Thursday, March 17, 2016

Top 100 Pro Football Books of All Time: Part Two - 80-61

Top 100 Pro Football Books of All-Time
By Chris Willis, NFL Films
Part 2 of 5

When compiling my list of the Top 100 Pro Football Books of All-Time I had just a few criteria that I kept to. Of course the book had to mainly be about pro football, so sorry no Friday Night Lights. I also took in consideration the research, the writing, the historical impact of the book, and if you should permanently own it in your football library. All 100 books here met these criteria. Over the next five days Pro Football Journal will count them down. Here are numbers 80-61.

Numbers 80-61

80) My Kind of Football by Steve Owen (Edited by Joe King) (David McKay Company, Inc., 1952) Written in 1952 My Kind of Football is one of the better football books authored by a former head coach (as well as a player in the NFL). When a football fan thinks of the N.Y. Giants he thinks of Steve Owen, who for 25 years and more played or coached them. This is his story, from his school days in Oklahoma, to his entrance into the professional game, to his association with the great and near great professional players and coaches. It is virtually a panoramic history of the growth of pro football, the outstanding players and teams, the famous plays and outstanding games, and the philosophy of Owen's theory of coaching. Owen provides 24 diagrams of offensive plays and defensive formations including “Owen’s Umbrella Defense” on page 171.

    "The best offense can be built around ten basic plays. Defense can be built around two. All the rest is razzle-dazzle, egomania and box office.” – Steve Owen.

79) Otto Graham: T-Quarterback (Prentice-Hall, 1953) After playing his 7th season with the Cleveland Browns future Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham writes about how to play the quarterback position from the T-Formation- learned from his head coach Paul Brown. A little dry at times and purely technical, T-Quarterback provides great insight into one of the greatest QBs to ever play.

78) Inside Pro Football by Joe King (Prentice-Hall, 1958) Inside Pro Football takes the reader into the world of pro football in the late 1950's. Part history, part instructional, Joe King, writer for the New York World Telegram (also co-author of Steve Owen book listed # 80 on this list) gives football fans a user’s guide on how to watch and know football. Inside Pro Football includes a Forward by then NFL Commissioner Bert Bell, and short chapters written by former NFL stars Johnny Lujack (“TV in the Afternoon”), Tom Harmon (“The Secret Language of Pro Football”), and Red Grange (“How to Be a Living Room Prophet”). The book also featured nearly 50 illustrations by Sam Kweskin, who did some artwork for Atlas Comics, the precursor for Marvel Comics.

77) Fifth Quarter: The Scrimmage of a Football Coach's Daughter  by Jennifer Allen (Random House, 2000) Fifth Quarter was written by Jennifer Allen, the daughter of Hall of Fame head coach George Allen. In a poignant memoir of her growing up with one of the NFL’s most successful and paranoid coaches, Allen beautifully writes about her life within the Allen football family fishbowl. Battling her three brothers for her father’s attention (as well his obsession with coaching) you can’t help but cheer for her.
76) Butkus: Flesh and Blood  by Dick Butkus with Pat Smith (Doubleday, 1997) The first full-scale autobiography by Butkus, Flesh & Blood is filled with great stories and opinions by the great Hall of Fame linebacker. Written with the help of Pat Smith, former television writer with ESPN and ABC, Butkus comes across in his typical hard-nosed persona: “The next time you go to an NFL game do yourself a favor and listen to the crowd. Hear them when the quarterback connects on a critical pass play and hear them when a runner breaks into the open for a long gain. Then listen for the sound that comes when a linebacker puts a big hit on a ball carrier at the line of scrimmageWhen you hear that sound, I hope you’ll think of me.”  
75) The Genius: How Bill Walsh Reinvented Football and Created an NFL Dynasty  by David Harris (Random House, 2008) On July 30, 2007 the Genius, Bill Walsh, passed away at the age of 75. A year later David Harris’s biography on Walsh was released. Filled with interviews from former players, assistants and family members, including son Craig Walsh, as well as interviews with Walsh before he passed away, Harris writes a very insightful book on a very passionate and influence figure in NFL history.
74) Passing Game: Benny Friedman and the Transformation of Football  by Murray Greenberg (Public Affairs, 2008) Murray Greenberg's, a graduate of Brandies University and the Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, biography of one of pro football’s early passing stars is one of the more underrated and enjoyable football biographies. Friedman was one of the NFL’s first great passing quarterbacks that has been largely forgotten about over the past fifty years. In 1929 he threw an unheard of 20 touchdowns. It took old Benny 71 years after he had thrown his last pass to get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame- which he did in 2005. Three years after his long over-due induction Greenberg wrote this very well researched and well-written biography.  
73) Backseat Quarterback by Perian Conerly (1963) (Doubleday, 1963) Written in 1963 by Perian Conerly, the wife of Giants quarterback Charlie Conerly, Backseat Quarterback broke ground as one of the first football books written by a female. In 1957 Mrs. Conerly started writing a weekly column for her hometown newspaper, the Press-Register of Clarksdale, Mississippi. These columns revealed the life that the Conerlys led in New York City, the football games and the celebrities the couple would hang out with. A few years after writing the columns Doubleday enticed Conerly to write a book. Backseat Quarterback revealed the inside story of pro football in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s from a very unique perspective. Not too many wives of superstar quarterbacks have written with such passion and insight.

72) The Boz: confessions of a modern anti-hero by Brian Bosworth with Rick Reilly (Doubleday, 1988) Brian Bosworth’s autobiography, written with Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated, is a tell-all book from one of pro football’s biggest personalities- and biggest busts. The Boz tells his rise as an All-American linebacker at Oklahoma to his current status as a “star” for the Seattle Seahawks. In the book Bosworth explains some of his “Ten Commandments” that include “Be yourself or be deadCause changeShow some emotionNever, ever, be bored.”  

71) The Modern “T” Formation with Man-in-Motion by Clark Shaughnessy, Ralph Jones and George Halas (Self Published by authors, 1941). After the Chicago Bears clobbered the Washington Redskins 73-0 in the 1940 NFL Championship, Bears head coach George Halas, with help from fellow coaches Clark Shaughnessy and Ralph Jones, self-published a 107-page coaches book on how to coach the T-Formation with a man-in-motion. With nearly 75 pages of diagrams Modern T-Formation can only be described as a playbook. Modern T Formation would go on to have at least two more printings in 1944 and 1946 and be used by tons of high schools and colleges around the country.

70) Keep Off My Turf by Mike Curtis with Bill Gilbert (J.B. Lippincott, Co., 1972) Former Colts linebacker’s autobiography is a very entertaining tale told by one of the NFL's fiercest players. Written in 1972 with help from Bill Gilbert, a public relations director for the Washington Council of Governments and a former sports writer for the Washington Post, Curtis holds nothing back. Particularly upset by former NFL players taking shots at the NFL (books written by Johnny Sample, Dave Meggyesy and Bernie Parrish) Curtis wanted to write his own, saying, “Very few stars write books attacking their sportthe players who do are the malcontents on the fringe of famethey’re usually better known for their books than for anything they did on the field.” Keep Off My Turf also goes into Curtis’s much publicized run-in with a drunken, ball-stealing fan.
69) The First 50 Years/75 Seasons (NFL Publishing/Turner Books), 1969, 1994) The NFL celebrated its 50th and 75th Anniversaries with two coffee table books that included informative information on the history of the NFL, as well as great photographs to give readers and fans an entertaining look at the NFL’s greatest games, players and events. One of the more useful parts of each book is the NFL’s All-Time Teams from those two anniversary years.
68) Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today’s NFL by John Feinstein (Little, Brown & Co., 2005) Noted sports author John Feinstein’s behind the scenes look at the 2004 Baltimore Ravens. With cooperation from head coach Brian Billick, general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti, Feinstein writes a very in-depth and revealing look at one team’s ups and downs throughout a NFL season. The insider’s access is obvious and makes the book one of a kind. 
67) Football's Miracle Men by John Steadman (Pennington Press, 1959) John Steadman, long-time writer for the Baltimore Sun, writes about the resurgence of the Colts in the 1950’s. His reporting is second to none on the team during the Fabulous Fifties and cumulates in his coverage of the 1958 Championship Game; aka “The Greatest Game Ever Played” in which he attended. Steadman writes about the final overtime touchdown by Alan Ameche:

   “The 13th play called in the period was one where the Colts cashed in all their blue chips. It was known as a “16 power.” Ameche took the handoff from Unitas, crashed the right side and found a hole as wide as Broadway between tackle and end.”

66) Fritz Pollard: Pioneer in Racial Advancement by John Carroll (University of Illinois Press, 1992). A very underrated football biography on one of the NFL’s early pioneer players and the league’s first African-American head coach, Fritz Pollard. College professor and historian John Carroll does a great job preserving the legacy of Pollard, which up to this point was largely unnoticed. After years of being overlooked Pollard was finally elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005. 

65) My Story and I’m Sticking To It by Alex Hawkins (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1989) Former NFL receiver Alex Hawkins’ biography gives readers his funny-twist of playing in the NFL and of life in general. Many funny stories about his night-life, partying ways as a NFL player. 
64) They Call Me Dirty by Conrad Dobler with Vic Carucci (Putnam, 1988) One of the more funny player’s biographies, former Cardinals offensive linemen Conrad Dobler, and co-author Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News, reveals his humorous side by re-telling old football stories. One of the big bonus of They Call Me Dirty, is Dobler’s chapter on “My Tough Guy Hall of Fame", that includes such players as Archie Manning, Terry Metcalf, Frank Lewis, Tom Banks, and Pat Fischer. Dobler barely beats out Alex Hawkins book by one spot. Long-time sportswriter Dan Jenkins, who wrote the Introduction, calls it “Merely the funniest damn book that ever got wrote by an ex-athlete his ownself.”   

63) Great Teams' Great Years (NFL Properties & Macmillan Publishing Co., 1973-1974) A series of nine books published by the National Football League with publishers Macmillan Publishing Company. This series is full of great history of each team in a very easy-to-read layout. The first four books in the series were published in 1973 – the Cleveland Browns (by Jack Clary), the Detroit Lions (by Jerry Green), the Los Angeles Rams (by Steve Bisheff) and the New York Giants (by Jim Terzian). The books were laid out in the same format containing chapters titled: The Great Teams (reflections on memorable seasons); The Memories (8-page color section of memorabilia); The Great Games (5-6 greatest games); The Players (5-6 conversations with great players); The Other Years and The Names and Numbers (featured Year-by-year scores, all-time records and rosters). In 1974 NFL Properties did five more teams: the Dallas Cowboys (by Jeff Meyers), the Kansas City Chiefs (by Dick Connor), the Pittsburgh Steelers (by Ray Didinger), the San Francisco 49ers (by NFL Properties) and the Washington Redskins (by Jack Clary). All nine books featured cover art by well-known football artist Merv Corning.
62) About Three Bricks Shy of a Load by Roy Blount, Jr. (Little, Brown, 1974)  Given his choice of any NFL team, Blount spends the 1973 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, a very odd choice for a team that had just won their first play-off game in franchise history with the “Immaculate Reception.” Blount’s year long coverage of the Steelers for a book, was not the first time a book like this was written (Dowling’s book on the 1969 Redskins # 93 on this list, among others), but it was better.

61) The $400,000 Quarterback: Or The League That Came in From the Cold by Bob Curran (MacMillan, 1965) Written by former magazine editor and NBC coordinator of sports information Bob Curran and published in 1965, The $400,000 Quarterback takes the reader through the birth of the American Football League (AFL) in 1960 and their battle with the NFL for respectability. Containing 14 chapters that include two that are titled “The Faces of the Enemy” about George Halas, Bert Bell and Pete Rozelle, as well individual chapters on all 8 AFL franchises. Curran’s reporting on the Jets signing Alabama quarterback Joe Namath to an unheard of contract of over $400,000 makes this a worthwhile read. 
Coming Next: Part 3 (# 60-41)

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