It's here... First Sunday... in football terms. Okay, so the Seahawks already slaughtered the Packers last Thursday... which brought much pleasure to those of us in Chicago... but today is the real beginning of the season of scientifically planned mayhem and strategically plotted violence. So, of course, we must celebrate that with a list of books that celebrate its charms and expose its rancid underbelly.
A highly subjective top 5 list of pigskin prose
#5. The Opening Kick-off: the Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation by Dave Revsine
How else to open a sports season but by looking at its history? Revsine focuses primarily on college football, providing a thorough and exhaustively researched look at the origins of the sport and its development, particularly the years from 1890 to 1915. Not surprisingly, the issues over which people are wringing their hands today -- the "professionalizing" and "merchandizing" of student athletes -- were the subject of serious discussion and histrionics back in the day as well. Football has always been seen as public relations tool and a moneymaker for colleges. This book lays bare the birth pains of a monolith. Fun fact: Before the rise of college football, strenuous physical activity was regarded as boorish, but football quickly became popular on campuses in the mid-19th century, especially among Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale. Go, eggheads! Reminds me of the cheer we had at the University of Chicago:
Themistocles, Thucydides, the Peloponnesian War,
X squared, Y squared, H2SO4
Who for? What for? Who we gonna yell for?
Maroons! Maroons! Maroons! (or Morons, Morons, Morons, if the team was having a losing season, which was often the case...)
#4. Paper Lion by George Plimpton
Totally old-school memoir of how a famous journalist, editor of the Paris Review, legendary interviewer of Hemingway, talked the Detroit Lions into letting him join the team as a back-up quarterback... and the hilarious consequences that result for both Plimpton and his teammates. In 1963, Plimpton joins the team for training. The rest of the players think it's kind of strange that this tall and skinny dude is always jotting down things in a notebook between plays and while walking the sidelines. When his secret literary identity becomes known, he's teased mercilessly, but he stays with the team and plays on, failing miserably on the field, but writing excellent prose about the foibles, faults and ferocity of this American football life.
#3. The Blind Side by Michael Lewis
Homeless kid in Memphis, one of 13 children of a crack-addicted mother, gets placed in a Christian high school and then adopted by a wealthy white family. Stuff of fiction? Stuff of popular movies for which actresses win Oscars? Well, no and yes. It's a true story and yes, Sandra Bullock did win the Academy Award for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy, the matriarch of the family. However, the book goes beyond the sad, compelling story of Michael Oher to plumb the depths of structure of football and shows how the rise of the modern passing offense led, in turn, to the increasing emphasis on the defensive pass rusher and the quarterback sack, which, in turn again, led to the rise of the left tackle, the offensive lineman whose it is to protect the quarterback on the so-called "blind side."
#2. Friday Night Lights by H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger
If you live in Texas, where football is nothing less than a religion, Friday night is as sacred as Sunday morning. Or maybe the whole weekend is sacred: Friday night for high school football, Saturday afternoon for college football, and Sunday for the NFL. Bissinger puts high school football under the microscope and reveals the appalling mania that seizes students, teachers, parents, town officials and the general population of one specific Texas town: Odessa. Odessa's fortunes rise and fall with the energy industry, but the Permian Panthers are its pride and joy.
#1. Scoreboard, Baby: a story of college football, crime and complicity by Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry
Rape, armed robbery, attempted murder, drug deals... with all their off-the-field activities, one wonders how the players on the University of Washington's 2000 Rose Bowl-winning team found time to practice. They were a Cinderella team with a golden-boy coach who had been lured by trunkfuls of money to jump-start a once-storied program that had fallen into mediocrity. An excellent expose of a sordid story that, only 14 years later, seems commonplace at many educational institutions across the United States, which might be more truthfully called large football stadiums with colleges attached, to paraphrase a line from the 1925 film, "The Freshman." If this is what it takes to win, give us honest and lovable losers.
For fictional look at the brutality and camaraderie of the football field, you can alsoqwq1 read Chapter 2 of my novel, The Things We Save, in which Claire and her beloved brother Joey suffer the consequences of engaging in a forbidden game of football in the family living room...
Tomorrow, Americans will consume an estimated 79 million pounds of avocados as 112 million of them tune in for at least a few minutes of the Super Bowl (commercials? half time show? actual game? who knows?)
It was not always thus. For a history of the relationship between the avocado and the Super Bowl, read on at the Huff Post.
And check out this fabulously clever and apropos video brought to my attention by a perceptive reader.
According to some interpretations of the Mayan calendar, the world (or at least the recording of time) will end on December 21 of this year. But according to ESPN's college football talking butts, I mean heads -- oops, analysts---it already has --when Northern Illinois University's up-by-its-bootstraps football team was selected to play against traditional powerhouse Florida State University in the Orange Bowl. OMG, you would think it was the end of the world as we know it. Well, I feel fine. I have no personal connection to NIU, other than my daughter is good friends with an alumnus and my other daughter attended a speech camp there and I live about 40 minutes away from the cornfields and quadrangles of DeKalb, stomping ground of the Huskies, the newly crowned Mid-American Conference football champs.
NIU All-American Quarterback Jordan Lynch
The Huskies (12-1) polished off Kent State University this past weekend to capture their conference crown with another gritty, heads-up performance that has been their trademark for the past two seasons. As a result of the various polls (AP, Coaches, Harris, etc.), they moved up from #21 in the BCS rankings to #16, thus earning themselves a trip to Miami and bragging rights as the first MAC team to snag a bowl game berth -- and offending the sensibilities of the ESPN elite.
The Huskies take the field.
What a gnashing of teeth there was that day!
David Pollack: "I don't agree with it. I don't think that they should be there."
Jesse Palmer: "I don't think they should get to go."
Kirk Herbstreit: "The fact that Northern Illinois is in the BCS for 2012 is really a sad state for college football. They dont't deserve to be in the BCS this year. Are you kidding me? No one even knew they were playing until the Toledo game two weeks ago."
Kirk Herbstreit -- washed up Ohio State QB
No, you idiots. The Penn State/Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky travesty was really a sad state for college football. The very fact that college football is basically a semi-pro league designed to make money for universities and that its athletes live under different rules than most of the other students who toil on campus (what other high school seniors already know they are admitted to X college in August before their non-athlete pals have even submitted their college applications???) -- that's a really sad state.
Celebrating the MAC trophy
A Cinderella team like NIU making the Orange Bowl is something to celebrate. Okay, so their coach has already moved on to supposedly bigger and better things. That's just another challenge for them to rise above. Seems to me ESPN needs a visit from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future to remember the hopes and dreams of the little guys, the 99% who are sweating it out and putting in the work and hoping that it will all pay off with a break, just one break. Hey, it's just football, guys. Lie back and enjoy it.
I am not one to watch the bowl games. But I think I will be tuned in on this New Year's Day. And for everyone who roots for the underdogs, wherever they may be:
shout it with me:
"I am NIU."
"We are all Huskies now!"
To find out more about me, click on the Not Your Average Jo tab.