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Football, or "American Football" to those around the globe, has become a staple among sports fan throughout the US. So much so, in fact, that it remains by far the biggest cash cow in American sports.
Beyond its monetary value though, football has made its mark in homes across the US because of its plethora of values. Known as the ultimate team sport, football requires 11 players on each side of the ball to work in perfect harmony at all times. The synchronized nature of the sport goes beyond mere X's and O's—it's rich in philosophy, as well.
Thanks to the evolution of the game—not to mention the variety of storylines over the decades—football has largely transformed from a sport to a cultural phenomenon. Fans, oftentimes, are amongst the most passionate in the world, joining the ranks of global soccer fans (you know, the original football-heads).
If you consider yourself a true hardcore fan, however, you're going to need to have a base knowledge that extends further than Sunday and Monday Night football. Luckily, there are plenty of resources to help you brush up on the nuanced history of America's flagship sport. The best place to start, in my opinion, is sifting through some of the best books for football fans. I'll go through some of the must-reads, and their impact on the sport as a whole, so perhaps you can further solidly yourself as a football "freak," so to speak.
Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback by George Plimpton
We'll kick this one off with the always-relevant Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback by George Plimpton. Whether you're a former high school quarterback, an incumbent college gunslinger, or just some dude in the backyard tossing around the pigskin, reading this intoxicating perspective from a backup professional player will make any football fan—young or old—yearning for more.
I Never Played the Game by Howard Cosell
Newer football fans might not be familiar with the iconic voice of Howard Cosell, but they very much should be. The former Monday Night Football broadcaster was a sports legend during his time, despite never actually playing on a professional level. His book, I Never Played the Game, gives some of his perspective on some major events not just in the NFL, but in the variety of sports he covered. However, some of his best excerpts come from the football side of things—including the Jets and Giants move from New York, as well as former Raiders' owner Al Davis' contentious fight with the league.
When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss
If you're truly a fan of football and all of its lore, it's basically required to know everything you can about Vince Lombardi. If, for some reason, you don't know who he is, he is one of the most iconic coaches not only in football, but in the modern-day sporting world in general. This book, by Pulitzer Prize winer David Maraniss, takes a look at the career and life of the famed figurehead and what drove him to greatness. The book serves as a must-read for any fan looking to brush up on their basic football history (he is, after all, who the Lombardi Trophy is named after), and get a basic sense of the coaching philosophies the former Packers' head coach employed.
The Education of a Coach by David Halberstam
Bill Belichick, in a sense, is the modern version of Vince Lombardi (albeit, with a far different style of coaching). There is no questioning Belichick's place in history as one of the greatest, if not the greatest coach in NFL history. Behind the stone cold demeanor of one of the game's most influential figureheads, lies a man with a past not much different from you or I. This book explores some of it, while giving readers a better idea of the man behind the infamous cut-sleeved hoodie and Super Bowl rings. It helps put his mythological existence in better perspective for football fans everywhere.
Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football by Rich Cohen
The 1985 Chicago Bears remain one of the all-time greatest football teams. Mike Ditka's Bears and one of the best NFL defenses in history run by the late, great Buddy Ryan epitomized the word "toughness," and the Monsters of Midway still represent a playing style that many teams, even to this day, try to emulate. This book from Rich Cohen goes into some of the stories surrounding that legendary Bears team, seemingly giving readers an inside-the-locker room perspective not normally acquirable from the everyday fan.
The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis
I know what you're already thinking, and yes, there was a book that inspired the popular Sandra Bullock movie The Blind Side. However, the book, which is based on the triumphant story of former Ravens and Panthers tackle Michael Oher, is more grounded in reality than the movie. So if you're a fan of the spirit of the movie, but looking for something with a little more substance, you should definitely consider reading one of the all-time poignant football books ever written.
The League: The Rise and Decline of the NFL by David Harris
A lot of football fans might be experts when it comes to on-the-field stuff, but what about all of the off-the-field nuances? Well, there are plenty of them, and the book The League: The Rise and Decline of the NFL touches upon the majority of them. The book is a bit dated—it was first published back in 1986—but nevertheless, it's an interesting read for those interested in the inner politics within one of the more polarizing leagues in sports.
North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent
Author Peter Gent, a former member of America's team, the Dallas Cowboys, does a masterful job of depicting some of the trials and tribulations of NFL players in his classic novel, North Dallas Forty. Regarded as one of the best football novels ever, the book follows the story of veteran wideout Phil Elliott, who struggles to maintain production and resorts to an influx of painkillers and cortisone shots to stay afloat in the league. The book is technically fictional, but it's inspired by true events in the Dallas Cowboys locker room. This book should be on the reading list of National Football League fans everywhere.
America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation by Michael MacCambridge
We're all familiar with the juggernaut that is today's NFL, however, it hasn't always been that way. Football writer Michael MacCambridge gets into the rise of the NFL in the postwar United States, and how it managed to become a staple in the homes of American families everywhere. A classic rags to riches tale, to say the least.
Finding the Winning Edge by Bill Walsh, Brian Billick, and James Peterson
This is perhaps the most iconic piece of literature in the history of professional football books. Bill Walsh, the legendary coach of the San Francisco 49ers, is considered an offensive mastermind, and his patented West Coast offense remains a staple in plenty of modern day offenses throughout the league. His book, however, delves more into his meticulous nature and philosophical approach to the game of football. This comprehensive guide remains one of the best books for football fans and coaches alike, and is considered by many to be the "Holy Bible" of professional football. Be warned, however—you won't likely find a copy for less than $300, so be prepared to spend the big bucks if you want to get insight from the three-time Super Bowl winning head coach and two-time Coach of the Year.