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NEXT MAN UP by John Feinstein

NEXT MAN UP

A Year Behind the Lines on Today’s NFL

By John Feinstein

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 2005
ISBN: 0-316-00964-4
Publisher: Little, Brown

Sportswriter Feinstein (The Punch, 2002, etc.) spends a rough year with the Baltimore Ravens, carefully charting each up and down, and down, and down.

For the 2004 season, the author was given unprecedented access to the football team’s players, who had a reputation as bad boys full of swagger. It was impressive that coach Brian Billick gave Feinstein unconditional passage. After all, it hadn’t been long since one of the team’s star players had been absolved of murder accusations. More to the point, the team had tanked after a Super Bowl win in 2000, though Billick hoped the 2004 season would yield grand results. Feinstein’s easy, deliberate chronicle of the Ravens’ days provides sumptuous details on draft picks, coaching decisions, the search for a diamond in the rough among the free agents, players’ injuries, squabbles between teammates, family matters that stole important players from important games and the criminal inquiries that seemed to come like bees to honey upon young men with a great deal of money. Despite the leisurely measure of his delivery, the author has opinions. He won’t be thwarted from calling unsportsmanlike play for what it is, nor will he go along with front-office folderol (“[Michael] Powell was head of the Federal Communications Commission, a job he had clearly been given on pure merit having nothing to do with the fact that his father was Secretary of State”). It’s a wonder the Ravens didn’t simply implode, given their insecurities, personal tribulations and sheer bad luck under intense scrutiny.

A crash course for those with professional football aspirations and those who feel that the players are a coddled bunch of ingrates.