It’s that time of year again, when football is welcomed from it’s long respite. Sunday plans are altered, office bets are made and we take our rightful place on couches across America to watch 22 guys battle and battle. I got ready for this season by reading Ron Jaworski’s cool book Games that Changed the Game: The Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays.
Football is such a wonderful sport. The strength, speed and athleticism of the players is self-evident. But there’s way more to the game than just a bunch of guys running around as fast as they can. The strategy of the game plays just as important a role as the players. All the moves, the counter-moves and the game planning, it’s more akin to chess in that way. This mix of brains and brawn is one of the reasons I love football. (Nevermind the fact that I was born and raised in Chicago and lived the heyday of the mid-80’s Bears.)
Jaws knows this. Ron’s book shows how today’s aerial game evolved from it’s humble rugby roots. Look at week 1, Chad Henne throws for an awesome 416 yards and 2 touchdowns but nobody cares because Tom Brady throws for an insane 517 yards with a 99 yard TD reception to boot. That’s a long way from the ground game of rugby, to quote Invictus, “… a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.”
There’s plenty to like about the book. Jaworski takes 7 key developments to the NFL’s game and highlight what he believes are the seminal games where they are brought to fruition. Things like the Air Coyell Chargers to the development of the West Coast Offense are dissected in the book. He also talks about the defense’s reaction to these strategies, from the famed 46 defense to the Steeler’s zone blitz. There’s a lot of play by play that football aficionados will love.
There’s a nice human element to the book as well. Jaworski is particular adept for this story because as a former quarterback, he was a player as many of the strategies were incubating. Ron doesn’t just tell how some of these things happened, he remembers how it felt. His close relationship with many of the coordinators allows for some great insights into the minds of these men who took seemingly radical concepts and changed the game.
One thing that I did find odd was the very first chapter. Sid Gillman was known for innovating the passing game but instead we a breakdown of Gillman’s Chargers destroying the Boston Bruins in the 1963 championship game. That highlighted the running game, with Keith Lincoln running for 206 yards. Who knows, maybe I read it wrong. Maybe it’s the first game where the pass sets up the run. Great discussion but I was a little confused.
All in all, I thought it was a great read. The 7 strategies really have altered today’s game. Even now watching the different games on TV, you can see where seemingly routine stuff came from. From sending people in motion to disguising coverages, the roots are there in the book. The in-depth analysis and interviews help to flesh out these different stories. So take the time after the games are over and make sure to pick up a copy of this football gold.