From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Fatsis (Word Freak) is dwarfed by any of the NFL athletes who put their bodies on the line each Sunday. But that doesn't stop him from asking to attend the Denver Broncos' training camp in hopes of learning one very specific athletic skill—that is, placekicking—and not to become an NFL-caliber kicker, but to become a credible one. Fatsis is treated like any rookie, from having to sing his alma mater's fight song minutes after stepping into the locker room to carrying the team's duffel bags and bunking in the hotel with all the other rookies. But his vibrant enthusiasm for improving his kicking ability helps his Bronco teammates accept him as one of their own. With that, the reader gets a glimpse of the true NFL, in the tradition of George Plimpton's Paper Lion. We see the crippling injuries that are kept secret for fear of losing playing time; the heartbreak of standing on the sidelines in camp, just aching to prove one's worth; the tears that come when the NFL dream could be over. Fatsis, too, has his own personal highs and lows through camp, enduring the long days, the trainer's visits and the sting of failure in front of coaches and players. It's an incredibly fascinating read for football fans, squashing the notion that the life of an NFL player is always glamorous. (July)
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Fatsis, who took up competitive Scrabble for Word Freak (2001), shows again that he’s no slouch at participatory journalism. Like George Plimpton (Paper Lion, 1966), Fatsis decides to try out for an NFL team (as a kicker for the Denver Broncos) and then write about the experience, but he soon finds that pro teams today aren’t as ready to let a journalist take the field. The NFL has become much more concerned with public image and security, and athletes are altogether more imposing now than they were back in the day. Still, he has a good (if sometimes painful) time in his stint with the Broncos, and the book, like Word Freak, is more about personalities than the game itself. Fatsis’ journey from a curiosity to a teammate is rocky at first, becoming smoother as he demonstrates he isn’t just some writer guy but someone who is committed to performing, if briefly, as a fellow athlete. Not just a modern-day Paper Lion (though it holds up admirably by comparison), this book stands on its own two feet as an insightful and entertaining glimpse behind the scenes of the NFL. --David Pitt
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