Dealing With the Hard Knocks of Pro Football
Celebrity status, leadership roles, and the bottom-line make for contact sport in the NFL.
FAVRE: FOR THE RECORD
By Brett Favre with Chris Havel
288 pp., $22.95
COWBOYS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MY HEROES: THE DEFINITIVE ORAL HISTORY OF AMERICA'S TEAM
By Peter Golenbock
838 pp., $27
DENNIS GREEN: NO ROOM FOR CRYBABIES
By Dennis Green with Gene McGivern
Sports Publishing Inc.
225 pp., $24.95
In 1994 "Brett" was the 71st most popular name for baby boys in Wisconsin. A year later it had shot up to 43rd, and surely the climb continues as Brett Favre adds to his quarterbacking legend with the Green Bay Packers
Favre (pronounced farv) understands such public adulation. After all, he was once a boy with dreams, and realizes the importance others attach to his athletic accomplishments: three consecutive years as the National Football League's Most Valuable Player (an honor shared with Detroit's Barry Sanders this year), and field leadership of the defending Super Bowl champions, who meet the Denver Broncos this Sunday in Super Bowl XXXII.
Favre loves football, a point he makes clear in his autobiographical Favre: For the Record, one of seven recent books that tell his story. In this one, he does some pretty straight (and occasionally profane) talking, on everything from his choice of the NFL's best athlete (Dallas's Deion Sanders) to his experience in a rehab center for treatment of pain-killer addiction.
He knew that revealing this problem and his plan to address it would be a shock to the public. Doing so at a press conference was difficult, so much so that the normally fearless and calm quarterback found himself "shaking more than Elvis in 'Jailhouse Rock.' "
While in rehab, a nurse lit into him for giving autographs to patients who requested them. He was supposed to step back from being a star quarterback. That, he's found, is virtually impossible, and therein rests perhaps the major challenge of his chosen profession.
Favre says he'd like to play another 10 years but sometimes thinks about cutting his career short to get away from the demands of stardom. "The fame can get to you," he writes. "If you ask any athlete, they'll tell you that lack of privacy is the toughest part of professional sports."
One autograph over dinner is no big deal, he says, but the unending parade that follows is. Fortunately for Favre, he plays in the best possible NFL city for his small-town tastes. The Kiln, Miss., native enjoys the close-knit, hardworking atmosphere in Green Bay, Wis., where the fans treat the Packers more like their high school team.
The son of a high school coach, Favre kind of snuck up on the NFL, playing collegiately at Southern Mississippi before becoming a little-used rookie with the "lowly" Atlanta Falcons in 1991. The next season he was traded to Green Bay, where he quickly rose to all-star. One helpful change in approach, he feels, is his appreciation of the skill needed to pick apart a defense. Now, he says, he'd rather complete 20 short passes than one 80-yard bomb.
Peter Golenbock, in Cowboys Have Always Been My Heroes, has compiled an oral history of the Dallas Cowboys that is about as exhaustive as a 95-yard touchdown drive.
Would you believe 838 pages, divided into 78 chapters? It's doubtful than any other team has ever come in for lengthier treatment between book covers. But, hey, this is "America's Team" - a self-proclaimed status based perhaps more on public fascination than admiration.
Golenbock gets to the bottom of this America's Team business - and "business" is the right word here. At the end of the 1978 season, NFL Films suggested "Champions Die Hard" as a title for a team highlight film.
When the Cowboys balked at that, "America's Team" was suggested since many fans nationwide were buying team apparel.
The Cowboy players, Golenbock says, hated the title, and coach Tom Landry worried about opponents using it for motivation. General Manager Tex Schramm, however, saw it as a terrific marketing tool.
In telling the team's colorful history, which sometimes reads like a sports soap opera, key players are quoted at great length (sometimes for several uninterrupted pages).
This can lead to some rambling, but it's often worth it to get this story straight from the Cowboys' mouths, be they former stars like Roger Staubach, Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson, Drew Pearson, and Bob Lilly, or the team's staid-looking ex-coach, Tom Landry.
As any self-respecting Dallas fan knows, Landry survived the team's abysmal first season, when it was 0-11-1, to transform the franchise into a perennial power.
Much of the Cowboys' history coincides with the Landry era, and this account only benefits from exploring many of the relationships, both good and bad, Landry had with his players.
Landry was finally forced out in 1991, succeeded by Jimmy Johnson, who led the Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories before differences with owner Jerry Jones prompted his departure.
Barry Switzer took over, coaching the team to a championship his first year, but submitted his resignation earlier this month after Dallas missed the playoffs during a season in which he was arrested for having a handgun in his carry-on bag, which he says he forgot he put there. Turbulence rides again with these Cowboys.
The coach of the Minnesota Vikings proves he's no scaredy cat in his curiously titled book, Dennis Green: No Room for Crybabies. He takes on his own employers in a manner that many believe will force his exit - possibly to the Oakland Raiders.
Green, one of just three black head coaches in the NFL, not only criticizes the Vikings' board of directors and ownership group for its ineffective leadership, he outlines a scenario in which he would wrest control away and "rescue" the franchise as the prime owner.
This inflammatory material has generated widespread attention, but it is Green's life in football and his observations on the game and the NFL that provides the most interesting reading.
Beginning in 1972, he worked his way up through the coaching ranks, serving as a volunteer assistant at the University of Iowa, his alma mater, and later working on various college and pro staffs before becoming the head man at Northwestern University and later at Stanford.
He is pleased to have taken the Vikings to the NFL playoffs five of the past six seasons despite one of the league's lowest payrolls.
Green brims with informed opinions and insights and doesn't hesitate to share them. He advocates using portable grass fields in domed stadiums and a return to instant-replay reviews of questionable game calls.
He expects the league to expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games, but he doesn't want games televised throughout the week. That, he believes, would offset some of the "big-event" uniqueness the NFL enjoys from playing relatively few, well-spaced games.
"Every game takes on more meaning," he concludes.
* Ross Atkin writes on sports for the Monitor.