You say you want some evolution?
On my shelf is a treasured 1973 paperback copy of “Football: Learn It, Watch It, Enjoy It,” by Troy Winslow, forward by Frank Gifford, by Crescent Publications in L.A. Winslow was the former Inglewood High star who became, as the back photo says, a “record-holding University of Southern California quarterback, former professional football player, now head coach at Long Beach Polytechnic.” Actually, he was now my typing teacher at Hawthorne High. He signed the book for me in class one day and wrote: “The sequel will be out in about 10 years!”
I don’t think that ever came, unfortunately.
His record, by the way: An 11-for-11 passing day against Washington in 1965. He got the Trojans to the 1967 Rose Bowl as well. Post-Garrett, pre-O.J. Look him up.
Wrote Gifford in the forward: “There has long been a need for a football handbook written not for the use of coaches, players and others with an intimate knowledge of the game, but for the use of the average fan who likes to watch football but finds many aspects of the game hard to understand … Winslow is unquestionably qualified to write such a football handbook.”
And Troy — a name perfect for USC, given to him by a father who also played at the school — did it in 110 pages.
For years, that was my go-to book for backup information on why things happened, if they had to be explained to someone, somehow, in some awkward situation.
How much easier could it be to learn the game?
In 1997, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Football” arrived, authored by Joe Theismann (linked here), with co-author Brian Tracy. Theismann, whose picture is on the cover twice, kept it to 328 pages, with 29 chapters. We actually found it available on eBay.com for $1, plus $3.99 shipping and handling (linked here).
But really. Did we need to be called a complete idiot?
In 1998, “Football For Dummies,” authored by Howie Long (but probably more written by John Czarnecki) rushed the audience (linked here). On the cover were a bunch of girls apparently playing flag football. Chased by a guy in a yellow tanktop. It looks like the opening to “Three’s Company.” And not afraid to think that more is more, Howie pushed the attention span of the readership with 407 pages.
Again, calling us a dummy wasn’t so endearing.
In 2001, the second edition of Theismann’s “Idiots” (linked here). Joe, in his Redskins’ jersey, is still on the cover. But he’s limited it just one action shot. And he pushed it to 360 pages.
Here comes the sneak: A fourth edition of something called “Football Made Simple: A Spectator’s Guide,” by Dave Ominsky (linked here). Just 129 pages. Just $11. Call us dumb, but this makes more sense. Even if Dave never played the game.
In 2003, the second edition of Howie’s “Dummies.” It raised the bar to 432 pages, got rid of the girls and put a football up on a tee.
In 2005, another reprieve. Rodney Peete’s wife, Holly Robinson Peete, came out with “Get Your Own Damn Beer, I’m Watching the Game: A Women’s Guide to Loving Pro Football” (linked here). Her definition of tight ends was a bit different than Howie or Theismann. But at least we weren’t called stupid.
In 2007, the third edition of Howie’s “Dummies” managed to keep it to 432 pages, but the cover changed again — it was just a green gridiron, with the yellow goal posts. This issue was necessary, the publisher said in their blurb, because, since edition two, “new stadiums have been built, new stars have ascended, and records have been broken. .. new rules … new stadium technologies .. a revised list of greatest players … new advice on training …”
(By the way, somehow through all this, the K.I.S.S guides (Keep It Simple Series) has managed to do a book related to golf, fishing, weight loss, pregnancy, photography, child care, home improvement, feng shui, massage, raising a puppy, guitar, kama sutra, planning a wedding, gardening, wine and the paranormal, but nothing about football. Yet.)
This leads to what landed on the doorstep this week: “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Football,” 334 pages by Mike Beacom, a “veteran pro and college football editor and writer” with Football.com and ProFootballWeekly.com.
Did we learn anything flipping through it? In the list of words in the glossary, there’s no listing for “muff.” Where does that get us?
The publishers of this one are asking $18.95. And it’s paperback. Easy to recycle. Even easier to use as a wedge under the old TV back in the den that still tilts a little to the left no matter how we try to fix it.
With the 2010 version of football now having blindsided us — Can anyone explain the BCS again? Has the NFL figured out its overtime rule? — we’re more puzzled than ever.
What does this digression of football primers say about our need to be informed? Are there that many people around us who still don’t get it?
To make it more illogical, the Amazon.com listing for this book poses the question: What Do Customers Ultimately Buy After Viewing This Item? Three percent, they say, also buy “U is for Undertow,” a Sue Grafton mystery novel.
Maybe we’re caught in the undertow of this, not smart enough to figure any of this out. We just know that, had we spent the cash every other year to have someone else tell us how little we knew about the game, we’d probably just give up on trying to keep up with it.
It can’t be the complicated, can it?
Paging Troy Winslow.