Sunday, January 31, 2010

Random News

When I changed templates a while back, how the sidebar items was done changed. So, to make life easier on myself when I add a new book, all book titles are given with beginning articles list. Otherwise, all the "The" books would be sorted together and that's wrong. The other alternative was clicking "down" for something like That First Season 62 times and I have better things to do with my time.

One of those "better things to do with my time" being, of course, live-blogging the Pro Bowl! Join me at FO for this assuredly fun-tastic experience today, Sunday. Kickoff comes about 7:20 PM ET.

UPDATE (1/31/10 1801 CT): Liveblog started, available here.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Book Review: That First Season

John Eisenberg's That First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It on the Path to Glory tells, rather well, the story of Vince Lombardi's first year, 1959, coaching the Green Bay Packers, a team that had gone 1-10-1, the year before. When I first saw this book existed, I put it on my list but without much intention of reading it; the "story of a team's single year" isn't a genre I'm particularly fond of, since most seem to be quickies designed to appeal to that team's fans and quickly take a well-deserved fade away to the dustbin of history. Add in that the book was about a team a half century ago (no strong personal interest) about a team that didn't have any postseason success (7-5, missed playoffs), trods mostly well-torn ground (on sidebar about Lombardi Packers: Kramer, Curry, Lombardi bio), and by a guy whose last book was about Barbaro, and I almost didn't pick it up when I saw it at the library.

Having picked it up and read it, I'm glad I did. The nice thing about a book a half century later, particularly one about ground that's been well-trod, is there's a lot of material available, and people will make more sensitive, potentially hurtful material available that would've been too raw to release at the time, and Eisenberg is able to take full advantage of this to give a good portrait of things. The book starts with the disastrous finish to the 1958 season and goes through the Packers' decision to hire Lombardi, the offseason, training camp, and then the preseason and regular season, in perfectly sensible and normal chronological order. Players are introduced at the time they were introduced to Lombardi, be it Starr coming up early before training camp begins to watch film and learn the offense, or Hornung when visited in Louisville in the offseason. Eisenberg tells the story well, with good details about each game and other important moments, and I enjoyed reading the book.

Beyond that, I'm not sure what to say about the book and what I got out of it. It contains an index, a list of regular season games with their result and location, and he notes which players he interviewed and a list of the most important books, though your hope for footnotes is a forlorn one. Eisenberg does give me a better idea that Lombardi was an excellent football coach, and not just a good motivator and leader; Maraniss's bio left me uncertain, and that Eisenberg accomplishes making the distinction with the use of key details only serves to confirm my atypically low opinion of Maraniss's book. If you're only going to read one book on the Packers, this isn't it; you'd be best served by Jerry Kramer's Instant Replay, if you're a football fan, or Maraniss's bio of Lombardi, if you hate football. I wouldn't have paid anything near list for this book, for the reasons I enumerated earlier, and still wouldn't have, knowing now it's better than I thought it'd be, but That First Season still represents a worthy addition to the Lombardi-era Packers corpus, and if it sounds interesting to you, go ahead and read it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Football Outsiders

The latest Scramble for the Ball, including the 2009 All-Keep Choppin' Wood Team, is now available for your reading pleasure.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Football Outsiders

Scramble for the Ball is now available for your reading pleasure.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Football Outsiders

A day late, but not a dollar short: Scramble for the Ball, featuring Jake Delhomme in the first edition of Awesome Commercials We Saved Just for the Playoffs.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book Review: Never Give Up on Your Dream

There's a reason that there are very few autobiographies currently listed under the "Football Books" item on the sidebar. Those reasons can be amply found in the first two-thirds or so of Never Give Up on Your Dream, Warren Moon's autobiography written with Don Yaeger (who also appears on the sidebar for Tarnished Heisman). That first two-thirds or so is mostly a mundane repetition of some of the key moments from Warren's life from birth to Hall of Fame induction. Not to put too fine a point on things, you or I could've, with work, written virtually all of the content; either Warren has a preternatural memory for such things, or his early life revolved around pop culture items, or he told the bare-bones outline of his childhood and somebody fleshed it out with knowledge of what was popular back then ("Hmm, Warren was born in 1956, what would've been popular for a 7 year old in 1963?"). A hint to the likely answer to this question comes from the acknowledgments at the back of the book: "key members of our writing and research team also included the amazingly disciplined Jim Henry, who kept this train on the tracks, and the gifted Tiffany Yecke Brooks, whose ability to turn a phrase is uncanny for her age." I hope you enjoyed your graduate work in English, Tiffany; read this if you haven't already.

Thankfully, the last third or so of the book actually has content that shows the active cooperation of Warren Moon in its content. There's some insight into him as a person and what he likes. There's one chapter that ended up quite timely, about his work with the Sport Concussion Institute. Another chapter tells his side of the story about his argument with his then-wife Felicia from 1995, when he was arrested on domestic violence charges (that he didn't do anything was my reading of the contemporary news reports, and of course that's the story he tells, reasonably convincingly). He also wrote about his drunk driving arrests in 2007 and worrying he was turning into an alcoholic like his father, before determining that he wasn't but counseling was useful for avoiding doing stupid things. This chapter is slightly ironic, given that Moon's lifelong agent, Leah Steinberg, who's heavily present throughout the book, nearly drank his way out of the agent profession, but it is at least mildly interesting to see him talking about counseling and how it's not part of the normal image for black men, and particularly black athletes.

But, really, this isn't particularly interesting or insightful of a book. I only read it because I was an Oilers and Moon fan growing up and the local library happened to have it. The current Amazon price of $9.75 is much more attractive than the $25 list, but I'd've waited three years until it was available for a penny plus shipping and wouldn't have felt like I'd missed anything. Not particularly recommended.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Self-Publicity

For reasons I don't yet understand, I have a Twitter account. Feel free to follow me if you're not already, though that doesn't mean I'll follow you if I'm not already following you, but feel free to make the case to me that I should follow you.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Total Titans

MVN's shutting down in the next couple days, so Total Titans will be moving here, at least for a while. Posts mostly imported already, to the extent it's easy to do so. Sidebar link will be updated as soon as this goes up. Notify us here or in the comments to this post if you notice any issues.

Football Outsiders

The latest and shortest edition of Scramble for the Ball, featuring the FO playoff fantasy league, is now available for your reading pleasure.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Inside the Blog

I've updated the Blogger template to the latest version; no major changes should be in the offing, but this was something that needed to be done. On the plus side, the post title should be a link to the post now. On the negative side, the left sidebar now seems too big. The display of the archive has also changed, which makes me thing I should give the links posts all either the same title (Assorted Links, a la Marginal Revolution, perhaps) or more descriptive titles.

If you notice anything you like or don't like, let me know and I'll see if I can't do something about it.

UPDATE (1/3/10 2338 CT): Changed the sidebar width, making it narrower. I think it looks better now, but as always feedback is welcome.

Book Review: The End of Autumn

Having previously read and enjoyed Michael Oriard's Brand NFL, and noticing he'd written other books about football, I decided to seek them out. As previously noted, I've acquired Reading Football and have also acquired Bowled Over, but the next book of Professor Oriard's I read was his autobiography, The End of Autumn: Reflections on My Life in Football. Originally published in 1982 and then re-issued in 2009, I acquired the reissued edition; aside from a brief introduction and afterword, the text of the book is apparently the same and unedited from the first edition.

The End of Autumn goes through Oriard's football playing career, from a youth and prepster in Spokane, through his time at Notre Dame and later with and to the end of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. Reading it, I was reminded of It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium, John Ed Bradley's memoir of his time playing football for LSU. Like Bradley, Oriard is torn between the pride he feels as a member of the football team and his status as a valued member of the team and the negative aspects of football; Oriard was more successful than Bradley, though, and it shows in his attitude. He concentrates more on the positive aspects, and particularly the sense of personal superiority he feels as a result of his status as a valued member of the football team, while still sort of acknowledging football was not a cost-free activity. Still, the reaction I had to Oriard was that playing football turned him into a prick, just as much of a prick as his seemingly less-aware teammates; he was a football player, and that meant he was better than people who didn't play football. Frankly, he made me quite glad the high school I graduated from didn't have a football team, and the football team at the college I went too was pretty much irrelevant.

So, Oriard comes off as a little bit of a jerk. So what? His NFL career ended three and a half decades after, when he was cut before the 1974 season. Since he graduated high school, there's been a lot of change in prep sports. Since he graduated college, much of the college football landscape has changed. The life of an NFL player is greatly different; I'd be hard-pressed to believe anybody enters NFL with the blind faith in his coach to look after his (the player's) best interest, as opposed to the coach's best interest, that Oriard supposedly had in Hank Stram. Still, some stuff rings true; football players (and athletes in general) are still frequently a favored class, both expecting and receiving benefits and perks non-athletes would never get. The preferred status of being a football player, and showing toughness is a key part of his experience as a prep and in college, but not in the NFL. While there are exceptions, most players in the NFL realize they're tough enough, and everybody they're playing with is tough, so players concentrate on playing. Similarly, the NFL is still somewhat of a transition from a college team filled with peers and people in similar life situations to a range of ages with players in a range of different situations, including players with kids.

Given this, how valuable was reading The End of Autumn? For me, I'd say, not really. Oriard confirmed things I'd suspected, but had few insights and the book does feel dated in places. If you do want to read it, I'd definitely recommend acquiring the original 1982 edition; there's not enough in the 2009 re-issue to make the price premium worth it. While I didn't like Oriard from reading this book, I'm not going to let it dissuade me from reading anything else he's written; I'm comfortable with bad people producing good works, not that Oriard seems in any way particularly benighted, but, frankly, reading The End of Autumn makes me think it's easier than you might think for football to go the way of boxing and be condemned by all and sundry as more brutality for brutality's sake than proper entertainment.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Linkagery

Yes, I'm even more incredibly behind on doing this. But, since there's no way I'll get anything accomplished today with football on, I might as well do this.

The most important link I have is this first one, and it's actually recent: the list of players who will not be free agents if I'm declared God-Emperor of Japan this week there's no new CBA deal before the start of a league year. What will this mean? For example, no salary floor.

The second most important link is this one, which will be a burgeoning issue the next couple weeks and months: the NFL may not have coaches' tape on college games unless it forks over a fair amount of money. Linking to this, I can't help myself but also link to this precious article on WNBA players actually watching game film because it's important.

Courtesy of Wayne Winston, whose book Mathletics I may or may not get around to reading, a history of point value models in football. Yes, that's your truly in the first comment, and I suspect Jim Armstrong is the second comment.

NFP's rank of the top 30 prospects as of October 21. See also SNT's list as of October 29.

Still raising my blood pressure: dumb article from WSJ on the NFL salary cap, and how it doesn't work because some times were winning games by a lot and other teams were bad. More interesting, really, is the beating Vegas took from the same problem.

Neat little info on how the Pats manipulated the salary cap rules with Tully Banta-Cain, courtesy of Andrew Brandt. I rip on the Pats a lot, but this isn't one of those times; they took advantage of a bad rule, which should be fixed. See also Brandt's next column, which includes more details on Cutler's new deal mentioned in the previous link. Related to the rules manipulation issue, the problem is when the rule-enforcing and-making authority can exercise its power capriciously. Like, say, the NCAA.

Really great post by Joe Posnanski on Larry Johnson, after he sent his tweet about Haley not playing the game, going into Chiefs and LJ's recent history. Carl Peterson may have had a worse 2003-08 than Matt Millen, if you really think about it.

Great title: 85,000 fans doesn't equal a plan, from Bob Boland's column on the NFL and expansion beyond the US. Honest answer, from me personally: they shouldn't expend that much effort on it, but instead concentrate on not screwing up their core business model. Plus, London games are a pain in the butt. For example, this change, permitting a majority owner to control as little as 10% of a team, down from 30% in 2004, is a much bigger deal. That sort of stultification is much more important than not taking the game abroad.

Cool recap of the 1969 Red River Shootout from Prolate Spheroid, one of the most notable games in that rivalry.

Neat column by Andrew Brandt on Favre's history with the Packers, and Ted Thompson's difficulty in connecting with Favre. See also Brandt's next column, about how Brett got so much love from the TV guys because he was such a great resource for them. Not surprising, as anybody familiar with Bob Woodward could easily surmise.

Data dump from PFR: most rush yards by no. of carries, prompted by MJD's 177 on 8 carries against the Titans.

If I noticed more about technique, this post in improving a QB's throwing motion would be a really great read.

The Big 10 is the NFL. Why do I say this? It's fairly simple: the B10's strength is determined by the strength of its quarterbacks. When the B10 has good quarterbacks, it's a great league. When it has mediocre to poor quarterbacks, as it has for the past couple years, it's a down league.

Finally, for now, something cool: if there was a mythical college football victory cup, awarded to the winner of the first game and subsequently captured by defeating that school (think Harry Potter Deathstick), who would have had it over time. Since the chart went up, Florida lost it to Alabama. Past holders who will never hold it again include West Virginia Wesley, UChicago, and Olympic Club.

Total Titans

3500 words on VY's passes against the Chargers now available for your reading pleasure.