This Sunday is Super Bowl LIII where the Los Angeles Rams will take on the New England Patriots. It’s LA’s first shot at the NFL championship in over 30 years! If you start going through football withdrawal after the big game, take a look at some of these books looking at the history, controversy, and excitement of one of the largest professional sports league in America–the NFL.
Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football by Nicholas Dawidoff
By spending a year with the New York Jets, Nicholas Dawidoff entered a mysterious and private world with its own rituals and language. Here is football in many faces: the polarizing, brilliant, and hilarious head coach; the general manager, whose job is to support (and suppress) the irrepressible coach; the defensive coaches and their in-house rivals, the offensive coaches; and of course the players. Wise safeties, brooding linebackers, high-strung cornerbacks, enthusiastic rookies, and a well-read nose tackle-they make up a strange and complex family. Dawidoff makes an emblematic NFL season come alive for fans and nonfans alike in a book about football that will forever change the way people watch and think about the sport.
The League: How Five Rivals Created the NFL and Launched a Sports Empire by John Eisenberg
The National Football League is a towering, distinctly American colossus spewing out $13 billion in annual revenue. Yet its current dominance has obscured how professional football got its start.
In The League, John Eisenberg reveals that Art Rooney, George Halas, Tim Mara, George Preston Marshall, and Bert Bell took an immense risk by investing in the professional game. At that time the sport barely registered on the national scene, where college football, baseball, boxing, and horseracing dominated. The five owners succeeded only because at critical junctures in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s each sacrificed the short-term success of his team for the longer-term good of the League. At once a history of a sport and a remarkable story of business ingenuity, The League is an essential read for any fan of our true national pastime.
League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru
Comprehensively, and for the first time, award-winning ESPN investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru tell the story of a public health crisis that emerged from the playing fields of our 21st century pastime. Everyone knew that football is violent and dangerous. But what the players who built the NFL into a $10 billion industry didn’t know – and what the league sought to shield from them – is that no amount of padding could protect the human brain from the force generated by modern football; that the very essence of the game could be exposing these players to brain damage.
In a fast-paced narrative that moves between the NFL trenches, America’s research labs and the boardrooms where the NFL went to war against science, League of Denial examines how the league used its power and resources to attack independent scientists and elevate its own flawed research — a campaign with echoes of Big Tobacco’s fight to deny the connection between smoking and lung cancer. It chronicles the tragic fates of players like Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, who was so disturbed at the time of his death he fantasized about shooting NFL executives; and former Chargers great Junior Seau, whose diseased brain became the target of an unseemly scientific battle between researchers and the NFL. Based on exclusive interviews, previously undisclosed documents and private emails, this is the story of what the NFL knew and when it knew it – questions at the heart of crisis that threatens football, from the highest levels all the way down to Pop Warner.
In the mighty National Football League, one player becomes the face of a franchise, one player receives all the accolades and all the blame, and one player’s hand will guide the rise or fall of an entire team’s season – and the dreams of millions of fans. There are thirty-two starting quarterbacks in the NFL on any given Sunday, and their lives are built around pressure, stardom, and incredible talent. Legendary bestselling sportswriter John Feinstein, in his most insightful book yet, shows readers what it’s really like to play the glory position and to live that life – mapping out a journey that runs from college stardom to the NFL draft to taking command of the huddle and marching a team down the field with a nation of fans cheering.
Feinstein builds his profile around five NFL starting quarterbacks – Alex Smith, Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Doug Williams. With incredible inside access, we get the full quarterback experience…being drafted #1 overall, pushing through grueling injuries, winning Super Bowls, being named a starter on multiple teams, being the first African American QB to lead a franchise to a title. Feinstein shows us exactly what it’s like in the locker room, huddle, heat of battle, and press conferences, through spectacular moments and embarrassing defeats. He explores the controversies of a league embroiled in questions of substance abuse and racism, TV revenue, corporate greed, and the value placed on player health. And in the end, Feinstein addresses the ways in which each quarterback – some just a year out of college — is handed the keys to a franchise worth billions of dollars, and how each team’s fortunes ride directly on the shoulders of its QB.
America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation by Michael MacCambridge
It’s difficult to imagine today–when the Super Bowl has virtually become a national holiday and the National Football League is the country’s dominant sports entity–but pro football was once a ramshackle afterthought on the margins of the American sports landscape. Yet in the span of a single generation in postwar America, the game charted an extraordinary rise in popularity, becoming a smartly managed, keenly marketed sports entertainment colossus whose action is ideally suited to television and whose sensibilities perfectly fit the modern age. Pro football’s ascent is an epic American story, and America’s Game does it full justice.
Beginning with the World War II years, when the NFL was fighting for its very existence, Michael MacCambridge traces the game’s grand transformation, with particular attention paid to six key franchises–the Rams, Browns, Colts, Cowboys, Chiefs, and Raiders–and how their fortunes reflected the larger growth of the game itself. Along the way we meet the sport’s legendary architects, men such as Pete Rozelle, George “Papa Bear” Halas, Bert Bell, Tex Schramm, and Lamar Hunt, as well as a wide range of its memorable characters–including Johnny Unitas, Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi, Jim Brown, Al Davis, Joe Namath, Bill Walsh, and Deion Sanders. In the process we witness the rivalries, the games themselves, and the passion that have made professional football the nation’s signature sport.
MacCambridge continues the story through the turbulent 1980s and 1990s, when labor disputes and off-field scandals shook the game to its core, and up to the sport’s present-day preeminence under Paul Tagliabue. The unique portrait of the modern game’s inner workings and relentless competitiveness sheds light on contemporary stars such as Ray Lewis and Peyton Manning, as well as on the men whose leadership skills are scrutinized and second-guessed by much of the country, celebrated coaches such as Bill Parcells, Dick Vermeil, Tony Dungy, and Brian Billick.
Magisterial and sweeping, definitive and unprecedented in scope, America’s Game is cultural history at its finest. A thoroughly entertaining account of the entire universe of professional football, from locker room to boardroom, from playing field to press box, it is a unique lens through which to view the past sixty years of American history.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are perhaps the two greatest quarterbacks of all time. They are living legends who have come to embody the quarterback position and shape an entire generation of the NFL. They have also been fierce rivals every step of the way, and their many epic duels have not only ranked among the best and most exciting games ever played, they have fundamentally shaped the lives of and careers of both men.
But for all their shared brilliance, they are a study in contrasts. Tom is the underdog turned ultimate winner, an unheralded draft pick who went on to win a miraculous Super Bowl and become the leader of one of the NFL’s greatest dynasties. He is as firmly associated with big game brilliance as anyone who has ever played. Meanwhile Peyton was born into NFL royalty and a mountain of outsized expectations, yet somehow lived up to and exceeded all the hype, claiming virtually every passing record along his path to football immortality.
The contrast in greatness—between the overachieving underdog and the crown prince of football, between postseason brilliance and statistical dominance—has served as an endless source of fascination for fans and media, and over the years as the two players have faced off again and again in classic games, the argument has only intensified.
In this extraordinary book, veteran NFL correspondent Gary Myers tackles this subject from every angle and with unprecedented access and insight, drawing on a huge number of never-before-heard interviews with Brady and Manning, their coaches, their families, and those who have played with them and against them. The result is a remarkable collection of the most entertaining and revealing stories ever told about Peyton and Tom, from how they developed their vastly different leadership styles, to the unlikely friendship they’ve built over the years, to their respective exploits as locker room pranksters.
Football: Great Writing about the National Sport edited by John Schulian
An All-Pro line-up of writers including Red Smith, Frank Deford, Jimmy Breslin, George Plimpton, Richard Price, Charles Pierce, Michael Lewis, and Roy Blount Jr tackle our most popular pastime: Since football’s meteoric rise in the mid-twentieth century, the standout writers on the sport have gone behind and beyond the spectacle to reveal the complexity, the contradictions, and the deeper humanity at the heart of the game. Now, in a landmark collection, The Library of America brings together the very best of their work: gems of deadline reportage, incisive longform profiles of football’s storied figures, and autobiographical accounts by players and others close to the game. Celebrating the sport without shying away from its sometimes devastating personal and social costs, the forty-four pieces gathered here testify to football’s boundless capacity to generate outsized characters and memorable tales.
And one story not about the NFL at all…
Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL by Jeff Pearlman
The United States Football League—known fondly to millions of sports fans as the USFL—was the last football league to not merely challenge the NFL, but cause its owners and executives to collectively shudder. It spanned three seasons, 1983-85. It secured multiple television deals. It drew millions of fans and launched the careers of legends. But then it died beneath the weight of a particularly egotistical and bombastic owner—a New York businessman named Donald J. Trump. The league featured as many as 18 teams, and included such superstars as Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Herschel Walker, Reggie White, Doug Flutie and Mike Rozier.
In Football for a Buck, the dogged reporter and biographer Jeff Pearlman draws on more than four hundred interviews to unearth all the salty, untold stories of one of the craziest sports entities to have ever captivated America. From 1980s drug excess to airplane brawls and player-coach punch outs, to backroom business deals, to some of the most enthralling and revolutionary football ever seen, Pearlman transports readers back in time to this crazy, boozy, audacious, unforgettable era of the game. He shows how fortunes were made and lost on the backs of professional athletes and also how, thirty years ago, Trump was a scoundrel and a spoiler.