Monday, November 25, 2013

What is Nicholas Dawidoff reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Nicholas Dawidoff, author of Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football.

His entry begins:
My two books previous to Collision Low Crossers were companion biographical memoirs about family. You can’t get more interior than that, so this time I aspired to look out into the world and take on a big American subject that had real urgency for many people. Also, I’d long hoped to write about a group of committed people engaged in challenging, interesting work that completely absorbed them to the exclusion of everything else. Which is how I came to spend more than a year all but living on the field (and mostly in the office) with a group of professional football coaches.

In contrast to the American national pastime of baseball, football has always been a challenging subject for writers. That may be because baseball is timeless, leisurely enough in its rhythms that it lends itself to reflection. We’ve all played some version of baseball, and since the game’s proportions are our proportions, most of us can see it clear and understand it. Football, on the other hand, is the national passion. Games are always on the clock, and play moves so quickly that no spectator really knows what the hell is going on out there. (It can be the same for coaches; they reserve Sunday judgments until reviewing the game film on Monday.) If there is a deliberately unfolding epistolary pace and feel to baseball, football is frenzy punctuated by pauses--has the start-stop-start metabolism of texting. The players are often enormous, always armored and masked, and the ball is sometimes difficult to locate amid all that fast-twitching bulk. But what really sets football apart is that everything depends on a secret portfolio of plays that the coaches develop over the course of the week before games. Deepening the recondite qualities of the sport, these game plans are set down in obscure jargon—a thieves’ cant for fullbacks. Since the essence of the game is the plan, most of the football life takes place at a remove from the public--in the team “facilities” that are essentially athletic safe houses. It was a rare and necessary privilege to be allowed inside.

These are some of the reasons why the books that most informed Collision Low Crossers were not football books. Wait! One was. Published fifty years ago, George Plimpton’s Paper Lion remains the best book I’ve ever read about football. Plimpton, a gangly and not terribly athletic man, solved the problems of accessibility that I’ve just described by...[read on]
About Collision Low Crossers, from the publisher:
The definitive portrait of day-to-day life in the NFL, as told by the writer who was there

We watch football every Sunday, but we don't really see it. By spending a year with the New York Jets, Nicholas Dawidoff explored the game in such an intimate way that he can now put you right inside the NFL. Collision Low Crossers* is a story that is part Paper Lion and part Moneyball, part Friday Night Lights and part The Office. In this absorbing, funny, and vividly written narrative, he describes the Combine, the draft, the practices, the strategy meetings, all while thinking deeply about such fundamental truths and the nature of success and disappointment in a massive and stressful collective endeavor.

Most of what happens in today's NFL takes place at team facilities, walled off from fans and, until now, from writers. The New York Jets issued Dawidoff a security code, a locker, and a desk in the scouting department: for an entire year he lived with the team, from early-morning quarterback meetings to edgy late-night conversations. Dawidoff makes an emblematic NFL season come alive for fans and nonfans alike.

Here is football in many faces: the Jets' polarizing, brilliant, and hilarious head coach, Rex Ryan; the general manager, whose job is to support (and suppress) the irrepressible Ryan; the defensive coaches and their in-house rivals, the offensive coaches; players like the incomparable All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis and the young, erratic quarterback Mark Sanchez. Wise safeties, brooding linebackers, high-strung cornerbacks, enthusiastic rookies, and even a well-read nose tackle create a full portrait of obsessed men at work.

Dawidoff has written the book of depth and feeling that football has long deserved, one that will forever change the way people watch and think about the sport.

* "Collision low crossers" is a phrase defensive coaches use for the act of making legal contact with any potential pass receiver within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Beyond five yards, "collisioning" someone becomes a penalty. The term also evokes the most fundamental elements of the game--speed, aggression, the interplay between space and time, and meticulously planned events that likely will not come to fruition.
Learn more about Collision Low Crossers, and follow Nicholas Dawidoff on Facebook.

Check out Dawidoff's list of the five best baseball novels.

Writers Read: Nicholas Dawidoff (May 2008).

Writers Read: Nicholas Dawidoff.

--Marshal Zeringue