Quick Review: NFL Unplugged

With theĀ  NFL season winding down and games taking on more importance, NFL Unplugged: The Brutal, Brilliant World of Professional Football offered me some new insights into professional football. A few thoughts about this new book:

1. Anthony Gargano suggests much of the game depends on what happens in the trenches with the offensive and defensive lines. This is not a new thought – John Madden pointed this out for years – but it rarely comes out in broadcasts or video games where quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers get a lot of attention. These linemen have a hard job: for less respect than teammates, they beat each other up play after play.

1a. I wondered while reading this about how much Gargano’s perspective was shaped by the players he has talked with during the years. While he shared information from players of all positions, he seemed to have closer relationships with some of the players in the trenches.

1b. Gargano seems to like playing up this warrior perspective.

1c. This reminds me of the different color commentary one hears depending on whether the commentator was a quarterback or lineman. Linemen, in particular, seem to see the game in a completely different way and tend to emphasize blocking and who is “getting a push” at the line.

1d. Do many fans have a skewed perspective because of playing Madden football and controlling the guy with the ball (usually the quarterback)? In a video game, the player doesn’t get any sense of the physical nature of football – it essentially becomes a game of X’s and O’s and putting the ball in the right holes or hands. Some years ago, Madden included a blocking feature where the player could control a lineman or other blocker rather than the ball handler. Does anyone ever use this feature?

2. Players have to amp themselves up to even play. Many have nerves, to the point of throwing up repeatedly before the game, and most have to get themselves into a mental state where they would be willing to throw their body into other people for 60 minutes. Gargano describes this mental state as something like “the dark side” that many players try to reach.

3. Even with all of the money they players make, there is no doubt that it takes a toll on their bodies. In our world of white-collar, management, and technology jobs, football players stick out as celebrated workers who put their bodies on the line. One of the classic examples Gargano talks about repeatedly is what happens in the piles when the football has come loose. Most football plans have some clue of what goes on in the piles but Gargano talks about screaming and particularly dirty tactics.

4. Do football broadcasters and commentators have some sort of unwritten rule about not mentioning or talking about the physical nature of football? Many of the commentators tend to focus on the glamorous parts – the quarterback with the perfect throw, the receiver with a great catch, etc. But if so many broadcasters today have played football themselves, why don’t they offer more insights int this? Do they think viewers don’t want to hear this? Americans seem to like football because it is violent – but is there a limit to how much violence people actually want to hear about?

5. There was not a whole lot of insights into actual tactics or strategies during the game. More time is spent talking about the schedule of football players: what happens during the week and then what happens on game days.

Overall, an interesting book that mainly talks about players’ preparation and recovery. Many of the insights have been offered elsewhere but this book is quite vivid in offering a perspective that is often buried or downplayed.

How large is too large for football?

The NFL has some large players, particularly on the offensive line where it seems like all the linemen are at least 6’3″ and 300 pounds.The game has evolved from one with fairly normal people to one where players have to be behemoths or physical specimens at each position.

Mississippi walk-on lineman Terrell Brown is even bigger: 6’11” and 390 pounds. This is huge, massive. A couple thoughts:

1. Can one even be a good football player at this size? I imagine if he locked up with a defensive player, Brown could win on size alone. But how difficult is it to move all that weight? I could imagine some smaller defense players could make it difficult as they run around him.

2. Can one remain healthy while playing at this size? Linemen take a beating and it seems like tall athletes, like Yao Ming, have special issues.

3. What will his future life be like if football doesn’t work out? Offensive linemen bulk up quite a bit to play football but this is not the weight one would want to stay at for a lifetime.

Brown has a long way to go before these questions are answered – he is just a walk-on who apparently played at a community college and is not listed on recruiting sites. I’d be curious to see how his football future plays out.