Tim Layden, my SI peer and one of the most versatile fine sportswriters in America (the horses, the Olympics, the NFL), has written a book about how the NFL game has gotten as sophisticated as it has: "Blood, Sweat and Chalk (SI Books).'' I am not writing about it here as a favor to Tim, a friend of mine. I am writing about it here because it's one of the most valuable contributions to the understanding of the game we all love to come along in the 26 years I've covered the NFL.
Tim set out to write a book about the different schemes and facets of the game we see every week but may not understand. The Tampa 2, for instance. Dick LeBeau's Zone Blitz. Don Coryell's influence on the modern passing game. The origin of the spread offense. And instead of just giving us a timeline of how the game got to be the game, he humanized the book. Best example: how the spread got to be in vogue -- and what made it that way.
"In 2006,'' Layden said, "I wrote a piece for SI on the Cover Two. But instead of just interviewing people and breaking down the workings of the defense, I decided to take a shot at profiling the people who created and evolved it. In that case, it was Bud Carson to Tony Dungy to Monte Kiffin and so forth. When I decided to write `Blood, Sweat and Chalk,' that's what I wanted to do: Give people not only a working knowledge of the offensive and defensive systems that they see on Saturdays and Sundays, but also to write about the coaches who created them. Honestly, I was afraid that a straight X's and O's book would be too dull and one-dimensional. But if I could also do some storytelling, and write about the people involved, maybe that'd work. So that's what I tried to do.''
Tim gives a timeline of the spread, starting with a frustrated coach in Middletown, Ohio, in the late fifties. This coach, Tiger Ellison, was a classic three-yards-and-cloud-of-dust traditionalist whose team had fallen on hard time. It was losing, and getting beaten up. So he figured he'd spread the field, add receivers, and make defenses designed to stop the run try to stop quicker guys throwing the ball instead. Over the next 45 games, Ellison's teams went 35-7, winning one game 98-34. They averaged a punt a game.
Mouse Davis, a young coach then, read a book by Ellison in 1965, loved the concepts Ellison espoused, and turned the spread scheme into the run-and-shoot, which he used to trample mid-level college football for years. The Houston Oilers later used it, and many colleges did as well. And it became the basic nut of an idea for the spread offenses in college and pro football today.
The great thing about this book, in my opinion, is it teaches us the geniuses of football didn't start with Bill Walsh. We do not respect history nearly as much as we should in covering and watching this game; too often, we all disregard football history and those who made it. We think of the the sixties Packers as prehistoric. But there were great thinkers, such as Tiger Ellison, with great ideas, before that. The stories Tim Layden tells in this book will peel back the layers of the game for you. If you love the game, or even like it, Blood, Sweat and Chalk is a must-read, and I don't say that because I work with the man.
"I been drinking a lot of coconut water lately it's been helping not cramp up during camp my nfl buddies get on that coconut water asap''
--@rayrice27, Baltimore running back Ray Rice, with interesting (and minus any punctuation) preseason advice to his boys of summer across the NFL.
Barring coming to my senses, as penance for an exaggerated piece of idiocy on Twitter last winter, I'm running the 13.1-mile New Hampshire Half-Marathon in Bristol, N.H., 100 miles north of Boston, on Saturday, Oct. 2 at 9 a.m. (Recapping: When Chad Ochocinco said the Bengals were going to sign Terrell Owens, I said I'd run an ultra-marathon if that happened. I'd already ripped Ochocinco for lying to Bob Costas on national TV when he said he'd change his name back to Chad Johnson if Darrelle Revis shut him down, and after Revis shut him down not once but twice in six days, he said he was just kidding, wink wink, and he had no intention of changing his name. So now, after Owens has the stripes on, I got called to put up or shut up, and the half-marathon was my attempt at fair compromise. Fifty-mile run, I die. Twenty-six-mile run, I'm hospitalized. Thirteen-mile run, well, we'll see. But I hope to be able to cross the finish line somehow.
I'm going to run the race for charity -- two charities, actually. And you're going to vote on which charities will benefit from me making the run. Here's how it'll work: I've chosen five causes (some that you have suggested, and two that I have a personal interest in). Between now and noon Eastern time Tuesday, send me a message on Twitter (@SI_PeterKing) with which two charities you think I should run for. Comments aren't necessary. Just give me your two choices. And next week in MMQB I'll reveal the winners, and tell you how you can support the two causes.
The five charities you can choose from (again, vote for two):
1. Feed The Children (feedthechildren.org)
This Oklahoma-based hunger-prevention organization is trying to reach 200,000 families by the end of 2010. On Sunday, when I asked Ocho, he said this is the group he preferred to help. Many of you suggested that since Ocho was right and I was wrong, I should feature a charity he prefers. This is a good one.
2. Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund (gridirongreats.org)
Identifies some of the most indigent former players, the players who sacrificed their bodies and minds and made a path to the multi-billion-dollar game that exists today, and helps them with bills and medical and mental-health issues.
3. Habitat for Humanity (habitat.org)
I wanted to choose one project to help those on the Gulf Coast recover from the catastrophes of the past five years, and I chose this one because of its continued efficiency in getting the important work done. In the five years since Katrina, Habitat has partnered in the building of 2,219 single-family homes. The work goes on.
4. Wounded Warrior Project (woundedwarriorproject.org)
This group helps the most serious of the wounded from the front lines of the battlefields transition from active duty military back to civilian society.
5. National Brain Tumor Society (braintumor.org).
Several players in the league, among them Washington's Chris Cooley, have been active in the brain-tumor-cure movement; NFLPA czar DeMaurice Smith coached a young boy, Drew Neally, in baseball who lost his life to a brain tumor in 2006.
I did a Five For Fighting thing with the USO last year, asking for $5 per person for our troops, and you raised $204,000 for portable USO recreation centers for the troops in Afghanistan. I have to think of a clever title for this one (suggestions welcome), but I'm going to ask for donations of $10, to be split equally between the two charities. We'll figure the logistics and mechanics of how you can contribute beginning next week.
If I finish the 13.1-mile run, no matter the time, I will donate $1,000 to each of the charities. If I do not finish the run, no matter the reason, I will donate $2,000 to each charity.
As U2 might say, "MO-TIH-VA-SHUN.''
There is a third element to this. Prizes. Anyone who contributes will be eligible to win one of three prizes -- which I'm going to have to figure out in the coming days.
So follow me on Twitter, send me your vote by noon ET Tuesday (one vote per Twitter account -- we can't have poor Emily Kaplan counting these things 'til she's 40), and next Monday, in this space, you'll have the winners and we'll start the fun.