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

 

 

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Troy Brown: Patriots for Life

5182Gc8256L__SX332_BO1,204,203,200_This is a very workman like autobiography of Troy Brown.  And that’s fitting, because Troy Brown was a very workman like special teamer and wide receiver for the New England Patriots for 15 years.

The first few chapters Brown tells about his life growing up very poor in South Carolina and sports being his primary outlet.  Being on the smaller side he had to work hard and out compete other players to get ahead.  His entire football career is defined by that.

While he had a standout career in high school, he was not highly recruited and ended up playing junior college.  Luckily he caught the eye of a coach at Marshall University in West Virginia and received one of the last scholarships.  He went on to have an excellent career at Marshall winning the 1992 Division I-AA National Championship as a receiver and kick returner.

Troy Brown was drafted in the 8th round by the New England Patriots in the 1993 draft and almost didn’t even make the team.  He was cut at the end of Preseason and thought his football dream was dead, but luckily for the Patriots, Coach Bill Parcells re-signed him in October.  He spent most of his first seven seasons with the Patriots primarily as a kick returner, and slowly got a chance to start getting in the rotation as receiver as time went on.

His first year as a full-time starter was 2000, when new coach Bill Belichick saw something in his work ethic and talent that he really liked.  It was the right call.  In 2001 Brown had 101 catches and a pivotal role in the offensive as New England went on to upset the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.  He also had an excellent year in 2002.

But, when 2003 rolled around, Troy Brown was relegated to a lesser role in the receiving care.  He had been in the league 10 years at the point and the younger, fresher legs of the likes of Deion Branch were highlighted.  But Brown played a pivotal when New England went on to win back to back Super Bowls in Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX.

Troy admits being upset that he didn’t start in the Super bowl XXXVIII against the Panthers but he played a pivotal role catching eight passes for 76 yards.  The following year Brown spent larges amounts of time playing defensive back because of injuries and again played a pivotal role in Super Bowl XXXIX covering the Philadelphia Eagles slot receivers.  He is a jack of all trades.

Troy Brown certainly didn’t want to retire after his 15 years in the league but father time caught up with him.  He had a great career as a lifelong New England Patriot.

This book will give the reader lots of insights into the character of Troy Brown and what it was like to be on championship winning teams and what it means to persevere.  In this case the underdog comes out on top.

Here is my tribute to Troy Brown written the day I heard he was announcing his retirement:  https://cdbaker.wordpress.com/2008/09/21/tribute-to-troy-brown/

Patriot Pride: My Life in the New England Dynasty

 

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

 

 

It’s Good to be Gronk!

 

51h0KlGT6KL__SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This book is an intellectual tour de force.  Just kidding.  It is kind of entertaining though.

As most football fans know Rob Gronkowski is the fun loving tight end for the New England Patriots who gets a lot of hype for being a great football player and being a legendary partier.  Here he tells a little bit about himself and his now infamous family of Gronks.

The first part of the book is about growing up with three older brothers (one younger) and the roughhousing and fighting that toughened up Rob.  It’s pretty crazy how rough they were with each other.  I feel sorry for their mom.  Gronk also goes into detail how his dad hooked them on working out and getting stronger turning the four boys into elite athletes and fierce competitors.

The book, of course, talks a lot about partying and beer drinking.  Gronk has his own party bus, which has gotten a lot of attention in the press.  Sounds like a fun bus to be on.  He does make it clear he does not party during football season.

We also learn a bit about what a fierce competitor and task master on the football field that Tom Brady can be.  Gronk credits Brady for working on him to be become the best tight end in pro football.

The one concerning aspect of the book is the number of injuries Gronk has suffered. He hurt his back lifting weights in college and has had a couple of surgeries as a result. He broke his forearm in the pros and had to have multiple surgeries after he re-broke it and got infected.  Then he has an ACL injury. I wonder how keeps playing with all these injuries.

Overall, I personally enjoyed the book since I am a New England Patriots fan.  For others, you mileage may vary.

It’s Good to Be Gronk

The Fantasies of Ray Lewis

51khrr48bKL__SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Arrogant.  Narcissistic.  Self-serving.  Fantastical.

Those are the first adjectives that come to mind after reading this autobiography of Ray Lewis.

Before launching into a fuller review of this autobiography let me say that in my football viewing lifetime Ray Lewis is one of the three best linebackers I’ve ever seen behind only Lawrence Taylor and Mike Singletary.  He is one of the rare defensive players who could literally take over a game single-handedly and was the driving force behind one of the best defensive teams of all time, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.  He is the two-time winner of the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, and the rare defensive player being named the Super Bowl MVP in Super Bowl XXXV.  He will certainly be a first ballot NFL Hall of Famer when he is eligible.

The first part of the book details how Ray Lewis grew up very poor with numerous siblings from different fathers.  One really unusual story is how Ray Lewis got his name.  Lewis was not the last name of his father but another man who agreed to let his mother use his name on his birth certificate as the father.  And after that is appears his mother went from one bad man to another.  Lewis details how he was abused by some of these men as a child and how he lived in the shadow of his real father who was a local sports star gone bad.  The lack of a father figure and abuse from other men as a kid certainly appears to have had a negative impact on Lewis.

Lewis provides an account of his life growing up poor and often abused with sports being his outlet which kept him on a relatively even path to college and becoming a star at the University of Miami in its football heydays.  It’s interesting that he spends relatively few pages detailing his time at Miami but a few interesting items emerge.  First his overweening arrogance and disrespect for Coach Butch Davis comes roaring through. Given his attitude that the team was “his” I am a little surprised that he eventually showed the kind of leadership he did in the NFL.

The other very interesting story I learned is the origins of his decade long rivalry with Eddie George which had its beginnings in an almost violent confrontation they had a party while in college and George was at Ohio State.  I always wondered where their animosity in the pros came from.

Once Lewis gets to the NFL is where things start really getting bizarre. Let’s jump right to the infamous night in Atlanta where two men were knifed to death in an incident Ray Lewis was involved in.  The entire chapter devoted to this is mostly an attempt to whitewash the entire affair and not everything that Lewis said necessarily adds up to what was reported in the court.

Lewis’s story is he was partying with an entourage dressed in a white suit.  He maintains that he didn’t even know everybody rolling with this party as there were several hangers on he didn’t know.  Leaving the club they were confronted by some hoodlums who threatened Lewis with violence and hit his friend over the head with a bottle.  Thus, the profusely bleeding head wound that bloodied Lewis’s white suit.  Lewis claims he was trying to protect people in his car as they sped off to gunshots being fired.  Later he found out two people were stabbed to death in the altercation and eventually was questioned by police.

His account of the event makes some sense, but really doesn’t answer a key question:  What happened to the bloody white suit the police were looking for?  Well, we still don’t know.  If innocent, why have it disposed of, which is clearly what happened.

Some of Lewis’s account does make sense.  Rich athletes, especially ones wearing flashy white suits are often targets of verbal or physical violence, or at least provocation.  That there were several hangers on that Lewis didn’t even know also makes sense.  Of course groupies and others are going to gravitate to Lewis’s group if he lets them in.

What is baffling is what happened to the white suit?  Why hide it?  Why obfuscate the investigation, which clearly happened?  Why so defensive when the police originally show up, which Lewis admits to.

Then things get even more bizarre.  To sum it up, Ray Lewis claimed the police and prosecutors where out to get him and that is how he wound up pleading guilty to obstruction of justice and he claims the entire reason he was charged with obstruction is because he couldn’t name all the people in his car.  Where they out to get him?  Maybe, who knows?

Then it gets even more bizarre.  Lewis claim the Atlanta police physically abused him while he was in jail, and goes into great detail about it, at one point saying “I was crucified, man”.  This I find hard to believe because if true, someone of Ray Lewis’s stature would be suing the Atlanta police for this.  And the police would be stupid to abuse someone of his stature for fear of it getting publicity.  Well, I take that last part back, some police are stupid.

But, it gets even better!!  God started talking to Ray Lewis in his jail cell.  And that what was happening to him would make him stronger.

Do I believe Ray Lewis murdered anyone?  No, having followed the case the prosecutors were incompetent and had little evidence against Ray Lewis other than he was at some point at the scene.  In fact, they were so incompetent nobody has been convicted of the crime to this day.  I do wonder where the bloody white suit is though.  And Ray Lewis’s behavior was certainly suspect after the event.  And I don’t think the two murdered men where choir boys.  I know nothing about them though, but the whole event does make it look like Ray Lewis was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with people targeting him because he is rich and famous.

Finally, the rest of the very strange saga of Ray Lewis.  As most people know he suffered a significant injury in his last season with the Ravens that would have ended most players’ season.  The Ravens put him on Injured Reserve designated to return (the first year this rule was in place).  Ray Lewis did indeed return, not fully recovered from a torn triceps.  He likened it to a miracle.  And it kind of was.

But the real miracle was how Lewis essentially implies he is the reason the Ravens won the Super Bowl and again heard the voice of God during the game in which she or he said “trust Jacoby Jones” and Ray put his hand on Jones’ chest.  Jones went on to return the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown.  GIVE ME A BREAK!

In summary this book is all, I, I, I.  Teammates are rarely mentioned in the success of the Ravens, it was all Ray, all the time.

It is a little bit hard to even describe how self-serving and delusional this autobiography is.

I don’t recommend reading it, unless you like fantasy stories.

I Feel Like Going On: Life, Game, and Glory

 

 

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