Brady v Manning

51qiixUsGEL__SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will go down at as two of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game. In fact, the past 15 year era of professional football will be most remembered as the era of Brady and Manning. Much like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, they will forever be intertwined.

This book details the career trajectory of both Brady and Manning, gives accounts of their history against each other and in the playoffs, and provides some nice anecdotes about their personalities and approaches to the game. One thing they have in common, however, is their love for the game, attention to detail, and dedication to succeed.

But there are also some stark differences between the two, in some ways making Brady’s narrative a little more attractive. Peyton Manning comes from a football family and was almost immediately successful in college and was the number one overall pick in the NFL draft. By contrast, Brady had to fight and claw his way to a starting position in college, and wasn’t even always the full-time starter as a senior at Michigan. Then he was drafted in the sixth round, and potentially could have gone completely undrafted. This clearly gave Brady a huge chip on his shoulder and even more determination to succeed.

Manning had a rocky first few years in the pros but clearly was on a path to success. Brady, while not lighting the world on fire, came on in relief in his second year for an injured Drew Bledsoe and never looked back, winning Super Bowl XXXVI over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams.

Both have been very successful in their careers and are in fact good friends and have a lot of respect for each other.

Hearing anecdotes from teammates of the two players and their interaction with their teams was also well done in this book, especially stories about practical jokes and pranks. It’s also clear that most of their teammates have a great deal of respect and admiration for them.

So who’s the best quarterback? The author does an even handed job of laying out the arguments for both quarterbacks.

For Brady it is his record in the playoffs, four Super Bowl titles, and frankly having done it, for the most part, with inferior talent at the wide receiver position pre-Randy Moss.

For Manning it’s his incredible passing records during the regular season with his offensive consistently being one of the tops in the league. The downside for Manning is his teams, and it’s usually not all his fault, choke in the playoffs. When this book was published Manning had only one Super Bowl to Brady’s four. He has two now that Denver has won Super Bowl 50 but that was led by Denver’s defense.

Really it hardly matters who was best but I am a New England Patriots fan and biases so I say Brady is the greatest ever because the hardware (championships) matter.

This was a very well done book.

Brady vs Manning: The Untold Story of the Rivalry That Transformed the NFL

The 1980’s Washington Redskins

51cjO8uF3zL__SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This is well done history of the Washington Redskins during their heyday from 1981 to 1992 in which Joe Gibbs lead the team to three Super Bowl victories with three different quarterbacks.

While I am not a Redskins fan I was an admirer of the team during that period of time with its run oriented offense and tough defenses.

There certainly were a cast of colorful charters starting with running back John Riggins and the offensive linemen known as the Hogs, to the Fun Bunch which is what the wide receivers are known as.  The author provides an excellent portrait of how this cast of characters were melded into championship teams.

A few themes emerge about the history of the Redskins at this time.  First is the perseverance of Joe Gibbs. It took some time to start winning and he thought he was going to be fired before he turned the team around.  But turn the team around he did for a decade of success.  He luring John Riggins back out of retirement is an interesting story as you have the straight laced Joe Gibbs cajoling the drinking, carousing, curiosity known as John Riggins.  But Riggins was an integral part of the Redskins success and Gibbs knew it.

The creating of The Hogs – offensive linemen – and the Fun Bunch – wide receivers was also enjoyable to relive.  The Hogs particularly became a marketing sensation as well for the normally unknown offensive line.

There are more stories here as well, from Doug Williams up again, down again ride until his Super Bowl victory, the flair of Joe Theisman, the curmudgeonly Jack Kent Cooke, and the excellence of Darrell Green.

And finally, Joe Jacoby, the left tackle on this team, belongs in the Hall of Fame.

For a Redskins fan wanting to relive the glory days this is a must read.

Hail to the Redskins: Gibbs, the Diesel, the Hogs, and the Glory Days of D.C.’s Football Dynasty

 

 

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

An Excellent Inside Look at What It’s Like to Coach in the NFL

This is an excellent book about what it’s like to be a coach in the National Football League.  While the author was embedded with one team for the 2011 NFL season, the New York Jets, it still provides some great insights into the world of the NFL and its coaches.  While there may be some nuances and differences across teams, the major themes are likely very consistent across the league.

Even better, the book is extremely well written and entertaining as well.  It does a great job of not only providing thematic examples of what it’s like to be a coach in the NFL, but brining the personalities of the players and coaches to life as well.

The main theme of the book is just how hard coaches work and what gruesomely long hours all coaches put into their profession.  This is nearly a 24 hour a day job during the start of training camp through the end of the season, and there’s not much rest in-between either.  Being a coach in the NFL is a major commitment and a sacrifice for not only the coaches but their families as well.  They literally live football and often wind up sleeping in the facilities.  From player evaluation, game planning for the next opponent, installing the game plan during the week, dealing with player injuries and personalities, it is simply an all-consuming job.  You have to really love football to adopt this lifestyle.

Add to the long hours the pressure of winning is tremendous.  The NFL is a win now league and losing teams generally have quick turnover of head coaches and their assistants.  Winning is a tonic that brings joy, but short-lived, while losing it torturous.

Another significant theme of the book is the schism between the defensive and offensive sides of the balls, even between coaches.  So much goes into the offensive and defensive game plans and installing them with the players that the coaches of these squads do not interact that often.  Sometimes it can even get a little heated if one unit is performing significantly better than the other, which often happens with the Jets who have a great defense but at best a mediocre offense.  That tension certainly existed for the Jets to some degree, and I have heard it existing on other teams as well.  It is not entirely surprising that this schism exists on teams but it is intriguing.

A third theme, and I am sure this is where it probably varies more widely depending on the personality and approach of the head coach, is how much control or involved a head coach might exert on any specific aspect of game planning.  The head coach is supposed to be a big picture game planner and let his coordinators do most of the intricate work on the game plan for their units.  Rex, being a defensive coach, has his particularly defensive philosophy and might be more hands on there, but on the offensive side, while having a ground and pound approach, leaves more in the hands of the coordinator.  Of course there are some coaches who essentially are their own offensive coordinator and call the plays.  It is all a matter of what a head coach wants to take control of and what he is comfortable delegating.  For the Jets, the offense did not perform so well, eventually lead to the ouster of Brian Schottenheimer, the offensive coordinator.

Another theme is just tension on the team generally between players. Again, this is probably something that exists at different degrees on other teams.  For example, we know there was some tension between quarterback Mark Sanchez and receiver Santonio Holmes that eventually blew up into the public sphere, which is alluded to here.  And older players trying to adapt to new roles is also an underlying theme.

Another interesting aspect of this book was simply reading about the personalities of the players.  The intelligence and studious nature of Darrell Revis goes a long way in explaining why he is so great at his position, and the sometimes slovenly approach of an Antonio Cromartie explains why such a great athletic talent is sometimes so inconsistent.  Having a serious minded winner like Revis can have a positive influence on those less inclined to be such students of the game and why they often bring not only talent but leadership and a positive example to the team as well.  These types of players can be as valued by what they bring to the team off the field as by what they do on it.

Much is also made of how immature Mark Sanchez is and how frustrated the coaches were with his inconsistent play and turnovers.  Again, it seems like the immaturity factor has a lot to do with the sloppy, inconsistent play and underperforming on the field.

Yet another major theme is the pain of losing.  The rollercoaster ride of winning and losing and the difficultly of keeping coaches and players positive and not letting a string of losses knock the wheels completely off is an important function of the head coach and his staff.  The Jets did not make the playoffs after the 2011 season and being used to winning that is hard to take.  And it puts coaches’ jobs at jeopardy.  And as we have seen since this book was written, as of 2015 all the coaches and the GMs are gone because they never turned the team back around.

Finally the General Manger’s role is discussed.  Tannebaum is an interesting case.  Of course he is responsible for player personnel and contract negotiations but he also has to work well with his coaches and scouts and be a problem solver during the season.  All GMs are going to have their own philosophy’s and style and Tannebaum tried to fit in and help where help was needed during the season while dealing with player issues and personnel as they came up.

Overall I found this to be a well written and fascinating look at coaching in the NFL through the prism of the personalities and quirks of the New York Jets and recommend it to any serious NFL fan.

Collision Low Crossers: Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football

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An “Interesting” Inside Look at NFL Coaches

coachCoaching Confidential provides an inside look at some of the more prominent coaches in the NFL of the past few decades. While there is nothing groundbreaking or particularly new in the book, I still found it to be interesting reading. And there were at least a few background stories that were new to me which I enjoyed learning about.

Much of the book, but not all, seems to be a little Bill Parcel’s centric as there are chapters on Sean Peyton and Bountygate, a Parcells disciple. There are also chapters on Robert Kraft and his relationships with Bill Belichick and Parcells (along with Pete Carroll). Then there is a chapter about Parcells and his motivational techniques. That is not necessarily bad, but he looms large in this book.
What really got the book off to a good start for me is the story around Sean Peyton getting suspended for Bountygate. While all football coaches at the professional level, almost by definition, must have a huge ego, Peyton is depicted as somewhat obnoxiously conceited. On the other hand, it also details how he put together a Super Bowl winning team from the detritus of a woeful Saints organization already bad but devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Another chapter goes into detail about Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll, and Bill Belichick and their relationship with each other and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. As most know Parcells left the Patriots after clashing with Kraft over control of personnel and a few years later Belichick jilted Parcells and the New York Jets to become head coach of the New England Patriots replacing Carroll. Being a Patriots fan I already knew much of the detail behind this. The videotaping incident also got its fair share of attention in this chapter, and is probably the first real source describing how Kraft felt about it.

This is followed by yet another chapter on Parcells and his motivational tactics…aka…mind games that he used to motivate players. Some of the anecdotes were quite funny.

There are two chapters devoted to very dysfunctional relationships that eventually blew apart. The first is the Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson saga in Dallas. The other is the Dan Reeves, Mike Shanahan, John Elway troika in Denver. A love triangle it was not. Elway hated Reeves and Reeves didn’t love Elway too much either, or so it appears, and Shanahan was the guy in the middle who eventually took over for after Reeves was fired. Elway basically had Reeves run out of town but it remains unclear Shanahan’s role in the situation. Reeves thinks Shanahan stabbed him in the back, metaphorically. Of course Shanahan eventually got two Super Bowls in Denver.

There are also chapters on Joe Gibbs return to the Redskins under Dan Snyder (nothing new here), Tony Dungy’s “lost” Super Bowl after getting run out of Tampa Bay followed by his eventual Super Bowl win with the Indianapolis Colts (likewise, nothing new here), Brian Billick of the Baltimore Ravens getting fired unexpectedly (nothing new here), and Dick Vermeil and his burnout with the Eagles and subsequent return many years later to coach the Kansas City Chiefs, then the St. Louis Rams, and his retirement from the Rams after their Super Bowl win (again, nothing new here).

And we get a glimpse in the last chapter of the world of REX…as in Rex Ryan. Rex Ryan stories are always fun to read because he is such a goofball.

Overall, this book is a quick and enjoyable read if you are an NFL fan. The only drawback is much of these details had already been reported before but there is enough new information here to make it worth the read.

Coaching Confidential: Inside the Fraternity of NFL Coaches