From Publishers Weekly
According to the punchy start of this sprawling, in-depth account of the 2004 Baltimore Ravens' season, you can forget about all the other pretenders to the throne: pro football is (at least in and around cities that have a franchise) America's sport. Furthermore, Feinstein, bestselling author of A Good Walk Spoiled
, persuasively argues that pro football is the most dramatic American sport, with its many deeply religious players, limited media access and comparatively low number of games, which are all then accorded life-or-death status. Given excellent access to the Ravens operation, Feinstein is, not surprisingly, very generous with his subjects, painting evenhanded portraits of the players (many of whom, like Jamal Lewis and Deion Sanders, have had plenty of bad press over the years) and even more neutral portrayals of management, especially coach Brian Billick. The runup to the first game of the young franchise's ninth season is so assiduously documented, the season itself is almost an afterthought, though the games are smartly and excitingly rendered. Feinstein wisely avoids the grandiloquent hyperbole often found in sportswriting; there are no references to deities or Greek heroes here. This hefty tome will surely keep football fans happy between games.
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*Starred Review* Through 16 books in his genre-defining, year-in-the-life style, Feinstein avoided tackling pro football, feeling that the legendary lack of access granted the media by the NFL's powerful owners and general managers made his approach impossible. That changed when fortysomething Steve Bisciotti bought the Baltimore Ravens, and Feinstein was able to convince him, as well as Ravens coach Brian Billick and general manager Ossie Newsome, to do the unthinkable: allow a writer complete access to the team and its management throughout an entire season. The 2004 NFL season looked to be a good one for the Ravens, who had won the Super Bowl in 2001 and seemed primed to return to the top. It didn't turn out that way, which gives Feinstein's account an extra dimension of tension, on top of the fly-on-the-wall fascination of sitting in on coaches' strategy meetings and listening as decisions are made on who to start and who to cut. To most fans, who mainly see football players encased in helmets and pads, it's hard even to project the human side of their lives; Feinstein offers us this opportunity, showing the day-to-day rigors of the marginal player, hoping only to avoid being cut. The specter of injuries, an ominous inevitability in football, gets a human face, too, as the Ravens suffer debilitating blow after blow. Football has never seemed as personal as it does here, in one of Feinstein's most involving books. Best-sellerdom is a foregone conclusion. Bill OttCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved