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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Bloody Sundays: Inside the Rough-and-Tumble World of the NFL » User review

There's More to the NFL Than Just the Tailgate Party

  • Apr 22, 2005
Pros: Insights make you appreciate even unpopular arguments that get public

Cons: Freeman gets a bit self-righteous sometimes

The Bottom Line: If you love football, you'll want to be behind its scenes after reading this.

Football – the American type, I mean – has to be one of the most intriguing sports in the world. Comedian George Carlin once likened it to warfare, and to a certain extent that’s true: Both involve countless hours of strategizing, physical conditioning, psyching out the opponents, brutal violence, and plans executed to complete perfection. Football is a sport meant to be both watched and appreciated for what goes on both on the gridiron ├Żand behind the scenes to make it tick. In the book Bloody Sundays, author and former New York Giants beat writer Mike Freeman gives you a firsthand account of the NFL that makes you appreciate it, if you didn’t already.

On the back of the cover, Freeman gives you what he calls 㥶 of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the NFL.” It’s actually list of some of the subjects that are covered in the ├Żbook. Reading the list, one can easily see that while there are a number of interesting topics discussed in the book, a few of them are there so Freeman can disguise some of his personal opinions as facts. The fourth on the list, for example, is a debate on the greatest NFL players of all time, and why Jim Brown is the greatest of them all. It should also be noted that number five is National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice talking about her dream job as the Commissioner of the NFL. While there is a brief interview with Rice in the book, it’s in the opening prologue, a section most casual readers tend to skip in most books they read. The brief interview is pretty amusing, and sometimes even funny, though. Rice talks about how she, an only child, was supposed to be a boy and proud Papa’s all-American linebacker, him having already bought the football when she was born. ”When I was born a girl, he decided he had to teach me about football instead,” Rice says. There is also a short essay about Ada, Ohio, where the footballs used in the NFL are manufactured. The last of the three scenarios described in the prologue is about “Steven Thompson,” a gay NFL player, who is covered more thoroughly in the book.

Number eight of the good, bad, and ugly about professional football is a look into New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s brain and how he uses it to outsmart many of his opponents. The section on Belichick is only a couple of paragraphs long in a chapter about coaches and their jobs. The first chapter covers the weighty task of coaching an NFL team, and the person in profile in the chapter is Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden. The chapter details lots of little ins and outs of coaching – the 12-hour workdays, the immense stress, the toll it takes on family life, and the motivational techniques some coaches use to keep players’ ferocity levels up. Some of the motivational techniques are very interesting: Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy read a version of The Ballad of Sir Andrew Barton to his players after Buffalo’s painfull loss to the Giants in Super Bowl 25:
Fight on my men, Sir Andrew said
A little I’m hurt, but not yet slain
I’ll just lie down and bleed awhile
And then I’ll rise and fight again

Before games against the Washington Redskins, Giants coach Bill Parcells used to tell linebacker Lawrence Taylor the Redskins didn’t think he could play, a technique that never failed to get Taylor riled up. In 2002, Bill Belichick motivated his players for the final game of the season by dragging out the Vince Lombardi trophy, which they had won the previous season, and told the Patriots ”There’s a reason why this is here… Because we’re still the champions.” I found the motivational techniques to be the most interesting thing about the chapter, and Jon Gruden’s insights seeing the way added an insight we may never have gotten otherwise.

The next three chapters cover three players in profile while talking about various aspects of the NFL. First, we get Emmitt Smith, who rushed for more yards than any other NFL player in history. This chapter basically covers the brutal physical punishment endured by players on the field. The one statistic in this chapter that leaps out at you is that the average career length of an NFL running back is just 2.57 years, which makes Smith’s achievement even more remarkable. The following chapter takes you into the head of legendary Giants defensive lineman Michael Strahan, who gives us an insight into the business side of the NFL using the example of a big popularity contest between himself and Jason Sehorn. The Giants shamelessly promoted Sehorn – who is acknowledged as a good player by certain players of note including Michael Irvin and Cris Carter – on the level on Deion Sanders, when he’s not that good. During the chapter, you actually begin to see how the minds of certain players who ask for more money work, and that in some cases – including Strahan’s – they make sense. The last guy covered in profile is Steven Thompson, a pseudonym used by a gay NFL player who worries about his teammates learning of his sexual orientation.

Freeman sneaks a couple of personal opinions into the latter two under a guise of facts. In Strahan’s chapter, Freeman mentions arguments that don’t make sense to him using nothing to back his statements other than “they don’t make any sense.” He basically does the same in Thompson’s chapter, during which he subtly accuses Thompson of using a “you don’t know what it’s like” defense as a cop out, and also not-so-subtly saying that certain numbers about the NFL’s gay society don’t make sense to him. Freeman is guilty of this in a few more chapters too, in which he asserts himself in a way which is arrogant and self-righteous. He uses a chapter to talk about the domestic violence seen in the NFL, and has the gall to offer what’s actually a decent plan to stop domestic abuse in the NFL. I have to laud the guy for his ideas, but the fact that they’re there did make me wonder “who does this guy think he is?” My complaint is that in a book like this, they feel like out of place self-righteous ego-stroking. In chapter five, Freeman does something similar, providing the Cincinnati Bengals with a business plan to get themselves out of the public relations toilet.

Chapter five is divided into three sections: One is about the business of owning a football team, in which Freeman doesn’t profile anybody but uses the (currently-) high-flying Philadelphia Eagles as an example of a well-run football team. The second part of the chapter is a rather boring section of the book about the techniques teams use to spy on one another. I found the only interesting part of this section was about the cheerleaders who sued the NFL teams for peeping on them. The most interesting part of chapter five is a brief section about the Wonderlic test and how it’s used to learn the mental capacity of potential football players. Freeman opens this section with the comparison between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf in the 1998 draft, and how it worked out for the San Diego Chargers and Leaf. He closes with a sample of Wonderlic Questions.

Chapter seven is also divided into three sections, and this is clearly the part Freeman really wanted to write. In the first section, Freeman creates is NFL all-time team and argues for each and every one of his picks. Some of his picks are typical: Jim Brown at running back, Jerry Rice at wide receiver, Dick Butkus and Lawrence Taylor as linebackers. Some of his choices are unexpected, but defensible: Ray Lewis as his third linebacker and Marshall Faulk at punt returner, for example. Of course, this section was meant to be argued, and there are those who would rather have Joe Montana or Dan Marino at quarterback than John Unitas. John Mackey at tight end instead of Shannon Sharpe? Jim Brown I understand, but I’d still rather have the shifty Barry Sanders as a running back. This section was so much fun for Freeman to debate, he went all out and included the person he’d want to officiate his games (Jerry Markbreit), the fans he’d want to root for his team, (Buffalo Bills fans), and the commissioner he’d want running the league his team was in (Paul Tagliabue). The next section is a list of 40 commandments that Freeman would impose if he was the king of the league. Some are serious and make great sense, and some are just meant to be funny. (For the record, I agree with the one about retiring Jerry Rice’s number when he leaves the league so that no player in any sport would ever be able to use it again. But only as long as we did the same for Wayne Gretzky and Babe Ruth.) The last section is 99 reasons why football is better than baseball. There are some great arguments in this section, and this is coming from a baseball fan.

Mike Freeman’s opining is a bit of a deterrent to this book, but if you’re as rabid an NFL fan as I am (and I’m pretty rabid), Bloody Sundays is an NFL insight that will make you appreciate the game even more. If you’re not a fan of the NFL, Bloody Sundays will at least make you appreciate the inner goings-on of the league that make it the most efficiently-run organization since the United States military.


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Nicholas Croston ()
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About this book


<p>Award-winning sportswriter Mike Freeman goes beyond day-to-day newspaper journalism and ESPN highlights to take us deep inside the game and reveal the NFL in ways that will surprise the most avid football fans. He travels to the sidelines and into the locker rooms to interview hundreds of players and coaches on their expertise. Breaking the game down to its essential elements -- coaching, offense, and defense -- Freeman profiles in depth three of today's football elite: Jon Gruden, head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Michael Strahan, defensive end for the New York Giants; and Emmitt Smith, the legendary running back.</p><p><em>Bloody Sundays</em> goes behind the scenes of the "secret society" of gay players who play in fear of their lives and careers, studies how the violence of the game ravages the bodies of players, and takes us into the owners' offices to look at the darker side of the sport.</p><p>Part tribute, part expos&#233;, <em>Bloody Sundays</em> is a vivid portrait of professional football
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ISBN-13: 978-0060739317
Author: Michael Freeman
Genre: Sports & Recreation
Publisher: Harpercollins
Date Published: November 01, 2004
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