Super Bowl reads: 9 champion football books, 1 fumble
Super Bowl reading prep: dig into the lore and culture of America’s game with classic football books by Don DeLillo, George Plimpton, Buzz Bissinger, David Maraniss — and the Boz.
Assistant Features Editor
Football has never gotten nearly the volume of literary treatments as baseball, its sunnier, more taciturn sporting cousin. Nevertheless, it’s increasingly clear — from TV-audience statistics to the profit margins of NFL franchises — that it has become America’s game. There is no great Seahawks book (yet), but with the Super Bowl less than a week away, herewith is a list of the best books on the gridiron (and one really bad one) to stave off pigskin withdrawal.
“North Dallas Forty” by Peter Gent
Arguably the best novel about pro football — and certainly the best one written by a player — this 1973 book is a rollicking and often trenchant satire of a team very closely resembling the Dallas Cowboys in the era when the sport was becoming truly big business.
“Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback” by George Plimpton
Ever the gentleman, in this 1966 book, sporting dilettante Plimpton suits up as a backup QB for the Detroit Lions and recounts his failure on that front with his characteristic wit — a bit of Exeter in the backfield, but a great piece of participatory journalism.
“End Zone” by Don DeLillo
This starkly lyrical 1972 novel, set at a small Texas college, proves that in the hands of a master like DeLillo, even an account of an on-field brawl can be meditative and moving.
“A Fan’s Notes” by Frederick Exley
Boozy and beloved, this 1968 “fictional memoir” is one of the better first novels ever written. It follows, with tragicomic verve, a young man whose love of the New York Giants is only trumped by his ego-sodden directionlessness, as he struggles with the strictures of 1950s America.
“When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi” by David Maraniss
The definitive biography of the man who still looms largest in the history of American football, Maraniss’ 1999 book shows all the complexity and drive of a man too often boiled down to catchphrases like “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing” (which Lombardi never uttered).
“Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, a Dream” by H.G. Bissinger
Before the movie, before the TV series, before Tammy Taylor, this 1990 chronicle of one season with a big time Texas high-school football program was a landmark piece of sports journalism.
“About Three Bricks Shy ... and the Load Filled Up” by Roy Blount Jr.
Certainly one of the funniest sports books ever written, this 1989 gem documents the 1973 season of the hardscrabble and flamboyant Pittsburgh Steelers. The access Blount had to the players is almost absolute — unthinkable in today’s media landscape — and the result is journalism magic.
“The Courting of Marcus Dupree” by Willie Morris
Written by Mississippi’s prodigal literary son, this 1983 story of the college recruiting of a small-town high-school star — later dubbed “the best that never was” — is an elegiac look at the intersection of sports, fame, civil rights and the “New South.”
“Instant Replay” by Jerry Kramer and Dick Schaap
This plain-spoken memoir is a thoughtful account of playing for Vince Lombardi’s Packers during the 1967 season, in the era before ultrarich misbehavior artists dominated the NFL. As a bit of perspective, at one point Kramer asks the front office for a raise, to $27,500. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $186,000; the league minimum today is $420,000.
“Boz” by Brian Bosworth
It’s true Bosworth, who played for the Seahawks in the 1980s, was basically a bum deal from the jump — particularly after a Monday Night Football drubbing by the Raiders — and the only thing more dismal than his playing career was his “acting” career. But, for true Seahawks fans, this 1988 book holds tremendous value as a decorative object. Spoiler alert: Bosworth is a schmuck.
Brian Thomas Gallagher: firstname.lastname@example.org