Football Families

A readable and fresh look at the early history of the NFL; extraordinary careers expertly interwoven to create a delightful and insightful read; impeccably researched, this beautiful book deserves the broadest of audiences; for those who enjoyed The Mannings, this title might be redundant; will appeal mostly to academic audiences

The Players, Teams, and Coaches Who Shaped History

Eisenberg, John. The League: How Five Rivals Created the NFL and Launched a Sports Empire. Basic. Oct. 2018. 400p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780465048700. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781541617377. SPORTS

Eisenberg (That First Season) offers a deep dive into the origins of the National Football League and its first 40 years of development. In particular, five key team founders whose ability to work together and find solutions—despite being in competition with one another—kept the league afloat and allowed it to grow. These include George Halas of the Bears, Tim Mara of the Giants, George Preston Marshall of the Redskins, Art Rooney of the Steelers, and Bert Bell of the Eagles, who later became NFL commissioner. Four were charter members of the Hall of Fame and the fifth (Rooney) was elected a year later. A great deal of coverage is given to backroom dealings, much of it drawn from the league meeting minutes and other primary sources.

VERDICT A readable and fresh look at the early history of the NFL.

Glauber, Bob. Guts and Genius: The Story of Three Unlikely Coaches Who Came To Dominate the NFL in the ‘80s. Grand Central. Nov. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9781538760413. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781538763889. SPORTS

From 1981 through 1991, teams coached by Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs, and Bill Parcells were in nine of 11 Super Bowls and won eight of them, ruling over the NFL for a decade plus. Newsday columnist Glauber, who began his sportswriting career during that period, takes a closer look at how these Hall of Fame coaches came to reign over the league and continue to influence it today. He traces each man’s career from early days to retirement in a regular rotation of chronological chapters—Walsh then Gibbs then Parcells—that depict how the trio interacted and competed with one another. Each had a distinct personality and strategic approach that invigorated the sport. Although Walsh is deceased, the author spoke extensively with Parcells and Gibbs and the players and confidantes of all three coaches to present a complete picture of a memorable time in league history.

VERDICT The extraordinary careers of these coaches are expertly interwoven to create a delightful and insightful read.

redstarGola, Hank. City of Champions: An American Story of Leather Helmets, Iron Wills, and the High School Kids from Jersey Who Won It All. Tatra. Nov. 2018. 425p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9781732222700. $27. SPORTS

Veteran New York Daily News sportswriter Gola delves deeply into a fascinating forgotten story of a national champion high school football team from his hometown of Garfield, NJ. The book depicts life there during the Great Depression. Garfield was an industrial mill town, largely populated by Polish, Italian, and German immigrants, whose sons were brought together by a charismatic young coach to win consecutive state championships in 1938 and 1939. The team was then invited to Miami’s Orange Bowl to face powerful Miami High in a charity game for the national championship. Gola covers the backgrounds of both cities, teams, and coaches, as well as the trip South and the game itself—won on a field goal in the closing minutes by Garfield star Benny Babula. Many of the players would serve overseas just a couple years later, and some would not survive the war. Gola tells their story with respect and admiration.

VERDICT Extremely well done. Impeccably researched, with writing that is warm and moving. This beautiful book deserves the broadest of audiences.

Lederer, Bob. Beyond Broadway Joe: The Super Bowl Team That Changed Football. Dey St: HarperCollins. Sept. 2018. 416p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780062798046. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062798053. SPORTS

When quarterback Joe Namath publicly guaranteed that the American Football League’s (AFL) 18-point underdog New York Jets would defeat the National Football League’s Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III and then made it come true in January 1969, it was a defining moment in pro football. Fifty years later, that game remains among the most significant in league history and has inspired this new look at the team who pulled off the upset. Lederer introduces the AFL championship game and the Super Bowl and examines the impact of the game; however, the bulk of the book consists of profiles of the team’s 45 players and five coaches, based on both interviews with the men and their families and commentary from the late head coach Wilbur Charles “Weeb” Ewbank. Each profile provides insightful recollections of the season, the game, their teammates and coaches, as well as a summary of their subsequent lives and careers. VERDICT This unique look at Namath and the Jets should find a wide audience.

redstarLombardi, Michael. Gridiron Genius: A Master Class in Winning Championships and Building Dynasties in the NFL. Crown. Sept. 2018. 288p. illus. index. ISBN 9780525573814. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780525573838. SPORTS

Lombardi has worked in NFL personnel for more than 30 years, with several under Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh, Hall of Fame owner Al Davis, and five-time Super Bowl–winning coach Bill Belichick. Having worked closely with such football masterminds, Lombardi learned about what’s involved in achieving sustained success. Here he discusses the shared characteristics of championship teams: how they’re built and organized and how they approach each game and maintain excellence in a competitive environment. Similar to an expert book on business management, this volume illustrates brilliantly, with riveting anecdotes, how these men handled every type of situation, whether in practice, in a game, or in the front office. The methods of Belichik are given the most scrutiny, and the picture that emerges is of an intelligent leader who understands the dedication, preparation, and self-sacrifice necessary for a football team to flourish.

VERDICT A most highly recommended look behind the curtain of the NFL’s best coaches.

Myers, Gary. How ‘bout Them Cowboys? Inside the Huddle with the Stars and Legends of America’s Team. Grand Central. Oct. 2018. 288p. index. ISBN 9781538762349. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781538762318. SPORTS

New York Daily News columnist Myers (The Catch) tells the story of the Jerry Jones era of the Dallas Cowboys. He highlights ownership issues and front-office dealings and coaching, with little attention given to games and seasons. Two chapters seem a bit randomly interposed: one, on the career of Jason Witten, at least fits in the time period; the other, on health issues of four teammates from the Tom Landry era, does not. As a whole, the book offers a close-up view of the reign of Jones and his children who work closely with him in running the team and its lucrative marketing brand. Jones was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017, essentially for his leadership in enriching owners by showing them how to monetize teams. Myers fairly presents the positive and not-so-flattering aspects of the man.

VERDICT Despite not appearing in a Super Bowl in more than 20 years, the Cowboys remain a popular team; expect interest.

Pearlman, Jeff. Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL. Houghton Harcourt. Sept. 2018. 384p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780544454385. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780544453685. SPORTS

The U.S. Football League (USFL) began in 1983 as a springtime league with modest ambitions of filling a niche for football fans unhappy that the season ended with the Super Bowl. That modesty didn’t last long once Donald Trump and other ego-driven owners got involved and pushed to move the league to the fall to compete directly with the NFL. The result was that the USFL won a lawsuit against the NFL but was awarded just $1 in damages and went out of business after three seasons. During its brief existence in the 1980s, the USFL was awash with drugs and alcohol. Pearlman (The Bad Guys Won!) covers it all with verve and relish in an approach that differs from that of Paul Reeths in The United States Football League: 1982–1986, which offers a much more all-encompassing view of the league.

VERDICT Pearlman is known for presenting an unvarnished look at sports heroes with lively prose. This should be popular with a wide audience.

Pederson, Doug & Dan Pompei. Fearless: How an Underdog Becomes a Champion. Hachette. Aug. 2018. 272p. ISBN 9780316451642. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780316451673. SPORTS

In his second year coaching the Philadelphia Eagles, Pederson led them to an upset victory in the most recent Super Bowl over the vaunted New England Patriots. The Eagles had not won a championship in 58 years and did so with a backup quarterback, all reasons enough to earn the autobiography treatment. In keeping with his team’s bold playing style, Pederson, with sportswriter Pompei, fashions his story differently than most sports biographies, taking a more impressionistic than chronological approach. After the lead chapter on the Super Bowl triumph, sections address being a risk taker, being an underdog, keeping things fresh, building team chemistry, incorporating faith and family, among other topics. Later sections focus on Pederson’s upbringing and NFL career as a player and assistant coach. At times the technique works; at others, it’s unfocused and meandering.

VERDICT Pederson attracted a lot of attention for achieving success unconventionally, and this book may draw a wide audience.

Ribowsky, Mark. In the Name of the Father: Family, Football, and the Manning Dynasty. Liveright: Norton. Aug. 2018. 400p. notes. index. ISBN 9781631493096. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631493102. SPORTS

Ribowsky (The Last Cowboy) is known for providing serious looks at substantial sports and popular music personalities. This volume fits into that pattern and concerns the NFL’s first family of quarterbacks: Archie, Peyton, and Eli Manning. In this group biography, Ribowsky fully examines his subjects, detailing both their features and flaws. His research is thorough and his writing professional, yet he profiles familiar faces who received similar treatment just two years ago with Lars Anderson’s The Mannings.

VERDICT Overall, well done, but for those who enjoyed The Mannings, this title might be redundant.

Sherman, Casey & Dave Wedge. 12: The Inside Story of Tom Brady’s Fight for Redemption. Little, Brown. Jul. 2018. 320p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780316416382. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780316416405. SPORTS

On the way to Super Bowl XLIX, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were embroiled in a sting operation conducted by the NFL that ultimately led to the star quarterback being suspended for four games owing to his possible involvement of a minor infraction of league rules regarding ball inflation. Journalists Sherman (The Finest Hours) and Wedge (Boston Strong) provide an in-depth look at the saga that unfolded over a two-year period, concluding that the investigation was corrupt and instigated by the desire of duplicitous NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to make up for leniently treating the earlier Patriot scandal, Spygate. Brady’s determination to continue to excel on the field while dealing with the drama off the gridiron is the focus of this book.

VERDICT Brady and the Patriots seem to have as many haters as followers, so this easily read work is likely to be greeted with a partisan divide.

redstar Spears, Timothy. Spirals: A Family’s Education in Football. Univ. of Nebraska. Oct. 2018. 192p. ISBN 9781496203632. $24.95. SPORTS

Spears’s (American studies, Middlebury Coll.) grandfather Clarence “Doc” Spears was an All-American football player and successful college coach in the first half of the 20th century. His father, Bob Spears, was captain of the Yale football team in the 1950s and drafted by the Chicago Bears but opted for a career in business. The author himself played football at Yale University, but his true interests were more academic in nature; he later became an English professor and college administrator. Here, he skillfully considers the evolving role of football in different generations of his family and in American society in a tone that is wistful and probing, yielding a text worthy of discussion.

VERDICT Will appeal mostly to academic audiences. Its thrust is contemplation, not celebration or condemnation.

John Maxymuk is Head of Public Services, Rutgers University's Paul Robeson Library, Camden, NJ. He is a longtime sports reviewer for LJ and the author of NFL Head Coaches: A Biographical Dictionary, 1920–200 (McFarland, 2012)

This article was originally published in Library Journal's August 2018 issue.

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