Sunday, August 16, 2009

Book Review: Loser Takes All

The relationship between a pro football team, its fans, and the local media is a complicated one and an important one. It's less important now, of course, with the teams' ability to connect to fans directly, but it was hugely important. Take, for instance, Ralph Wilson's selection of Buffalo for his AFL franchise. Yes, Miami rebuffed him after their negative experience with the AAFC Seahawks and the AAFC Bills showed pretty well, but what really sealed the deal was the sports editor of the local rag (the News, IIRC) agreed to provide daily coverage for 5 years. If only Bud Adams had made the same deal...

Unlike Wilson's Bills, the relationship between the Oilers and the Houston press was never so smooth. In Pro Football Chronicle, three of the top five press-sports feuds are between members of the Oilers and Houston sportswriters, which gives a little bit of an idea as to how friendly the relationship has been. And so we come to Ed Fowler's Loser Takes All: Bud Adams, Bad Football & Big Business. As you might guess from the subtitle and my telling you that Fowler, at the time Loser was published, had been at the Houston Chronicle for nearly two decades, this book is pretty much a rant. Fowler didn't particularly care for Bud Adams or 80s era exec Ladd Herzeg, and makes it quite clear in this book. Mind you, assuming Fowler's descriptions are accurate, each man had his distinctly unlovable characteristics. Herzeg was more personally odious, it seems, while Adams continually cried poor while mismanaging a generally poor football team.

This could have been a very useful book. As someone whose football consciousness only dates back to the mid- to late-1980's, a history of Bud Adams' football franchise in the nation's fourth most populous city would have been quite useful. Fowler's perspective, as noted above, though, prevents the telling of such a useful story-Bud Adams is never right and never wronged, but instead seemingly always wronging and/or permitting wrongdoing. Even when Fowler is inveighing against Bud and Paul Tagliabue in their pleas for Houston to spend money on the Oilers, a case where I completely agree with him, I feel slightly dirty for doing so. And, of course, this is a journalistic book, with no index or bibliography, and hardly any reference to any source or method of sourcing to be found. Righteous indignation is the sole tone to be found, and Fowler is hardly Paul Johnson as a polemicist. Thankfully, there's also Oiler Blues, a review of which will appear here after I finish reading it, but which in its first 40 pages has much more worthwhile content than Fowler's volume does in its entirety.

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