The 11 Football Books Any True Student of the Game Must Read

Michael Schottey@SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterFebruary 23, 2012

The 11 Football Books Any True Student of the Game Must Read

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    With the NFL season over, many NFL fans will be looking for good books to pass the time.

    Instead of the latest James Patterson novel or breaking down and reading Twilight with your daughter, the folks at Bleacher Report have decided to give you 11 of the best football books to tide you over until the gridiron starts heating up again.

    The following are books every football fan should put on their reading list. Not everyone will be able to get through every book over the summer, but every page is pure gold for those who love the game.

    Some of these will be heavy with the X's and O's. Others will teach you about the transition from high school football to college and the pro game. Still others will take you behind the scenes with a peek in the NFL that other fans will never see.

    One thing is for sure, these books will be immensely more enjoyable than watching through third SportsCenter of the day, and you'll learn a lot more as well.

The Games That Changed the Game: The Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays

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    Authors: Ron Jaworski, Greg Cosell and David Plaut

    Seriously, if you don't know who Ron "Jaws" Jaworski and Greg Cosell are, don't carry on this "diehard fan" charade any longer.

    Jaws is the (now former) color commentator for Monday Night Football and host of the best X's and O's show on television, NFL Matchup. Cosell is the nephew of the legendary announcer, Howard Cosell, and is the brains behind NFL Films.

    Between the two of them, they have forgotten more football than the rest of us, collectively, will ever know.

    Why should you read this book? NFL strategy is a living and active thing; it will be as different in 20 years as it was 20 years ago. Jaws, Cosell and Plaut take the reader step by step with in-depth film study and show how the NFL has evolved into what it is today and what it can be tomorrow.

More Than a Game: The Glorious Present and Uncertain Future of the NFL

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    Authors: Brian Billick and Michael MacCambridge

    This book, by the former Super Bowl-winning head coach, Brian Billick, dates itself a little bit as the "impending lockout" of 2011 is a serious motif throughout the initial chapters.

    However, don't let that stop you from reading this tremendous essay about the state of the game.

    This is a global look at the NFL, a view that more fans will never get. Instead of focusing on one microscopic aspect, Billick and MacCambridge are able to show readers a full panorama of the state of professional football.

Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream

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    Author: Buzz Bissinger

    Seriously, do yourself a favor and don't just watch the movie for this one.

    As Hollywood is wont to do, the Friday Night Lights movie was dramatized into a heartwarming story I'm not sure Bissinger ever intended.

    The "real" Friday Night Lights almost reads like a sad satire—funny if it weren't so true—about the tremendous importance high school football can play in a town and the overwhelming weight it can bring down on both a community and the athletes.

    Not every NFL player grew up in West Texas, but many grew up in cultures very similar—from inner-city Los Angeles to rural Florida and everywhere in between. It is impossible to get inside the head of an athlete—to really know your favorite NFL stars—without understanding this aspect of football culture.

    It's not a description one accurately gets from the movie, but Bissinger paints it wonderfully within the pages to this best-selling novel.

Dixieland Delight: A Football Season on the Road in the Southeastern Conference

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    Author: Clay Travis

    Speaking of football culture, get another giant-sized dose of it in this humorous read by Clay Travis. Fitting right in with the party culture of the Southeastern Conference fanbase, Travis went from school to school and became one with the insanity that is commonplace among big-time football super powers.

    Football isn't a game in the deep south. It's not even a religion; it's life.

    Like Friday Night Lights, this history is an important part of football culture and it's impossible to truly appreciate the sport without this anthropological look at the land where football is king. 

The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game

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    Author: Michael Lewis

    Much like how Friday Night Lights isn't really about how awesome the Permian Panthers are, The Blind Side isn't really about how amazing Michael Oher and his adoptive mother are. It's a well-laid out road map of how the game of football as evolved into a sport in which big men like Oher are valued and recruited mercilessly.

    Michael Lewis can write circles around almost anyone, but his writing is still approachable for the everyday fan.

    Again, you could just watch the movie, but you would be doing yourself a huge disservice by not getting the full story here.

That First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL...

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    Author: John Eisenberg

    The Green Bay Packers weren't always a powerhouse. It's impossible to appreciate Vince Lombardi without first realizing the depths from which he pulled the Packers out of.

    Think you don't need to appreciate Vince Lombardi? That's nonsense. Even the most hardcore Chicago Bears fan can admit that Lombardi belongs on the Mount Rushmore of the NFL.

    The game would not be where it is today without Lombardi and that Packers team, as they set the tone and the tenor for football as a "man's game" with a "no nonsense" atmosphere that permeates the culture to this very day.

    Most importantly, this isn't a mythology. This is Lombardi with the curtains pulled back, a true look at a great man and a must read.

Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback

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    Author: George Plimpton

    As a writer, Plimpton was a man many people have and should have looked up to over the years. As a football player? Not so much.

    Plimpton put his money where his mouth was in a way that no one had ever done before or since. He joined the Detroit Lions as an end-of-roster quarterback when he was 36 years old and actually stuck around for an inter-squad game in front of the fans.

    Plimpton probably never knew football like the rest of the writers on this list, but he knew people and Paper Lion is a great look into football (and male) culture of the time.

    Think locker rooms aren't much the same today?

Football Scouting Methods

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    Author: Steve Belichick

    Read this book.

    Read it for the history: What was football like in the 1950's and 1960's? How does scouting now compare with scouting then? How does the game itself compare with the game taught by one of the pillars of the coaching community?

    Read it for the connections: This man, Steve Belichick, was the greatest influence on the life of his son, Bill Belichick—arguably the best coach of our era. Moreover, this book has been the Bible for the scouting community for years.

    No scout got to where he is before starting with the tenets here.

    Whatever you do, read this book. It will take you to the football of another era and the astute reader will be able to start putting the pyramid together and learn how the game became what it was today.

New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football

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    Author: Paul "Dr. Z." Zimmerman

    The writers you love reading grew up reading "Dr. Z."

    Zimmerman has one of the truly unique minds in sports media and, what's more, he was the first media member to really start piecing together the game like this for his readers.

    Is the game exactly like it was when Zimmerman wrote this book? No, of course not, but the nuts and bolts that he draws up are identical and this book is a treat for anyone who really wants to know more about the game.

    This is not a light read; it's more like an encyclopedia that every football fan should read from cover to cover.

    The next few books on this list share similarities to what Dr. Z accomplished, but nothing has ever matched the comprehensiveness and the level of knowledge this book provides; and remember, Zimmerman did it first.

Blood, Sweat and Chalk: The Ultimate Football Playbook

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    Author: Tim Layden

    Layden did yeoman's work with Blood, Sweat and Chalk. It is almost as if he was so sick of hearing color commentators on NFL broadcasts spout nonsense that he wrote this book as if to hold up to fans and say, "Read this! They're full of crap!"

    By cutting through the mythos of some of the game's terminology, Layden shows how cyclical the game really is and how there is very little "new" in the game today.

    This probably isn't the best or most scholarly book on the list, but it might be the most relevant to fed-up NFL fans who can't stand the jargon of the game and lazy analysts who don't explain what is actually going on.

Take Your Eye off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look

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    Author: Pat Kirwin

    Kirwin has been a coach, personnel man and commentator, so he has a very unique view on the game. Furthermore, some of the better coaches of our era consider Kirwin one of the smartest men in the game.

    Thankfully, his media training also makes him very accessible for the everyday fan.

    Kirwin's main theme throughout the book is that there is much more to the game of football that fans simply don't pay attention to. Instead of looking at the snap, the dropback and following the ball to its destination, Kirwin shows fans the progression of the reads, the route running, the blocking and everything that happens on defense as well.

    Kirwin's book is extremely in-depth and will teach every fan, young and old, something about the game they've never heard before.

    Michael Schottey is an NFL Associate Editor for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He has professionally covered both the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions, as well as NFL events like the scouting combine and the Senior Bowl. Follow him on Twitter.