Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Football For Dummies by Howie Long

I am a big fan of the "For Dummies" series of books. This series is comprised of books on a wide variety of topics and are meant to be introductory primers on the topics. They boil down a lot of information into more manageable chunks, and when you finish reading the books, you really are more knowledgeable about the subject. Best of all, the books, even though written by different authors, follow a similar template and are written in a conversational style, making them much easier to read than a textbook or other type of reference book would be.

I have been watching football for more than 20 years, so I actually know a lot about the game. I can watch an entire broadcast on television and not have any questions about what's happening out on the field. Nevertheless, I have never played organized football in my life, so I don't know the intricacies of the game and really don't know what all of the players are supposed to be doing. If I watch a game with a friend who has played football before, he's likely to point out how someone on the offensive line missed a block or how a guy on the defensive line has excellent footwork. Those kinds of details escape my notice because I'm just watching the quarterback, the running back, or the wide receivers. I felt that learning about the details would enhance my enjoyment of the game, so I decided to pick up a book to help me out. I decided on Football For Dummies by Howie Long.

In case you don't know, Howie Long is a current football analyst for FOX Sports. Prior to that he spent 13 seasons as a defensive lineman in the NFL, all of them with the Oakland (and then Los Angeles) Raiders. He helped the Raiders win the Super Bowl in 1983 and was voted to eight Pro Bowls throughout his career. Long's best seasons were in 1983, 1984, and 1985 when he recorded double-digit sacks in each season after starting in all 48 games over that span. On the strength of his outstanding career, Long was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

As you can see, Football For Dummies was written by someone who knows a thing or two about the game. So I was excited at the prospect of learning something from all of Long's experience. Fortunately, I wasn't disappointed.

Football For Dummies is an excellent book all around, but is particularly useful if for newcomers to the game. The author states right from the beginning who his intended audience is, so if you've been playing organized ball for 10 years, you're not really going to get anything out of this book. But if you don't already know everything there is to know about football, you'll be able to enjoy this book.

For starters, Long gives an introduction to the game. He talks a bit about its history and origins, and then goes over the field and tells what all the different markings mean. Finally, he gives a brief overview of the most important rules and regulations of the game. After this introduction to football, Long talks about specific aspects of the game, including the offense, defense, and the rest of the team (kickers, punters, coaches, staff). He then has a section called "Football For Everyone" in which he talks about how you can get involved in the game no matter what your age or experience level. This section deals with things like joining local youth football teams, going out for the high school team, or getting involved with coaching youth teams. In addition, he talks about how you can stay involved as a fan, and gives information about some of the best football resources out there. These include newspapers, magazines, websites, fantasy football leagues, and more. Then, like all of the newer "For Dummies" books, he wraps things up with several of his personal top-10 lists of the best football players of all time.

Throughout the book, Long includes personal anecdotes from his playing days or from his experience as an analyst. These anecdotes are very interesting and add a lot of flavor to the book. For example, I've always noticed that the jerseys of offensive and defensive linemen are much tighter than they are on other players. But I really didn't give this much thought; I just figured the jerseys were tight because those are the biggest and widest guys on the field. But one of Long's anecdotes talked about how the Raiders would bring in a few professional tailors prior to each game in order to alter the jerseys of the linemen, tapering them to make them as tight as possible. Wearing tight jerseys, meant that opposing players wouldn't be able to grab onto the jersey and get an advantage when blocking. I never knew that, but will certainly look at linemen in their tight jerseys in a whole new light now!

Another thing that I really liked about this book is that it talks a lot about college football as well. Long starred at Villanova before moving on to the NFL, so he has a healthy respect for the college scene too. He talks about some of the best college football traditions out there, puts a spotlight on some of the most successful college football programs out there (Notre Dame, Florida, Florida State, and USC, just to name a few), and gives his opinion on current trends in the college game, such as players leaving school early to join the NFL.

Where Football For Dummies really shines is in its diagrams. Because Long talks about various offensive and defensive formations and how each player moves on certain plays, he uses diagrams to help him illustrate his points. These diagrams are wonderful because they really do help clarify the words in the text. They are easy to understand, and in turn made me feel as though I could understand the game much better. It's too bad this is the offseason; I'd like to watch a football game now to see if I notice anything different after having read Football For Dummies.

Overall, I can't say enough good things about this book. It was easy to read, chock-full of useful and interesting information, and makes for a great reference book even after you're done reading it cover to cover. Best of all, it did what it promises to do, and that is give the reader a better understanding of football. In short, it was well worth the $19.99 cover price, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is serious about learning more about the game.

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