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The Last Headbangers: NFL Football in the Rowdy, Reckless '70s - the Era That Created Modern Sports Hardcover – September 3, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A head-slap of a book. Whap, yeah, that’s how it was.” (Roy Blount, Jr.)

“Were we crazy? No―we loved the game, and this book shows why. Cook captures '70s football in all its glory.” (Roger Staubach, Hall of Fame quarterback, MVP of Super Bowl VI)

About the Author

A former senior editor at Sports Illustrated, Kevin Cook is the author of Titanic Thompson, Tommy's Honor, Kitty Genovese and The Dad Report. He lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1St Edition edition (September 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393080161
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393080162
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #679,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By S. Conner on September 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Last Headbangers is an interesting and entertaining book that is not what its title claims it to be. It traces NFL history in the 1970's from Franco Harris's "Immaculate Reception" in December 1972 through Dwight Clark's "The Catch" in January 1982, the book looks at how the NFL began the transition to the financial and sporting juggernaut it is today. It does so through the story of the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers, bitter rivals and arguably the two dominant teams of the era. Other teams pop up only in terms of things that happen to the Raiders or the Steelers. It may be Super Bowl/playoff opponents (Miami, Dallas, Minnesota primarily)

"Headbangers" does offer a clear explanation of the rules changes that went into effect to open the game up, and explains how bringing in the hash marks, moving the goal posts, and an array of rules that protected quarterbacks and freed wide receivers led to a more open game and ultimately to the rise of the West Coast Offense.

Using the Steelers and the Raiders changes in tactics and rules are traced and examined. Raider lore plays into the story with "the Sea of Hands", the "Holy Roller", and "the Ghost to the Post". The internal challenges faced in Pittsburgh of playing for Chuck Noll and the incredible 1974 draft that set up the Steelers for the balance of the decade.

Description of football games is excellent, especially if there is a tactical flare or special point involved-especially if it involves the Steelers or the Raiders. The analysis of how the rules changed defensive tactics (like the move to the Cover 2 defense) is nicely done.
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Format: Hardcover
Don't get me wrong, there are some nice nuggets in here (who knew Minnesota Vikings' coach Bud Grant won an NBA championship with the Minneapolis Lakers in 1950 or that Chicago Bears player/owner [say what?] George Halas held the record for longest runback of a fumble for 49 seasons?) and the book is a breezy easy read. The problem I had with this book is many fold. There was way too much emphasis on dissecting the actual Super Bowl games (often the most boring games of the NFL season especially in the '70s), way too much focus on the Pittsburgh Steelers (I get it, they won four Super Bowls during this era, but there were chapters after chapters on the buildup of that team) and, lastly, the book tacks on stuff on the early '80s emergence of the Bill Walsh era San Francisco 49ers. The latter is all well and good but look at the subtitle of this book. Why leave out so much great grist from the '70s for an intro on the Niners of the '80s?

With the author focusing so much attention on the Steelers vs. Raiders playoff rivalry he completely left out, or brushed over, such fanastic '70s topics as:
--the Over The Hill Gang Washington "Ramskins" under coach George Allen
--the merger and radical divisional realignment in 1970
--the Rams' Jack Youngblood playing on a broken leg in the Super Bowl
--the fall of the Green Bay Packers post-Lombardi and Lombardi's move to the Redskins
--O.J. Simpson 2,003-yard rushing season and the Electric Company
--the local TV blackout rules and the term no-shows coming into vogue
--introduction of sudden-death overtime in regular season games
--early Air Coryell in St.
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Format: Hardcover
Anyone who has an NFL team or player they like to watch -- or one they like to hiss -- will get a kick out of Kevin Cook's entertaining look back at one of the sport's most interesting decades. The players were underpaid and virtually unprotected, rules were there to cheat on, rivalries were intense and personal. And the cast of characters was unique and colorful, and ranged from the gentleman to the maverick to the thug. Cook does a great job of putting together the personalities and the politics with the action on the field, retelling some of the legendary plays of that era (the "Immaculate Reception", for one) with comments from the players involved. You can be behind the scenes at Monday Night Football, and read of the jokes and hijinks in the locker rooms. You also hear the bad side: the brutality and sex and stupidity, and the terrible toll the game extracts from its players even today. If you're looking for a good read or a good gift, this could fill the bill.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
“The Last Headbangers: NFL Football in the Rowdy, Reckless '70s--The Era that Created Modern Sports”, covers the era in professional football where it shifted from being a run-based, truly smash-mouthed game where most players had to have part-time jobs in the off-season to the high-scoring, pass-based year-round behemoth that it is now. Author Kevin Cook focuses primarily on the dominant teams of the 70’s (and early 80’s) (Dolphins, Raiders, Steelers, Cowboys, among others) to show how the game and teams evolved.

I started following football in the early 70’s, with all of the passion that a boy in his teens brings to following his favorite team. It was very interesting and fun for me to read some of the stories behind the stories, such as how Pittsburgh Steeler Franco Harris used to hitch-hike home after games due to his relatively meager salary, or to get glimpses of the counter-culture Oakland Raiders from inside of their locker room.)

You’re not going to get any deep, cerebral analysis here, but that’s not the point of this book. The author gives you an unvarnished view of the great teams, personalities, and changes that occurred during this decade that transformed the NFL forever, in an entertaining and amusing book. While I would have liked to seen more teams represented, I think his decision to focus on the “winners” was the correct one, as the winners were the ones who adapted themselves the best to changing circumstances, such as the Steelers evolving from a dominant run-first team to a more balanced attack.

Overall, I think this book is more than the sum of its parts, and is something you would enjoy if you followed pro football during this time frame. Four stars.
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