Thursday, February 14, 2008

Next Man Up

I've read a few books since the holidays, and figured this would be a good time
to write some short reviews. Today's book: Next Man Up, by John Feinstein, which I started on my flight home from Germany and finished last weekend.

Faithful readers may recall my review of another Feinstein work, The Last Dance, was not glowing. Too much Duke and Carolina, not enough for anyone else. Next Man Up was much, much better, vintage Feinstein.

Feinstein was granted access to the Baltimore Ravens for their 2004 season, and delivers a behind-the-scenes look at an NFL franchise that is unprecedented today. It starts with the owner, Steve Bisciotti, who bought the franchise from Burch's favorite family, the Modells. Bisciotti seems like a really good guy, a sharp contrast to Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who must have farted on Feinstein's chair at a game at some point - Feinstein just hates him and delivers anecdote after anecdote about what an ass Snyder is.

Ozzie Newsome is another key player, he's just one of the all-around good guys in the NFL and a terrific general manager. Great drafter. Brian Billick is the star. I've always been split on how I felt about him as a coach - he's an offensive coach at heart whose Baltimore teams consistently had subpar offenses but awesome defenses. He comes across as a very tech-savvy, media-savvy guy.

The 2004 season was a tumultuous one for the Ravens. It started in the offseason when Terrell Owens refused to report to Baltimore and ended up with the Eagles. Jamal Lewis was in the midst of his alleged drug deal troubles. Deion Sanders came out of retirement (remember that?) and spent most of the season hurt. Todd Heap was hurt much of the year. Kyle Boller struggled in his first year as a full-time starter. Ed Reed became a superstar. They missed the playoffs, but with all their injuries - Ray Lewis had a broken wrist, Jonathan Ogden and Matt Flynn were hurt as well - it wasn't surprising.

Several former Badgers make the book. Casey Rabach steps in and plays most of the year on the line because of injuries, although he was considered a starting-caliber player to begin with (he signed with Washington after the season). Ed Hartwell plays alongside Ray Lewis, although he isn't mentioned much. And Mike Solwold is on-again off-again as a long snapper. Feinstein much have really hit it off with Solwold, he comes across as a helluva guy. The next year the Ravens' regular long snapper was replaced by former Badger Matt Katula.

(Brief Solwold anecdote: Freshman year in Sullivan Hall, we lived on the same floor as Mike Samuel and Ryan Sondrup. One weekend they hosted Solwold and Mark Zander - a quarterback recruit who, like Hartwell, ended up transferring to Western Illinois. They stopped in our room for some beers and Madden/NHL '95, seemed to have a good time. Solwold, then a junior and a top five tight end recruit nationally, committed the next week, the earliest commit under Alvarez. Solwold didn't do much in his UW career at tight end, but was a terrific long snapper, as evidenced by his NFL career.)

Back to the book - great read, couldn't put it down. Reminded me of Season on the Brink, only with Billick playing the role of Bobby Knight. I haven't read too many good NFL books, but this is the best. I recommend it.


Anonymous said...

I was neighbors with Adamov and Eric Graham in 94-95 in Mack, are you talking about the 95-96 regarding Sullivan Hall?

Anonymous said...

Also, The Blind Side is the best football book I have ever read. I guess you could call it Half NFL, Half High School Football, Half Amazing Story. I would recommend it highly.

Scott Tappa said...

You know what? I was wrong in my first post- pretty sure Sondrup and Mike Samuel were the two who lived on my floor in Sullivan. Adamov spent a lot of time with them, though. Sorry for the mistake, corrected it.

Don't know if I've mentioned it before but The Blind Side was an incredible book, read that last Christmas, another can't-put-it-downer.

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