This year's crop of football books is, or soon will be, hitting the stores, and the verdict on a selected group of seven is two winners, four losers and one tie. The Most Pleasant Surprise award goes to Impartial Judgment, by veteran NFL referee Jim Tunney with Glenn Dickey (Franklin Watts, $18.95). Watching Tunney work games is always comforting, because he gives fans the impression that both sides will receive fair and consistent calls. Here, he gives readers good examples of what it's like on the field, such as the time Don Shula screamed at him, "You've been screwing me for 18 years." Responded Tunney, "It's 19, Don."
What Tunney brings to the game, and to his book, is a sense of decency that, coupled with his love of football, makes his observations worthwhile. "With the emotional heat of a game," writes Tunney, "it's tough for a player to stay in control, but that's the goal. Enough tough guys do it to make it a reasonable standard." Tunney is a cool customer, usually: Just before Super Bowl XI, a woman asked him if he was nervous. He told her he was not. Said she, "Then what are you doing in the ladies' room?"
The other winner is Hard Knox, by Chuck Knox and Bill Plaschke (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $17.95). Because Knox, the Seahawks' coach, is among the dreariest interviews in jockdom, a reader might approach this book with dread. But left to himself and his tape recorder, Knox shows a new and, yes, even interesting side. It took Knox 19 years to get his first head-coaching job in the NFL, and that accomplishment alone should make this required reading for all coaches. So, too, should Knox's philosophy, including his observation on driving toward Mount Rainier: "The closer you get, the harder it is to see."
The most troubling of the new books is They Call Me Dirty, by Conrad Dobler and Vic Carucci ( G.P. Putnam's Sons, $17.95). Dobler, an offensive lineman for the Cardinals, Saints and Bills before retiring in 1982, is proud of some dubious maneuvers: punching, hitting out of bounds, taking shots at knees, kicking, stepping on face masks, biting and eye-gouging. Dobler exemplified bad sportsmanship, and if everyone played like him, football couldn't exist. This book was written for one purpose: to make money. It won't succeed, partly because sports fans are not cheered by page after page of foul play, and partly because the book is poorly written.
Rashad, by Ahmad Rashad with Peter Bodo (Viking, $18.95), is a disappointment. Rashad, one of sport's classier athletes, who proved himself in seven years as a Viking wide receiver and is now making big strides as a TV broadcaster, seems to have thrown this book together. Rashad's heart was clearly elsewhere. Equally flat is Iron Men, by Stuart Leuthner ( Doubleday, $18.95). Nineteen former athletes give synopses of their careers, and if an editor's pencil ever touched the copy, which seems highly unlikely, that editor should seek alternate employment. Grim, too, is Tough Stuff, by Sam Huff with Leonard Shapiro ( St. Martin's Press, $18.95). Shapiro, sports editor for The Washington Post, must have gotten sucked in by Huff, the guy who invented how to play middle linebacker. This book reads like a youngster's letter home from summer camp. Huff and Shapiro are capable of far better.
NFL Top 40, by Shelby Strother (Viking, $19.95), is awarded a tie. The best NFL games in history are recounted in pictures and words, and no matter how many times you read about the '58 Colt sudden-death win over the Giants behind the brilliant Johnny U, one more reading is still worthwhile. What detracts from the book's overall success is the lack of text. A reader gets the feeling that Strother approached the book with the attitude, Oh, no, I have to get five more of these games written up by tonight. The games deserved better.