Next Man Up is an inside look at a year behind the scenes of a National Football League team. John Feinstein, a well regarded sports writer, spent the 2004 season with the Baltimore Ravens. It is a well written account of what it's like for the players, coaches, and owners to go through an NFL season - and in this case a disappointing one as the Ravens did not make the playoffs. The pressure on coaches and players is tremendous and the physical toll of the game on players palpable. While there is nothing that is going to shock or be particularly new to NFL fans here it nevertheless is very interesting.
The Ravens in 2004 were a team with high hopes but failed to make the playoffs. There was tension on the team between offensive and defensive coaches because the defense was great and the offense pedestrian at best. Interestingly that tension didn't seem to seep in among the players. We also get a look at Steve Bisciotti, the new Ravens owner, and his style of leadership and what he expects of his players and coaches. Additionally, there are interesting insights into players like Ray Lewis, kicker Matt Stover, malcontent Chris McCallister, Neon Deon Sanders, and others. Terrell Owens and the fiasco of the Ravens trying to trade for him also makes a cameo appearance. Finally there are certainly themes to this team - the role of religion, the development (or lack there of) of young quarterback Kyle Boller, the firing of Matt Cavanaugh (offensive coordinator) at the end of the season, and even insights into Dan Snyder, the brash owner of the Redskins, through the eyes of Mike Nolan who used to coach for him. And the overriding theme of the book is the intense pressure on players and coaches to win.
Overall this was a worthwhile and interesting book for NFL fans but not that insightful. At times Feinstein makes unnecessary, petulant commentary on things unrelated to the book (like taking swipes at Al Michaels), which I found it somewhat childish and detracting. Nevertheless, NFL fans should enjoy this one.
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