NEW YORK football fans were joyous on New Year's Eve, 1956, the day after the Giants won the NFL championship, but you wouldn't have known it by reading
The New York Times
. News of the triumph was buried at the bottom of page 1. There was no ticker-tape parade, and, as Jack Cavanaugh points out in
Giants among Men, his look at the franchise and the NFL in the late 1950s, by New Year's Day most players had left for their hometowns and off-season jobs. Winning a title might get you the occasional unpaid speaking engagement that summer, but it wasn't a life-changing event. "I never asked for anything or got anything," defensive lineman Andy Robustelli tells Cavanaugh. "I just felt I was helping to build up the NFL."
That was then. Now an NFL champ parties for a week or more, then starts looking for ghostwriters. The NFL's evolution from afterthought to cultural behemoth can be traced in this year's flood of Giants-related books, which are by turns nostalgic, poignant, revealing, spiritual and, in the case of a certain gun-toting, sweatpants-wearing wideout, absurdly comical.
For publishers looking for a marketing hook, 2008 was a dream. Dec. 28 is the 50th anniversary of the Colts' epic win over the Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game, the moment the NFL first lodged itself in the national consciousness. No fewer than three long-planned histories of that pivotal afternoon and the surrounding era—Cavanaugh's, Mark Bowden's The Best Game Ever (SI, April 28) and Frank Gifford's The Glory Game—appeared this year.
New York's upset Super Bowl victory in February sparked an explosion of quickie Giants lit. Books were written by or about quarterback Eli Manning, coach Tom Coughlin and receivers Plaxico Burress and David Tyree. Cumulatively, the tales of Giants old and new form a history of the NFL.
The best of the canon is The Best Game Ever; Bowden's well-reported and superbly written effort expertly freshens well-worn stories and themes of the '58 classic. Gifford isn't the craftsman that Bowden is, but his account of the game—based on interviews with every living participant—is the kind that only someone who was himself a participant could give. He still questions the Giants' strategy against the Colts that day and admits that he and his teammates were spent before the overtime period began. Readers will feel the nip and smell the smoke in the air of that December day.
Coughlin grants an inside look at the 2007 Giants' Super Bowl run in A Team to Believe In; he rarely strays from stereotypical coach-speak, though it's a shock to see his multiple references to a Green Day lyric as he describes his feelings the night before the game. In The Making of a Quarterback, Ralph Vacchiano describes Manning's quick rise from fan and media whipping boy to Super Bowl MVP. The low-key QB comes off as the rare modern player who might fit in with those '58 Giants. The day after, Manning said his win "doesn't change my attitude.... [I'm] still the same." It's hard to say that about Burress. In Giant: The Road to the Super Bowl, the receiver haughtily recounts a post--Super Bowl meeting with Bill Clinton and muses on the life of a sports celebrity: "People just get moved when they met you...s. I try to be as normal as I possibly can, but people put you way up here on a pedestal like you are not even human." These books are a reminder of how the NFL has grown—and, in some cases, regressed.