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Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today's NFL Hardcover – October 17, 2005
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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*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 Ott
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Top Customer Reviews
If what you’re looking for is an inside look at how the team was built, how the coaches and players interacted with each other, and how they handled themselves over the course of a fairly disappointing season, then this is the book to buy. There were a lot of “challenges” and distractions and that occurred during this year … from the attempts to sign Terrell Owen to Jamal Lewis’ prior-to-the-season arrest on drug charges to Deon Sanders coming out of retirement.
I greatly enjoyed the book, as John is a very astute observer and has a rare ability to transcribe these observations to paper, with excellent prose that is a treat to read. There aren’t any real flaws in the book, but sometimes I felt that the author was perhaps a little too close to his subjects, as nearly everyone in the book comes across as honest, intelligent, charismatic, etc., while in reality most of us fall short of those characteristics in some ways. But in general, I think you really get the feel of the 2004 Ravens season. While this book is now 8+ years old, it feels fresh. If you follow football, you know of many of the people in the book, and it is well worth buying. And as I’m Steelers fan, that’s a high recommendation indeed. Five stars.
What really bothered me about halfway through the book is the way Feinstein fawns over the people he is covering. Brian Billick is not arrogant, just misunderstood. Ray Lewis should be deified as the greatest middle linebacker to play the game. Feinstein repeatedly defends Ray Lewis and Jamal Lewis from the legal problems they had.
But Feinstein makes a big error with Ray Lewis. Ray went on public record saying he was a terrible 3-4 linebacker. Others said similar, that Lewis was only a star in a 4-3. The 3-4 was the defense that the Ravens played in this book. So it is apparent that Feinstein spent little time with Lewis despite the fawning.
Feinstein appears frequently on TV where he shows he can do something beyond kissing up to the people he covers. He needs to put some of that into his future books, it was sorely needed in this one.