An enjoyable and insightful look at a wild and wooly era in American sports.

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THE LAST HEADBANGERS

NFL FOOTBALL IN THE ROWDY, RECKLESS '70S: THE ERA THAT CREATED MODERN SPORTS

Sports journalist Cook (Titanic Thompson: The Man Who Bet on Everything, 2010, etc.) recalls “pro football’s raging, reckless, hormonal, hairy, druggy, drunken, immortal adolescence” of the 1970s and that era’s role in making the NFL the predominant American sport.

The nicknames of three Oakland Raiders defensive players give a quick idea of the nature of football in the ’70s: Dr. Death, the Assassin and the Hit Man. Pro football was brutal and violent and played (by and large) by men who made little money, lived life precipitously on the edge, played the game for keeps and partied afterward. There was no such thing as being concussed, and the use of performance-enhancing (as well as recreational) drugs, from steroids to horse testosterone, was pretty much the norm. Later, many players would pay a high physical or mental price for their football lives, yet few seem to express regrets. Cook brings to life both the outsized personalities of the era—party animal Ken “the Snake” Stabler, chain smoking Fred Biletnikoff, the troubled Terry Bradshaw, Broadway Joe Namath, Mean Joe Greene and so many others—and also the great rivalries and games of the era, particularly among the Steelers, Raiders and Cowboys. Out of this era, Cook demonstrates, came the modern game. Rule changes had made the forward pass, rather than the plodding running game, dominant. Players were becoming bigger and faster. Add a little sexiness to the carnage via the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, and the game was perfect for TV. A major contributor to this televisionization of football was the advent of Monday Night Football with the irascible Howard Cosell and sidekicks Frank Gifford and Don Meredith. Cook narrates the hilarious uncensored on- and off-air adventures of MNF. There may be a bit too much football lingo here—“flex defense,” “stunt 4-3,” “three-deep zone”—for the casual fan, but Cook does not go overboard.

An enjoyable and insightful look at a wild and wooly era in American sports.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-393-08016-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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More than just a game book of college football, The Sweet Season at the innocent appeal of sports in everyday life.

THE SWEET SEASON

A SPORTSWRITER REDISCOVERS FOOTBALL, FAMILY, AND A BIT OF FAITH AT MINNESOTA’S ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE

Sports and human interest intertwine as a man rediscovers the pureness of amateur sports as well as the joys of family life.

Journalist Murphy spends a much-needed sabbatical from his stint at Sports Illustrated by taking his family to rural Collegeville, Minnesota, in order to interact with the coach and players at St. John’s, a small Benedictine college, which happens to have the best record in college football history. Through 2000, the Johnnies have won the conference title 23 times, advanced to the national playoffs 16 times, advanced to the title game 4 times, and have won it 3 times—thanks mainly to its head coach, John Gagliardi, the NCAA’s winningest active coach (second on the all-time list to the retired Eddie Robinson) and a regional celebrity. Gagliardi is a friendly and sometimes elusive, Yoda-like coach who insists that his quarterbacks call their own plays and who hides a strategist’s mind behind an unassuming style. But besides Gagliardi, and talented players such as Tom Linnemann, it is the atmosphere of the school itself that Murphy credits with the success of the Johnnies. At first experiencing some culture shock, Murphy and his family settle into life at this place where the Benedictine monks set the reflective tone and unhurried pace. And while Murphy gets involved with the team, he also reconnects with his wife, Laura, and his two young children. With appealing humor, Murphy recounts how he acquires newfound respect for what his wife goes through on a daily basis and how, in turn, Laura sees in her husband “more of the guy she fell in love with.” The epilogue gives a brief synopsis of the 2000–01 year, when the Johnnies lost to Mount Union in the Stagg Bowl.

More than just a game book of college football, The Sweet Season at the innocent appeal of sports in everyday life.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-019547-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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A wryly spun tale of waning warriors.

JUST KICK IT

TALES OF AN UNDERDOG, OVER-AGE, OUT-OF-PLACE SEMI-PRO FOOTBALL PLAYER

Amusing and poignant journal of the author’s first-ever season in organized football—at age 39.

The adventure began in 2004, when St. Amant, a Division III soccer player back in college, got talked into a season tryout as a kicker with the Boston Panthers in the semi-pro Eastern Football League. The lily-white, five-foot-eight, 160-pound author found himself on a chewed-up high-school football field mingling with a bunch of African-American men, most of them a lot younger and a few of them nearly 200 pounds heavier. St. Amant hailed from Beacon Hill, one of Boston’s posh addresses; his teammates were from tough, predominantly black towns like Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan. Hoping to become the team’s first regular kicker (lacking one, the coach preferred two-point tries after every touchdown), the author was initially regarded almost as a mascot. Despite never having kicked a football in his life—and few balls of any kind since college—he gradually caught on, but head coach Pittman maintained a wary skepticism, forgoing field-goal tries for fourth-down Hail Mary plays as the Panthers went 2-2 early in the season. St. Amant’s candid portraits of his teammates, some of whom become his drinking buddies, lend insight into the life of the typical semi-pro player: a guy who might have made it in college and maybe even had a shot at the NFL, but who never got the breaks; battered and aging, he just can’t give up the game. The Panthers often beat themselves with careless play and needless penalties, but as St. Amant developed his leg, things improved and the team gelled. The Panthers made the playoffs, then blew the big one. But “the worst defeat of all,” declares the author, would have been living so close to his African-American peers and never meeting or playing with them.

A wryly spun tale of waning warriors.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-8675-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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