November 14, 2008

Friday Book Recommendation: A Few Seconds of Panic

With ND football in a state of doldrums, I figured it was time for some lighter fare on this site for a change. Let's bust out the old Friday Book recommendations and get a review up here. This week's review is for Stefan Fatsis' new book "A Few Second of Panic" about his experience trying out as a kicker for the Denver Broncos. Fatsis is a fairly interesting guy who covers sports for the Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio, and his most recent book was a book called "Word Freak" about his quest to become a professional Scrabble player. I've never had a chance to read that book, but I've heard good things.

Anyway, the primary premise of this book is Fatsis' quest to participate in an NFL training camp. Fatsis is not a jock at all. He didn't play football in high school or college, so it's not like he had a real chance at making the team. In many ways, it makes it more interesting that he isn't an athlete because all of his experiences are as unfamiliar to him as they would be to the reader. He goes through the NFL Headquarters to get clearance for this project, and eventually ends up with the Broncos. While he isn't a "real" player on the team in the sense that he is actually competing for a roster spot, he participates in everything that the Broncos do and becomes a part of the team during training camp. All the meetings, the drills, the practices, the dining halls, the team hotel, etc.

While Fatsis' personal story is fairly interesting, the really fascinating part of this book is his insight into life in the NFL and how the other players in the NFL perceive the league. Very interesting stuff, and it was shocking how unhappy a lot of these guys are. The pressure, the constant scrutiny (videotaping practices, surveillance, coaches breathing down your neck), the injuries, and the fear of failure all seem to weigh these guys down. Other than Sundays, life in the NFL is brutal and really not all that glamorous. I couldn't even believe I was doing it, but I actually felt bad for some of the guys, especially the fringe guys who were trying to make a roster.

Fatsis gets some very candid interviews with guys like Jake Plummer and Elam and Ian Gold, and the overwhelming sentiment that you get from these guys is that they work all their lives to get to the NFL and then are disappointed at what they find out about the league. Then again, almost everyone had really good things to say about Mike Shanahan as a head coach and as a man. Sounds like he is a very demanding but fair coach who treats the players as well as a coach can treat them, and even has a bunch of players out to his house for dinner and golf at Castle Pines.

While NFL players certainly are well-compensated for their efforts, they are probably the most underpaid athletes in sports. I mean, it's the NFL. The cash cow of sports today, and yet NFL players have very little guaranteed money. If they fall out of favor with coaches, they are done. There are no Stephon Marbury "sit on the bench and make $12 million" deals in the NFL. The lack of guaranteed contracts is great for the league, but not good at all for NFL players.

Anyway, the book is a good one but not one of my all-time favorites or anything. If you really like the NFL and want some insight on life in the NFL, this book is probably the closest you'll ever get to hearing unedited thoughts from NFL players. I'd recommend it, but don't be surprised if you are skimming through some of the "Fatsis working with the other kickers" stuff.

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