Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Unread List

Just because, here are the books about football I own and haven't read yet:

Richard Whittingham, Rites of Autumn
John Sayle Watterson, College Football
Michael Oriard, Reading Football
David Nelson, Anatomy of a Game
Robert W. Peterson, Pigskin
Chris Willis, The Man Who Built the National Football League
Andy Piascik, Gridiron Gauntlet*
Lou Sahadi, One Sunday in December
Dave Klein, The Game of Their Lives
Mark Bowden, The Best Game Ever
Jonathan Rand, The Year That Changed the Game
Dave Steidel, Remember the AFL
Sean Lahman, The Pro Football Historical Abstract
Carroll/Palmer/Thorn, The Hidden Game of Football
Carroll/Palmer/Thorn, The Football Abstract
John Maxymuk, The Quarterback Abstract
Steve Belichick, Football Scouting Methods
Mike Ditka, Ditka
Bill Walsh, Finding the Winning Edge
Jim Tressel, The Winner's Manual for the Game of Life
Bill Walsh, The Score Takes Care of Itself
Kenny Hand, Year of Pain
Tom Bass, Play Football the NFL Way

Don't worry, the list of books not about football I own and haven't read yet is several times long than this list. There's also the 100+ football books listed on the spreadsheet, and then you have the strategy books, and all the books that are far enough down the priority list they're not even on the spreadsheet, and all the football-related PDFs I've downloaded...

*-Copy provided gratis to Football Outsiders.  Yes, I feel bad I haven't read and reviewed it yet.

UPDATE (5/30/11, 2059 CT): I neglected to mention Roy Blount's About Three Bricks Shy, which I've been pretending to read for the last two-plus months.

Book Review: The Big Scrum

Well, my New Year's non-resolution to read at least one book about football every month lasted a whole three months before falling by the wayside. I did read Scorecasting in April, but (i) it's not a real football book, and (ii) I didn't find it interesting enough to review here. But April has passed, and I can't go back and read a book about football then, so it's time to move on.

It's a relatively familiar story, to many football fans: the game called football at the dawn of the twentieth century was a bloody scrum more like a particularly violent version of rugby than today's more elegant (well, sometimes) game. The brutality came to a peak in 1905, when 18 players died. Teddy Roosevelt used the bully pulpit to declare football needed to be changed, and the powers that be got together and instituted a series of rules changes, most notably the introduction of the forward pass. Football opened up from the scrum, fewer people died, and life went on. The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football by John J. Miller retells this story, and a lot about Theodore Roosevelt's devotion to a strenuous life. An awful lot about Roosevelt's devotion to a strenuous life, from a sickly youth up to his time as President in 1905 and beyond.

The key 1905 rules changes come toward the end of The Big Scrum and cover 30 or so pages toward the end of the book. The first 180 or so pages cover the development of football as a game, and more detail than I particularly cared on Theodore Roosevelt's opinions on a vigorous life and on the wonderful virtues of football (which game, I will note, he spent just as much time playing as yours truly or, for that matter, Pope Urban II). The main antagonist in the story is Harvard's President, Charles W. Eliot. Whereas in Stagg's University, when Chicago dropped football, President Hutchins was opposed to all athletics, Eliot like Roosevelt was a follower of Muscular Christianity, and personally devoted to fitness; it was to football's brutality, team nature, competitiveness, and emphasis on winning that he found fault with.

In telling the story of the 1905 rules changes, Miller does not seem to trod any new ground, but draws on standard accounts, most notably the work done by John Sayle Watterson. Of course, many people will not have read Watterson's work (yours truly included, even though I do own and have skimmed much of College Football), and Miller's story will be of greater value to them. If you're like me, you want and plan to read Watterson, and Ronald A. Smith's work, and maybe even Mark Bernstein and Allison Danzig. If you are like me, you can safely give The Big Scrum a pass.

If, on the other hand, you have nary an interest in reading more detailed and scholarly treatments of how college sports and football in particular developed, and you're interested in Theodore Roosevelt's life story explored through his interest in the strenuous life, you might enjoy The Big Scrum.

Aside from finding Theodore Roosevelt and his avocation of the strenuous life and the great virtues of a game he never played quite tiresome, I have no complaints about the writing of The Big Scrum. Includes many footnotes for a book directed at a more popular audience, all of which may be skipped by those not interested, and an index, both of which should be standard in books of this nature but which sadly are not. As I often do with nonfiction books, I read the bibliography first and saw Miller cited most of the books I expected him to, including all of those referenced above, but not Nelson's Anatomy of a Game or Walter Camp's American Football (though he does cite Camp's later 1896 work). Miller writes for National Review, a conservative/Republican periodical, but I did not feel the heavy hand of partisanship in Scrum.

For more on Miller and Scrum, see Hey Miller, his website. Miller does a book podcast, Between the Covers, which I listen to regularly but whose guests may tax your partisanship tolerance. Blogfriend Nate Dunlevy of the Colts blog 18 to 88 reviewed Miller's book and did a podcast (mp3 link) with him.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Titans 2011 Draft Recap

Another April weekend, another NFL draft. As I try to do every year, it's time for me to put down my idiosyncratic, pessimistic, snarky thoughts on the players the Tennessee Titans drafted this year. That way, in 6 years when it's time to pass judgment on how the picks actually performed on the year, I can claim plaudits or you can laugh at how silly my predictions were. Players names are links to the relevant Total Titans post. No trades to consider this year, so you won't see any of that analysis.

#1-8: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
A.k.a. the pick by which the Titans draft will be judged in the future, rightly or wrongly. I've been a personal fan of Locker since early in his Washington career, but right now he's not accurate enough to be a good NFL quarterback and I'm skeptical of the idea of spending a first-round pick on a player who's not accurate enough and may never be accurate enough. I'll still be rooting like heck for him, though.

#2-39: Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
Hello, defensive makeover in progress. Ayers was seen as more of a 3-4 linebacker prospect than a 4-3, as he moved around a little bit for the Bruins. DC Jerry Gray said he plans to use him more as a true Sam linebacker, a position the Titans haven't used much lately. Personally, I thought the Titans and Cowboys, who picked UNC LB Bruce Carter with the next pick, would've been better off with the other team's pick.

#3-77 Jurrell Casey, DT, USC
The Titans' raid on the Pac-10 continues. Some people loved Casey, others were more skeptical. I didn't think the Titans had a need a defensive tackle really at all, and a third-round pick seems like a real luxury for somebody who'll play inside. I hope it's a good pick, but who's the last USC player to live up to or exceed his draft status. Brian Cushing as a roided-up rookie, but beyond him, Steve Smith-WR-NYG, and there've been several others since then.

#4-109 LB Colin McCarthy, Miami-FL
I don't have strong feelings on McCarthy. Hopefully he'll prove useful, but his injury history suggests he might not be. Might be an MLB-OLB tweener, so I'll be curious to see just how the Titans use him.

#4-130 Jamie Harper, RB, Clemson
A bigger back who doesn't always use his size effectively or run with the power you'd think he'd have. Gee, where have I ever heard that one before. Prediction: he'll get 300 more carries than he should over his first two years, and has less than 100 carries for a team other than the Titans. I really hope I'm wrong about that, but hitting on Chris Johnson seems more like random luck than any sort of evidence the Titans know what they're doing when it comes to running backs. Yes, I know the front office and staff hasn't been the same the whole time, but the stink permeates the organization.

#5-142 Karl Klug, DL, Iowa
I liked him better when his name was Mitch King and he was an undrafted free agent and not a fifth-round pick. Granted, it was still stupid to pay King one of the top signing bonuses given to a UDFA that year when he couldn't have been more than the 10th defensive lineman on your team. I guess there's a chance with the defensive makeover Klug could be the 7th or 8th defensive lineman on the team, but he wouldn't be higher than 10th on a team with a real defensive line. Looks like a wasted pick.

#6-175 Byron Stingily, OL, Louisville
Whee, a developmental tackle prospect. Hopefully he'll pan out, but no great shakes if he doesn't.

#7-212 Zach Clayton, DT, Auburn
Let me get this straight: the Titans come into the draft with four decent defensive linemen, then draw three more? Something does not compute here. I'll try to do a Total Titans post figuring how the mess will shake out, but Clayton's a DT, not even a potential DE tweener like Klug. Another real WTF pick.

#7-251 Tommie Campbell, DB, California-PA
Another guy with a pretty good story-not quite Todd Williams, but still making the best of what he can after throwing away some opportunity early. I'm not opposed to fliers on seventh-round defensive backs.

But if this draft is going to work out, Chris Palmer and Dowell Loggains are going to have to do some very good work with Locker and Jerry Gray is going to have to sort out a mess of defensive players in a way that makes a lot of sense. Otherwise, this draft is going to go down the toilet like 2006's mostly did.

Big Play Data Dump

I just wrote a post for Total Titans on how the Titans gave up big plays in 2010. This is the supporting data for that post.

Because of the length of this post, I've stuck most of it behind a read more tag.