaluation should be about players that fit the system.  A player can be extremely talented but if their skill set does not fit the system, they won’t be successful.  Players that are versatile and can play many positions are coveted because they can plug and play into any system or take over for injured players at positions they have not played.  Teams that don’t pay attention to this often fail.

Special teams.  The best and most consistent teams also place and emphasis on special teams plays.  Special teams can win or lose games.  How many times have we seen a team loose in the playoffs or Super Bowl because of poor special teams play?  Plenty.

Quarterback. A great quarterback isn’t necessarily the most athletically gifted, although that helps, but it’s the quarterback who is smart, understands the offense, plays within his strengths, and gets rid of the ball fast.  It’s as much intellect as athletic talent that makes a quarterback great.  How many extremely gifted and athletic quarterbacks fail to reach their potential?  Many.  Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time, and Joe Montana, a great quarterback in his own right, are not the most athletically gifted, they are the smartest and know what to do with their talent and the talent around them.

Game planning.  Teams do run systems have certain strengths and weaknesses on their teams.  But those teams that can be versatile in their game plan on both sides of the ball, and shut down an opponent’s strengths and take advantage of their weaknesses are those that win!

Overall this is a very interesting and insightful book and a great look at what it takes to be a winning football team at any level.

Gridiron Genius: A Master Class in Winning Championships and Building Dynasties in the NFL

Brady v the NFL

000827_1000473725_NoColorI am a Patriots fan so I enjoyed this book about Tom Brady and his fight for redemption after the insidious Deflategate nonsense perpetrated by Roger Goodell and his minions at the NFL offices.

This book paints Roger Goodell as the power hungry, amoral, lying, narcissist that he clearly is.  The book clearly explains Goodell’s motive in the fiasco, which was to assert his power over an iconic football player so that players with less stature would see that they will have to toe the line with any punishments he lays down for real or perceived infractions.  Goodell had already been lambasted publicly for clearly lying during the Ray Rice domestic abuse situation and getting his decision to suspend Adrian Peterson for alleged child abuse overturned in court.  But he knows how to please his bosses, the NFL owners, and the revenue keeps piling up so his safe from those narcissist billionaires.  The book also makes it very clear the Wells Report was in no way, shape, or form an “independent” investigation but one that essentially told the story that Roger Goodell wanted told.

I do wish the book had spent more time documenting all the leaks to the media of inaccurate or false information without retraction and the other dirty tactics the league took damage Brady’s reputation and his court case.  That would have made the book more powerful.

And while the book covers Robert Kraft’s ultimately giving up the fight for Brady to stay in good graces with the other NFL owners, and Brady’s and the fans dismay over it, more could have been explored in this area.

Ultimately the book is about Brady coming back from suspension for another Super Bowl run that found the Patriots cementing the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history in Super Bowl LI.  And Goodell having to hand the Super Bowl trophy to Brady amidst a chorus of boos.  The last part of the book goes into the Super Bowl run and the game itself in great detail, including Brady wanting to win it for his ailing mother.

And of course in conclusion, Tom Brady, with five Super Bowl rings, has cemented himself as the Greatest Quarterback of All Time.

12: The Inside Story of Tom Brady’s Fight for Redemption

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

 

 

Great Biography of Bart Starr

51XyD5-M7kL__SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Biographies of sports heroes usually come in one of two forms.  The first is a very shallow, quick, surficial look at the life and sporting career trying to earn a few dollars on the fame of a particular player.  The other is a truly in-depth look and accounting of the life and times of that sports hero.  This biography is clearly in the second category.  It does a phenomenal job of bringing Bart Starr to life for the reader.

Starr’s early life was marred by the death of his brother and subsequently was estranged from his father.  He became a star football player in high school but even there struggled with injuries but by his senior year was an All American.  Unlike most star athletes, however, he was more introverted and self-reflective.

Being an Alabama high school football star he wound up at the University of Alabama.  There he was an on again off again starter and after a back injury his junior year he hardly played as a senior.  His pro football prospects certainly seemed dim.

With recommendations from Alabama’s basketball coach Green Bay selected Starr in the 17th round of the 1956 NFL draft.

Again Starr started out as a back-up and then as an on again, off again starter for the Green Bay Packers.  When Vince Lombardi took over as coach of the Packers in 1959 it took some time for him to win over the coach’s trust as the starting quarterback, but he eventually did.  And the rest is a glorious history of championship football as the starting quarterback for arguable the greatest dynasty in NFL history.

One of the best parts of the biography for football fans is of course Starr’s role as the leader of the Green Bay Packers from 1960 to 1971, with five NFL championships, two of which were Super Bowl’s I and II.  This is a superlative career in an era where quarterbacks called their own plays and defensive backs could mug receivers down the field.

The book does a fantastic job of detailing Starr’s early struggles and his overcoming those struggles to become the undisputed field general and leader of the team other than Lombardi.  It also details his unique relationship with the tough minded Vince Lombardi who ultimately embraced Starr as his quarterback and trusted him in the most critical on-field situations.  While there were a lot of great moments for the team the infamous Ice Bowl where Starr changed the play and called a quarterback sneak to win the NFL championship against the Dallas Cowboys in one of the coldest games every played was thrilling relayed in the book.  And the pressure on the coach to win the first Super Bowl, and the second one is well told here.

This biography also brings out Starr’s unique qualities as a human being.  A very modest, honest, player who didn’t curse or go carousing with the guys, he nevertheless earned the respect of the players around him.  The biography really brings out this humble side of Starr and how it juxtaposed to that of his bombastic head coach and other players.  But he was a very tough competitor on the field, demanding the respect of all around him, including that of his head coach.

Another endearing quality to Starr’s life is he married his high school sweetheart and love of this life Cherry Morton and remained a faithful husband.  The love affair between these two is interwoven through the biography and is refreshing.

After his career he jumped into coaching and broadcasting.  He eventually became the head coach of a then struggling Green Bay Packers team from 1975 to 1983.  Unfortunately his stint as a head coach did not go quite like his football career.  He ended up with a 52-76-3 record as a head coach and the pressures of the job, especially after such a fantastic run as a player, was difficult.  He even admitted he probably was initially in over his head but did not want to quit.

And finally a tragedy.  Starr lost his son to drug abuse in 1988 after Starr and his wife constantly did everything to help him overcome the demon.  He eventually moved to Florida and fell back into his drug habit.  After not hearing from his son Bart flew to Florida and found him dead in his house.  This was obviously a very tragic and painful time in Bart Starr’s life.

The only quibble I have with the book is the claim that Bart Starr is the greatest quarterback in NFL history.  With his five NFL championships and great record as a player, the author makes a great argument.  I am not sure where I would place Bart Starr and he deserves to be mentioned as one of the greatest of all time but I would not place him at the top.  But I did enjoy the statistics are arguments on his behalf.

Any football fan will enjoy this well written and thoughtful biography of one the greatest quarterbacks of all time, one of the winningest quarterbacks of all time, and one of the humblest and good natured athletes of all time.

Bart Starr: America’s Quarterback and the Rise of the National Football League