Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Book Review: One Knee Equals Two Feet

Hey, by sheer coincidence, I'm managing to do something that's kind of timely, more or less, sort of. Yes, not too long after John Madden retired, and I'm writing a review of One Knee Equals Two Feet (And Everything Else You Need to Know About Football, co-written by the former Raider coach with New York Times columnist Dave Anderson. One Knee was Madden's second book, after Hey, Wait a Minute, and it's structured very much like Dr. Z's New Thinking Man's Guide, beginning with some general thoughts and then going position by position. Not particularly novel, but still useful, and I suspect intentional.

Content-wise, reading Madden's book is like reading Dr. Z's book in another way-it's clear that Madden knows a whole heck of a lot about football-even more than Dr. Z, really. There's more really good football content that shows off Madden's expert status in any given 10 pages than in half the books I've reviewed on here. One Knee is now 23 years old, and in that time about all the rules changes Madden has suggested have come to pass, and generally because they were quite sagacious. Some random examples of football knowledge: talking about the importance of the strength of a defensive lineman's fingers-Bear great Dan Hampton, whose knees were famously ravaged, didn't seem to mind all that much, saying "I'd rather have a knee go than my fingers." As just a casual watcher, I know hand play is important for linemen, but it's not something I notice regularly or pay a great deal of attention to, but reading something like that makes me want to bust out the tapes and compare, say, Haynesworth's precise play in the playoff game against the Steelers his rookie year versus this year. Another thing-Madden's first job as head coach was leading the Raiders. He knew he didn't have enough experience at game management to be successful. He could try game-planning, but it's tough to simulate the same type of rhythm and unpredictability within structure. So, he attended local high school games in the Oakland area and basically called plays as though his team was in that situation-on 3&8 from the 34, how do I attack this team's defense. Simple, but a very effective strategy.

That anecdote is also one of my favorite things about the book-Madden comes off as a very likable guy, which is why he was such a successful broadcaster. Here's this head coach for a pro team and he's sitting in the stands like a regular fan, and he's doing the same thing regular fans do-basically pretending like he's the coach and gets to make his own decisions. Except, because he's John Madden, he's really larger than life. I doubt he's a great writer, so much of the credit for this probably belongs to the co-author, Dave Anderson. If so, kudos to Mr. Anderson for ensuring Madden's personality comes off so enjoyable.

Note that since One Knee came out in the 1980's, all of the player observations, and some of the game-related ones, are dated. Madden also doesn't do quite as good a job as Dr. Z in going into great deal or giving you an overall sense of the game. Still, this is one of the best couple books I've reviewed on this site. I originally read this as a library book, but I'll be ordering both a copy of this one for my library and a copy of Madden's first book as well. Not recommended for getting a sense of the modern game, but enthusiastically recommended for fans looking for an enjoyable book written by an expert and who can stand the dated factor.

UPDATE (4/29/09 0020 CT): Originally posted under the wrong date-deleted and re-posted under the date the review was written, in accordance with normal practice.

UPDATE #2 (5/18/09 1136 CT): Thanks to Chris at Smart Football for linking to this review.


Jon said...

Read this one for the first time in ages last fall, Tom, and came to pretty much the same conclusions.

steven swain said...

This book is a great football book and I highly recommend it. Madden does a great job explaining some of the intricacies of the different positions.