Wednesday, December 16, 2009

#138: Last-Minute Christmas Gift Idea

---Ultimate Super Bowl Book---

If you're scrambling around, trying to find the perfect gift for the pro football nut on your list, I have a suggestion.

I was recently provided a review copy of the following book, which may be the most comprehensive tome on the subject of the Super Bowl.

"The Ultimate Super Bowl Book" is as complete a history of professional sports' biggest annual event as you could ever hope to find (until Super Bowl XLIV is played this coming which point I presume it will be amended).

Each chapter is presented mostly through the journalistic eye of author and long-time Green Bay Packers writer Bob McGinn with some occasion for editorializing. However, 99% of the book is "Just the facts, ma'am."

And facts there are.

Each of the 43 chapters (one for each of the Super Bowls played to date) describes each score in a page-turning narrative format (though often non-chronological), gives credit to those who made otherwise thankless blocks on key plays, and explains who made critical errors that cost their team points.

Those literary depictions alone would be worth the purchase price.

The true treasures, however, are the in-chapter tables that provide complete team and individual statistics, the rosters for both teams and all of the coaches. McGinn credits the compilation these tables to his wife. These tables elevate this piece of work from "enlightening" to "important".

In addition, the appendix at the end of the book reveals just about every current Super Bowl record, including what team gained the most total yards in a Super Bowl and which two teams combined for the most passing first downs. I'd reveal those facts myself, but I'd be giving things away.

McGinn also deftly interlaces quotations from coaches, players, and front office officials into his narratives. Some of those words were spoken shortly after the game in question was concluded. Others were said in interviews years later, giving the reader the added perspective of time and how some people on the losing end of the contests saw the game after the heat of the moment had long passed.

He also takes the time to compile a few "Top Ten" lists, including "Top Ten Hits", "Top Ten Plays by a Wide Receiver" and "Top Ten Super Bowl Upsets". Feel free to agree or disagree.

As someone who did not watch a Super Bowl until the Chicago Bears drubbed the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX and didn't really understand the game until somewhere around XXIX, when the San Francisco 49ers proved they were more than a match for the San Diego Chargers, I found the accounts of the earlier Super Bowls extremely informative. For instance, perhaps the MVP of the New York Jets over the Baltimore Colts should have been running back Matt Snell (121 rushing yards on 30 attempts and the only touchdown for New York) against the vaunted Baltimore Colts defense.

The later Super Bowls (XXX through XLIII) were more like a refresher course, with the added insight of why some of the teams employed the offensive or defensive strategies they did, or why players ended up committing key mistakes.

Why did Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Neil O'Donnell throw two balls into the stomach of the Dallas Cowboys' Larry Brown in Super Bowl XXX?

How were the Denver Broncos able to contain the explosive Brett Favre-led Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII?

Same for the New England Patriots against Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" in XXXVI?

Finally, McGinn's work does not reflect any apparent bias, either on his part, or on the part of the media. While he mentions the New England Patriots' "Spygate" scandal, it is not until Chapter XLII, when they were defeated by the New York Giants. "Spygate" is not referenced in any of the teams' victories over St. Louis, Carolina, or Philadelphia. There is also no word from McGinn himself as to whether he thinks that gave New England an unfair advantage. He steers clear, offering only a quote from Hall of Fame coach Don Shula on the subject.

He recognizes the controversy surrounding Super Bowl XL's officiating, offering many quotes from Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren throughout the chapter, but otherwise accurately portrays the game as an unspectacular contest decided by three big plays by the Pittsburgh Steelers and questionable clock management and untimely injuries suffered by the Seahawks.

This is an inspired piece of work.

Now, to the admittedly picky criticisms.

This first gripe is really something I don't think could have been helped. There are just so many people involved in each game, literally over 100 total. Over the course of a chapter, many of the names become confusing, especially if you are not a follower of either of the teams involved. Sometimes I found myself reading a quote or a depiction of a play, then thinking, "Wait, who was 'Smith' again? I'm sure he was introduced earlier in the chapter, but after Jones and Kendall and Brady and Mack, I'm not sure I remember..."

It's almost certainly a casualty of the absolute saturation of info, but occasionally it does affect the flow of reading if you like to get all of the details straight.

The second "complaint" is that sometimes the chapters in general have an odd flow to them. As mentioned previously, most of the chapters do not proceed in chronological order. Often, they will focus on the most exciting or pivotal points of the game first (something the readers will be more likely to recognize, such as Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes's fingertip catch and toetip drag to help his team take the lead for good in XLIII). Then, after focusing on the play itself or the drive that led up to the play, the narrative will bounce to another part of the game that made the pivotal play necessary.

I realize that to have given an introductory paragraph highlighting the dramatics, then immediately starting at the beginning of the game and working through to the end would have made for a very dry read. Still, trying to follow the plethora of surnames while striving to recognize the chronology can stir the brain a little much at times.

Again, I don't think this is something that could be fixed without damaging another equally (or more) important facet of the book. Nevertheless, it exists. I am sure that McGinn and the publisher, MVP Books, talked about these things throughout the process.

And, finally, this book is only available in softcover. Perhaps it is because the book will be somewhat outdated in a year's time (another Super Bowl will have been played). Still, I feel this first printing should have also been available in hardcover as more of a collector's item.

Considering the scope of this project, the relative brevity and precision of his game-by-game dissections, the mountains of statistics and the extensive bibliography, all in under 400 pages, the aforementioned critiques cannot take anything significant away from this work.

(Five out of Five Stars).

"The Ultimate Super Bowl Book" is available at most bookstores and online booksellers, or through


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1/13/2010 11:41 PM  

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