Journalist St. John (Clapton's Guitar: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument, 2005, etc.) and former Yale engineering professor Ramirez (Save Our Science: How to Inspire a New Generation of Scientists, 2013) use scientific principles to give a greater understanding of the spectacle of competitive violence that is American professional football.
The authors’ down-to-earth examples make for an unexpectedly engaging book, as they reveal the surprising fact that professional and college coaches of the sport’s early years were themselves students of higher learning who designed the game as a way to find order in chaos, albeit by pummeling opponents. St. John and Ramirez boldly propose that legendary Green Bay Packers head coach—and former high school math teacher—Vince Lombardi was as much a man of science as Sir Isaac Newton and mathematician John Nash, of A Beautiful Mind fame. (Lombardi’s film of his coaching philosophy, his “manifesto,” was titled “The Science and Art of Football.”) Throughout the book, the authors demonstrate the sport’s intellectual underpinnings. As in meteorology, seemingly minor or random events—or changes in strategy—can determine outcomes in unexpected, far-reaching ways, as seen in the revolutionary “West Coast Offense” developed by former San Francisco 49ers head coach (and widely regarded offensive mastermind) Bill Walsh. The authors also show that the zone blitz is a perfect example of physicist Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainly principle. In fact, many football fans are, perhaps unknowingly, familiar with chaos theory through the scheme of the no-huddle offense. Though some of the chapters could have been shortened and folded into others without weakening the premise, what makes this book so enjoyable is the authors’ revealing of how academic disciplines such as Boolean algebra and paleontology are present in such a brutish sport—and it never comes across as a sleep-inducing college lecture.
Both self-proclaimed geeks and the sports-averse can appreciate this “gridiron version of the scientific method.”