Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Book Review: Distant Replay

In response to my review of Instant Replay, Jerry Kramer's book chronicling the Green Bay Packers' 1967 season, Andrew recommended I read Distant Replay, Kramer's follow-up (also written with Dick Schaap) focusing on the first Super Bowl-winning team and their 1984 reunion. In a way, the book is similar to It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium, with football players trying to find meaning in Life After Football. Many players ended up very successful (Kramer's focus on millionaires seems almost quaint to my young ears, though of course it wasn't when the reunion was, nearly a quarter century ago), a fact for which they seem to universally credit the values and skills instilled in them by Vince Lombardi.

Which gets me into my second point. In my review of the Lombardi bio When Pride Still Mattered, I was dismissive of Maraniss, arguing we didn't get any idea as to Lombardi the Football Coach as compared to Lombardi the Motivator. I'm still convinced this is an important failing in Marnniss's book, but I was reading this fascinating interview* with Bill Polian a couple days ago, and particularly noted his comments on the rise of the NFL as a matchup league. There are comments in Distant Replay about only running the same couple plays, but just running them that much better, and the absolute faith in Lombardi that they were the best prepared team to win. Now, that last is a comment I've seen replicated nowadays w/r/t Belichick, but the former, yeesh. Stories like that, or Namath calling all his own plays at the line in Super Bowl III... things like that have gone the way of the complete game in baseball. Yeah, it's still technically possible, but the quality of play has improved so much that it's generally a hugely sub-optimal strategy. The point, though, is that maybe Lombardi the Football Coach and Lombardi the Motivator are closer than I originally credited them as being. Then again, I'm not sure Kramer and his teammates are necessarily quite the best source-after all, to insiders and people who are used to doing things, what to us fans and non-players is commonplace and routine, not even worthy of comment. It's something I need to think about more seriously (or just ignore altogether).

*-Seriously, read that whole interview. It's almost as good and as instructive as Mike Reinfeldt's Rotary Club talk I wrote at length on about a couple months ago.

Anyway, back to the review of Distant Replay, it's reasonably enjoyable to read but ultimately not very enlightening. Kramer's failings come across in a clearer light than I remember them doing in Instant Replay, which casts doubt on the accuracy of his impressions (more, what isn't he telling me) and reduces his likability as a narrator. Now, I recognize first-person narrators aren't always sympathetic and reliable, but I personally find books much more enjoyable to read when they are. It doesn't to me call Instant Replay's canonical status into doubt, but I can't really recommend Distant Replay to all but the most serious Packer fan. Not that it's bad, mind you, just that there are so many other books out there you could be reading.

1 comment:

Jon said...

(M)aybe Lombardi the Football Coach and Lombardi the Motivator are closer than I originally credited them as being.

I think that that's one of the points that K. C. Joyner made in Blindsided. He divided coaches into Personnel coaches and Scheme coaches.