The story of the author’s year embedded in the New York Jets football team.
Before the 2011 NFL season, the “big, warm-blooded, exuberant” coach of the Jets, Rex Ryan, asked New Yorker and Rolling Stone contributor Dawidoff (The Fly Swatter: Portrait of an Exceptional Character, 2003, etc.) to spend a year with the team. That fact alone says a lot: not only that Ryan trusted the author to make a good job of it—which he absolutely does—but to be so open in what is mostly a closed, secretive society. Unlike most journalists, who are escorted around “like state visitors to Pyongyang,” Dawidoff received a locker and the freedom to roam and eavesdrop. In the past 20 years, writes the author, the game had become “the national passion…something graceful, thrilling, dangerous, and concealed in plain sight.” Though he touches on the bad press that has recently smeared the game—the concussion issue, the bounty hunting, the closed-mindedness about homosexuality—the author was soon in the game’s thrall, both intellectually and emotionally. Dawidoff is a crack writer, saturating the book with the best of a year’s worth of anecdotes and lacing it with the backgrounds of coaches and players with an intimacy that begs the question how he got all this sharp and often moving material. Typical is the lovely scene where the young Rex is with his twin brother, Rob (a defensive coordinator in the NFL), and his father, Buddy (a legendary former NFL head coach), as Buddy is explaining to the boys some piece of the game’s obscurity, and Rob suddenly realizes: “He’s teaching us the family secrets.” Dawidoff has a sure hand with the nature of passion, the rancor and weeping joy that characterizes every season in the most popular sport in the country.
Insightful, immediate sportswriting. Readers will feel every bit of the team’s frustration and elation.