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Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times Paperback – August 27, 2019
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“Juicy and mean in the way all books about the NFL ought to be, but few are.” —Drew Magary, Deadspin
“A raucous, smash-mouth, first-person takedown of the National Football League, it is also the story of an aging fanboy whose reportorial eye and ear are far too acute to ignore what’s wrong with the game and the team he loves. . . . Mr. Leibovich understands that humor—bruising, black-and-blue humor—is the best way to attack the self-seriousness and grandiosity of the NFL. It works as well for him as it did for his comically insurgent predecessors—Dan Jenkins in 'Semi-Tough' and Peter Gent in 'North Dallas Forty'—making Big Game an instant classic in the pigskin oeuvre.” —Wall Street Journal
‘"Hilarious, energetically reported and endlessly entertaining. . . Leibovich emerges as the pro game’s Mencken, tossing out one-liners as barbed as the spiked costumes of the Raiders’ faithful.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“This book needs to be remembered as the greatest accounting of the NFL owners I have ever read.” —Mike Pesca, Slate
“As someone who’s covered the league for three decades and knows how difficult it is to get behind the curtain, I can tell you Big Game is genuine and important—and a great read.” —Peter King
“A funny, insightful and fascinating perspective of the league.” —USA Today
“Highly entertaining . . . If anything, you’ll want to read until Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones invites Leibovich over for a few—well, more than a few—drinks.” —Mother Jones, Best Nonfiction Books of 2018
“The high point of any monster movie, whether you’re talking 'King Kong' or 'Jurassic Park,' comes at the moment when you finally get a full view of the giant beast. You’ve caught a glimpse or two, heard a roar in the distance, but when you finally see the monster’s full immensity, it’s a sight to behold … and you wonder how in the hell your little heroes are going to survive its fury. Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times, an exceptional new behind-the-scenes book by Mark Leibovich, is a monster movie disguised as investigative journalism. Running from 2014 right on up to this year, Leibovich’s narrative presents the NFL’s owners and commissioner in all their bumbling, well-meaning, self-serving, self-satisfied glory … and shows in high definition how unprepared they were for the monster that stomped in to demolish everything they hold dear.” —Yahoo Sports
“What we have here are 349 unflinching pages detailing the NFL’s rampant boobery . . . It probably took a reporter like Leibovich to write a historic book like this. A top-flight journalist who’d gorged on a product for decades parachutes into the factory to see exactly how the product is made and who’s making it. The findings are mind-numbing, stomach-turning and stupefying. But the product is still so delicious.” —NBCSports.com
“Enlightening and entertaining . . . Boston fans will savor an abundance of material about the hometown team. The chapters involving the Patriots (among them, ‘Beware the Pissed Off Pretty Boy,’ ‘"I’m Drunk, I’m Stupid, I’m a Pats Fan”, the Man Told Police’) are filled with delectable tidbits.” —Boston Globe
“Rollicking entertainment. Must-read for NFL junkies.” —Kirkus
“[A] skewering and witty cultural study.” —Publisher’s Weekly
About the Author
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I enjoy Mark Leobvich’s column for the New York Times but he fails to establish credibility as anything but a Pats fanboy in this book. He fails to establish a credible argument that the NFL is in a dangerous time and what, if anything, the NFL can do.
I'll address the criticisms by others first:
1) Leibovich is a Patriots fan, and he mentions it a bunch.
2) The book started off from a long Tom Brady profile piece. He has lots of conversations with Brady and Kraft.
3) There is a bit of gonzo journalism - so purists who are looking for a 3rd person account of the NFL will be rightfully miffed.
1) It is an easy read. Leibovich has a conversational writing style.
2) He has fantastic access. He had multiple interviews with Tom Brady, Robert Kraft, Jerry Jones, Arthur Blank, Mark Davis, Woody Johnson, Roger Goodell and Donald Trump (Leibovich interviewed him years earlier and then again on the campaign trail).
3) He fully admits how Tom Brady is, outside of quarterbacking, vapid and much too much like Gwyneth Paltrow in selling a lifestyle (Tom Brady gets upset with his Dad for drinking soda and eating ice cream; "I'd rather be dead than not eat ice cream" his Dad replied). An overlooked element of Brady is that, outside of football and his family, he has nothing else.
4) He easily admits how irksome Pats fans are and pulls no punches on Kraft and Belichek.
5) If you are pro-Trump or anti-Kapernick, you won't like this. Leibovich does fairly address the kneeling issue and how football got dragged into the modern culture wars of the mid-2010s.
6) He has great access to the owners and pulls no punches in reporting what they said and how they acted. He does not hold back. Because he is not a regular sports writer, he does not have to worry about alienating the owners. His livelihood does not depend on keeping the relationships intact.
It's very good. It captures the modern NFL.
Sadly? It only briefly touches on some of those issues, but if you are a Patriots fan? Well, you get a lot of Patriots information that is not that shocking or revealing (who knew that Belichick doesn't have much personality? Go figure, huh?). The author was at meetings with owners and players and sports writers and yet the book does not reveal much that I did not already know or figure out. I would have liked the book to be more hard hitting (it is well written with some funny comments at times, but the book never really goes anywhere). I would have liked to really hit the issue of the Players Union and why it is so weak and how the owners have hoodwinked the sports fan with the denial of concussion issues and its impact on the players. Sure, Tex Schramm called players "Cattle" but I hoped the book would show that the players are fed up. Instead it was just a book about deflate gate, The Patriots winning ways, the billionaire owners club and their trophy girlfriends and a drunken episode with Jerry Jones.
I wanted this to be a great book. It is a 3 out of 5 star book at best. It is a book that just breezes along about Roger Goodell and his absurd salary as he works all the time to protect "The Shield" (The NFL).
3 stars. Maybe even 2 stars.