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

Julian Edelman: Super Bowl LIII MVP

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This is an excellent memoir by Super Bowl LIII MVP Julian Edelman.

The memoir is aptly named as well: relentless.  This is the saga of an undersized but determined athlete who persevered through high school, college, and the NFL to overcome his lack of size with relentless determination to succeed.

Julian walks us through his entire athletic career overcoming all the doubters and shaping himself into a successful athlete at all levels of football.  What is truly amazing is his ability to go from a small college quarterback at Kent State and learn a whole new craft of being a successful wide receiver in the NFL.  That is not an easy transition even for the most gifted of athletes but Edelman not only has done it but now has one of the iconic catches in Super Bowl history and now a Super Bowl MVP that will etch his name in football history in perpetuity.

I also liked how the book is interspersed with thoughts from coaches and teammates throughout his athletic journey.

This is a great book that shows that relentless determination can allow anyone to live their dreams.

Relentless: A Memoir

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

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