A highly subjective top 5 list of pigskin prose
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...)
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.
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.
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.