Football: Great Writing about the National Sport
Edited by John Schulian
“What the roaring crowds and TV cameras see may not amount to half of what you can get from writers with an eye for detail, an ear for the vernacular, and a gift for asking the right questions.”—from John Schulian’s introduction
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Inspiring passionate loyalties from millions of fans and redefining the weekend in America, football has become the national sport. Ideally suited for our television age, it combines athletic grace with brutal violence in a game that plays out against a backdrop of glitzy entertainment. Since football’s meteoric rise in the mid-twentieth century, the standout writers on the sport have gone behind and beyond the spectacle to reveal the complexity, the contradictions, and the deeper humanity at the heart of the game. Now, in a landmark collection, The Library of America brings together the very best of their work: gems of deadline reportage, incisive long-form profiles of football’s storied figures, and autobiographical accounts by players and others close to the game.
Celebrating the sport without shying away from its sometimes devastating personal and social costs, the forty-four pieces gathered here testify to football’s boundless capacity to generate outsized characters and memorable tales. As editor John Schulian, himself an award-winning sportswriter, recalls in his introduction, “The story was always the thing. It was what we lived for: re-creating the drama every game is built on, pillaging our notebooks for the perfect quote, forever searching for something in the people we wrote about that maybe even they weren’t aware of.” Here are Jimmy Breslin lauding the professionalism of New York Giants Hall of Fame quarterback Y. A. Tittle, dignified even in defeat; George Plimpton taking a few perilous snaps as the Detroit Lions’ “no-string quarterback”; legendary Green Bay Packers lineman Jerry Kramer battling it out in the frigid trenches of the 1967 Ice Bowl; Gary Cartwright piercing the veneer of fellow Texan Tom Landry, the enigmatic head coach of the Dallas Cowboys; Richard Price bringing his Bronx swagger to Bear Bryant’s Alabama; Jennifer Allen recalling life at home after her father was unceremoniously fired as the Los Angeles Rams’ head coach; Michael Lewis immersing himself in the topsy-turvy world of NFL kickers, the least respected players on the field; former Denver Broncos tight end Nate Jackson wrestling with the temptation of human growth hormone; Bryan Curtis showing us Texas youth football in the post-Friday Night Lights era; and Roy Blount Jr. recounting his forty-year love affair with the Pittsburgh Steelers, diminished only slightly by twenty-first-century press restrictions. Together, this All-Pro roster of writers will forever change the way you look at the game.
John Schulian, editor, was a sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Philadelphia Daily News before moving to Hollywood, where he was, among other things, the co-creator of Xena: Warrior Princess. With George Kimball, he co-edited the Library of America anthology At the Fights. He is the author most recently of Sometimes They Even Shook Your Hand: Portraits of Champions Who Walked Among Us.
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