Review of Nate Jackson’s Slow Getting Up

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I have very mixed reactions to this book about the life of a football player on the margins.  Let me start off with what I liked about it.

Nate Jackson details his life as a marginal player in the NFL.  Basically he hung on through the practice squad and playing on special teams, with a few stints on the field itself.  If there is a theme to the book it’s twofold.

One is the prevalence of pain and injury in the NFL and how that makes it even more difficult to hang on when you’re always on the bubble of being cut or released. Jackson seemed to be somewhat injury prone with bad shoulders and later a balky hamstring, not to mention a knee injury he suffered.

The second theme is how the players love football, or at least in this case maybe it is a love-hate relationship with football as that is certainly how the account of this career comes off.  I could never tell really whether Jackson hated football or loved it.  But he must have loved it or at least needed it like a drug to go through all he did to hang on to his football career.

And Jackson has seen it all, from the practice squad, to great players on the Denver Broncos, to NFL Europe, and a last, final hurrah in the United Football League, a very, very small league for struggling want to be players and those, like Jackson, hanging on by their bootstraps for one more chance at an NFL career.  (I wonder if the same can be said about the coaches as Jim Fassel coached in the UFL).

The book is told from the point of view of the player and what life in the NFL means, which is a lot of pain, little time with family or friends, and near total devotion to one’s craft and to keeping the body sound.  And for some, the few minutes of glory of being on the field and making a big hit on special teams or a great catch is worth it.

Jackson mostly stayed away from the Xs and Os of the game and personalities. The most we heard about personalities was his great respect for Bronco’s receiver Rod Smith, and how he liked Jake Plummer and Mike Shanahan (the later who gave him a chance at the behest of none other than Bill Walsh).

This was a very interesting account of the daily life of a player on an off the field and what it means to dedicate yourself to the NFL, especially for a player on the margins.

What I didn’t like about the book, and it grated on my nerves throughout, is the smart-alecky writing style.  It’s as if every anecdote and chapter is wrapped in this veil of smarmy humor that comes across, to this reader, and childish and not funny, as I am sure it was intended.  Not that a book like this couldn’t use some of this type of levity, but the entire book is written in that vein.  That was a huge turnoff.

I also really never could tell whether Jackson loved the NFL or hated the NFL or both.  I suspect both given the struggle with injuries and that he mostly grouses about life in the NFL.  But then as noted, he did hang on for as long as he could through the injuries, NFL Europe, and the UFL.  Why put yourself through that if you didn’t love it on some level?  And he never talks about whether he truly cared about winning or losing games.

And I would have liked to read more gossipy scoops on the players he played with like Plummer and Cutler and Brandon Marshall or things going on in the NFL generally.

Finally, even though told from the view of the “common player” it really is about Nate Jackson, not the NFL and really not the other players.

And for these reasons, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Benny Friedman and the Early NFL

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Benny Friedman should have been inducted into the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame. He had much greater claim to that than a Red Grange whose name recognition and exploits in college got him in far more than his pro career.

This biography does a fantastic job of telling the life of Benny Friedman, a Jewish kid who had to buck the odds and discrimination to become the first Jewish captain of the Michigan Wolverines football team.

What struck me most about this biography is what a passing phenomenon he was in the late 1920′s and 1930′s when the football was a big fat mostly roundish lump that wasn’t really throw able. And an incomplete pass was a penalty! Yet, he used the pass effectively and if you take the era into account, and the state of the ball and the rules, an all-time great at quarterback. And oh, he could run the ball very, very effectively too. Of course in that era the quarterback had to be a runner too.

That it took until 2005 for him to make the Hall of Fame which is a travesty of justice. Just as the 1925 NFL Champions were really the Pottsville Maroons not the Chicago Cardinals. NFL never did get that one right, but at least they eventually got Benny Friedman into the Hall of Fame.
Passing Game: Benny Friedman and the Transformation of Football

Troy Brown Hall of Fame Induction

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It was reported in The Boston Globe that Troy Brown will announce his retirement in the middle of September. Troy Brown is one of my all time favorite New England Patriots. He is a 15 year veteran who spent his entire career with the team, a rarity in this day of free agency. His tenure with the Patriots is second only to Steve Grogan who spent 16 years with the team. This off season, when it was clear the Patriots were not going to bring him back he flirted with signing with other teams, including the New York Jets. It would have been very sad to see Troy Brown spend his last year in the league in obscurity, in a strange land, among enemies. I’m glad he will retire having not worn the uniform of another team. And I can’t really say enough about what a joy it has been seeing Troy Brown play football for my team. He has been integral in some of the most pivotal plays in New England history. And he has three Super Bowl rings to show for it.

Troy Brown is the epitome of what it means to be a Patriot in 2000′s. He was an obscure eighth round draft choice in 1993 and spent his first several years primarily returning punts and kickoffs. He became a full time starter in 2000 and the following season set the team single season reception record with 101 catches for 1,199 yards and five touchdowns (a record broken by Wes Welker in 2007 with 112 catches).  He was a vital part of the Patriot’s dominance in the 2000′s and the three Super Bowl victories. What is most amazing about Troy Brown, however, is his versatility. Not only did he return kicks and catch passes, in 2004 after numerous injuries to Patriots defensive backs, Brown was pressed into action as a nickel back against the St. Louis Rams. In that same game the wily veteran also snuck down the line of scrimmage on a fake field goal attempt, hauling in a touchdown pass from Adam Vinatieri. The following week against Buffalo Brown became the first Patriot in team history to record both a reception and an interception in the same game. The reason Brown was able to be successful as nickel back was his football smarts. Versatility and intelligence on the field are attributes demonstrated by most players on the New England squad under Bill Belichick, and Troy Brown has no peer in either of these categories. Brown even played nickel back during New England’s defeat of the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. And if that is not enough proof of Brown’s versatility, he spent a few seasons as the emergency quarterback.

As mentioned earlier, Troy Brown has been pivotal in some key plays in New England history. Here are some of the ones I remember most vividly.