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4.3 out of 5 stars
A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the NFL
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2008
Even the most dedicated fan of the National Football League (NFL) can't possibly know what goes on "behind the curtain." Most of us know only what we see on Sundays or what we read in Monday's newspaper. Sure, we think we know our favorite players and all their foibles. You can lay all that aside after reading this book.

Stefan Fatsis suceeds in infiltrating the most sacred of grounds: the NFL locker room and the strange world that surrounds it. We get a glimpse of what it is like to know that your very job hinges on the next play in training camp. Players come and go like the tides. Coaches rule like tyrrants and the pecking order among them becomes painfully evident. So does the stress created in this bubbling cauldron they call professional football.

Reading about the personalities of the players--from the lowly undrafted rookie free agent to the highest paid super-star--reminds us that these people are only human. In fact, Fastis' colorful writing creates a word picture that surely is the way these players really are. Some are real characters, some are sad reminders of how cruel life can be. I found myself identifying with one partiular play and this gave me great insight into my own place in life.

It must be terribly frustrating to be a professional football player, where the glamor of game day gives way to utter despair when the "turk" comes to visit.

The only downside I see with this book is that it is so captivating that I let my usual workload pile up while I sat glue to the book. Oh, well.

Stefan Fatsis provides a ticket to a game seldom of us see--the game withing the game. Though he stands only 5 feet 8 inches, this work is gigantic. May all of his kicks in life sail thorugh the uprights.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2008
A Few Seconds of Panic is a fast-paced mix of all-American male fantasy, fear, guilty pleasure and gentle stab of "might have been" - while offering more laughs per page than any sports book in years.

While the plot involves Fatsis improving his kicking to the point of non-embarrassment as part of the Denver Broncos, the deeper stories revolve around issues of belonging and achieving, of men proving themselves to themselves, and of the sacrifices we are willing to make to have done something extraordinary.

While Fatsis endures initiation and a brutal training regimen, humiliating public failures and private doubts, the book isn't really about him. Rather, we see through his sharp and empathetic eyes the arc of young lives enriched and betrayed by a business that masquerades as a game.

I'm reading the book AS Fatsis - imagining myself in his (size 6 1/2) shoes, taking a ribbing from my teammates, being ordered to sing my college fight song in the locker room, facing intense performance anxiety, and worst of all - getting into a jacuzzi filled with 47 degree water for 15 minutes.

That's only fitting, since the central theme of the book is how we men measure ourselves, against other men, against great tasks, against pain, and against fate itself.

What are my Few Seconds of Panic?

My takeaway, several weeks after finishing the book, is a series of questions:

What glorious, outrageous claim to greatness have I not dared to dream?

What self-imposed rules have kept me on the sidelines?

What fears of ridicule by the "in-crowd," in whatever setting, have limned my ambition?

So thank you, Stefan, for bolding going into the breach and paving the way for this reader, at least, to look for my own Few Seconds of Panic.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2008
This concept is reminiscent of George Plimpton's "Paper Lion," but Fatsis takes the idea to a whole different level. He's not just an observer but a real participant, going through the stress and strain of trying to make an NFL team. He gives you a greater appreciation for how hard these guys work, and how despite all that effort, the difference between success and failure is so slim. It's a great story told by a talented writer.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2008
If you like sports or competing, you'll love this book. It's an Every Man story of a regular guy trying to find out how it feels to be a professional athlete. And for those of us who'll never get a chance to find out, it's a ton of fun.
Fatsis takes us inside the practices, the plays, the coaches offices, the locker room and the training room for a first-hand look at the conflicted and pain-filled lives of professional football players. Between the gnarled fingers and torn ligaments, we see how these athletes balance a violent and insecure job and real life and why the pay that looks so good on the outside isn't so great on the inside.
As he did with Word Freak, Fatsis makes a reader feel part of it all, especially as he works to become something that he's clearly not. As he kicks and kicks (and often misses and misses), we feel his determination and ambition, underscoring the challenges that all athletes (and even those of us in cubicles) face every day.
A great read to get ready for training camp, to go along with the season, or make the off-season go faster!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Just read this book after it sat on my library shelf for almost 2 years. This was mostly due to my fear that it would be exactly what it is. A great and insightful look behind the curtain of the NFL, made difficult to read at many points by a sports writer's predictably self serving attitude. This book is compelling, enlightening and emotion evoking throughout as Fastis locks into player stories and astute observations on the often heartless, all-business inner workings of a pro franchise. But in between its many great insights Fastis injects interludes surrounding his own belief that he is a 'real kicker', that immediately remind you that he actually doesn't get anything at all. These self serving portions tragically render the good parts totally impotent.

Here's the problem. Fastis is not a real kicker. He is not any type of football player with any semblance of understanding of what motivates footall players. But he is a good writer. And in so being latches onto certain storylines and presents them well. Nonetheless it is clear that he is ultimately taking shots in the dark. I credit him for hitting the mark more times than I expected him to, but he predictably misses it completely many times as well. Many of these times center around his absurd and denialist belief that he is actually a football player deserving of the opportunity to kick in a game. And at perhaps the books worst moment, he tirades the NFL for having the nerve to put it into clear terms just exactly how much of an outsider he is, comparing his kicking in a game to a rich prick bidding for the same chance. But this of course is exactly what Fastis is. His 'bid' may have been a compelling story to league officials about how attending Broncos camp would make the league look good, but in the end it was no different. Fastis is a guy who cheated his way into living a dream shared by millions and realized by a select few. And in posturing as a credible kicker due a fair chance to play, he discredits the good parts of the book by making it obvious that he really really tragically just doesn't get it. I have been a kicker for over 20 years. Injured in my senior year of high school, I had to build a reputation at a podunk DIII school, then walk on to a DI program. I've tried out for teams at every level. And like all but a select few, failed more often than I succeeded, often without what I thought was a fair shake. I've beat out guys better than me and lost my job to guys worse. I've kicked half a million balls or more in my career. I've hit game winners and missed them. I've kicked a thousand PATs. I've choked on pressure at times and other times devoured it and asked for more. Yet to this day, still a kicker, and having one of my best seasons ever, I have no illusions that I deserve to kick in the NFL. Yet Fastis, who never spent a day in this life, thinks he does. He talks the talk of a walk he never walked, fully convinced that he has ("I am a Bronco" HA!!). This completely destroys the credibility of the book for me. His writers instinct allows him to produce some interesting and insightful moments in this book, it is overshadowed by the fact that his is another poser who really doesn't understand the game at all, trying to pass off his hit or miss storytelling as an insiders perspective. He is lucky that the points he misses, come across in the direct quotes of the REAL players. That in the end saves the book and makes it a worthwhile read for any football fan. But Fastis is due little credit. His own perspectives only get in the way, and far too often. In all fairness I give the finished product 3 stars and a recommend. But I sincerely hope nobody ever tries this stunt again. It ultimately cheapens the accomplishments of the real players (at every level) who don't need a poser like Fastis to validate them or illuminate their reality with his dim perspective.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2008
The book begins at a Denver Bronco mini-camp in May, 2006. Stefan Fatsis has been practicing with the team as a kicker and is trying to find his place on the team. Al Wilson, the middle linebacker, calls on Fatsis to dance in front of the team because, as he is later told, "you know you are a rookie" (38). This is his second foray into the world of participatory journalism - "Word Freak" is a hilarious and in-depth look at the world of competitive Scrabble (it was used as the basis for the documentary "Word Wars").

Fatsis wanted to experience camp and the accompanying thoughts & emotions like a regular NFL player. Rejected previously by a number of NFL teams, he finally finds a willing partner in the Broncos, who prove to be an accessible and open organization. He has extensive conversations with Pat Bowlen (the owner), Ted Sundquist (the GM) and Mike Shanahan (the long-time, all-powerful head coach).

Fatsis spends a lot of time with the kickers and punters, who describe their camp experience as "eat, play video games, go on the computer" (40). Jason Elam, co-holder of an NFL record 63-yd FG completion, is described as "the kid in high school who gets along equally well with the jocks, the brains, the geeks and the slackers, and influences their behavior." (113) Elam is a right-wing Christian who hunts in Africa, writes Armageddon-based novels and gives friendly advice (and roots for) Fatsis. Micah Knorr is a journeyman punter who is brought in after Todd Sauerbrun is suspended for 4 games because positive test for ephedra. Todd lives in "Toddworld," doesn't like football anymore, and he gives a cynical perspective about life in the NFL.

Fatsis attends a rookie orientation with 14 other players. When asked the age that the average NFL career ends, Jay Cutler guesses 27. "Twenty-six," (72) is the correct answer. Life in the NFL is brutal, and except for Sundays, not at all glamorous. Fatsis compares Ben Hamilton's fingers to "cracks in a shattered windshield. Not a single digit remotely straight." (116). Players don't report little injuries, and more often than not, they don't seek treatment. Players live in fear of getting cut or replaced, and most of the 70+ players that report to camp each summer do not make much money.

Ian Gold describes football as just "a money making machine" (203) and that "they're looking for your replacement the day you step foot in this door." (203) Chapter 12 describes the experiences of Kyle Johnson (back-up fullback), Gold (starting outside linebacker) and Adam Meadows (an offensive lineman who came out of retirement for another shot) at length. While grateful for the opportunity and the money, all of them have had some trying experiences.

Shanahan thrusts Fatsis into the spotlight in the middle of practice one day: "He's going to kick. If he makes it, meetings will end at nine instead of nine thirty." (146) He misses the kick and collapses in disgrace on the field. A couple of players race to him and ask the coach for another kick. Fatsis misses again, costing the team a total of "45 hours of freedom" (149). His teammates alternately rip him (with some hilarious vulgarity on page 151) or ignore him. Because of the pressure and failure, Fatsis begins to get an idea of what life is like as an NFL player at training camp.

Jake Plummer (starting QB), Preston Parsons (4th string QB), Nate Jackson (DB), PJ Alexander (back-up OL), Tony Scheffler (rookie TE) are all entertaining characters who open up to Fatsis throughout the book. All of them come off as extremely genuine and likeable.

Fatsis leaves the team at the end of training camp, but he continues to follow the Broncos (and the players from camp that end up on other teams). In the Epilogue, he describes the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Cutler replaces Plummer; Darrent Williams is murdered on New Year's; Elam leaves for Atlanta, Sauerbrun is cut, resigned and then cut again; Plummer retires; Sundquist is fired. "This bit of where-are-they-now about my Broncos is, I realize, kind of depressing...," he writes (but it is fascinating). "Of the more than one hundred men who spent time with the Broncos while I was in Denver, just half are in training camp in 2007, less than a third on the roster in September" (330). Life in the NFL is fleeting indeed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2008
From James Thurber to George Plimpton, literature has often focused upon the dreamer, the man who contemplates an imaginary moment in the spotlight. Plimpton, the late journalist and editor, made a cottage industry of living the dream of sports in baseball, golf, football, boxing and hockey. PAPER LION, his account of training camp with the Detroit Lions, is considered by many to be one of the classic sports books of all time.

A FEW SECONDS OF PANIC by Stefan Fatsis brings readers once again to the training camp world of professional football. It is a world far different from 1963, when Plimpton spent his weeks with the Lions. Perhaps it is that difference that makes Fatsis's account so remarkable. Any sports fan who recalls professional football in the 1960s, when there were 12 teams and the NFL played second fiddle to major league baseball, can only be struck by how far the sport has come in the past four decades. The differences are remarkable and superbly enumerated by the author.

To be precise, it was not George Plimpton who pioneered the writer as athlete. Paul Gallico of the New York Daily News entered the boxing ring against Jack Dempsey and golfed against Bobby Jones. Regardless of who established the tradition, through his writing Fatsis is clearly the heir to the throne once occupied by Gallico and Plimpton.

Plimpton was able to masquerade as an NFL quarterback because he was over six feet tall. In the present-day NFL only one position, kicker, is available to a man 5-feet-8-inches tall. It makes for interesting reading because looking at professional football from the viewpoint of the kicking game tells readers a great deal about the modern game.

At one time, NFL kickers were simply regular players who also could kick with a modicum of skill. Two of the all-time greatest kickers, George Blanda and Lou Groza, played regular positions as did Hall of Famer Paul Hornung. Even today, only one full-time kicker, Jan Stenerud, is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Fatsis shows readers how the kicking game is one specialized aspect of the various components of a professional football team. Working with the Denver Broncos and their outstanding kicker, Jason Elam, Fatsis learns how fleeting the life of a kicker can be. One bad kick at a crucial moment in a game can send a kicker to the ranks of the unemployed. Todd Sauerbrun, the Broncos punter, serves as an interesting foil to the Renaissance Man lifestyle of Jason Elam. Elam is an author, big-game hunter and pilot, while Sauerbrun cares for nothing other than punting the football. In his zeal to gain any physical advantage he can, the punter tests positive for a banned substance and is suspended for four games resulting in $325,000 in lost salary.

A FEW SECONDS OF PANIC is far more than a story about the players in the NFL. The league is its own society where teams must be created within a salary cap that sounds as complicated as any explanation of the Federal budget. Fatsis does an extraordinary job in explaining the machinations of the cap and how it affects the composition of a team. In Plimpton's era, players worked real jobs during the off-season and came to training camp to get in shape for the regular season. Now, players earning well into six figures and beyond work out, train and practice all year long. Training camp is for refinement, not for getting into shape for the season.

Fatsis has given football fans at all levels a wonderful look behind the curtain that is maintained by the National Football League to protect the image of its game. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry with its own television network. A FEW SECONDS OF PANIC is an even-handed and balanced look at what is today the greatest sports industry in the world. As teams report to training camp in preparation for the 2008 season, fans will want to read this book for the insight it offers into the world of professional football.

--- Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2008
In this book the author signs up to go through training camp with the Denver Bronco's. He's relatively old and relatively small so he's going to try out to be a kicker. Like his last book about Scrabble competition - Word Freak, this guy doesn't just cover the action, he jumps on in.

I'm a big fan of Stefan Fatsis as a writer. He's got a great eye for detail and an excellent, but subtle, sense of humor. I enjoyed Word Freak tremendously and when I hear him commenting on NPR, I always appreciate his analysis. Also, I'm a sports fan and I live in Denver and I follow (but am not a season ticket type fan) of the Broncos. This was a fun book for me for those reasons.

Stefan shows what it's like for the guys you don't generally read about. The second tier kickers, the 3rd and 4th string QBs. It's a high stress gig with no job security and the threat of serious injury. You get a lot of short bios of the different sports characters he deals with. (Interesting fact, Mike Shanahan lost a kidney in a college game injury.) These bios/sketches make for great reading. You get to see the team in it's ups and downs.

The only quibble I had was that it started a little slow, with the author trying to find a place that would have him and some of the details in what it takes a middle age guy to become competent at kicking. Minor issue though. The book was massively enjoyable and I'm looking forward whatever Fatsis does next.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2008
In "A Few Seconds of Panic: A 5-Foot-8, 170-Pound, 43-Year-Old Sportswriter Plays in the NFL," Stefan Fatsis chronicled his journey to become a professional kicker for the Denver Broncos. Fatsis, a journalist with the Wall Street Journal, wanted to know how it was like to be a professional football player, and the Denver Broncos agreed to let him participate in their training camp. One of the things he learned was that he needed to kick like a kicker, and not like a soccer player. Fatsis provided insightful information about how it was like to be a kicker in the NFL.

What I like most about "A Few Seconds of Panic" is that the author was able to show the "human" side of the players. Most of the time, we learned about the players from a statistical point of view, but we don't know much about the intense pressure that they faced, or how competitive the sport really is. The author also focused on the players we don't usually read about such as the fourth string quarterback or the third string kicker. In addition, Fatsis provided an insider view of the organization, from the perspectives of a player and a reporter. The author was able to cover the team in a comprehensive manner that makes this book such a delight to read. "A Few Seconds of Panic" is highly recommended for those who are curious to know how it's like to be a NFL player, and to learn more about the workings of a professional football organization.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 6, 2010
I bought the MP3 CD from Amazon. Great format. The whole unabridged book is on one CD. Most modern CD players can play them without a hitch.

I, like many other American males, have thought that the easiest way into professional sports would be as a kicker in the NFL, because it is a few repetitive motions. Stefan Fatsis thought the same, and actually did it!

Aside from living through the author and rooting for him throughout the book, it was amazing to hear what really goes on in the locker room and on the practice field. Shockingly, NFL players are people too. It makes it hard to get down on these players when they are trying so hard... but I'm sure I will the next time the Patriots fail to convert an "easy" first down. :)
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