It never fails that, sometime around mid-to-late July, I start to really jones for some football (NFL, not the FIFA variety). This year probably more so than in previous ones, given the NFL lockout and money drama that played-out sever since March. With the lockout in effect, this meant no post-season, no free agency, no trades during the draft, and no training camps. There was a complete void where football once stood, and while I don’t consider myself a diehard fan, it was disconcerting (after all, the Arena Football League can only carry you so far). Even more troubling was the prospect that the NFL season would be lost to the ongoing lockout, condemning the sports fan to NHL ice hockey in the winter (the NBA has its own lockout issues right now). But thankfully cooler heads (re: the money) prevailed, and there is going to be a season after all.
During the long stretch where nothing football-related was really happening, I got a hankering for some literature related to the game. Last year I had read Next Man Up, a fascinating account of the 2004 season with the Baltimore Ravens, where author John Feinstein was given full behind-the-scenes access to the team. I had really enjoyed it and was looking for something similar to read on my Nook Color. What I eventually found was Bringing the Heat, by Mark Bowden.
Bowden’s book was simliar to Next Man Up, but is older. What piqued my interest was that it was a look at the Philaelphia Eagles and their 1992 season, post-Buddy Ryan and after the death of one of their most beloved players in Jerome Brown. Similar to Feinsten in Next Man Up, Bowden was given full access to the team behind the scenes. But Bowden’s book covers more than that. It goes into individual players’ histories, often at extensive and candid depth. He looks at the Eagles under Buddy Ryan’s regime and how it fed into the then-current state of affairs. It looked at the sociological aspect of the game, such as the mistresses these players would often take and the temptations that came with being a high-profile player.
Bowden even takes it further, constructing a sort of mythology tied to the game, which he references throughout his book. The coaches as high priests, building up their resumes and working their way through the System to be granted the headset of Head Coach, and what they have to deal with once they achieved this. Bowden’s prose betrays a love for the game and what it means, providing a larger-than-life scale for what these men- who often had to fight adversity their entire lives- aspire to.
Bringing the Heat was the best Philadelphia Eagles-related book I had read, and while some of the details are antiquated, it makes for a curious snapshot of the league, a bygone era captured in amber to be dissected by future generations. It is not the most obvious choice for an NFL read (given its age), but if you are a Philadelphia Eagles fan, you owe it to yourself to check it out.